After ten years as a band, Bear’s Den are still excited by music.
Bear’s Den have done things their own way over the last ten years, and this has resulted in them achieving their own kind of success in Europe, and to some extent, in America. They have also successfully supplied music for Apple TV. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with lead vocalist and prime songwriter Andrew Davie to talk about the band’s new EP, ‘First Loves’, and to discuss why EPs have played such a role in their career to date. He reflects on the passing years and expresses his surprise, and gratitude, that Bear’s Den are still able to maintain an audience and find new ways to play music. While he is an ardent fan of the album format, he is also a modern musician dealing with the impact of streaming, and he explains there are benefits in releasing EPs that bring a focus to a similarly small group of songs. He also makes it clear that while Bear’s Den is officially himself, and drummer and bassist Kevin Jones, the session musicians Christof van der Ven, Marcus Hamblett, Harry Mundy, and Jools Owen who play with the band live feel very much part of a six-piece band.
We last had a chat just as everybody was coming out of the pandemic. What have the last fifteen months been like for the band?
It has been pretty amazing with everybody being able to get out of their houses and we’ve been able to play gigs again. Making ‘Blue Hours’ with Ian Grimble and then touring the album was so lovely. During the course of the pandemic, I didn’t think I was writing that much music but we ended up with a lot of stuff we didn’t really know what to do with it all. So, now we are trying all sorts of creative ways of trying to deal with all the stuff, with some EPs and other things on the horizon. That has been fun.
You also managed to get a song placed on an Apple TV series, how did that happen?
That came about on the boo, really. There is this brilliant singer-songwriter called Maisie Peters who is just absolutely fantastic, and she is amazingly prolific as well, and she did the soundtrack for the second series of this show, ‘Trying’. We were asked if we were up for collaborating on a song, and I’ve never done anything for TV, and Maisie sent over this song and the lyrics were amazing, and She is just the Taylor Swift full package to me with an amazing way with words. So, I thought it was such an honour to sing her song. We did that and it was really fun, and I think someone at ‘Trying’ must have liked it because when the next series came around we got asked if we were up to doing it. It was quite an intensive writing process, and for me, that meant a lot of time at home just working on it. I’d get the script and I had to write to that, and then they would cut the picture to the song if that makes sense. Yeah, it was a whole new world that I had never experienced before, and that all happened in the mix of the last fifteen months too.
What did you learn out of the process, because as you say, writing for another media is different?
I really enjoyed it and it was a real challenge. I think with the band I’m writing a song hopefully I’m into, and sometimes I’m not sure and I will present it to Kev (Kevin Jones), and sometimes Kev gets really excited about it or sometimes he is lukewarm about it. So, in Bear’s Den, it is about me and Kevin being happy about it, and then we need to convince whoever we are working with that it is good, but with a TV soundtrack there is a director, a music supervisor, and a producer, and there are executives at Apple who also have a say as well. All that was quite new for me, and I guess the CC on an email with Bear’s Den is a lot smaller than it is with a TV show, but it’s funny, I think there was a nice workflow to it because there weren’t many rewrites. There was one song where we had to do a completely new song, but it was on an episode where they had to rewrite the episode, so I didn’t feel too bad about it. It was nice and I think it sort of worked and I got what the TV show was trying to do. I became a dad during the pandemic, and ‘Trying’ is all about becoming a parent and I definitely felt some correlation between what the TV show was about and what I was going through as a parent. Kev also became a dad during the pandemic, so I think both of us could relate to the feelings going on at the beginning of being a dad and a parent. So, it wasn’t a completely alien headspace I was writing in.
Do you think that your work with Apple may help you gain a following in America?
What was interesting was that we did that soundtrack, and then ‘Ted Lasso’, the TV show, wanted to use one of our songs in the show, and I didn’t know how big ‘Ted Lasso’ was when that came through. I knew it was about football and I’d seen a bit of the first series and I knew it was really heart warming, so I was yeah, absolutely. When that episode aired, that is when my phone went a bit crazy and my friends and colleagues in America were telling me this is a big deal. I think Bear’s Den is the kind of band where we haven’t had one big moment, we just show up, write as much as we can, and do things that are exciting to us, and it is so hard to predict what is going to land or what is going to be used in a TV show, or when that phone is going to ring or when it’s not. So, all you can really do is keep making stuff that you think is cool and resonates with you because you can’t control what really resonates with other people you can only hope it does. We haven’t had that big single or end-of-the-movie moment, it has been a series of small things over time. So, it’s hard to know the answer to whether it will help us in Americana or not.
You’ve got your EP, ‘First Loves’. Is that simply a collection of pandemic songs or is there something else going on?
There was definitely this little body of work from the initial writing for ‘Blue Hours’ that didn’t quite fit with ‘Blue Hours’, and I wasn’t sure what it was at the beginnings of. It could have been the beginning of a new project, a more intimate thing, but I didn’t really know. We do tend to try and use up everything, there aren’t many songs we write that we don’t release, which is really cool, and we always try and find ways of doing it. While those songs weren’t all finished, they were all ideas from the pandemic, and I think ‘Helen Of Hammersmith Bridge’ and ‘Evelyn’ developed a lot once we decided to do this, and ‘Sumer & Smoke’ and ‘Teach Me Ava’ were more pandemic type songs. We just found this little body of work that was about the embryonic moments of falling in love. That is your first time as a kid learning what that feels like, unrequited love, where the person you are infatuated with doesn’t even know you are there, and then all the way to becoming a dad and falling in love as a parent for the first time, and that being a very different thing. I think it all stemmed from that, and ‘Teach Me Ava’ is a song about my daughter and my nerves and excitement about becoming a dad and not wanting to let the jaded things you pick up in life that interfere with how I parent and determine what I pass on. Then we thought that these songs seem to fit together, and they are not about one love, it is about the first time falling in love now, or way back when. So, Yeah, ‘First Love’ seemed like a pretty good title for it, and once we have a title for an EP we are cool, it looks like this works.
