Guest of the Month: Bear Driver

Each month the PRS for Music Foundation invite one of the movers and shakers in the world of new music to share with us, and you, a brief history of their movements in new music and a selection of the sounds and experiences that have been inspiring them of late. This month it's Bear Driver.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 12 Apr 2011
  • min read
Each month the PRS for Music Foundation invites one of the movers and shakers in the world of new music to share with us, and you, a brief history of their movements in new music and a selection of the sounds and experiences that have been inspiring them of late.

This month it's Bear Driver

Did you know? Through our British Music Abroad funding opportunity we supported Bear Driver to go to SXSW 2011.

About Bear Driver
Six Piece Band from London, via Leeds. Three singers, duelling guitars, fast drums, rock steady bass and a wind-powered keytar. Apparently. Oli, Harry, Cassie, Jon, Joseph, Rich. Fuzzy, dreamy, popsome...

Bear Driver started in a bedroom in Leeds, just two guys picking up instruments they couldn't really play. Two years on from the first EP Paws & Claws, we've just got back from our first American adventure (thanks to PRS for Music Foundation’s British Music Abroad funding opportunity). It's been quite a ride...

Bear Driver's first recordings came about when Harry and Oli were living together and began making experimental folk-pop songs on a computer in Leeds. There was no real plan, just throwing sounds together and seeing what stuck, though both agreed that if it could come out sounding like The National that'd be great. It didn't. So they put on their biggest jumpers and played a couple of shows with an iPod, ukulele and a child’s accordion. By early 2009 they'd got some proper songs together, picked up their proper guitars and expanded to a four piece with Cassie and Joseph. By the end of that year a self released EP and a release on Dance To The Radio got the band onto the radio and into the press, and on stage at Reading and Leeds, End Of The Road and In The City festivals - and the line-up completed with Jon and Rich.

2010 brought a debut single which got some weighty praise in the papers and appearances at Great Escape, Live At Leeds, and the band's first UK Tour. On being invited to appear at SXSW 2011, the band decided to mark the occasion by releasing a new track every week in the run up to the festival.

SXSW: the Bear Driver story
Before flying to Austin, it came to light that guitars make expensive baggage. So Bear Driver, ever resourceful, took it's guitars to pieces and stowed them in suitcases. On arrival, the first task was to put them back together again before exploring the mayhem. There were quite a few shows to play and at times it seemed implausible that they'd all happen. But the kindness of strangers saw the band bundled into cars and ferried across town in just a whisker of time, in a bus with "you can call me Bubba - yeehaarrr!", and at one point sailing around the suburbs in the open back of a pickup driven by a friendly soul named Shelby, watching the sun down over the town. One of our shows was live-broadcast from Austin, so the lucky folks back home could see the band melting in the sweltering heat. Between these we managed to go see some other shows, Low and J Mascis among favourites, and it was heartening to see some familiar faces from home - David Thomas Broughton, Bombay Bicycle Club and Tigers That Talked. Guitars dismantled again, the band made an extra appearance in New York at the Mercury Lounge to round off the trip before heading back home.

The trip to SXSW was funded by PRS for Music Foundation’s British Music Abroad programme, without which it may not have happened at all. But with their help even the US visa system couldn't stand in our way.

We’re currently recording a long-player, and in the meantime releasing new tracks and videos online.

Which music, has of late, been inspiring Bear Driver?
There are six of us in Bear Driver so it's kinda hard to represent what everyone's been listening to but here's a few things that most of us have been a bit obsessed with of late:

This band has been has been a huge inspiration to us. On our way to New York we were watching videos of their annual Hannukah shows at a tiny venue in their hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey. By chance, we found out they were putting on a show there that week, so we got to see them play for two hours in really intimate surroundings. We'd spent most of the day trudging round in the snow but it was such a great show the wet feet were soon forgotten. David Byrne got up and played some songs with them too. Which was awesome.

Much overlooked genius, Mark Linkous' records just don't wear out. They're very dark and introverted but at the same time playful and hopeful. He seems to get away with complete extremes of reckless noise-pop and beautiful, drawn out instrumentals side by side on his albums. It's a real shame he decided he'd had enough, he seemed to get more amazing with each record.

Bill is such a formidable song writer it's not really right to try to describe his music. You need to just go listen to his albums, and the earlier Smog records, and really get under the skin of them. You will not be disappointed. One day when I'm old and grey of beard I hope I might have written one song this good. Bill's neither of those and yet he’s written a load of them.

They're everywhere now and deservedly so, but it's their first EP that I keep going back to. It's so raw and live-sounding and yet still full of all that ambitious sound they've gone on to become known for. It shows how good they were at arranging their songs long before they were writing the big hits - there's always something going on, never any downtime, nothing superfluous. They could make any song stand up in a stadium. I also have some live radio sessions from around the time they were touring Funeral - it's just them in a room, basically unplugged, and audibly exhausted, but they still sound fantastic.

Their eponymous album was one of the big influences on our first songs - the whole record is a big mess of pop hooks, scattered sounds, distortion, moments of prettiness, screams and melodies. It's compulsive listening from start to finish. I think it taught us from the off that we could really just chuck any old sounds into the mix and at any given time and just see if it worked. Our first few songs ended up with all sorts of random noises stuck on them which soon found their place. And a few that never did.

Nic used to play with us in the early days. He writes beautiful songs - at once both melancholy and triumphant. It's wilfully off-kilter but strangely addictive. You'll find stories of all kinds woven in there. He put out his album Here Come The Glaciers last year, it's a wonderful listen.