Interview with Boy & Bear

Regardless of whether they’re taking Australian stages by storm, picking up scores of new fans overseas, or recording their songs, Boy & Bear are dedicated to bringing energetic, thoughtfully written folk rock to life. Their debut album, ‘Moonfire,’ features foot stomping sing-alongs, introspective ballads, and vocal harmonies that bring to mind Fleet Foxes’ finest moments. Band leader Dave Hosking brings everything together with his vivid lyrics and crystal clear lead vocals. Coming in at #2 on the iTunes Australia charts in the first week of sales, ‘Moonfire’ promises to continue Boy & Bear’s ascension.

After a brief run of US shows, including a performance at Lollapalooza, Boy & Bear were nice enough to chat with Rock Edition over the phone. Read on to learn about the band’s touring experiences, their songwriting process, and the meaning behind the new album’s title.

How did you guys like playing at Lollapalooza?

Killian Gavin [guitar, vocals]: It was really great. It was pretty cool just to be a part of the lineup and to even think that people were going to turn up. A fair few did, which was kind of nice in the end. Yeah, we really enjoyed it. We managed to almost get away without getting wet.

[laughs] Oh, did it start raining?

Killian: Yeah, it came down pretty hard.

Jon Hart [banjo, mandolin, keyboard, vocals]: After our set, we literally played the last chord and put all our instruments down, and it just started pelting. We were kind of fortunate in that sense, but then we got soaked afterward.

Did you guys get to catch any other bands that you wanted to see at the festival?

Jon: Yeah, we got to check out My Morning Jacket. They headlined on Saturday night, and that was a really cool set. At the same time Beirut was playing as well, so we saw quite a bit of them and checked them out as well. Other than that, it was a bit of running around and trying to get everything done, so we didn’t see as much as we might have liked.

[Dave Hosking joins the conversation]

Dave [vocals, guitar]: Hey.

Hey. We were just talking about your performance at Lollapalooza.

Dave: Oh, cool.

And then you guys played a few shows in New York this past week, right?

Dave: Yes.

How did those go?

Dave: Really, really good. We played at the Mercury Lounge and the Knitting Factory. It was our second time at the Mercury Lounge. It was cool. It was really vibey and pretty packed. I don’t know. We’ve had a couple shows here now, and they all seem to have gone pretty well. The Knitting Factory — that was our first time there and it’s a really cool venue and a great system to play in. Quite successful shows. It’s good fun.

Jon: We also got to sneak in a set at the SummerStage in Central Park on Monday, and that was kind of like a bit of a late addition to the thing. But that was a bit fun, a really nice afternoon thing. That was cool.

Yeah, sounds like a lot of fun. What’s touring overseas like for you guys, compared to playing shows in Australia?

Dave: I don’t know. There are a lot of similarities, and there are a lot of differences. I think back home, we’ve worked pretty hard to build a really great, loyal audience. We’re in that position now where we’re playing some really decent sized rooms. It sort of feels like when we’re overseas, we’re starting at the beginning again, but I quite like that. It’s nice to play to a really fresh crowd with no expectations. There’s a sense of freedom at those shows. It’s really exciting and fun to be in that position again, to be honest.

Do you feel like you’re getting a lot of fans overseas at your shows?

Dave: Yeah, I hope so; I think so. I guess time will tell. It’s hard to tell, but the shows are being taken very well. All that online stuff — everything seems to be really busy, and there seem to be generally good vibes coming back at us. That’s all we can ask for.

Jon: We haven’t felt that it’s been just Australians turning up to our shows in New York, which is kind of cool. You can get a decent ratio of expats happening when you’re an Australian band playing elsewhere, but it’s been sort of nice to feel like [there are] actually New Yorkers coming along to the shows, as opposed to friends or people who know who we are from back at home.

That’s definitely good to hear. You’ve played with a number of big acts, including Angus & Julia Stone and Mumford & Sons. Out of all of the people you’ve played with, who has been your favorite artist/band to play alongside?

Dave: It’s probably different for a lot of us, but we did three tours with Laura Marling — two in Australia, one in the UK. She’s probably been my favorite artist to tour with. When we were in the UK, we played in these theatres, and that was really borderline terrifying at first, but once you get used to it, it’s a really interesting, intimate space to play in. I loved that. It seemed to really suit what we did. Yeah, that was probably my favorite tour to date.

