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Bear’s Den Talk ‘Islands’, Accidental Art & Their Overworked Bassist

Written by Marc Zanotti on November 6, 2014

London indie swag trio Bear’s Den have just put out their debut album Islands, an accessible blend of pop and folk. Think Mumford & Sons but more grounded, and 100% less waistcoats.

Thanks to their honest approach to songwriting Bear’s Den have found themselves touring as the support for acts like Haim, Alabama Shakes and last year toured Australia with our own Matt Corby.

With Islands now upon us, we sent some of our wonderings to Bear’s Den vocalist and guitarist Andrew Davie. The singer kindly shared with us the story behind Above The Clouds Of Pompeii, the accidental work of art that is the video for track Elysium, its ties to the Seattle Pacific University shooting, and how the band continues to coast on the back of their hard-working bassist/drummer Kev.

Music Feeds: New single Above the Clouds of Pompeii has been a part of the band’s live set since your first tour. How did you try to capture that raw, live energy on the recording?

Andrew Davie: With most of the album, if we wanted to capture that live energy on a particular song, we tried to do as much live tracking as possible. With Pompeii, we introduced some new elements to help the song sit with the rest of the album as well as possible. The horns and extra percussive elements really helped get across that energy as well.

MF: Above the Clouds of Pompeii plays as a pretty uplifting song but it seems to tell a tale of loss. Where does the song’s story originate from?

AD: I went on a trip with my Dad to Pompeii when I was a kid and I really wanted to try and capture how I felt then and now about it. I was trying to connect with him but felt really distant for a bunch of reasons and this song came from that place.

MF: In July Bear’s Den released the music video for single Elysium. The clip has a strong connection with the Seattle Pacific University shooting. Do you mind sharing how the concept for the video evolved and the band’s intent with the finished clip?

AD: Sure. Our friend Marcus Haney heard Elysium and wrote us an email saying he wanted to make a music video following his brother and his brothers friends from college during their last days at college. In his words, trying to capture that transition between innocence and growing up/becoming an adult.

We’ve known Marcus Haney since we started as a band and have always known how talented he is and how brilliant a filmmaker he is and we trusted him completely with his idea and vision. During the filming of the video, the tragic shooting at Seattle Pacific happened. Paul Lee was a close friend of all the people in the music video and Marcus wrote to us to tell us that the video was not gonna happen. We completely understood and just hoped that everyone was OK.

We didn’t expect the video to be finished but the kids in the video wanted to finish the video and in their own way create their own homage to Paul Lee. When Marcus emailed the video over we were all so moved by it. The video had become so much more than a music video and had become this group of friends’ way of dealing with the death of their friend.

In terms of our “intent”, we just wanted to make sure that, when we put the video out, we explained the story as well as we could when people saw it and tried to make sure people understood that this was not a contrived plan but an incredibly tragic accident that resulted in an incredibly beautiful and moving piece of art. Our song is very much second to that.

Watch: Bear’s Den – Elysium

MF: You told Clash, lyrically you like to “leave room for interpretation” so listeners can attach their own meaning to the songs. Were there ever any specific moments, on Islands or elsewhere, where you wanted to be clear and convey a singular meaning?

AD: There is a time for both. Just being vague isn’t really the way it works for me. I want the places I write about to feel familiar but how you interact with it to be different to each person’s own history.

It is entirely true for me but rather than just give my whole life story away, I’d rather create an individual experience for a listener. It also keeps things interesting for us as a band and allows us to develop a relationship with the music in new ways.

MF: Bear’s Den’s music plays as quite thoughtful and considered, but do you ever worry about coming across as overly earnest? Are their times when the band dials things back or is it a matter of putting it all out there, come what may?

AD: I think that to a certain extent I have to accept what I can and can’t do with writing songs and music. I’m not good at writing songs that are chirpy. I’m drawn to writing songs when I’m in a difficult place and I write to deal with difficult things and find a way of framing that stuff which makes me move on from that.

I guess my hope is that the songs are sincere without being overly earnest. As a band we always try to make sure that we serve the song and never get too carried away.

MF: What’s all this about you playing in a 14-piece country band fronted by an rapper?

AD: My first-ever band was called Captain Kick and The Cowboy Ramblers. It was a huge group of legends and our friend Jersey Ben rapped as well. We toured the UK once and it was the funnest tour I’ve ever been on and the funnest introduction to music I could have possibly had.

MF: And what’s the deal with making poor Kev [Jones] bust his ass on bass and drums while you other two kick back on guitar? Poor overworked Kev.

AD: I know…it’s getting a bit out of hand. Kev actually plays everything and the rest of us just mime. He’s ridiculous.

MF: In the band’s recent Reddit AMA, you admitted to penning your fair share of bad songs. Since we can’t hear them, any chance of offering up some lyrics or song titles deemed unworthy?

AD: I write bad lyrics and songs on a daily basis but if we’re talking about being overly earnest I’ve come a long way. “Nothing Says I Love You Like Dishonesty” and “The Long Dark Night Of The Soul” are just two titles that make me cringe a lot.

MF: Any plans to return to Australia and tour Islands?

AD: Not yet! Hopefully really soon though! We loved supporting Matt Corby and would love to come back. I have a deeply irrational fear of huntsman spiders, though, so if you could help to hide all of those bad boys from me, we’ll be back all the time.

‘Islands’ by Bear’s Den is out now. Australian tour pending mass extermination of large arachnids.

Watch: Bear’s Den – Above The Clouds Of Pompeii

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