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An Ocean of Hours: Bear's Den Delve Into 'So That You Might Hear Me'

Monday, 05 August 2019 Written by Milly McMahon

“I wanted to make an album that talked openly about issues that I have and am still working through,” Bear’s Den vocalist Andrew Davie says. “The whole theme of ‘So That You Might Hear Me’ is about looking for a sense of connection and often a conversation is where that starts.”

A beautifully serene album, full of epiphanous highs and ruminating lows, ‘So That You Might Hear Me’ is the British folk band’s third album. On it, Davie’s timeless vocals combine with the instinctive, elegant instrumentals of Kevin Jones to create an arresting brew. 

Crafting brave, unique verses that speak of inner turmoil, it is an intimate moment for the band. Speaking about loved ones cut adrift, a soulful nostalgia conjures strong emotions throughout its 10 tracks, which will doubtless spark silence at their forthcoming tour of Scotland’s highlands and islands, before they tackle a wider UK run this autumn and the more cavernous surroundings of London’s Eventim Apollo next year.

After receiving a prestigious Ivor Novello nomination for their 2014 release ‘Islands’, with ‘So That You Might Hear Me’ Davie and Jones have stripped back their sound, simplifying the direction of the album's narrative in the process. Davie stole away to Devon and Cornwall to conceptualise a new approach, working unhindered and unpolluted by the background chatter of modern life.

As a result of this retreat from civilisation, a connection with nature, revealing honesty and hope, is tangible throughout the elegant arrangement of the band’s music. Davie speaks honestly of his mother’s alcoholism with the same searching spirit that he interprets Tennessee Williams. 

Working collaboratively with Seattle producer Phil Ek (Band of Horses, the Shins, Fleet Foxes) this is Bear’s Den’s most peaceful and transcendent body of work to date, despite its commitment to tackling harsh truths. We caught up with Davie to delve into the making of ‘So You Might Hear Me’.

Which song served as the initial point of conception for this album?

It’s kind of hard to pin it down to just the one point. There were a few moments. I think Crow felt like a bit of a moment once the song was written, it felt like we had a story to tell and the ideas in the songs started to feel connected sonically and lyrically. There were about 20 songs on the table originally and after that song was written I think we gained a bit of focus.

How did the Ivor Novello nom inspire you to move forward with the progression of your production and overall vision for your music?

I think as a songwriter, there’s not really any way of gauging where you’re at with that. Fundamentally, there’s no degree or qualification or a pat on the back that suddenly means you’ve figured it out or people will relate to what you write about. 

I don’t think receiving an Ivor Novello nomination means you’ve figured it out either. I think that kind of an acknowledgement just helped give us gain confidence that we can and should always have to push ourselves with our songwriting. To be in a category with Hozier and Ben Howard was a huge privilege as they are both astonishingly brilliant songwriters and artists who we admire massively. 

You said of the new LP, “This time, lyrics came from a more subconscious place. Like they were things I needed to say and I worked back from there.” Now that the album is complete, how do you feel about the place you were in before you began writing?

I definitely don’t feel like I was in a very good place, for a variety of reasons. It was a pretty anxious and difficult year, or two, of working away and chiselling ideas I was really struggling in my personal life. I was trying to look after my mother and found writing songs much more challenging than I ever had before. Perhaps because the subject matter or life was harder than it had been before. 

I think touring and being in a band is difficult as you aren’t able to process things emotionally very easily while travelling around on a bus. The flipside was being at home with an ocean of hours and very little structure. I think it’s fair to say I felt a bit lost and writing really helped get my thoughts in some kind of order.

Hiding Bottles is a really stirring track, possibly my favourite of the album. Was that a cathartic moment for you, and did it bring you closer together to share that track?

I think the cathartic element of that song for us comes from performing it. There’s raw energy that kind of explodes in that song and I sort of forget it’s even a song when we play it live and feel like we're just letting go. A lot of the album is quite intimate but that song also has a more confrontational element to it which is a big release to perform. 

