Analogue Music | Boy & Bear

Boy & Bear

By Matt Conner

Boy and Bear was always planning on sticking around.

From the earliest days when Boy & Bear was first coming together or a bit later when the Australian quintet was finding early success with their debut Moonfire was generating significant buzz, Killian Gavin says the band's members were always focused on the future. They weren't interested in short-term gains; they desired long-term impact.

For Gavin and company, Boy & Bear has always been an investment in the future. It's a vision gained from admiring successful bands like Wilco or The National do the same—bands with large followings and large catalogs who never needed the mainstream to prop them up even if they've become very popular in solid circles. For Boy & Bear, that meant eschewing some opportunities in order to protect their vision or maintain their integrity.

All of this is important because it's this passionate pursuit of meaningful music that continues to fuel Boy & Bear even as they promote their self-titled fifth album. The music is as compelling as ever, as honest as ever, as resonant as ever—and fans know they can rely on this "formula" because it forms the core of who they are.

Analogue: I haven’t caught up with you guys in a few years, but here you are on album number five. In your earliest days, did you think you’d be five albums in? Was that ever in the vision to be around this long?

Killian Gavin: That’s a good question and that’s something we’ve been super-passionate about since we started the band. We’re not too off from 15 years now. When we started this, we had one thing in mind which was to write music that we liked, we wanted to be authentic, and we wanted to be around for a long time. That’s had a couple of curveballs thrown into it. There’s been contention with partners because you’re writing music that doesn’t personally fit the mold, but that’s the beautiful part of exploring your own artistry is being able to explore your own songwriting.

But we’d look at bands like Wilco or The National or others that we love and say, ‘That’s the goal.’ These are bands that don’t have big singles. What they have are big albums. So that’s something that we set our minds on from the start. We make a lot of jokes internally that we don’t have any singles. Some people might say otherwise, but there’s nothing that’s had massive success.

What we’ve set out to do is to make a collection of songs that feel like they have purpose and make sense from the first song to the last song on the record. That’s something we’re absolutely focused on and we’ve said no to some opportunities along the way because we felt that they might push us into a place we’re not comfortable going.

Analogue: So there has been some real strategic maneuvering around all of this—some real yeses and nos.

Killian: Yeah. It’s not a trap, right? People choose their own path or their own careers, but there are a lot of opportunities that people get faced with, particularly with partnerships and exposure in certain avenues. We always felt we were protective of our band and how people viewed us. We wanted to remain authentic.

When we first started off, and we were pretty young, people give you pretty amazing offers to work with companies and there was a lot of money on the table all of a sudden. We didn’t have any money in our pockets, but we absolutely said no to all these things working with big phone companies and doing that. We didn’t think it would set us up for longevity if we had that kind of vibe and flavor around our band.

We were super-protective and very limited with what we were willing to do in terms of publicity and in terms of partnerships. Would we see one of the bands that we love and that we grew up being inspired by doing something? If not, we’d have to say no. Anything that sacrifices the ability to achieve that felt like it wasn’t in the cards for us, y’know?

Analogue: Has there been any internal conflict around some of those business decisions?

Killian: Absolutely. Everybody’s on board with the vision, but everyone is going to have a different parameter of what’s achieving it and what’s missing it. At that time, there were healthy discussions of ‘Can we do this? Is this okay? Or should we say no?’

Every now and then there’d be people on different sides of the fence, but if enough people were saying, ‘Guys, I really think this isn’t the right one,’ then most people would say, ‘I see what you’re saying. I don’t know that I agree entirely but I can let it go.’ Everyone knew that protecting our exposure—it sounds weird to use that word—was important, especially at the start. The start was a fucking whirlwind. It was really, really quick. There were steep learning curves we were navigating without any experience, so you second guess if you’re making the right decisions.

"...we’ve said no to some opportunities along the way because we felt that they might push us into a place we’re not comfortable going."

Ultimately I feel like we’ve managed to navigate it to the extent that we’re happy and proud of the decisions we’ve made. There are a lot of bands that were around when we started that are no longer around, for whatever reason. Not saying it’s attributed to just that, but I hope our decisions have helped along the way. I guess it goes to show that decision-making is important. It really is.

Analogue: How many of these songs stem from the pandemic? Or how did that influence this new album?

Killian: We’d just released our fourth record and just started our touring cycle. Touring cycles can last, as you know, for about two years. Unfortunately, we got a week in and then the pandemic shut down the world, so we missed out on touring that whole album, which has been a real bummer. But it was very difficult without going into too much detail financially. Our bread and butter is touring, so to spend a couple of years writing an album and then to spend the next couple of years not getting to do anything was incredibly stressful on the financial front for all of us.

We’d started writing this album straight away because we didn’t know what we were looking at, but we were starting to realize we might not be able to tour Suck on Light. We wanted to work on something, so we started to send songs around to work remotely and write ideas.

As the months went on, albums started coming out that were clearly COVID albums. Nothing against that, but we definitely felt like it impacted us and there will be no doubt where someone deals with that, but we wanted to remain true to what we were feeling.

When we’re writing music, you just have to follow your instincts, so it’s not a COVID album. I think there are artists who have released amazing music that have explored COVID and the impact of it on their art or the industry but this is not one of those. That’s probably a good thing. It carries more optimism than that. There are songs of struggle, no doubt, but there are songs of love and celebration, too.

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