Thursday, 18 February 2016

Interview with Boy & Bear

Most of us would need a break after performing 170 live shows across three continents but for Boy & Bear it was just the energy they needed to get into a new record before they jumped on a flight home at the end of 2014. We chatted to bassist Dave Symes about their much-anticipated third album Limit of Love, working with a rock legend and getting back to basics in the studio.
Hi Dave.
Good morning!
What are Boy & Bear up to at the moment?
We’re sort of starting rehearsals again now because we’re starting some shows in November and our new album’s coming out next week. So we’re getting it all up and running again to get this album out there and start playing and live again, which will be great.
When I saw you guys play at Falls 2012/2013 there was a full on mosh pit before the sun went down. Is this now stock standard for you guys or is it still enjoyable?
We love playing festivals, it’s a pretty amazing sort of energy if you have a great crowd like those festivals do. Falls Festival, Splendour – they’re amazing Australian festivals. Bluesfest is another great one. I don’t think you ever get sick of seeing a whole lot of people having a whole lot of fun to the songs that you’re playing. We definitely love doing the festival thing, it’s a nice change from doing your own show all the time.
Your guitarist Killian told triple j that the band decided to work more traditionally in the studio (with no overdubs in the process.) We see studio time romanticised in films such as Love & Mercy, but what are the challenges on the flip side?
I think the challenge, for us, in recording in this way, was to have the confidence to say this is actually the way you should be doing it. There’s so much technology out there these days, it’s very easy to give yourself way too many options and way too many decisions that you can always make later on, if you know what I mean.
So the way that we recorded live and the techniques we developed with our producer, Ethan Jones, was recording it all to tape and all of us in one room. It means that the sound is spilling into our instruments. So you have to keep everything you perform – there’s no editing and there’s no redoing. As a basic rule you’re basically capturing what went down altogether at one time.
I think the challenge for us was that you don’t have the safety net. It’s like walking the tightrope without having anything underneath it. But it’s not a new thing, it’s actually how records were made for a long time. I think at the other end of it, we love that way of recording – spending time together in the studio and getting great sounds and just playing music.
I’ve had a sneak listen to the record and the track “Just Dumb” stood out because it does sound like your live set with lots of layers and the instrumental jams.
That’s a pretty cool track actually because Ethan, the producer, he played a second sort of percussion/drum part on that. So that was a point of difference on that song which was a really nice thing. It was the only track we recorded late at night, like really late at night. Most of the things we worked during the day or into the evening but this one we were going to call it for the day and we said let’s just do it now and we set up and went for it. So it’s got its own sort of vibe.
What was it like working with Ethan Johns?
He’s like a big kid who just loves music and loves the sound of an instrument and loves a good song. He’s very encouraging, I think he brought the best out in us. I think we felt like we were collaborating with him at the highest of levels. He was interested in what we had to say. He’s open-minded, you know, he’s willing to change if it’s the best thing for the song. Working with him was really inspiring for us, I think we learned a lot.
The other thing is he is so experienced; he has a lot of stories. Everyday at dinner and lunch, which was probably an hour long, he’d basically just tell stories the whole time. But he had some pretty amazing first and second hand stories to do with famous bands, singers, studios. Coming from Australia, we were like “tell us that one again dad, the one with Keith Richards.” It was a little bit like a rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame of stories.
The cover art for Limit of Love moves away from your folk aesthetic – it almost looks like it belongs on an electronic record. Who created it?
Basically John, our piano/keyboard player, is a fantastic photographer and he’s always shooting on the road. So this is a photo that he took on the ferry from Vancouver, Canada to Victoria Island when we had a gig there. It’s probably 40 feet above the ocean so it’s actually taken from quite a distance of this beautiful coloured water and it’s an interesting texture because it’s quite rough water.
We had a meeting with the design guys at Headjam in Newcastle. They’ve done a bunch of stuff for us. We wanted things to be really simple and to reflect the way we wrote and recorded, simple and classic. In a way, it’s kind of cool you say electronic because in a way it outlines what we’re all about and not just the band name and the title and any sort of image. They chose this photo out of about 500 and we kind of dug it.
We wrote all the record in the south of Sydney down the coast so we did spend a lot of time by the ocean while we writing the music so it sort of tied in really nicely. And I like the fact that John’s the photographer, it’s his artwork.
What is the value of leaving your routine and physical space (from Sydney to Berry) to write music?
The reason for doing it, I think , is it’s nice to get to a space or an environment when you can just focus for a while.We’d hire a house on the coast for 7-10 days at a time and we did about three trips like this. We all live in Sydney and we do do some writing together, we might book 2 or 3 days in a week to get together but then everybody returns to their life or someone runs late because they had togo to the post office on the way. Life can get in the way, which is fine. But we find when we book this time away, it’s a really nice way to focus. Even when we stop jamming and writing, we might be cooking a meal and talking about the kind of music we want to make or listening to some albums that we want to check out or we can listen to our demos. We can work around the clock but in a really relaxed well. It seems to work for us. We all get on really well. We work well together.
Oh so there’s no band rivalries to uncover!
Ha maybe after this next tour.
And before the national Australian tour, guys are going back overseas.
Yeah it’s the first time the album’s coming out globally, at the same time, which is cool. It’s exciting. So we’re obviously here now, we’re doing a tour late Jan and February so we’re going to do some promo shows in Europe, the UK and America, and we’ll go back there next year if all things work as they could. We’ve been home all year, except for recording in England for 5 weeks. It’s been nice to spend time at home because last year we were gone for about 11 months over the year so it was a big one. But it’s amazing to have that opportunity.
What do you think of the idea that touring sucks out creative energy?
There is an interesting story for us this time. We finished our last show December 13 last year in Paris. We finished after the big year and a half all sort of with that feeling, you know, whenever you finish anything it’s slightly exhausted but really happy. We went back to London because we had to fly out of London to get home and we had to try and meet Ethan (Johns) before we went home because we’d already started to discuss the next record a few months before. We were just doing it for a practical reason, let’s do it while we’re here. It’s amazing, we got to the airport that night after having a two-hour meeting with him.
Now I don’t think that happens every time, we were lucky that we had things worked out. But I think that says a lot about how we ended up dealing with last year, we were definitely tired and you don’t have the brainpower to think of new songs but at the same time you get hungry for it because you’ve been doing the same kind of material for a year and a half and you do have a few new things that have come out of that.
What’s the best part of home shows?
I think it’s nice to play and have family and friends at the shows. When you’re away for a long time it’s nice to have that connection. We love playing at home. We’ve got amazing audiences here who have been there with the band since the beginning. We’re doing some cool venues this time, so it’s exciting. It’s a really nice grounding thing for us I think.
Published on AdamNOTEve.

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