Do any of you guys have a different opinion on that?

Killian: When we did the UK tour with Laura, myself, Dave, and Jon were back home in Australia for about four weeks whilst Tim and Jake were over in the UK. Back home in Australia, Jon, Dave, and myself did the tour with Angus & Julia Stone. That’s probably still one of my absolute favorite tours we’ve ever done, I think. We ended up jumping up on stage almost every night with them, playing a Fleetwood Mac cover. It was just a really, really fun tour.

Nice.

Jon: It’s kind of different; you have great things about each tour. Each of the artists have a particular strength. With somebody like Laura, she’s an artist who’s an amazing songwriter and has an amazing voice. She just sort of stands up on stage and delivers. You contrast that with the Mumford boys, where there’s a lot of foot on the floor craziness going on. They’re putting on almost a rock show with what I consider folky kind of instruments. That’s a really cool thing to see, the way they can play to some really big crowds and really bring the vibe to that. And then you’ve got Angus & Julia; like we said, there was a really family environment going on there. You take something out of all of them. I guess for me, my favorite tour is the one that I’m on at that point in time. You kind of romanticize them a little bit afterward, but then you move on to the next thing as well. We’ve been pretty lucky.

Cool. Let’s talk a little bit about the genesis of the band. How did you guys all end up playing music together in the same band?

Dave: Some directly, some indirectly through university — four of us went to Macquarie Uni, back in Sydney. Killian and Tim [Hart; drums, vocals] — in fact all of us — were in separate bands at the time. Over the course of maybe three or four years, those three or four bands molded into one. It was originally my solo project, and then Jake [Tarasenko; bass, vocals] was helping me out on bass, and then Killian came on board playing electric. Finally, when Tim, our drummer, became part of it, it didn’t feel like a solo project. We renamed the project and did the band thing. So far, so good.

What made you realize that it was turning into more of a full band thing than a solo project?

Dave: Probably the sound; just the way everything was sounding and everyone’s input. It no longer had that solo vibe. I don’t know what it was. I kind of like the idea of breaking down those walls and empowering everyone to actually take some sense of ownership over the entire thing. I think as the sound shifted — we weren’t a five piece; we were a four piece back then, which eventually became a five piece — these guys weren’t just playing for me. We were pulling the songs together as a group. It just made absolute sense to change.

So do all of you guys contribute to the songwriting process?

Dave: Yeah, they do. I guess I sort of bring the bones of the songs to the band, and then as a group we pull the arrangements together. Sometimes the songs will come out really similar to how they started, and other times the boys will tear up my work, and we’ll chop the whole thing up and pull it together that way. That’s generally been the system that we go by at the moment.

Let’s talk a bit about the lyrics, too. They seem quite abstract on the album. What typically inspires your writing process for those?

Dave: I think this record is probably a lot more narrative-based — lyrically, more narrative-based — than the EP. I guess maybe 80 percent of the record is somewhat direct from personal experiences and my perception of things that happened in my life. I think there are still elements — “Milk and Sticks” is a fictional, theatrical kind of track, but you’ve got “Part Time Believer,” “Big Man” and even “Beach” which are a little bit more direct and based on things that inspire me, things that challenge me.

Cool. I was recently watching your short film A Short Documentary on Boy & Bear, and you guys talk a lot about how important it is to you that your live show is very energetic and very real when it comes to the instrumental and vocal performances. How have you approached recording your songs in order to keep that kind of immediacy intact?

Dave: So you mean like how we recorded the songs to maintain that sense of authenticity?

Yeah, exactly.

Dave: I don’t know. On the record, we tracked probably 80 percent with live vocals — not all of the BVs — but the lead at least was tracked live. There’s something kind of nice about that because you don’t have a choice, you know?

Yeah.

Dave: But that’s the challenge, I think because you’ve got to walk that line between actually producing sounds that sound real and honest and also producing sounds that just sound good. We have an approach where we’re not too fast on — if we’re doing BV lines or whatever — if there are moments where it’s flat or sharp, if it feels good, we run with it. I guess that’s because that’s what the live show is. It’s never perfect; there are always moments. You can only do your best to try and capture that on a record.

Did you record the instrumentals live as well?

