Boy & Bear have had an intensive touring schedule over the past few years, travelling overseas and visiting varying cities and countrysides throughout Australia.
The distances have been vast, and adventures many. Each carrying a handful of songs, the five young men have garnered a following of fans around the globe. Whether it be at a small pub where they are fairly unknown, or at a bustling theatre where their lyrics are known off by heart – people have stopped to listen.
A sense of authentic storytelling emerges in the music they make, and as I found out, this genuine and hearty quality transfers to their character too. I had a chat with Jon Hart, who plays keys, banjo, and mandolin in the band, and sings a bit too. Back in Australia for a short time, Hart had a moment to fill us in on what the band has been up to over the past few months. Here is some of what he had to say:
“Playing Conan O’Brien was pretty cool. [Television] is a different kind of world to what we normally do. We were there at 9 am, and you do a couple of soundchecks, then a couple of camera checks. They work out where the camera needs to be at certain points in the song, and then we hung around until about 5.30 in the afternoon until we played; so you’re there and you are trying not to let the pressure build up with the fact that you are only playing for four minutes. You’re there for about nine hours to get ready for it. So it’s kind of funny, but in the end it’s kind of enjoyable.”
“It is different in America because in Australia people got to know us over time, whereas in America the only thing that came out for us has been our latest album, Harliquiem Dream. Sometimes it’s cool- there are people who have discovered us by buying things off Amazon or bought things from Australia or downloaded things via Spotify. It is kind of funny to see how some people in America know some of the older stuff and sometimes it is just the new stuff that they know.
It has been a really fascinating place to go. We have just finished our second tour there this year and this time we did some festivals and went to more of a secondary market, you could say. It’s not quite a regional tour, but not New York and Los Angeles and Chicago for example; but places around there that are less of a big city. It was really interesting, and on the tour bus we got some really beautiful drives as well.”
“Road tripping has been pretty awesome. You can see why so many bands do it in America. That’s the way they tour in America because you’ve basically got to drive from one state to another. You play your show, get in the bus and maybe have a glass of wine or a beer or whatever and then you go to bed and you wake up in another place. You might have a day where you kind of cruise around and then you get back in the bus and the bus drives off at night when you sleep, so, that’s really nice. It means you actually get to see places when you arrive because you often arrive mid-morning in a city and you can go and find a coffee and some lunch and have a look around and then you go to your soundcheck in the afternoon and then do the show, and then you get back on the bus. I think it really… it really helps. Personally, it helped having the one place to go back to. One of the things about touring that I find a little bit tiring is having a different hotel room every night. You’re just constantly packing and unpacking a suitcase, whereas being on the bus you could get a routine going and it was really nice.”
“It was fun touring in the bus. They are the tiniest bunks you can imagine. You can just basically fit yourself in, and you can’t completely sit up without hitting your head on the bunk above but that small space starts to feel like home. It becomes your own little area. We said we were going to go and get in our cocoons and that will be it for the night – you just get in your cocoon and settle in there. Your very own snug little nook.”
“It’s a bit of a mixed bag doing the regional Australian tour. Sometimes you play to an audience where people have maybe listened to a bit of the music beforehand and are really keen to see it. Often the thing we would notice was the type of venue we played dictates the style of the show. For example, we were playing down in Warnambool and we were playing this beautiful, little theatre where they have plays and productions and some gigs as well. It was a sit down theatre and everyone pays attention and they are quiet and polite and that’s nice. But then, you might play, for example when we were in… Broom I think it was, and we were playing an outdoor beer garden pub gig on a Friday night – and I can tell you that’s a very different atmosphere to a sit down theatre. It was really great going to places in Australia that we had not been to before, and it was nice hearing people say that they were so glad that we came out there. That was really rewarding.”
“There is a main songwriter in the band. It has sort of been the same since the start with us. Dave [Hosking] sings, and he will usually bring in the song structure to the band. He will bring something into the rehearsal room and will say, ‘I’ve got this thing’, and it might be a completed song or it might be a bit of a hook or a tag line… then we’ll go from there.
We pretty much have the same process all the time which is: We will either go to a rehearsal studio where we can just set up as a band and listen to the track and then jam through it and see how it is all feeling, or, if we’re feeling indulgent or lucky we might go and hire a house. A few times we’ve hired a house and taken all our gear away and just hung out and done that. That is really cool as well. Usually we just want to be in a space where we can play together and work through the tunes.”
“We all definitely go through individual periods of home sickness. It is hard, if you’ve got partners or family at home you miss out on a lot of things. We got home on Friday last week and it was really nice to be here for a week – not that we can completely settle as we are only here for a week, but I have missed Australia. There are lots of great things about it and they get reinforced when you go away for a while. Our food is incredible here and people are relaxed and nice.”
“For Tim [Hart] and I – we were probably one of those slightly stereotypical type of families where we had a Mum who said we all had to have piano lessons when we were in primary school for about three or four years. I think we all stopped playing piano at a point because none of us thought it was very cool and Tim started playing drums and then guitar and I played guitar so there was always music happening and there was lots of music around. We were always trying to be playing in bands in high school and in uni so there has always been something around.”
“I was doing an interview for something yesterday and they were asking what the first album was that I bought with my own money. It’s hard to remember but I think it was probably Nevermind. In high school the whole singles thing was happening so I used to buy a bunch of singles, but I remember buying Nevermind. I remember the feeling of ownership; carrying home an album with a controversial cover and amazing music, so I guess I caught the tail of the grunge thing. I loved Pearl Jam and Nivarna. I really liked the early Red Hot Chilli Peppers stuff as well, and Soundgarden – they were my American staples and that probably stayed through high school. I’m trying to think when it kind of shifted, I don’t really know what happened – maybe I then started to realise that I actually liked the music that my parents played when I was growing up. I kind of went out of the grunge phrase and back into, I guess, maybe more 70s pop.
Simon and Garfunkel were a big influence from when I was growing up, so that kind of came in again later. It was probably being played when I was four or five years old because that was what Mum and Dad were listening to. I didn’t think it was very cool- now I think its really, really cool, but it took a while to come back around.”
“We were in LA last week and we hung out with Laura Marling who is a English folk singer-songwriter. She seems like the most unlikely candidate of all people I know to move to LA but she has moved to LA nonetheless and she had us over for dinner and I was just reminded of how I love her stuff. We did probably three or four tours with her back in 2010. When we were starting she took us out supporting her. In terms of being a cool person to hang out with, and somebody who puts on an amazing show every night, I think she’s pretty high on the list for me – she was amazing. We also played a few support shows with Elbow, a band from Manchester. They were incredible. In terms of bands, and seeing how a band can come together and put some really cool arrangements on their CDs and then transfer into a live setting, they were great.”
“I don’t think we’ve ever played a show where we haven’t met the support people or support guys. The main bands always say hi to you as well. It has all been pretty fun.”
Boy & Bear will be playing shows in Australia throughout September.
Tickets available at boyandbear.com