Timeless melodies delivered with a bolstering passion and an entrancing vocal. Boy & Bear make music that is deeply honest and completely endearing. The band are nearing the end of their year long tour in promotion for their sophomore record ‘Harlequin Dream’ touching down in the UK, this November.
I caught up with two fifths of the band, Tim Hart and Dave Symes, to talk about the whirlwind year they’ve had, Zac Brown Band, filming the music video for ‘Bridges’ and much more.
You’ve been touring the record since last year, 2014 has seen you playing shows non-stop across the globe. Now that must get tiring surely? How do you cope when you’re out on tour? What’s the routine – how do you stay healthy and fit for the gigs?
Dave Symes: “I think the key there is actually wanting to stay healthy and fit. It is tiring, the shows are tiring in a different way because of the musical energy you use but the main thing that is tiring is the travelling and the time changes and I guess being in a different city every day, so that can really wear you down.
But we as a band all love exercise and getting out and having runs or like yesterday in Edinburgh, we went and climbed the volcano there up to Arthur’s Seat. Things like that, we really try to get out and about. I think that exercise is key, actually getting out in the day time and getting a bit of sport, really helps you to play better at night, in my opinion.”
You must have seen some amazing things while out on the road, is there anywhere that you’ve travelled that you never thought you would’ve seen otherwise?
Tim Hart: “That’s a good question. You’re right, we do see a lot of amazing things. We saw Red Rocks amphitheatre in Colorado which was amazing. It was so beautiful.”
Dave: “It was pretty mind blowing, wasn’t it?”
I know Zac Brown Band played there and it looked amazing.
Tim: “Yeah, yeah. We actually played Zac Brown Band’s festival down in Charlestown, in South Carolina.”
So you met them?
Tim: “No, we didn’t meet him.”
Dave: “Are you a fan?”
Yeah I’m a big fan, I’ve still not seen them live, I really want to.
Tim: “Yeah we saw a bit of them play.”
Dave: “Yeah we did, we saw a bit of their gig. We played at a festival that he puts on in Charleston, just about three weeks ago I guess.
Tim: “But it’s also been cool, you know, just driving over the Rocky Mountains in Canada is amazing and yesterday in Edinburgh was beautiful. These are all places that when I was a kid I wanted to visit but you know, you never know how you’re gonna get there or if you’re ever gonna be able to afford to. Yeah it’s been really special.”
What has touring taught you about the world, people and other cultures?
Tim: “People are inherently bad.” [laughs]
Dave: “I think it teaches you that music is actually a great way to get to places and to meet people because you end up in, even like tonight where we are in Manchester, we’ve just had dinner in the restaurant attached to the venue and you get to meet local people. I think music brings together people from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures and races, so I think it’s a nice way to get to meet people.”
Tim: “It also shows you, doing this travelling, it shows you how small the world is. It’s insane to us coming from Sydney in Australia, we live so far away from everyone and we talk to people all the time that say ‘Oh I really want to go to Australia but it’s just too far away’. But for us, it takes us max one single day, a 24 hour period of your life to get across the other side of the world. For me, that’s insane, it’s an amazing thing that we can travel like that in this day and age. That’s one of the really amazing things that this experience has taught me.”
How does touring the UK compare to touring in Australia?
Tim: “There are similarities definitely. I think crowd-wise depending on which city you go to it’s different and I think it’s the same in Australia. Over here it’s really cool because a lot of the cities are really close together, all the cities are really close together really. The biggest drive we ever have is London to Glasgow, tomorrow we’re playing Leeds and that’s just a short drive.”
Dave: “About an hour away.”
Tim: “That’s what’s really cool over here, there’s so many cities that you’ve heard all about or you know the football team that comes from that city or there’s some sort of amazing historical event or landmark that’s close, and you know it’s just an hour’s drive up the road.”
Dave: “Well I guess the history of the UK, the musical history as well because as Australians we’re a very young country that the English sort of set up for us, well in the contemporary version of it. So our history and the way that music has come about I think we’re heavily influenced by the UK and America big time.
So often, we get to play in places where you know of cities like Manchester and Liverpool, there’s so many musical stories that have come out of it. But as Tim said as well, the actual history like the cultural history and the religious history of these places. Like Edinburgh yesterday it was sort of crazy, I walked up to the castle after dinner last night and I was just blown away. We just don’t have that kind of history, we have a very special history and it’s a different sort of thing. But yeah.”
What has been the biggest learning curve for you as a band since you started out?
Tim: “You know, I really think that if you can stay together as a band, learn to stay together and keep relationships tight, there’s no greater lesson you can learn. I mean, so many bands start off and they have a couple of really great songs and they learn how to play live and to record their stuff and then a couple of years later they fall apart. That’s really sad to see some really great bands that that happens to. I think for us, learning to communicate with each other and to co-exist on the road for what will be close to 160 shows this year has been the biggest learning curve and I think probably the most valuable one.”
Dave: “Yeah I think you have to remain open minded too with each other’s ideas and musically if you want to have a future, it’s about striving forward and always thinking that there is always somewhere else to go, in terms of being better and not ever thinking that you’ve made it because music is endless in the knowledge that you can draw on and I think being open minded along the way is a good lesson I think we keep learning.”
The video for ‘Bridges’ see’s the band performing in a miniature house. How was that video to shoot? Logistically, it looks like it must have been very difficult to manoeuvre everyone into their positions in that tiny doll house?