Can you tell me about the time spent creating Fossils? How did you conjure such emotion and channel that crescendo-like wave of strength into the music?

That song was really fun to work on. The idea of the song structurally being less of a slow-builder and a bit more abrupt transitioning between sections was established in the demo stage. I was messing around with some synth bass ideas and some electronic beats on the choruses going against an acoustic guitar part at the beginning. Kev added a high strung acoustic part and some electric guitar ideas but the main new thing for us was the beautiful piano parts he wrote for the song. 

It was very collaborative and then Jools [Owen, drums] brought a really cool vibe and breathed some new life into the electronic drum parts by playing a live kit over them. How Harry [Mundy, guitar] and Marcus [Hamblett, keys] explored the sonic atmosphere of the song was really cool too and Christof [van der Ven, guitar]’s beautiful voice always helps take the songs to a unique place. I think all of those ideas combined created a pretty cool sonic palette that felt interesting and quite challenging. Performing it live now and it feels like it’s growing more and more with every performance. 

Why did you decide to shoot the Laurel Wreath video in Marzahn-Hellersdorf? How involved with the narrative of the video were you? 

I think for us we wanted to try to encapsulate the idea in the chorus: “you don’t have to be lonely, alone.” The idea that maybe we’re all connected and share this space and time together but perhaps choose to not interact with each other, to close ourselves off and become more solipsistic and isolated. That was our rough idea or concept and then we received the treatment from the incredibly talented director duo Jungle, and it just seemed to capture the sentiment we were looking for perfectly and poetically. 

It was entirely their idea to set the video in Marzahn-Hellersdorf. It's a strange neighbourhood in Berlin which has been a stronghold for some extreme right-wing beliefs, it also has become in recent years a housing area for immigrants who have settled there from across the world over the last century. German war returnees, Italian immigrants, Soviet Union expatriates, Iranian evacuees, Turkish settlers and more recently Syrian refugees and there is obviously a sense of division there, yet these people are living in such close proximity. It’s a curious phenomenon, how we choose to look past each other. 

Maybe it makes life easier to not register each other as people as the sheer amount of different people each experiencing their own complex relationships with the world and others is too complicated for our brains to handle. I think the video was their attempt to humanise people and the individuals we all are and perhaps through the blindfolds articulate how isolated we are becoming. I think they did an amazing job.

How did the collaboration with Phil Ek take place and what happened in the first meeting between you all?

We first met Phil over the phone, and then Phil flew over to London to do some pre-production at a rehearsal space in King’s Cross. He’s a really cool guy and very funny and I think we all warmed to each other very quickly. We just played through all the songs and talked about them in-depth and experimented a bit with arrangements etc. It was all really relaxed but we were definitely a bit nervous beforehand. Phil's a bit of a legend and some of the records he’s made are still favourites of mine so it was slightly intimidating until we met.

What happens at your live shows?

We just try to take people on a journey and make that journey as dynamic and unique as possible. We're blessed with incredible session musicians who are incredibly versatile and proficient on multiple instruments. They really allow us to take the songs in a huge variety of different directions live which is really fun.

Bear's Den Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sun August 11 2019 - KIRKWALL Sound Archive
Mon August 12 2019 - INVERNESS Bogbain
Tue August 13 2019 - STORNOWAY An Lanntair
Wed August 14 2019 - AVIEMORE Old Bridge Inn
Thu August 15 2019 - BARN Banchory
Fri August 16 2019 - DUNKELD Birnan Arts
Sun November 03 2019 - OXFORD O2 Academy Oxford
Mon November 04 2019 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Tue November 05 2019 - CARDIFF Tramshed
Thu November 07 2019 - LEEDS Leeds Beckett Students Union
Fri November 08 2019 - LIVERPOOL O2 Academy Liverpool
Sun November 10 2019 - NEWCASTLE  University
Mon November 11 2019 - EDINBURGH Corn Exchange
Thu February 20 2020 - LONDON Eventim Apollo

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