Bear’s Den sophomore album, Red Earth & Pouring Rain, saw them push their sound both lyrically and sonically, further building upon the legion of fans that they garnered from their incredible debut album Islands. Throughout all of the band’s work, their lyricism remains introspectively intricate, delving deeply into seemingly insurmountable hardships to find a sense of life-affirming purpose and meaning.
Bear’s Den returns with their brand-new album So That You Might Hear Me on the 26th of April, which they’re supporting with a run of intimate shows including two nights at London’s gloriously intimate yet expansive Shephard’s Bush Empire. “Laurel Wreath” is the latest song to be unrevealed from the album and its’ hard-hitting message of not being afraid of exposing your vulnerabilities feels extremely timely and necessary. The beguiling track provides a gentle, reassuring reminder that uncovering your most intimate, agonizing thoughts is one of the most courageous things that you can do.
We caught up with the band’s lead singer and lyricist Andrew Davie to discuss the band’s new song, creative process, touring and more.
Since you’ve been releasing music your tracks have continued to incorporate a wider variety of sounds, how did that sonic evolution evolve?
I wouldn’t say there’s been too much thought about it, to be honest. Kevin is an incredible musician, who’s pretty gifted on most instruments, which is quite a good position to be in, in terms of being creative and coming up with different instruments and parts and things.
But also, both of us have got an interest in music production as well and we both spend time working on other people’s projects and just recording songs up for Bear’s Den as well, just demoing them up and figuring out what kind of sounds you’re interested in just from exploring. Whether it’s on a laptop or an instrument we’re just both figuring out what’s kind of inspiring us right now. That might be an acoustic guitar, it might be an electronic drum machine or something. It could be anything really. It’s just what makes you want to finish writing a song.
“Fuel on The Fire” is such an incredible song, what was the songwriting process and story behind that track?
It started with that weird vocal sample thing. There was a recorded vocal going into OP-1 synthesizer, mixed with a slightly weird piano sample as well. It was just the blending of those two sounds. It was weird. It was just playing that sample and almost playing it on the keyboard and going “Is this a cool sound?”. Then just sort of going back and forth between the 1st and the 5th note and it was that’s actually quite interesting for some reason. It was just starting with such a random thing and then building a little universe around it. It was really fun to explore that together.
You and Kevin are both credited as writes on your songs, what’s your collaborative process like?
In terms of the lyrics, that tends to be sort of my role in the band, but it varies on the musical side of things quite a lot. With “Fuel on The Fire”, we had a couple of elements like the little OP-1 sound, a couple of synth sounds and maybe a drum part that I was thinking about but then you know bass synths, electric guitars and all that whole world, as well as, harmonies and stuff that Kevin brought to the table on that song.
But it really varies. Some songs from demo to finished version sound completely different but some sound very similar. It really changes all the time. It’s just super collaborative really. I come in with a skeleton of an idea and we flesh it out. Or sometimes I come in with just random nonsense and Kevin humours my randomness and we somehow get somewhere.
How did you your approach to recording for So That You Might Hear Me compared to Islands and Red Earth?
This one was a bit different. We probably demoed than we ever used to. Back in the early days, it would have just been us three rehearsing and going out and touring. Then going in the studio would have been a once in a while thing. On the second album, we spent a lot more time in the studio; we probably spent like six weeks recording the album.
Then with the third album, we have our own little recording studio in North London, and we record a lot of demos and stuff in there. So that’s been quite a big difference for us over the last couple of years, actually having the luxury of being able to record our own ideas a lot easier. That’s probably influenced the way things sound a little bit. Then also working with Phil Ek in Seattle who’s a complete wizard massively influenced how it sounds as well.
On Islands, for me personally, there’s a sense of isolation and feeling alone. While with the tracks, you’ve released from So That You Might Hear Me, you recognise the need for connection. Are you ever apprehensive about releasing tracks, considering they contain so much intimate emotion?
Yes, I think it sort of becomes easier with time but that’s a tough question to answer really. It’s a mixture. I think a big part of what draws me personally to writing songs is trying to figure stuff out. If I wasn’t doing that I don’t know if I would really know how to write songs. It’s not really that much of a choice in a way.
I think as you go on and you do it more and more and you tour more and more, you definitely really re-live things and go “Wow, shit. That was quite a big thing” and reexperiencing it night after night can be quite difficult. But I think live music is a hugely cathartic experience and getting to do that with an audience who can relate in some way is a magical experience. Part of the magic of it is that people relate to something in perhaps totally different ways but it’s still an experience where everyone still feels as if they’re being heard.
Just being a part of that turns however negative something might have into something that’s overwhelmingly positive, which is such an awesome thing to get to do.
