"A Change of Tune" Interviews Boy & Bear
Each week, “A Change of Tune” host Joni Deutsch will have one-on-one conversations with emerging talents and give Spotify-like music recommendations in a feature called “Recommended If You Like.” This week, Joni interviews Australia indie folk band Boy & Bear’s Jon Hart (vocals, mandolin, keyboard) about Americana music, the official “Twilight” movie soundtrack, and the band’s new record, “Harlequin Dream.” If you like Mumford & Sons, this band and interview are recommended for you.
Joni: Congrats on everything that’s happened with the band so far. It sounds like you guys are having an awesome year. How’s the U.S. tour going so far?
Jon: It’s been really great. It’s sort of a mix of festival shows and club shows, so every night we’re playing a different style set list. That’s fun because it keeps it from feeling the same with different sets of crowds. We’re going to places we haven’t been before, not that we’ve been to that many places in America, but the whole “new thing” keeps things feeling fresh for us. I wouldn’t say it’s like a holiday at all, but it has that element of excitement of going to places you’ve heard about and never been, so it’s pretty cool.
Joni: Have you guys been to West Virginia before?
Jon: We have not been to West Virginia. But we do this quiz on the weekends in one of the newspapers at home and one of the questions was, “How many states in America have a cardinal direction in them?” We did know that West Virginia made up the five, along with the Carolinas and the Dakotas. We’ve heard of West Virginia, but we’ve only been through Virginia.
J: That’s close! It’s like Virginia but more “West.” But if you guys are a fan of food, West Virginia is known for pepperoni rolls.
J: Oh wow, no we haven’t.
J: It’s like a calzone but better. If you drive down from Cleveland tonight, you’re welcome to come down to West Virginia and try them.
J: Unfortunately we’re in Buffalo tomorrow, well not unfortunately for Buffalo but unfortunately for late night pepperoni rolls. But that’d be great for the next tour.
J: Beyond that, it sounds like the tour’s been wonderful. Have you had any crazy fan experiences or behind-the-scenes shenanigans?
J: We’re not the most shenanigan-y kind of band. We always feel sort of bad that we have no real great stories for people. We’re just excited that we have a tour bus for the first time over here. I think we’ve been a bit too enthusiastic in inviting people back to have drinks on the bus, so that’s been nice. We have noticed people in America, maybe more so than say Australia or in the UK where we’ve done more touring, people can just tell you’re a band by looking at you. People in Australia don’t necessarily approach us on the streets, but people here don’t necessarily know who we are but they’ll ask “Are you in a band? Are you playing around here?” and get to chatting with us, and that’s really nice.
J: I think nowadays, there’s a sort of recognition in how you walk or act. And also, having an Australian accent in the States, it probably means you’re a celebrity or rock star.
J: [Laughing] Yeah, it tends to draw attention more than we hope sometimes.
J: Do you guys have any notable hits on your personal playlists?
J: We’ve been checking out Beck’s latest record and War on Drugs. We’re really into Kurt Vile’s last couple of albums. I can probably generalize here and say we don’t listen to as much new stuff as people at shows that are always talking about the coolest, latest thing. We’re not necessarily down with that; we probably listen to the older stuff a little bit more and not spend too much time worrying about who’s doing the latest, greatest thing and just find something the works for us in terms of classic influences.
J: I noticed you guys helped cover a Finn Brothers record a couple years back. If you guys cover any songs, do you try to cover newer hits, older songs, or none at all?
J: It’s a mix of different things. When we started out, we were doing a Bon Iver cover, who was a new guy that we liked, because we had an EP with 5 songs out at the time, and we were doing support stops that wanted us to play for half-an-hour, so we had to play another song and put the cover in our set. We also had a Finn Brothers song that went into our set for a while. Now we’ve been playing something older like a Chris Isaak song, “Wicked Game." It hasn’t quite made it into the set regularly, but it’s there and it’s a bit of fun to bust it out and do something different every now and then. We like to try to put a spin on something classic and really well known.
J: So you know how certain bands and artists have names for their fans, like Justin Bieber’s “Beliebers” and One Direction’s “Directioners.” I was thinking, do you guys have a name for your fans?
J: [Laughing] No. I’ve actually never heard of "Beliebers" before. That’s hilarious.
J: Oh yeah. That’s a big trend nowadays. But here’s my suggestion for you all: what about “Boy-sen-Bear-ries?”