Dave: Yeah. What did we do live? I guess it was drums, bass, guitar, acoustic, and lead vox, and keyboard, and sometimes banjo as well.

Killian: However we play the song live, I think, usually forms the bed that we would then record live. What we’re playing live on tour is generally how we would approach the recording and start with all of us laying that foundation and then after that adding a few more layers and some harmonies.

Awesome. How many takes did it generally take you guys to do for the songs, for the live parts?

Dave: Just one, every time.

Really?

[all laugh]

Dave: No, I’m kidding.

Oh, okay. [laughs]

Dave: It varied. It must have been somewhere between 15 and 25 on most. I think on one of them, we ended up with like 60.

Wow.

Dave: Yeah, the shortest song on the record ended up being a fucking nightmare.

Killian: [laughs]

Dave: You hit that point where you’re doing take after take after take because we wanted to do the live thing. You get that point where if it’s got a good vibe about it, then we’ll run with it.

Did you ever feel like you just had to stop at some point because it was driving you crazy?

Dave: Yeah. [laughs] Absolutely. The song that we did 60 takes, “The Village,” I think we had four different goes at until it would break our sanity, and we’d have to come back to it. [laughs]

[laughs] Well, it sounds pretty good on the record, so I guess it turned out well.

Dave: [laughs] Thank you.

What was it like working with Joe Chicarelli in Nashville for the recording of the album?

Dave: It was good! Joe’s a very experienced guy. He’s an amazing engineer and [gets] some really incredible sounds. He’s a bit of a taskmaster; we were doing 12-hour days, 6 days a week. He works really hard. He definitely brought a fresh set of ears to the entire project, and it’s good to have someone with that sort of experience to bounce off, I think.

Why did you decide to name the album ‘Moonfire’? What’s the meaning behind that?

Dave: Jake, our bass player, who’s actually not here — he’s disappeared. He always does that, actually. He has managed to name the EP and the record. I guess he’s the wordsmith on that end of things. Moonfire was actually a DVD which we bought on a desperate trip from Sydney to Brisbane, which is actually a 12-hour drive. The van had this DVD player, and we stopped in the local service station and it was the only DVD I think they had. It literally had this truck on fire on the front of it and some Nazi symbol and looked super interesting. It turned out to be pretty much horrible. I don’t know; it almost started off as a joke, like, “Let’s just name the record ‘Moonfire.'” Then, we went to the naming system at the end, and we ended up sticking with it. [laughs]

[laughs] That’s pretty funny. I was not expecting that at all.

[all laugh]

Dave: Neither were we.

[laughs] Nice. The videos for “Feeding Line” and “Milk and Sticks” are pretty interesting. What are the ideas behind them?

Dave: I have no idea, actually, to be honest. A guy called Jefferton James in Australia has done most of our clips. Who was the guy that did that last clip?

Jon: Luke Kellett.

Dave: Luke Kellett did the “Milk and Sticks” clip. I guess we’ve always just backed a certain vision. Jeff, particularly, has been a really important part of developing the art and the themes in the clips. He’s just a very creative guy. We’re not really into the idea of doing those performance clips where we’re staring down the camera, having those intimate moments. It’s not really our vibe. From our perspective, as long as they’re interesting, quirky, and somewhat fascinating, I think that’s what’s the most important thing to us.

So do you let the directors take their own vision and run with it?

Dave: Yeah, pretty much. With the last clip, there was a performance element involved in the original script, so we stepped in at that point and said, “Look, that’s not really our thing. Can we change it?” Occasionally, we’ll tweak bits and pieces, but most of the time it’s their vision.

Awesome. What other groups in the Australian indie folk scene would you recommend?

Dave: Check out The Jezabels; they’re really great. Did you say folk?

Anything you would like to recommend.

Dave: Yeah, The Jezabels. Check them out. They’re kind of like The National with this amazing female vocalist. And then… what else guys? Help me out. Cloud Control; they’re really great. I should know a lot more. Hold on, give me a sec. A band called Georgia Fair — they’re good friends of ours. What else? The Middle East. Check out The Middle East.

Killian: I don’t know if the indie folk scene is too massive back home. I don’t know if the whole industry is too massive back home.

[laughs]

Dave: Check out The Holidays; they’re good fun. There you go.

Pick up Boy & Bear’s new album, Moonfire.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their Facebook page.