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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 last year for the music video. We caught up with guitarist and vocalist Killian Gavin (he's the one second from the left up in the photo above) – or at least we tried to, though his cat kept interrupting us - about what fans can expect from Boy & Bear’s upcoming New Zealand tour.

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.

You’re playing at the Sydney Opera House for the first time as part of an Australian theatre tour, that’s 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.

Do you care more about writing music or performing live? What is more important to you?
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.

In the middle of your Get Up and Dance tour you’re going to pop over to New Zealand for a couple of shows. Will they have the same set up as the theatre tour?
Well we’re going to do pretty much the same set list I would imagine. We’re going to put a fair bit of time into making a new one for the theatre tour to keep it fresh and exciting. But no doubt the lights and the production and those kind of things will change somewhat because it is a different country and we’ll have to bring in different equipment and they’re different-sized rooms so we’ll have to bring in something appropriate.

Did you see that your Auckland show had been upgraded to a larger venue?
I did, yeah! Which is always nice. We’ve actually played at the Powerstation before, supporting Elbow. So not our own show, just the support band. It was awesome; I’m actually stoked to be playing there again.

You were in Queenstown recording the music video for Southern Sun last year, how did that go?
Well I’d been to Queenstown before so I knew a lot of the places that I had to return to. Have you been there, or are you from there?

Yeah, I went there for the first time this year actually. It’s stunningly beautiful.
It’s just mind-blowingly beautiful. There is so much good food and wine and there’s a place called Fergburger, which I’m sure you probably went to… We only shot the video 40 minutes out of Queenstown which meant we were staying in Queenstown every night and every morning. It was awesome, it’s just so beautiful. I’ve been there on my own as well on holidays and stuff. I love it. It was nice to get there.

So you were able to have some time off filming the video and see the city again?
We had one afternoon to be completely honest. We were able to get out and do a few of the things I hadn’t done in a while and see a few of the places. They were pretty busy days. We were there for three days in total to shoot it. It was full on.

Watching the video, how were you able to stand knee-deep in snow wearing your normal clothes and not freeze?!
We were absolutely freezing! The trick is, in between every take there is a person standing off frame with all of our coats and gloves and beanies and scarves and things like that. It was cold. The director obviously wanted a certain feel and we had to take off those layers, do a few frames and then jump back out and warm up again.

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 the NZ shows and the Australian theatre tour? 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
Auckland - Powerstation, Thursday 18 September
Wellington - Bodega, Friday 19 September