Interview: Boy & Bear5 February 2016
Sydney indie rockers Boy & Bear are achieving international success with their third studio album Limit Of Love. With its warm tones and organic sound, their melancholy folk-rock record peaked at number one on the ARIA chart. Currently travelling around Australia on their Limit Of Love tour, friendly and down-to-earth bassist, Dave Symes, took some time off to talk music, records and touring. We discuss the band’s relationship with Triple J, their creative and recording process and the impact of piracy and streaming on the music industry.
You recently released your album Limit of Love. How did you find the writing and recording process this time around and what makes it different from your last two records?
This time around it was a slightly different process. Normally with songwriting, it is very collaborative and everyone’s involved. A lot of the sketches come from Dave Hosking, he’s our lead singer and plays acoustic guitar. Often, he would get a bit of a sketch of a nice melody and some chords, or even just a bit of a structure that he thinks has some legs to become a song. He will bring that to us, then we all get together and work with that idea as a start point, reshaping it and building it up from there. So that’s how half the songs come together. The other half get started from different points of reference. Some get started from the rhythm section and we come to the melody at the end. Or other times we’ll start from a keyboard part. But along the way it’s all very collaborative, we tend to work really well that way.
Are all five of you are involved in the writing process?
Yeah that’s correct, we all share the load quite equally. Obviously we have different roles at different times depending on what’s happening. Dave and Tim, our singer and drummer, they’re our poets. If there’s something more to do with writing rhythm parts or certain recording techniques then Killian and I have more to do with that. The best songwriting occurs when all of us get involved.
You worked with a new producer for Limit To Love. Was that an important relationship and how did it influence your music?
Our producer for this album was Ethan Jones, a very famous musician and producer. He’s worked on some amazing records. He was a massive influence and a massive inspiration for us on this record. He really understood what it was that we wanted to achieve and took us to a whole other level through his experience recording in the studio. It was all live recorded in Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studio in the UK. He had us all set up in one big room, all playing on top of each other and doing live vocals. Also, he used a lot of old analog recording techniques which helped create a warm sound, a real honest and true sound. It sounds like it would if you had your head in front of the instrument. It’s very real.
I know this is a tough question, but do you have a favourite song from the new record?
It changes for me all the time. One of my favourites is one that didn’t make the record actually, which is funny. I really like ‘Limit Of Love’, the title track at the moment. We’re currently touring, so we’ve been playing these songs live and I’ve been enjoying playing that [Limit Of Love] live. It’s got a really great groove and it’s just growing and growing as a song.
You guys have gotten a lot of air time on Triple J. What do you think about Triple J’s role in helping young Aussie musicians?
Well for Boy & Bear, Triple J have been incredible. They have been very supportive and into our music. We’ve got an amazing relationship with them, from playing our songs, talking to us on radio and supporting our tours. They’re actually supporting this Limit Of Love tour at the moment. I think, for any band, getting support from them [Triple J] is pretty important because in Australia there aren’t a lot of radio stations and it’s really hard to get played on radio. I think that will change soon because digital radio is getting much stronger, so I guess we’ll see more stations. Even Triple J’s now got Double J. I think you do need to have more options of where to get played. Triple J does have an important role in getting people’s music to a broader audience because they’ve got quite a large listenership, you know?
You guys had a song, ‘Walk the Wire’, in the Hottest 100 this year. Were you guys listening to it together and what did you think of the results?
A couple of us were together and a couple were at barbecues with some friends but they were listening too. We were pretty stoked to get in this year. There’s so much music out there. At the moment, a lot of the music, even in the top 20, is so much more electronic than we are. From a genre point of view, we’re more of an indie rock band, so it was nice that we got in there as well. It was also great to see other Australian stuff in there, like Tame Impala and Hermitude, who actually got into the top 10. I was really, really stoked for those guys. They’ve worked really hard in the last few years to make great music, so that was really good to see.
So you guys are playing at the Groovin’ the Moo festival in April. Which other artists are you most excited to see and hang out with?
I’m still working out who’s actually going to be on that tour to be honest. I was pretty excited to find out that another Australia artist, Ngaiire, just got announced. I’m really excited for her to be on that tour because she’s just had some new releases last year and she had a song in the Hottest 100. I’m really excited to see her because she has an amazing live show.
Who are you listening to at the moment? Were there any bands that influenced your new record?
Collectively, we do a bit of listening together on the road. When we’re all travelling we often listen to a lot of old music. We were listening to a lot of 1970s rock and roll. But on the tour leading up to recording Limit Of Love, if I think back to the music we bought that year, we really got into Beck’s Morning Phase album, the one that won the Grammy. We also got into the War On Drugs record from that year. We really loved that album. I thought that was really one of the best albums of that year. The other one I really liked was the Alabama Shakes record that got put out, Sound and Colour. There are lots of influences for us.
So you guys are in the middle of a national tour. Do you have any funny stories about travelling with the guys or are things running pretty smoothly?
So far things are going pretty smoothly actually. We’ve only done a few shows. We’ve done some pretty nice shows actually. We got to play in a beautiful amphitheatre in Perth called Red Hill Auditorium – a gorgeous outdoor amphitheatre about 30kms outside of Perth. I mean it’s right on the river and you look back to the Perth CBD and the sun sets over the CBD. It was pretty magical.
So how do you feel about the direction the music industry is heading in? Is it easier to break into these days with exposure from the internet, or is the internet making it harder by introducing things like piracy and streaming?
I think there’s an argument for both sides and I think they’re equally valid and present. I think it’s not just the music industry that’s really feeling this, it’s every sort of performing art. Everyone’s going through a massive change just because of internet streaming. With music, on one hand we get to play in Canada, America, Europe and the UK and all these places that are very far away from Sydney, and that would not be possible without having an audience online. I think if people do pay subscription fees and the money filters out to artists then that would be a good thing. Because unfortunately, to make an album like we’ve made, it takes lot of time and a lot of money to do. It’s hard to think that it is then given out for free. I’m probably going around in circles but I think you can argue both sides. There are still some challenges that I think we have to overcome with the way streaming works. One of them is quality, I think the sound quality has to become way better because you spent a lot of time making a record sound amazing and then they crush them into these tiny files. But I feel like that is changing. I think people are now going ‘yeah this is cool, we’ll sign up to this’ and then realise they get a lot more quality in doing that rather than just downloading illegally.
Thanks for answering that, I know it’s a tough question and there’s definitely two sides to that argument. I’ve just got one more question for you. As a band you guys keep getting bigger and bigger. What does the future look like for Boy & Bear?
Well the rest of this year looks like we’re gonna be touring. We’re getting back to Europe and America, and we’re doing Australia and New Zealand this weekend. So yeah, just more and more touring really. We’re still working really hard to build our live show and our live audiences so we can just keep making records, because I think we want to be doing this for a long, long time.