Ottawa will be hosting a great international music duo who’s multiple charting albums have had over a hundred million streams. Yes, this could describe the Twenty One Pilots show at the Canadian Tire Centre on May 21, but if you’re looking for something a bit more (okay, a lot more) intimate, then check out Bear’s Den playing The 27 Club on Tuesday, May 22.
The British duo rose to fame on this side of the Atlantic with the release of 2014 tour documentary Austin To Boston, which followed bands The Staves, Nathaniel Rateliffe (pre- Night Sweats days), Ben Howard and the aforementioned Bear’s Den (a trio at the time) on their American road trip in old VW vans. In the five years since, they’ve put out three albums, with their latest being 2019’s So That You Might Hear Me which dropped last month.
A solid album throughout, debut single “Fuel On The Fire” exemplifies the band’s lush synth-heavy sound, while leaving the spotlight for the impeccable harmonies that has been the hallmark of bandmates Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones. Newest single “Laurel Wreath” follows up with a slightly more stripped down production, providing more space for the vocals to soar, especially for the singalong inducing chorus.
We caught up with one half of the band, Andrew Davie, as they launched their North American tour. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: First off, welcome to North America. You guys just got here right?
Andrew Davie: We have, we just started the tour in Austin, Dallas, Nashville, and we just arrived in Atlanta, and getting ready to play a show tonight.
How has the tour been going, playing new songs?
It’s been amazing. It’s such a big deal for us to be able to come to America and Canada and tour. It’s really exciting for us. It’s been about two or two and a half years since the last time we toured North America, so we’re stoked to be back.
It’s interesting that you’re kicking things off in Austin and finishing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before crossing over to Canada, so you’re reenacting the Austin to Boston tour.
That was our first tour of America, and it was about as much of a dream as you can imagine a tour being, in VW camper vans and stuff. It was amazing. So yeah, it’s pretty cool to be reliving that a little bit.
It’s been interesting watching the evolution of the band since that tour, in how you’ve shifted from a folk-indie sound to the modern synth. How was the process for writing this new album?
This was the first time that we had the luxury of having a bit of time to make the album. Before it’s always been like three weeks in a studio and you need to finish everything really fast. But this time we started renting our own recording studio and that made a huge difference. It meant we could play and demo in a more explorative way and stumble into things rather than being on the studio clock where you’re paying crazy amounts of money per hour per day. That really allowed us to explore different instruments, and we both brought in a bunch of new synthesizers and drum machines, we had an upright piano in there—it all naturally lent itself to us messing around with different things and feeling confident in doing that. It was really fun.
How do you take that lush sound from the new album and translate it into a live experience? Some bands have the difficulty of determining how much you build into the pre-production and click tracks as opposed to playing it live, especially since you’re just two guys, it must be hard.
We’re completely spoiled by the session musicians who play with us. Christof van der Ven is an incredible songwriter and he’s also an incredible musician. He plays guitars and banjos and sings. Marcus Handler plays synths and he’s a genius. Jools plays drums and horns. Those guys are just so dialled in to what we’ve been making in the studio, and also helped us track things in the studio as well, so we have a really great relationship with all those guys.
We feel very spoiled to work with such talented people. It can feel quite scary—you make an album and then you think ‘how the hell will we do this live?’—but those scary thoughts go away very quickly as soon as we’re around those people. We all just get our heads together and we figure it out very quickly.
As you said, it’s been a couple of years since you’ve been to Canada, and in the past, you’ve played Toronto and Montreal, but you’ve never made the stop in Ottawa before. For your first show, tickets are already sold out, with maybe a few available at the door the night of the show.
That’s crazy. We’ve been a bit blown away to be honest. Playing new places is always really exciting and a bit nerve-wracking. You just have no idea whether anyone is going to be there or not. We’ve been spoiled on this tour, with a bunch of the shows have been selling out, and most have been getting pretty close. We’ve played a lot in Canada, but we’ve never made it to Ottawa, so it’ll be a whole new world for us to explore, and we’re very excited about it.
I think you’re going to find a fanbase that is dedicated to this genre of music. The ties between the Canadian and British indie scenes are pretty strong. Your friends from Mumford and Sons were in town this past spring for a show that was essentially sold out, admittedly in a somewhat larger venue.
Some of our biggest influences are Canadian. Actually we toured with Dan Mangan across the states a while ago. He’s just an unbelievably talented songwriter. Getting to watch him every night was super inspiring, and we felt very connected touring together, we were all coming from the same headspace. We have a deep respect and admiration for how Canada is producing an incredible wealth of incredibly talented artists. I’m just super inspired to be going there and get to soak that in as well.
You’re in the midst of a North American tour to support the new album, so after this run, what does the rest of the year have in store?
We’ll be doing a heavy run of European festivals this summer, and then hopefully by the end of the year, we’ll be planning our next tour of the states and Canada, which might be early next year. We just always thinking of ways of coming back. We’re toying with the idea of doing something a little more stripped back on our next tour of North America. We’ll see. Then we’d love to do a bunch of festivals in Canada and the states next summer. It’s a long road ahead, but it’s pretty exciting.
Make sure to line up early to get a shot at those scarce tickets ($22.50) at the door on Wednesday night. You won’t want to miss Bear’s Den at The 27 Club (27 York St) on May 22, 2019. Doors at 8pm, with support by singer-songwriter Vera Sola.