Dave: “It was a fun day. Actually it ran really smoothly, they had like a model house and they shot it all above obviously but the rooms were tiny so you’d just fit in, then they’d build it around you. So once you were in, you were in, weren’t you?”
Dave: “We’d do probably 30 to 40 minutes stints in there, once we were lying there.”
Tim: “Yeah it seemed like hours.”
Dave: “And you’d get really soar and then you’d get a bit of a rest, it was a bit cramped.”
Tim: “It was fun though. All the little miniatures, apparently they’re really expensive to buy, but you’re lying in there and you’re looking at all the amazing details on these little pieces of artwork really, aren’t they? Yeah it was actually a really fun day, the people from the production company are lovely.”
Dave: “Yeah and they were really efficient the way that they worked, it ran really smoothly that day and they had a lot of great ideas. They already had pre-planned how a lot of how that was going to work. I think they had a strong vision for how that was going to work and they said ‘hey, look it’s going to be a bit uncomfortable but grin and bear it and you’ll be all right’.”
Yeah I think it’s one of those videos, you’ll remember definitely. Stylistically.
Dave: “Yeah for sure.”
For many writers, songwriting is a way to express themselves. Their thoughts, feelings, beliefs. What is it for you?
Tim: “Well, Dave our lead singer, he writes most of the lyrics in this band. I don’t know, like Symes and I, we write too. What would it be for you?”
Dave: “Ahhh, I think that you should answer that question because you’re on a roll.”
Tim: “Yeah, okay I can speak for Dave too. I think from record 1 to record 2 it became a whole lot more of a narrative process. Dave having the bravery to share a bit more of himself and to write more from a narrative perspective rather than abstractly and just aesthetically, as in what sounded good to the ears. So songs like ‘Back Down the Black’, ‘Three Headed Woman’ and ‘Old Town Blues’ tell a bit more of a story of what he’s been going through for the last few years and I think that’s a big part of the road.
Being on the road constantly is amazing but you know, you have some low moments and you have some euphoric moments and that I think is what made its way into Harlequin Dream.”
The album artwork for ‘Harlequin Dream’ is quite powerful imagery. What was the reasoning behind the album cover and who designed it?
Dave: “Well the artwork was done by a New Zealand artist called Vaughan Flanagan and the ideas all came from a bit of brainstorming by the band who pitched certain character ideas and a few different concepts of how to put that together and then Vaughan took those ideas and basically created this artwork, that we’re all really proud of.
It has had a lot of feedback actually. A lot of people have really been drawn to it, I think he did an amazing job and I guess the whole thing, all the different characters are maybe a little bit of dream from the whole record. Yeah it was a guy called Vaughan Flanagan, he did an amazing job.”
You performed on Conan earlier this year, what was your reaction when you got the call that they wanted you to perform? It’s quite a pivotal chat show to be on, how was it meeting Conan?
Tim: “Conan, he was fantastic. He’s very tall. He’s this massive tall dude. He was really friendly, the whole day actually while we were there, because you get there really early in the morning.”
Dave: “I think we were there at 9 to sort of do a set up, rehearsal/soundcheck and then do camera checks and you’re not on till about 5. But during that time he rehearses the rest of his show because those shows are very much live and they’re put together every day, 4 days a week that they do them. So they rehearse all the different scenes. He sat there the whole day, playing this old 50s Fender Stratocaster guitar. He has a live band. Every now and again he was just playing on his own, otherwise the band would join in.
That was his way of getting in between little scenes, instead of him waiting around getting frustrated, he’d rehearse something. He was very much in control like ordering things to change and then he’d just sit there and jam away and play the guitar all day. We were just amazed really.”
Tim: “It was amazing how much control he had over the show, like you think he’s just presenting and the producers are just giving him things but he really produces and directs the whole thing himself. You know, he has jokes throughout the whole show and he’d be like ‘Oh that jokes not quite working. Can we do this? Can we pull in that?’. It was amazing, he’s incredibly intelligent. For us to see it on that side of the fence was really good.”
Dave: “I think it actually inspired us to perform that day and also understand the nature of what TV and talk about musical TV like the size of that in America. I think it helped us to embrace it in a positive light rather than be freaked out by it all or negative towards the commercial side of it. I think we ended up enjoying playing that day, it was a pleasurable experience.”
Australia’s music scene is thriving right now, are there any bands that you would recommend we should be listening to?
Tim: “I’m sure you’ve heard of Tame Impala and you might of heard of The Jezabels, I’m not sure? They’re a great band, check them out if you get a chance. The Preatures as well.”
Dave: “We just did a tour in Australia a month ago, yeah six weeks ago and we had a band called Holy Holy support us and they were fantastic. They’re sounding great live too, so I hope that they get to come over this way again if they haven’t already been.”
Vance Joy is doing really well.
Tim: “Yeah Vance Joy, he’s another one. He’s killing it.”
Christmas is coming up. It’s a time of year to be thankful and to give back. But also it’s a time for good and bad Christmas songs. What’s on your go-to Christmas playlist?
Dave: “You know, I’ve got a Ray Charles Christmas album and Ray Charles is on in the background [on the P.A] so it just reminded me, but it’s a killer record. His version of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ it’s killer. So I recommend the Ray Charles Christmas album from the 60s.”