Folk-rockers Boy & Bear spent the early part of 2014 taking their Harlequin Dream album to appreciative new audiences around the globe. They have just hit high in the charts in the USA and soon return for a huge regional Australian tour. AM’s Greg Phillips spoke to B&B main man Dave Hosking before he headed overseas.
“I am looking forward to clicking into tour mode and hanging out with the boys, travelling the world, playing music and having fun,” Boy & Bear’s singer and main songwriter Dave Hosking tells me prior to heading off on another international tour. The band seem to be living the rock n’ roll dream. Back in 2011, Triple J championed the band’s debut album Moonfire, which went on to claim 5 ARIA awards. Currently, on the other side of the pond, that scenario is being mirrored by the UK’s BBC radio, which has been flogging tracks off their second album Harlequin Dream. Consequently, their just completed British tour was sold out and other countries such as Holland and Germany are becoming strong territories for the band too. The American leg of the tour will also include the SXSW industry music conference where team Boy & Bear will kick into action, further consolidating the band as one to watch.
Come April 2014, the triumphant Boy & Bear will return home, pack the van and embark on an extensive two month regional tour of Australia. “We generally enjoy doing these regional tours,” says Dave. “You’re not really sure what to expect … there’s such a mixed bag of venues and gigs and people. It is genuinely an interesting experience and a lot of fun. The travelling about between towns … just depends on the day. If you are hungover and tired, sometimes 8 hours in the van isn’t the best cure for that.”
If there’s one thing that a band tour provides, it’s time … time waiting at airports, at venues and of course in the van. “You become very good at doing very little and occupying your time,” says Dave of the tour experience. It also presents an opportunity to write, a creative pursuit that not all artists can achieve while on tour but for Dave it seems to work. “I wrote maybe half of this record on the road,” he says. “I guess that’s because we came out of Moonfire and there were so many things I was a little disappointed with and I wanted to do it better. I just started writing. I forced myself to write on the road. I think it is an interesting space to write because emotionally you are moving about and finding yourself in lots of different head spaces. You’re staying in lots of different hotels. Often that can bring out some really great stuff. I’m not sure what I will do this tour. I feel like I have been writing for about five years straight and I probably need a bit of a break. I might just try to enjoy the sights this time around and maybe later in the year pick up the writing again.”
[blockquote]I just started writing. I forced myself to write on the road. I think it is an interesting space to write because emotionally you are moving about and finding yourself in lots of different head spaces.[/blockquote] Harlequin Dream was released last August and the songs have had enough gig hours to be tweaked and massaged into tight, well executed live pieces. Although, as Dave tells, the songs are never stagnant, immobile works. “They are always changing, always evolving. To some extent we are fairly structured in terms of our set list but relatively loose with our arrangements. I leave it up to Symesy and Tim to kind of do what they want. I hear little arrangement shifts at times but none of them have been really turned on their head. We just started rehearsals the last couple of weeks and going back and hearing these songs with fresh ears again, we are hearing things that might work more effectively or might be just fun to do. They are always subtlety evolving. I think they have to or else you go a little bit insane.”
The Boy & Bear sound borrows unashamedly from West Coast American rockers like The Eagles, Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac in their prime, or as the UK paper The Guardian described it, ‘Tequila-sunrise Mellowness’. It not only takes a sweet set of voices for the lush harmonies to be created but also some fine acoustic woodwork to strum out the lush chord sequences of their silvery songs. Oddly, in the 5 year lifespan of the band, Hosking has never been asked about his gear before and was keen to chat.
“I recently bought a 1945 Gibson J45,” he proudly states. “I have been wanting to do it for a long time. I’d been playing a new Gibson J45 and had an LR Baggs pickup in it and running it through the di. It’s taken my a long time to get a really good acoustic sound, it’s really difficult. I have been doing lots of research. I know it is such a cliche but I really love vintage acoustics, particularly Gibsons. I’ve got a bunch of them at home. They are not really built for the road but I thought, fuck it, I am just going to dive in and make this work. I dug deep and forked out for this really beautiful old J45 and I delicately put in a pick up. So that’s my main guitar and I run that through di as well as a Fender Twin reverb. So it’s usually a blend of those two. I have another Gibson tuned a tone down because a bunch of songs we play are a tone down, plus I have a Cole Clark as a spare.”
“Strings,” he continues. “I like to change usually after every two shows. I went through a phase where I really liked old strings but I got over that. But having said that, I don’t like brand new strings either. I like them a little bit played in. usually I can get two or three gigs out of them and we swap them over. For recording, I like old strings. I’ve got a LG2, a ’57Gibson, it has a small body. I think Dylan played one for a while. It was the first vintage guitar that I bought. I think I changed the strings once, about two years ago. It sounds woody and rattly. I was playing Gibson strings for a while. Wayne our producer recently got me onto some others.”
One of the benefits of success as a band is the acquisition of a road crew, which lightens the load for the musicians on tour. As an outcome, Hosking’s personal gig bag is relatively sparse.
“I have a little pedal board and my strings and stuff,” he explains. “It’s really nice now, we can rock up to the venue and have all the gear set up. In terms of my personal bag when I go to a gig, it is usually a couple of outfit options in case in case I feel like something is not working. I always pack Aspirin because sometimes if my throat is really dry, I find that gargling Aspirin is really good as an anti-inflammatory. Usually I take lots of water. That’s the main thing for me on the road, just keeping vocal health and making sure I can sing. Sometimes I’ll pack runners too. If I have time, I will go for a run.”
Hosking’s songwriting surge which resulted in the Harlequin Dream album, left a lot of material spare. Add to those songs, the many new ones Dave has written since and the next album is brimming with choices already. The band recently made a trip to the central coast to begin some arrangements for album number three, one which may see a change in musical direction for Boy & Bear.
“I think we are sitting on roughly nine or ten songs and ideally we’ll try to get that up to about twenty before we go in and record'” says Hosking. “There’s definitely some exciting new plans for the next record. I’d love to do something with bigger drums and bass, not necessarily massive traditional rock but definitely something with a little bit more power and groove, a bit more rock n’ roll.”
Boy & Bear’s national Harlequin Dream tour begins on April 13 in WA and runs through to the end of May. Visit www.boyandbear.com for full tour dates.