J: “Boy-sen-Bear-ries.” [Laughing] I see where you’re going with that. Maybe we’ll pop something online and see if it trends.
J: Thanks for appeasing me with that. Moving on to your record, tell me a bit about the cover of "Harlequin Dream." Were you trying to go for something like Jurassic Park meets the Spanish American War at the fair?
J: We wanted something that looked classic, like album covers used to be when you could actually look at them like they were artwork. In terms of the way the music was feeling with the record, I guess we did get this slightly dark carnival vibe to it. When we were trying to work out what to name the album, there were references to movies like “Cowboys and Indians” with a twist, and suddenly that turned into the direction of the artwork. We wanted it to have depth, we wanted it to be something where you could go, “I never saw that last time,” and you keep seeing new things and can almost invent your own story from looking at the record cover. So I think that’s what we were going for, and we’re stoked with it.
J: I was definitely piecing together all the little bits when I saw the cover. It’s beautiful, artistic, crazy, and cool, just like your music videos.
J: [Laughing] Yeah. They’re always a funny thing, music videos, because you’re putting yourself in the hands of the person that’s doing it. They’re probably thinking you want something like you’ve done before, but at the same time you don’t want to repeat yourself, but then they don’t want to do something that you don’t want. It’s always a funny dance between a new, unique vision and something that makes sense with the music we’re doing.
J: What was the inspiration for the “Southern Sun” music video? It looked like you were shooting in Canada in below-zero weather.
J: It was freezing. We were in New Zealand, which is like our version of Canada where it snows and everyone’s skiing. It was probably one of those once in a lifetime opportunities where we were playing on top of a snow-capped mountain in a ridiculous “Spinal Tap” kind of way. And it was freezing and unbelievably cold, you were right. The director had this vision of a story leading to us playing with the sun behind us. Now there’s irony to it, and I’ll give you a tip: go back and give it another watch. If you have another look at the end, what’s meant to happen is the sun’s meant to be behind us and it’s meant to be epic and blinding with lens flares, but what happened is the dude who was directing it kind of got the scheduling a bit wrong. So we’re standing there on the mountain with the gear set up, and he’s off doing something else, and we’re watching the sun go down against the horizon and we’re thinking, “We’re actually going to lose the sun.” So the whole “Southern Sun” idea ended up with them shooting the sun going down anyways, and it ended up looking a bit dirty and cool. It was meant to be epic and it ended up being a bit different, and I think I kind of like the results now.
J: I never would have known that, but I guess you’re right that it’s a different kind of epic rather than the intended epic, which perhaps makes it even more epic. Speaking of epic, do you guys have any epic producers or future collaborations in mind?
J: That’s a good question. Producing is always a funny thing, and we’re talking about that right now for our next record. I think to work with Paul Simon would be pretty amazing, and I think Dave would love to work with James Taylor, going back to our classic influences. I think everyone in the band, without fail, has a soft spot for Neil Young. Another classic would be Bruce Springsteen and doing something with him because he’s a dude who’s been doing it forever.
J: Your music has been featured in the American television show 90210. Are there any other shows or movies that you’d be interested in contributing your music to?
J: You know we haven’t really thought about it. Whenever we get approached, we usually go on with it. As much as it is cool if it happens, it’s not a direct ambition for us to get on TV. We had a song on the shortlist for the Twilight movie in 2012. It was a track that didn’t make it to our first album, and the record label asked if we’d submit it. They really liked it but eventually went with something else.
J: The most important question: why is it Boy & Bear and not Man & Sloth or Teenager & Koala?
J: I think there must have been a lot of animal/bear themes going around at the time, and we were struggling to find a name. We put a shortlist of together of things, chopped them together, tried different things, and it just came out that way. There was no real meaning behind it so much as we just liked the animal/bear idea. People get a bit disappointed, particularly fans, when they want us to have a story about how the name has something more attached to it, but it’s a name and it works. Every now and then I think it sounds kind of silly, but it’s our name and we’ve grown into it.
Boy & Bear are currently finishing their summer tour for their sophomore album, “Harlequin Dream,” and will soon hit the road again for a fall tour. You can follow their musical hijinks on http://www.boyandbear.com. To get a sneak peak of their record, tune in to Joni Deutsch’s “A Change of Tune” this Saturday at 10 PM EST on West Virginia Public Radio.