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Interview: Boy & Bear

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Interview: Boy & Bear

Sydney group Boy & Bear have had a steady rise since their formation five years ago. They have released two albums (2011’s Moonfire and 2013’s Harlequin Dream), both reaching #2 and #1 on the ARIA charts respectively. Recently the band performed Southern Sun on US late-night TV host Conan O’Brien’s show, the same song that saw them knee-deep in Queenstown snow for the music video. We caught up with guitarist and vocalist Killian Gavin – or at least we tried to, though his cat kept interrupting us - about what fans can expect from Boy & Bear’s upcoming Get Up and Dance theatre tour.

What was the idea behind the Get Up and Dance Tour?
We did our first tour for the record at the end of last year and we did pretty much our favourite venues in the country, like the Enmore Theatre and we did the Forum Theatre down in Melbourne, the Astor in Perth. When we realised that we were lucky enough to be able to do a second tour for the record in the capital cities, you’ve got to make a decision about what you want to do. We thought we’d do a really lovely theatre run. These theatres, we’ve never played a lot of them before, so it’s something new for us and it’s something exciting. It’s a bit of a privilege to play some of the rooms.

Playing at the Sydney Opera House is a pretty big deal, right?
I think so. I’m trying to tell myself it’s not and approach the show like a normal show, but it certainly is. No matter what you do, you can’t really mask that. It is an amazing, iconic venue that the whole world knows about. I think it’s going to be really fun and I’m actually really looking forward to it a lot. It’s actually the first show that I’ve been waiting for, for probably about six months since we booked that venue in. It’s been a long wait and I can’t wait.

I feel like playing at the Sydney Opera House is a rite of passage for Australian bands…
Yeah, absolutely. There are venues that might be bigger but this one certainly has prestige and has an aura to it. It is a national iconic building so it is going to be reaching some kind of… sorry, there’s my mum walking past… give her a wave. But yeah, it’s going to be great, I am looking forward to it.

Have you been to see any awe-inspiring gigs at the Opera House yourself?
Yeah I saw Bon Iver play actually, I saw quite a few other bands play. Sufjan Stevens would be another one to mention. I’ve seen some that were fantastic and some that were just okay. Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens were two of the best shows I’ve ever been to in a long time. 

I imagine Sufjan Stevens puts on a pretty incredible stage show…
Yeah, it was actually really entertaining, it was a long show, but it was filled with all kinds of weird, crazy, fluoro aesthetics and confetti being fired out of cannons. It was almost like a teenage ballroom dance or something; they had all of the balloons drop from a net above everyone’s head. All sorts of crazy things, it was just really fun to witness.

Have you guys got any tricks up your sleeve in terms of lighting or stage set up?
We have no balloons or confetti guns, so it might seem somewhat disappointing, now that I’ve just mentioned that. We haven’t even settled on what we’re going to do yet, there’s a little bit of time. To be completely honest, the Opera House is a tough thing to co-ordinate because at most venues our crew will load in at 11am. But because the Opera House has three shows a day, we can’t load in until 6pm so there’s actually seven less hours to set up. Because of that we’ll have to work on a smaller lighting show and try and make something awesome with the time that we can. It’s just the nature of the way the venue works. I think at first when most bands find out that they have no time to set up it’s a little bit intimidating. But what we are actually doing is we’re preparing a certain production for that one show and we’re getting it all made in advance to hopefully set it up really quickly and that way it’s still a fantastic night.

So it sounds like you all put a lot of thought into your stage set up and the aesthetic side of Boy & Bear, would that be a fair comment?
Absolutely. We put a lot of time and effort into it and making things appropriate. We want people to have fun when they come along. We’ll come up with the idea and the crew that work with us will help us and give advice about how to create something that can go up in the short period of time and make it lots of fun. Working with a crew that has done it before makes a huge difference. These rooms have better acoustics so we can bring in a much bigger and better production and more equipment and hopefully make things sound that next level better.

