Though 2018 was a relatively quiet year for Bear’s Den, 2019 looks to have plenty in store for the London duo. As they approach the end of their month-long European tour, attention now turns towards the release of their third studio album, titled ‘So that you might hear me’. Though it started out as an incredibly personal body of work, the final result is one that willingly gives its listeners the freedom to dissect and apply experiences and stories of their own. It is this balance, between personalisation and ambiguity, which justifies why Bear’s Den’s music has been able to resonate with so many fans; and why it looks likely to do so with so many more.
I had the pleasure of catching up with the down-to-earth duo just hours before their sold out show at Bristol’s O2 Academy to discuss the importance of communication, the merits of patience and why songs can only have personal significance if they resonate with others.
Bristol has often featured within tours as you’ve climbed the ladder over the years, what makes it such an essential fixture within any UK run?
Kev: We just love Bristol! We’ve been coming here for seven years; the people of Bristol have always been very kind to us, and we love playing here.
So the new album, ‘So that you might hear me’, comes out later this month. It comes out nearly three years after its predecessor, ‘Red Earth and Pouring Rain’. Do you think that taking more time than usual to create this record has ultimately paid off?
Davie: I think so. I think we’ve stumbled into things and we’ve felt less pressured and perhaps we’ve just made better decisions because they haven’t been decisions based on time pressures or location pressures as much. So I think we’ve been able to really think about what we’re doing and create without too much stress.
Your following seemed to increase substantially after the release of ‘Islands’, which gave you a much greater platform of support for when you released the follow up, ‘Red Earth’. With even more people having discovered Bear’s Den since that album came out, your fanbase will now be even bigger coming into this record; does that make you more anxious than ever before?
Davie: Probably [laughs]. Yeah I think every time you put out an album you hope that more people are going to hear it, and with that comes an element of anxiety. But we’re just really excited for people to hear it; we worked really hard on it, and I think every time we’ve made an album we’ve worked hard on it, so hopefully people will dig it!
You’ve explained previously that one of the central themes on this album is acknowledging how difficult and how daunting it can be to communicate and express ourselves frankly to those we care for. It’s a theme I’m sure many find quite close to the bone, but at the same time it’s probably something we don’t discuss enough nowadays. Was it a no-brainer to touch upon such a topic, even if it is close to the bone, given how underacknowledged it is?
Davie: I think it’s difficult to talk about anything that’s difficult, but I think rather than just write a song that’s difficult and then act like “who’s that crazy …?” then it’s like, I don’t want to own it and admit and be challenged to do things. I think everyone finds it difficult to communicate and I think young men in particular have a real problem with communicating emotionally with each other and I think if with our band we can provide a place where people feel like they can communicate then that’s amazing! But yeah, it’s not easy; that’s what we’re registered to talk about, the not easy stuff.
One of the main features of this promotional campaign has been the ‘So that you might hear me’ podcast. One of the things which you mentioned in this podcast is that often you prefer not to discuss the meanings behind some of your songs; sometimes because they have personal context but also because you like for them to be left up to interpretation with fans. Though it’s an important, and I’m sure rewarding, characteristic of songs to be left to interpretation, do you get more personal satisfaction from writing for yourself, and being able to put down your own experiences? Or do you think it’s more rewarding to be able to watch as people get their own interpretations from them?
Davie: They’re really different senses of satisfaction. I can achieve a certain level of “I feel like I’ve said what I want to say”, but that means very little if that doesn’t connect for someone. If someone isn’t able to create their own memories and thoughts and relationships with them then it becomes redundant what I think of it. So, it matters in a sense that, when you’re writing stuff, it should move you, if you plan on it being moving to anyone else.
Because I remember reading the press release and one of the things which stood out to me was you saying that once you’d written a song, you no longer have ownership of it; it becomes a song for fans to have their own interpretation behind it.
Davie: Absolutely! That’s how I feel about [song writing], as soon as I share an idea with Kev, it’s not mine anymore; it’s ours. And then as soon as we share it with the rest of the guys, it’s not ours anymore, it’s all of ours. And then with a producer it becomes even bigger and eventually you go: “And now it’s out, it’s really not ours”. I think that’s quite beautiful; you’re creating something but when it’s actually done you don’t really own it, it’s sort of there.
In terms of both musical composition and lyrical content, was this your most difficult album to date?
Kev: I think every album has different challenges. I don’t think this is more difficult than other albums but each one has presented its own different set of challenges, and it always will; those can be musical challenges or environmental challenges or financial challenges or situational things or just creative challenges where you’re like: “That’s not working.” But they’re never the same, it’s just all part of the same process.
Earlier I mentioned the podcast. One of the moments which really stood out for me was listening to you discuss a song on the new album called ‘Not Every River’. The main message of this song, that not every river runs into the sea, on the surface can come across as quite a bleak message, but you explained that there’s actually a lot of solace to be taken from it. Is it important perhaps to be blunt and realistic with ourselves, in order to, in the long run, achieve greater personal progress?
Davie: I’m never going to play for the LA Lakers, you know; I’m never going to do lots of things, and I’m okay with it. I feel like sometimes I worry that we live our lives and constantly look for solutions to things and sometimes there isn’t one, and that is a really hard part of growing up; sometimes there isn’t a “click your fingers and that will work”. I think I find it difficult [to follow] these sort of small slogans of how to achieve happiness and things like that. Sometimes I worry that they’re quite poisonous and they’re not really helping the young people, or all people. You have to recognise things that you can change and recognise things you can’t, and then go: “I can change this, I’m going to do something about it; I can’t change this, how am I going to get over how I feel about that?” rather than go: “No there’s a solution, there’s a solution!” because there isn’t always, and I think that’s quite dangerous for people to think.
Last year you shared a picture on social media of your days working as taxi drivers, which helped you fund the band before it took off. For bands who are in that phase at the moment, regardless of what measures they’re taking to keep their dreams alive, how important is it for them to just be patient; and do you think having that kind of patience and persistence has ultimately paid off?
Kev: You’ve got to just keep going. As long as you’re being honest with yourself, and you’ve got a genuine passion and talent then it takes years, most of the time, to learn all the skills you need to get up to where you want to go to. I don’t know a single person that has just walked into whatever they’re good at and then gone: “Oh brilliant, I’m great at this, and I’m now successful at it too!” – you have to work, and you have to strategize it all.
And do you have any other pieces of advice for the many aspiring musicians or bands around; whether they’re just starting out or have been scratching the surface for some time?
Kev: Be self-critical; it sounds obvious, but a lot of people don’t, because it’s easier to think you’re doing great stuff but actually you need to be able to be quite self-critical and always aspire to do better. And that is a skill in itself, it’s not like you just look into the mirror [and find out how you work]; you have to learn how you work and then learn how to work with what you’ve got, whatever it is, and that’s quite an inward journey that’s quite important.
Will making music always be a part of your lives?
Davie: Nah, give it five years [laughs]. I think it always will be. I can only speak personally but it’s sort of like, without even thinking about it, you do it; it’s just very natural now; I’m constantly thinking about songs, constantly thinking about music so, it would be hard not to.
Bear’s Den’s third studio album, ‘So that you might hear me’, comes out on April 26th, via Communion.