From the start, you’ve consistently toured across Europe and America, not just the UK. Did that always feel that was an important thing to do and does being so far away from home bring any extra challenges?
Yeah definitely. To be honest, if anyone would have us, we wanted to play. We’ve toured in America and in Europe, Canada and Australia as well which has just been so great. It’s so fun and so interesting to go to different places and play shows. I’ve definitely been to places I never thought I’d get to go.
It definitely brings some challenges though. Touring in America is kind of hard to do and it’s expensive with Visas and things. It can be hard being away, but I think music is one of those things where it’s very intense when you’re working. Then, hopefully, when you’re home in the summers you can have a couple of days off in the week and then it’s weekends and it’s actually quite civilised. It has its challenges but it’s also really fun so I wouldn’t say it’s a negative.
Throughout your work, you write about tough times and experiences. Are you peculiarly drawn to songwriting when you feel you’re going through something difficult?
Yeah, I think so. I’m definitely drawn to writing about those sorts of things. I think I see it as a form of therapy to some extent, whether that’s totally healthy or not I don’t know. But I definitely think expressing yourself creatively in any pursuit has to be good for you in some way.
If I’m finding something peculiarly difficult in reality, it’s a mixture between escapism but also escaping into that reality and trying to talk about it in a way that helps you make sense of it, in a way that’s hopefully helpful to yourself and someone else potentially. I think I’m definitely drawn to those moments more. When times are good and I just want to hang out with mates, that’s rarely the time that I pick up the guitar.
Over the years you’ve supported Mumford & Sons numerous times, what’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt from them as a band?
They’re just such a great bunch of people. Each of them is so incredibly talented and just the loveliest people. They’ve been super generous with giving us support slots on many occasions and as individual people as well they’ve helped us in so many ways.
Ben has always been a massive supporter of the band and with his work with Kevin at Communion Records and stuff, he’s just such a smart guy that’s always trying to figure out ways to help bands and artists. Whether that’s opening a venue or running a record label and I think their aesthetic towards not just succeeding but creating a platform for other things to flourish is really admirable.
It’s really hard to speak with them too seriously because they’re all just really funny. They’re legends and just a super talented bunch of guys really.
I couldn’t speak to you without asking about “Above The Clouds Of Pompeii”. It’s such a deeply personal song but so many people have such a deep connection to it. Are you ever sort of amazed or overwhelmed by the deep connection so many people have to your music and the different ways they interpret it?
Yeah, I definitely find it overwhelming. I remember when we finished that song and we played it for the first time in New York, about 6 or 7 years ago now, the reaction was really different to any song we’ve done before. It was almost like you could feel the whole room taking a breath or something throughout the whole thing. It was kind of just a moment in time.
In an ideal world when writing I really want to create a sense of that; of it being a moment in time as articulated as well and accurately as possible. It’s always surprising and it is amazing. It continually blows our minds when we read people’s reactions or when people come up to us after shows and talk to us about their relationships to songs, often so different and so varied but so inspiring and interesting. It’s something that never stops surprising us, and I don’t think it’s something we’ll ever take for granted.
“Laurel Wreath” is such an amazing song which acknowledges vulnerability and the need for connection. Where did the general sentiment of song sort of originate from?
I went to see a play in London called Summer and Smoke, which is a Tennessee Williams play that was on at the Almeida, and just thought it was absolutely incredible. After watching that I went on a real binge of Tennessee William’s plays, I just thought they were all brilliant.
I can’t even remember which one it was but there a line in it about how someone had been spoilt as a kid and how they were showered with Laurel, but now all those leaves were now withering. I just loved that idea of a Laurel Wreath withering, I just thought it was almost like a logo sort of thing that symbolises victory and lots of different things.
I was really drawn to that image of withering and that’s where it kind of started. For me, that image is a little bit about male ideas of stoicism, not talking about things and being afraid to be vulnerable. I thought Laurel Wreath is a way of symbolizing that’s necessarily healthy
Finally, out of all the things you’ve got coming up including your own tour, Citadel and obviously releasing the album. What excites you the most about the new year, and the ways in which you can share your music with your audience?
Even in the time it’s been since we last released an album, it feels like there’s been a shift in terms of how people are listening to music. It’s just been really interesting. I just love how fluid our relationship is between bands and audiences now; I think it’s a really good time to a fan of music.
Personally, I just can’t wait for the album to fully come out and for people to hear it. That’s the main thing but it’s really hard to pin one thing down. With touring, I’m so excited about going to so many different places. With regards to how we’re releasing music, I’m just really glad we get to put out music in the way that we do. It’s really fun and I hope people like the remainder of the songs that come out.