Do you have a sense of the state of the album? Artists are having to move to single tracks, if not actual singles, EPs, and Soundtracks to get their music to listeners who seem to have an increasingly shortening attention span.
I try to ignore this as much as possible, but it does seem that it is true, and I think it is the streaming side of things that has influenced this. As always with music it is one of those things. We will always make records, even if the medium dies, just as a way to work because it is so important to structure things in some kind of way because work can be anything and everywhere which is just too abstract. So I think we will always make albums, but there is something about the reality of it, and there is something about the band that finds the new world order kind of exciting. It is like how do we do that in a way that is cool and interesting, and it is not just us playing some form of game. When we looked at the body of work there was an idea that we could make another album, but then we thought this could be an EP, and maybe there is another EP over here. Maybe these little bodies of work will seem more interesting if you listen to them like that, and suddenly you can do something very concise like that. When we started as a band it is still the songs from our first EPs that are our biggest songs when we play live, songs like ‘Above The Clouds of Pompey’ and ‘Agape’. There is an EP we recorded in Wales ourselves that isn’t even on Spotify, that had ‘Pompey’ on it with its rookie production, which is being kind to it, but it is still the same songs. So, I think EPs mean quite a lot to us as a band, I think we’ve released four or five now this one has come out, over the years. I guess it is a way of telling a shorter story, just hit it.
Where are Bear’s Den now? You have been together for ten years or so, you are getting older and you are both parents, and you are getting to the age when Dylan recorded ‘Blood On The Tracks. How do you see the future?
Hopefully, we are about to do our ‘Blood On The Tracks’. To be honest, it is just amazing we are still here playing to audiences. We’ve just got back from Belgium and Holland, and it has been a really mad last seven or eight days and we haven’t played for a little while and we played two amphitheatres just on the outskirts of Amsterdam which both sold out with 1500 capacity each. We played at Rock Werchter one of the bigger Belgium rock festivals, and we played in a barn there to 20,000 people, and they had to lock the back doors to stop people coming in. That was a bit of a surprise, if I’m honest because it is hard to know where you are as a band, and as you say we’ve been doing it for ten years and moments like that do still happen and they are still really special. We played at Black Deer Festival recently, and that was amazing as well, there were so many people there. I think we are always surprised and quite amazed that people still come and see us. As long as we are excited about it, we will always keep doing it. Also, as we get older I think we both want to do other things, Kev’s already done quite a bit of production work and is getting interested in that world, I’m interested in that world as well, and I’m interested in co-writing and getting into TV stuff, but all in a way that will keep us interested in music so we can bring that back to the band and make more interesting records as Bear’s Den through learning new things.
Is Christof van der Ven still with the band?
Yeah, he is very much a part of it. So, Christof is one of four sessions musicians who play with us, with Marcus Hamblett, Harry Mundy, and Jools Owen, and we’ve worked with them all for so many years now, it really doesn’t feel like they are not part of the band. So, yeah, it feels like we are a six-piece band and Christof brings so much, not just musically, he is such a great guy and a ridiculously talented songwriter and artist in his own right, and he brings all that to Bear’s Den. He has such an ear for harmonies, and he is brilliant on loads of instruments, but his acoustic instrument skills and the way he plays in different tunings are so great I’m always trying to copy how he does it.
And as you’ve hinted at, you are still very popular in Europe.
We feel very fortunate it is still going strong. Ten years does blow our minds if we are honest. I think with the pandemic nobody really knew what the landscape would be when we came back to it. Music changes so fast, and when you are making music for this long, there is an element of how relevant are you and how relevant you feel, and I think it is really nice when people show up to our shows and show their appreciation. It is something really special and something we don’t take for granted at all, it just surprises us.
At AUK, we like to share music with our readers, so can you share which artists, albums or tracks are currently top three on your personal playlist?
I’m going to have a look and I will be incredibly honest. I’m really obsessed with a guy called Ryan Beatty, and he has an album that came out about six months ago. He worked with a guy called Ethan Gruska, who is also a very talented artist, and I’ve been listening to Ryan’s album ‘Calico’ a lot, and I really, really love it. Ben Howard’s new stuff is absolutely great, and I think Ben Howard is an underrated songwriter. Everyone knows he is a brilliant guitarist, and has a beautiful voice, but I also think he has such an interesting way to write songs and I just relate to them. Blake Mills has some new stuff coming out, and I think he is really brilliant, and he is one of those artists who are really interesting to listen to, even if it isn’t my favourite thing in the world he is always interesting, and I feel I’m always learning from it. We saw Steve Earle at Black Deer, and I’ve been learning more and more about his music, and Harry, the session musician in the band, is obsessed with Steve Earle and he’s been telling us we need to know this stuff because it is important, fantastic music with unbelievable lyrics. There are loads more artists I want to say are brilliant but I’ll shut up.
Finally, do you want to say anything to our readers?
Just thanks so much for the support. Going back to what we’ve just said, we’ve been doing this for a while and it is amazing that we still feel we are building bridges and stuff,
Bear’s Den’s ‘First Loves’ is out now on Communion Music.