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interview: bear's den @ 3rd & lindsley

Hannah Samuell

 

In the midst of their longest US tour yet, I sat down with lead singer Andrew Davie of folk heroes Bear's Den before their show in Nashville, Tennessee. We talk about the band's meteoric rise in the US, the importance of meeting their fans, and what American foods that he can't get enough of. 

I have a story to preface this interview- I used to live in London, I saw you at the Slaughtered Lamb Valentine's Day 2013. It was 150 people, you sold it out. I remember you guys saying that you were very happy about that. So, fast forward a year and a half, I'm now living in Nashville, and I meet this guy. He lives on a farm in Middle Tennessee, hours from any kind of city. We get to talking about music, and he asks in his deep southern twang, "You know that band Bear's Den? That's a fucking good band."

Oh, that's amazing! So cool. 

I was taken aback for a moment, because you've been a band for two years or so, and your music has already resonated that far. And you're already on your third headlining US tour! How does that make you feel? Is that terrifying?

It's nuts. It's been mental with the amount of touring we've done. I never thought we really would make it that far. I was playing music for years and I never toured anywhere, so being in America for the third time doing a headline run is just been absolutely mental. And yeah, having stories like that is so absolutely crazy to me, I just can't get my head around it. I try not to think about it, but it is amazing. But it's still really cool so many people can hear it, and in so many ways nowadays you're going to have someone who you would just thought you'd never even thought they would find it interesting, so it's really cool.

How is touring important to you, especially as a relatively young band? You obviously do it a lot, do you find it the easiest way to get your music out there?

Yeah, I mean I think it's a really weird one, because when you're a band and you sign these sort of record deals, and you have people who work with you and help you do radio plugging and things like that. So you have all these things and it can feel- for some bands I'm sure- you just have these big posters up and a lot of money goes into it. For us it just never really made sense to be that kind of band, so touring has been the only time that we felt like we've actually made a connection to people. There's something about our music that really needs to be performed, because otherwise it is quite sad, and it becomes something different live, which is really nice how an audience helps that. 

Are there any major differences between touring in the UK and Europe and touring in North America?

The drives are obviously a lot longer in the US. There are loads of differences, but I think what's really different is that people will travel a lot further in the US to see shows than they would in England. I live in West London, and when there's a gig on in East London, I'm like, 'Oh that's a bit far away…' And there will be people who've driven 8 hours, 10 hours. Loads of people from Oklahoma came to our show in Dallas because we had supported Mumford and Sons in Oklahoma, so a lot of people had heard us at that show. And so you're playing a show and pretty much half the room has driven 3-4 hours to come to your show. It's mental. I wish people in other countries did that more, but they don't really. America's got this, 'Let's just make it a road trip' kind of attitude which is really cool. It's not the same everywhere, it's amazing.

You mentioned Mumford and Sons. You've toured with them and you toured with Daughter in the US- did they prepare you at all? Give you any advice?

Ben from Mumford and Sons, who also runs Communion, we've spoken a couple of times about touring and just how-to-be-a band kind of thing a little bit. The things that worried me as you play to more people, there's more of an expectancy that you'll improve and become this 'thing' and that troubles me a lot. Like, 'What are we going to do on the next tour? How are we going to make it bigger, how are we going to make it better?' I think to hear him say it just happens, just don't freak out about it, with every tour you'll just naturally grow and become stronger and better at what you're doing. So to hear him say that, obviously given the steps they've climbed over the years, it's kind of inspiring to know you don't have to go crazy and get a whole new wardrobe and all that…which freaks me out. 

You always make a point to meet your fans after shows. What is so important about that for you?

Basically, especially in America given that people have traveled so far, it's important. You can pretend that people don't really make a difference. Like back in the day, where you made loads of money from record labels and you made records, and it took 5 years to record an album that you tour once. There was a disconnect of where your living came from- as in the label would give you money and you played shows and the audience was this kind of this weird, abstract thing. But for us, these people are the reason we're here, they're the reason we're able to come back here, so don't be an idiot, don't be a stranger, meet them and say thank you. They're the reason why you're making music, not the label, not anyone else, it's them. Don't take advantage of that. And this isn't making a point, we genuinely want to meet them. It's usually the funnest conversations you have, and then you come back and you someone you already met, and they were hilarious and you were already drunk and you'd say, 'Remember when you did that stupid thing?' It's great. Everywhere feels more like a home, and as touring as much as we are, that's quite nice. 

Have there been any memorable stories from this tour?

To be honest, there's a bunch. This tour has been the most driving we've ever done here and we have one day off scheduled during this tour, that's in Montreal, which is in 10 days. It's been so intense that I have about a hundred stories and I can't even think of one! Last night we went to Memphis for the first time, and this isn't a crazy story or anything, but we'd never been before and we expected like five people to show up. There were about 50-75 people, which to other bands may not seem impressive, but I'm like, 'This is the coolest thing ever, there are 50 people in Memphis here to see us!' But we just had the best time and I think playing other shows with maybe 300-400 people, you feel quite scared because there's this expectancy, but those shows are really refreshing. Those small, intimate shows are kind of amazing and we met so many good people. And with those shows there's no backstage or anything. Everything is everyone's, so it's quite nice to be among those people. 

