Mumford & Sons certainly didn’t invent the sound but they have become a bastion of all things folk at least in the sphere of all things popular thanks to their headline festival draw and top 40 infiltration. In addition to their own albums, Mumford have also produced the “Gentlemen of the Road” label, the Communion label and the gaggle of bands that have followed in Mumford & Sons’ wake have been signed to Communion. Bear’s Den fits into these musical projects rather neatly. The London trio toured with Gentlemen of the Road in 2013 and drummer Kevin Jones co-founded Communion with Mumford’s Ben Lovett.
I hate to mention Mumford at the mere twang of a banjo but there is a direct link between them and newcomers Bear’s Den – although that’s purely business and musical affiliation, no need for comparison here.
In fact, it feels rather like lazy labelling to pigeon hole the lovely Bear’s Den as nothing more than ‘just another Mumford & Sons’ – whilst I’m sure they take this as a compliment, and have clearly had a great working relationship with the band it’s not fair to label them as a Mumford tribute act – they have soul, and bring a new spin to the folk sound with their multi-instrumental set up and rousing storytelling through well crafted lyricism. Throw some strings, or a banjo and heck even a beard or two into the mix nowadays and those who are not au fait with folk will undoubtedly say, ‘Yeah it’s a bit Mumford-y’.
Bear’s Den debut album, Islands, is the first full-length release from the trio, following a pair of EPs that came out in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Three songs from the first, Agape, resurface in re-recorded form on Islands as well as a collection of previously unheard songs that perfectly compliment the aforementioned EP gems.
With a name inspired by Maurice Sendak’s sixties children’s classic, ‘Where the wild things are’ – Bear’s Den (Andrew Davie [simply known as Davie], guitar and vocals, Kev Jones drums; vocals and Joey Haynes banjo; vocals) create music that is both literate and profound whilst still being entirely accessible. With a notable emphasis on beautiful lyrics inspired by literary classics, there is room for interpretation in these songs yet they are still relatable – high brow of course, but not in a supercilious way.
On the day of release of their debut album, Islands, I caught up with the band to chat about their debut album, battling Foo Fighters in the iTunes charts and of course how Bear’s Den came to be…
So, for reader’s who don’t know yet, who are Bear’s Den, how did you meet?
Kev: “We met through mutual friends. Davie and I met through a circle of musicians who were making music in London a while back. Made friends, played music in various formats. We were in a band called Cherbourg. We wanted to start a new project, realised we needed multi-instrumentalist, we didn’t want to be stuck with the standard set up, you know just drums, guitar, bass. So we spoke to other mutual friends, found Joey and started a band – Bear’s Den as you know it now”.
Were you happy to have it as an outlet, a hobby alongside your regular jobs?
Davie: “Well, Kev was running a record label [Communion], I was working on a building site and Joey subtitled Norwegian TV… but that’s just because he’s Norwegian… we had no real passion for these things I guess haha…I think anyone who tries to be in a band ideally prays they can make an album… of course you can make an album in your bedroom I suppose, but something for people to experience. For us, it was about being a good live band and touring a lot. Even if you feel homesick whilst you are gone, as soon as you are home for a week or two you start getting that itch to be out and performing… there’s something about it that’s just so amazing. As soon as we got the bug, touring, playing live together the other jobs slowly…fell away…ha”.
When you met and formed the band, did your sound organically come together, or did you sit down and put your ideas together and say right ‘this is what we want to aim for’?
Kev: “We wanted to base everything around the song writing. So choosing the sound, the instruments – we wanted to be and to have multi-instrumentalists because we didn’t want to be limited to a certain sound by default. We’ve got wildly disparate influences, but the three of us together have got real chemistry – it just works”.
You wanted to fit the sound to the lyrics?
Kev: “Exactly, yes.”
Davie: “It can be stagnant if everyone only plays one thing – just because you can’t get a good idea on one instrument, doesn’t mean the idea isn’t there. Joey learnt electric guitar, banjo, Kev learnt drums. I guess we used some of musical education from college ….haha”.
Who writes the lyrics?
Davie: “Me, I guess, I sort of show up and say ‘help me! I don’t know what to do with any of this’ haha – I think I come in with very rough ideas that need refining – lyrics aren’t finished but once we play over and over we work on the lyrics and melodies together that’s how the songs are formed.”
After a few years of touring, and a couple of EPs are you happy with the finished product of your debut LP, ‘Islands’?
Davie: “I don’t think you’re ever going to think “this is perfect, this is the dream!” I think within the time and constraints we had, we’ve done our best to document those songs, and where those songs were at, when we were in the studio, tried to make an album that worked together – the songs complimented each other and mesh together. We didn’t want to confuse people with too much – too many angles. We tried our best, we are all proud, but to say there is nothing we wouldn’t change or revisit…I’m not sure if that’s possible…”
Kev: “Its likes taking a photograph, that’s where we were at in June…You’re never going to look like Brad Pitt in that photo haha… but it’s the best you’ve got in that moment. It’s your Brad Pitt moment haha…”
Joey: “That’s what we are aiming for though…”
Kev: “yeah we want to sound like how Brad Pitt always looks haha we’ve copied his beard at least…”
Davie: “Well we are battling it out with Foo Fighters for number 22 at the moment so it can’t be all bad haha. It’s insane. We are just so happy to be here and be able to do this.”
Are all the songs new and fresh or are some archived from the beginnings of Bear’s Den?
Davie: “There are definitely some pretty old songs for us, in a way they are old because the words were written a while ago but musically they are pretty new. Most of it as been updated through the process, through playing them live – audiences have helped shape them over time.”
Do you strive to add something different to live shows, some bands sound just like the record live, do you want to change it up?
Joey: “Well, I guess it’s good if you can recognise the songs – but I think we’ve got the essence of the songs on the album but there will always be a variation live, for us anyways.”
Kev: “I think the energy you put out on live shows… perhaps a record can contain more subtleties… and live you want more energy”
Davie: “Every show is different you know, every audience, every room.”
Why is the album called Islands?
Davie: “I think a lot of the songs are about isolation,feeling alone, being alone but also hope and escapismand we just thought ‘Islands’ encompassed that idea. Plus it’s taken from a line in one of the songs.”
You write a lot of the lyrics, are the confessional? Does that mean you feel isolated?
Davie: “I mean of course there is a personal element to the songs, but they aren’t directly about me or my life either. Maybe bits of it… I like to leave room for interpretation; it allows the listener to have their own individual relationship with the songs. I don’t always want people to look for too much meaning in the song, like ‘oh what does he mean by that?’ instead take their own feelings from it. Plus, writing is very personal anyway; I guess I need to keep some of myself, or my life just for me. Ultimately we are trying to reach people on a communal level.”
Islands is out now on iTunes and in all good record stores