Boy & Bear: “Our Fans Encourage Us To Be Ourselves”

Sydney-based indie four-piece Boy & Bear have been going from strength to strength in recent months. 2013 saw the band drop their critically lauded, J Award-nominated sophomore album, Harlequin Dream, and the boys recently announced an extensive regional tour, kicking off this April.

To find out what it’s like behind the scenes of Australia’s quickest rising stars, Music Feeds caught up with Boy & Bear bass player Dave Symes, who took us through the recording of Harlequin Dream, the effect the fans have on the band, and what you can expect from the upcoming tour.

As a member of one of Triple J‘s most beloved bands, Dave also shared his thoughts on the recent controversy surrounding the station, which saw several Aussie artists, including Melbourne singer-songwriter Whitley, claiming the station forces artists to cater their music to a specific “sound.”

Music Feeds: You guys recently announced a thirty-two date tour of Europe and America. Your fan base in Australia is well-established, but what kind of following do Boy & Bear have overseas?

Dave Symes: The overseas stuff is obviously not quite on the level as it is in Australia, but we’re feeling like we’re getting a lot of good reports coming back from over there. We’ve got a really nice bunch of people that are on board to help put out our music and help get us shows and everything, and we had a good result earlier on with the UK shows and Amsterdam — we’ve sold out some shows. So it’s looking good. It’s exciting to get into new territories and play our music and hopefully some people will come along. We’ll be happy with that [laughs]

MF: How does playing to those crowds compare to playing at home? Is there a different game plan for the band?

DS: No, not at all. I think we sort of do our thing and we’re always just striving to put on the best show wherever we are. Whether it’s to a thousand people or two hundred people, it doesn’t really matter. We’re always trying to do the best show we can. I think the difference obviously is, as you said, we’ve got a nice audience here in Australia, some really great supporters of our music that make us feel really comfortable and at home.

Overseas it’s kind of just really exciting to think that we have the opportunity to play in places we never would’ve dreamed of going or playing. You also get to play some really great venues that have such a great musical history with all the bands that have played in them before. You become part of this really international music network, which is really exciting.

MF: What were some of the notable venues on past tours?

DS: Well we’ve got one coming up, we’re doing the Bowery Ballroom in New York, for example, which is a great club. It’s just one of those classic New York venues. We’re doing the Melkweg in Amsterdam, which is another one like that. The Village Underground in London should be really good as well. The Troubadour in LA, there’s a bunch of live albums that came out in the 70s, out of that venue. A lot of big US bands played there, you know?

MF: There’s been a bit of controversy lately over a Fairfax piece on Triple J…

DS: Oh yeah?

MF: Some artists are coming out and saying that Triple J have a bias towards a certain sound and certain bands. As a group that Triple J have heavily supported, what’s your opinion of that?

DS: I wasn’t aware of that article, maybe because I’ve been having too many barbecues and swimming over the last two weeks [laughs] I mean, Triple J have been great for us, we absolutely love all the guys at Triple J and we feel that they’ve allowed us to make the music that we make and they have really supported us and a lot of other bands that we love. I think the thing in Australia that’s tricky is that we just don’t really have the population to support a lot of radio stations. I guess maybe that’s where that’s coming from.

As a band, Boy & Bear really encourage, even with the support bands we have, lots of different music to be, sort of, out there, and I find that when I listen to Triple J, I get that. There’s lots of different programs on there, lots of different DJs. And I think stations like FBi really support a lot of bands that might not get played on Triple J. That’s a bit of a stepping stone sometimes, you know? What were your thoughts? I’m not really familiar with the article.

MF: It was a piece that ran in a Fairfax paper. They’d interviewed some local musicians, most of whom decided to go unnamed, who were basically saying that Triple J have a bias towards a certain sound and are acting as a hegemony in the Australian music scene, and that a lot of people write songs catering to Triple J. For example, what is it Boy & Bear are trying to achieve with a particular song? What factors in?

DS: It all just comes from…basically, the song is as true of a song as it is. We as a band do not consciously try to do anything that fits in with anything and I think that’s probably our strength. We hopefully have a strong brand because of that. We basically get together and we write music and music that comes from our hearts and hopefully tells a story and we try to just sort of make the best sort of music we can.

So I think as soon as you start trying to cater your music to something, whether it be commercial success or you’re trying to make something that makes people dance or you’re trying to make something that makes people cry, I think you fall into all sorts of trouble because it just doesn’t come from the heart anymore.

I don’t think we would be able to do that, if someone said ‘Can you write us a dance hit,’ it’s just not our kind of thing. You know what I mean? We’re just not that kind of band. I’m sure some people definitely try to do that, especially in the commercial pop world and you get things like, you know, Madonna had a hit that sounds like this and then you get ten other people trying to do the same thing, but I guess those people are chasing the financial success or something like that. It’s just not really our bag to do that.

We just try to get together and make the best music we can and you know, like with the last record, we were just glad that people took to it and we had people come to our shows and buy the record. It makes it easy for us because it means we can just play those songs and write more music that we are naturally drawn to.

MF: What about the opinion of the fans? Considering the success of the band’s debut, did what the fans might think factor into the writing process of Harlequin Dream?

DS: Well, once again, not a hundred percent. It’s not like we’re thinking ‘Oh, this song on the last record was successful.’ We just don’t really think like that. Obviously we’re not trying to make music that isn’t for our fans at the same time. You know, we’ve learned a lot and hopefully we’ll continue to learn every time we do a tour and every time we make a record and you learn a lot from your fans by the way that they relate to your music, the way that they encourage you to be yourself up onstage and encourage you to play your instrument how you play it and to sing how you sing.

I think that the success from the first record was just a great part of gaining experience for the second record. We learnt a lot from the recording process. And a lot from the touring of that and as a band you get stronger, sort of like a sports thing, you just get sort of more match fit as well, you know? You learn a lot from doing different kinds of gigs and playing different kinds of venues and to different sorts audiences, because audiences are different all around the world, I think. You learn a lot from that.

So we weren’t trying to make something…as a band, we’re a band of artists and always driving forward and I think as long as we keep an open mind to new music and new ideas and the fact that you never kind of make it, you’re always striving to learn more and search for new sounds and new melodies, and hopefully that’s what you’re trying to achieve on each new project or new album.

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