Bear’s Den Talk ‘Islands,’ Their New York Experience + CMJ Nerves
While some might think that the time of folk is over, Bear's Den are here to make us think otherwise.
After releasing their EP 'Agape' in 2013, the London band's debut full-length album 'Islands', out now via Communion Records, is a collection of tracks that not only grab you with intricately layered melodies but also tug at your heart strings with honest and instantly relatable lyrics. With tracks like 'Agape,' 'Elysium' and their current single, 'Above the Clouds of Pompeii,' guitarist Andrew Davie, banjo player Joey Haynes and drummer Kevin Jones put out pitch-perfect harmonies that they prove are strong enough to entertain a crowd -- even without microphones.
Diffuser had the chance to catch up with Jones as the band gets ready to take the stage for CMJ to talk about the new album, coming back to play in New York City and more.
How does it feel to have your full-length album, 'Islands,' out?
It feels great. We spent a lot of time on it. When something's in your head for a long time and finally is out of your head and you get people to hear it, it's very cool and very rewarding.
And looking at the track list, there are a few songs on the album that are actually from your previous EP, 'Agape.' For the new material, how long did it take for you guys to get it all written and recorded? Or was that something that you've had in the Bear's Den catalog for a while?
It just depends. There was nothing done chronologically. Like 'Elysium' is one of the oldest songs we have. It was written four years ago, but we've never been able to articulate it properly. Then 'Magdalene' was written two days before we finished making the record, and it came together -- so we put it on. 'Agape' was released before, but songs evolve. They're not a static thing like we write it one day and it's the end of the road on it. We recorded the songs [from before] and made sure to make a succinct body of work. So there were loads of decisions as to why some things went on and why other things didn't.
What's the premise of the song and video for 'Above the Clouds of Pompeii'?
Well the premise of the song is whatever you think the premise of the song is. I think there's a lot of layers to that song. I think it has to with do with loss in some form. So one interpretation of that manifests itself in the video. I don't think it's about one thing. The video just explores one of the layers of that song.
CMJ isn't the first time Bear's Den has played New York City. How does it feel to perform in the city now compared to the first time you visited?
New York is a very exciting place to play. And we're playing the Mercury Lounge [tonight, Oct. 24], and it's special because it's the first place we've ever played in New York. It's the first place where we played 'Above the Clouds of Pompeii.' We literally put it together on the road and just had a go at it that night. So it's always really fun to play New York. It's still exciting but different. Formative experiences have happened to us as a band so it's special to play in New York.
Since you've played New York crowds before, do you feel less nervous playing here, especially for your CMJ sets?
I don't know. I think it's our fifth or sixth time playing in the states. Particularly in New York, we've got loads of friends. So if you're surround by your friends, there's a family vibe. It takes off the pressure or the perceived pressure, especially with your mates around you. But I don't think it changes the way we play the shows. We'll always have the same attitude to that or whatever. Even if it's the venue around the corner from where we live, we won't change the way we approach it.
One thing you've been known to do is go into the crowd and finish your show with an unplugged set. Is that something that the band plans to make their signature?
We love doing it. We want to do it for as long as we can. We have talked about how it's going to be when we play something like the 1,500 [person] venue in London. That requires a huge level of trust in terms of the relationship with the audience. You know, when it's that many people. But we'd like to do it for as long as we can because that's how the music we make actually comes out. It's really nice to engage with people in that way without any barriers in place. Not like negative barriers, but you've got drum kits and staging. It's quite a lot between you and the audience. But when we [go into the crowd], it levels out.
So what are the plans for the rest of 2014?
Well, we get back home at the end of December. We might do a bit more touring, and then there's Christmas, which will be lovely. Then we're back on the road again. So fairly busy still, but we might get a break. You never know.
Bear's Den are playing Mercury Lounge tonight (Oct. 24) at 11:30PM ET.