Finally, are there any American foods that you love? I know we have a lot of different foods here…

I love BBQ, like pulled pork.

And you were in Memphis! It's the best in Memphis.

Yes! We didn't have pulled pork, but we had barbecued chicken that was really good. They cooked for us at the venue and was brought to us in this huge tray of stuff and it was so nice. So yeah, BBQ pulled pork. And sweet potato fries! That's something we don't have a lot of in the UK, but it's so good. It's so good! Like, I get so fat when I tour America, but it's sweet potato fries.

But it's so worth it.

It is worth it! Your food is amazing. It's got a bad reputation in some places that it's super unhealthy, but some is actually really healthy and really, really great. I think America nails it.

Well, we hope you come back to America, and you can have all the BBQ you can possibly imagine.

Well, I certainly hope so too. That's the dream!

*Originally written and posted for Folkgeek.net.

dave rawlings machine @ the ryman auditorium

Hannah Samuell

I arrived at the Ryman at 7pm on the dot. The last bits of sun shined through the stained glass windows of the Mother Church of Country music, former home of the Grand Ole Opry. I saw dollar bills stuffed in the brims of Stetsons, bow ties, coveralls, a family of hippies; even one of my two companions donned her 1950s yellow sundress that channeled the great Minnie Pearl herself. We were all ready for, what the Opry loved to say, "a good natured riot".

It all began with a song that was no stranger to the Ryman stage, gospel classic "Will the Circle Be Unbroken", which essentially set the mood for the night- a journey through time with good natured American folk music. The audience was already fervently singing along with the perfect five part harmonies on stage- Dave Rawlings, producer of the likes of Ryan Adams and Bright Eyes; long-time musical partner Gillian Welch, bluegrass singer-songwriter and Americana sweetheart; Paul Kowert, bassist for the Punch Brothers; Willie Watson, former member of Old Crow Medicine Show, on the banjo, guitar, and fiddle; and of course John Paul Jones on the mandolin. 

One song rolled into another and it became clear that Nashville has perfected the art of hootin' and hollerin'. Rawlings' sly toothy grin that routinely popped up behind the brim of his hat was a sign that he sure didn't mind. Just as the first set was wrapping up, Watson grabbed a fiddle and perched his small frame on his tip-toes as they belted out "It's Too Easy". Welch began to tap her boots under her pale blue vintage dress; we heard the foot stomps coming from the upstairs balcony. They slowly began to trickle down as the track got faster and faster. By the time John Paul Jones had grabbed the second fiddle the audience was on their feet. Rawling's enthusiasm as he bounced up and down was infectious. The joyous allure echoed throughout the room. 

One of the highlights of the night was when most of the Machine took a breather which left Rawlings and Welch alone on stage for their rendition of "Sweet Tooth". It only shows how perfectly they sound together sonically. They filled the vast void of the magnificent Ryman stage with their voices. You may never find a better acoustic guitar player than Rawlings, and you may never find someone who sings with such conviction than Gillian Welch. 

Their encore was no disappointment as they delved right into Zepplin's "Going to California" (there is possibly nothing more special than a string band revival of a rock classic in my eyes). Obviously Jones killed it on the mandolin,  the only way a former member of Led Zepplin can do. We heard Welch's soulful "Miss Ohio" before they started the, quite possibly, biggest song-a-long of the night; they were only two bars into The Band's "The Weight" before everyone was practically screaming at the top of their lungs. 

Finally, when the band left the stage for the second time and house lights began to lighten, we had given up hope for more. We were almost out of our row before the band ran back on stage and collectively gathered around a single microphone. They began to sing "Didn't Leave Nobody but the Baby" which Welch famously recorded on the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack with Emmylou and Alison Krauss. The a cappella number gave chills to the audience. It was one of those rare moments that I find myself feeling incredibly privileged to experience. The last performance incapsulated the entire night, from the breathtaking and awe-inspiring moments, they perfectly captured the spirit of folk music- a wanderlusty joyous adventure. 

bear's den

Hannah Samuell

Last night I had the absolute honor of seeing Bear's Den, a relatively young, but pretty phenomenal band. I got to chat with them a little bit after the show, and they're just great guys. Many thanks to their manager Rowan, who organized everything for me to come to the show. They were amazing live, and I can't wait to see their show next month.

mp.

Hannah Samuell

Let the shooting for the major project begin! Love to the Putney Bridge and the King's Road. 

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2013.

Hannah Samuell

It's a new year, so it can only mean I can join the rest of the photographer population with my very own big girl website. To celebrate, a photo from Belgium, where I was lucky enough to ring in the new year.

Brugge.

Brugge.