Other than the Sydney Opera House is there another venue on the tour that you’re particularly excited about playing in?
Yeah, the Palais Theatre in Melbourne, we’ve never played there before. It’s really big; it fits 3000 people or something. We’re doing a couple of nights there and it’s going to be sensational. I’ve seen photos of it, I’ve been out the front of the venue a few times and I’ve always wanted to play it, so it is a bit of an awesome… sorry my cat has just jumped up now, getting interrupted in so many ways – go away!

Well at least you’re getting interrupted in loving ways, like by your mother and your cat.
Exactly. Well the thing is, I’m inside and he’s outside and he’s meowing through the window to say let me in.

So you guys have been touring internationally a lot this year, and it seems like you’ve been on the road pretty much non-stop. How does it feel coming back and performing for what would be your hometown crowd? Do you put any extra pressure on yourself to perform for your fans who have been with you since the beginning?
Well it’s definitely a different thing. Because these people have been with us since the beginning, there is a different level of pressure on us to deliver something new. We did tour for this record already around Australia so we are putting the effort into the show and the set list. We’re going to spend a week or so reworking the songs and the order to make it interesting for people and to make it different from before. We are putting a lot of effort into this tour, I would say more so than any previous tours because we haven’t always had the time to do so. The venues that we’re playing are fantastic and it’s a privilege to play in them. I would also say that these people who have been with us longer than anywhere else have seen us probably a few times so we’re really excited to do a different show and do something fresh for them. 

Do you care more about writing music or performing live? What is more important to you?
They’re both… if I can get a bit literal for a second, both are as equally important. They’re so crucial to what you’re doing, you can’t be a musician without touring - you just wouldn’t make any money. But on the other hand, what I prefer to do is writing and being in the studio and making songs because that part is where it unfolds. It’s the first time the song comes to life and it’s the first time anybody actually hears it, which is so exciting to be a part of. I love touring but I think just a notch in front is putting together a record and writing and recording.

It’s been nearly a year now since you released your second album Harlequin Dream, how have the last 12 months been for you?
To be completely honest with you, it’s achieved more than I expected it would. Especially overseas and in America and somewhat in Europe it has gone further than I’ve ever dreamt of…I’ve always wanted to be in a band that has success overseas and all of us have always wanted that and I think this record, far more than the first one, has chipped away at that and gotten to some level over there. So that’s really exciting and kind of mind-blowing for us. At the same time I think it’s also been a really rewarding process. Doing a second record can be difficult for a band. There can be a lot of pressure and a lot of steps taken backwards often. I could be wrong, but I feel like we’ve been fortunate enough to take a few steps forward amongst a lot of other bands who don’t necessarily have the same outcome with the second record.

I saw your performance on Conan O’Brien the other night, looks like it went really well.
Thank you, yeah that was really fun. Sorry… my cat’s being such a pain… sorry, he keeps interfering with us. It’s just jumped into this tiny gap of my window into my car and now it’s stuck in the car and it can’t get out, it’s so funny! Anyway, that was fantastic. It was somewhat nerve-wrecking to be completely honest. It was the most pressure I’ve felt for performing a single song, but it was also exhilarating. It was really exciting; I’ve watched so many bands perform on late night TV in America. It’s thrilling to do that myself as well. It’s rewarding.

So what’s next on the agenda after these theatre shows? Still chipping away at America?
We do, we actually go straight to America. We finish this tour in September and then we have 11 weeks overseas and then we get back middle to late December and that’s when we finish touring for the album I think. And then I don’t know what I’ll do… I’ll watch the cricket. Just go to the beach, see my mates, my family, things like that.

Nice, that sounds good. Well I better let you go rescue your cat, but thank you so much for your time.
No problem, thank you very much for yours.

Boy and Bear Australian Tour. Boy and Bear will be performing in Albany, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Sydney and Perth.