An interview with… Eliza and the Bear

If there’s one thing we love here at Notes On Sounds, it’s big and gloriously anthemic indiepop. If there’s two things we love it’s big and gloriously anthemic indiepop and cider. Which makes London quintet Eliza and the Bear perfect bedfellows. Last month, George Shaw caught up with Martin Dukelow and Chris Brand from the band to chat about their debut album, the band’s ambitions and cider commercials.

People will call it selling out, we don’t really care.

Hello Eliza and the Bear. So your debut album is coming out next February. Are you excited for it?
MD: Yeah. Big time. We got all the mixes back in January this year. It’s the best stuff we’ve recorded, it’s the best sounding stuff. The problem for us as a band was that we couldn’t quite translate what we do live onto record. That was the hardest challenge for us, because we are so much better live. I think we’ve captured it though. I don’t want to get too excited. I’m nervous and anxious, but at the same time there’s some of our best material on there. We just have to wait and see what people think.

eathbalbumIt was Nashville you decamped to record it. What was it like recording there?
CB: Pretty mental. Lovely studio. Lovely people. We were recording with Jacquire King, (Kings of Leon, James Bay). It was amazing and he is such a good producer.
MD: It’s one of those cities which is just hugely music orientated. Although we did feel a little bit belittled because we’d go into bars watching 50 year old geezers that are playing cover and are phenomenally better than us.
CB: There was a bass player playing one night who never looked at his guitar once and I just thought “oh god, I could never be that good.
MD: In some ways, it was just being around that, even subconsciously, has helped with the album.

How did being in that area influence the record? Will there be a country twang to it?
MD: People ask that, or say how much did it inspire you. Subconsciously it might have done. You know, the music you hear and the people you talk to. The people we brought in from Nashville are called cats and double cats. We had a couple of double cat people come in. I just think Nashville as a whole, might have subconsciously helped the record, but really, where the action happened was in that studio. The team that was with us is what made the album. Being in Nashville was just a cool place to go out and have a drink.
CB: It was the best studio, we’ve ever played in. The equipment was next level.
MD: It’s having so much equipment at your fingertips too. We wanted to have a baritone guitar on one of the new tracks (Oxygen) and the guy owns it is a big country star, so he picks one up and brings in this $25,000 beautiful 1950’s Gibson guitar to use. It’s having that equipment, with the knowledge of the people around you to record it in the best way that just gets that attention to detail. It was just comfortable and lovely.

Did that add any pressure to the recording of the album then?
CB: We were so well rehearsed. I don’t think it did at all. Jacquire was completely fine. Obviously, if you make a mistake you make a mistake but he was cool. He knew how to chill you out and how to get you to play well.
MD: There’s a sort of psychology to it in some ways. These people are not there to be “oh I’m better than you.” They are there to make you feel confident and make you give the best you can. It seems so long ago now.

We got a bit of a taste of what the new album will sound like with the recent single Lion’s Heart. Can you tell a little bit about that track?
MD: It’s a really early song.
CB: Yeah really early. Like one of the first songs we wrote.
MD: It was a b-side, originally. There were two songs, that and Upon The North, that were the most problematic. We rehearsed everything beforehand – we did a bit chart, how to approach it, how not to. We spent a week with Jacquire and that all went in the bin on the first day. We decided we were really going to tear these songs apart and get them the best we can. The first couple of weeks I was thinking “we’re not going to get this to a place where it’s going to be great.” Then weirdly, slowly over time, it fell into place. I remember just sitting there about half way through the process thinking “this is a massive tune.” It started to sound like one of my favourite songs on the album. It was a no brainer to come back to it and release it as a single. When we sent it over to the label, I think our manager cried when she first heard it. It is Eliza and the Bear to a tee – that epic, big sound we love and I think we captured it really well.

I’ve seen you live a few times and every time I’ve heard that song it’s almost had a totally different incarnation – sounding bigger and now it’s almost become the Eliza and the Bear anthem.
MD: Exactly. I think the problem with it before, no disrespect to the older version, but it was a little slow. I’m glad we went back and re-worked it and give it a fresh lease of life.

 I believe that we can headline festivals. 

What do you think of the current state of the British music scene? You got a lot of help from Generator when you were just starting out. Do you think more could be done to help out young musicians?
MD: It is hard. I think people blame The X Factor culture and those sort of shows, where people just want instant fame with none of the work. At the same time there always has been, and always will be, a plethora of people who are talented and want to do it the hard way. There is a lot of good British bands coming through. What we have found hard, and we’re lucky Radio 1 has really got behind us, but a lot of people really rely on radio to take their band to the next level and I don’t think certain people in music are taking risks on bands. That’s the thing that bugs me about British music at the moment, especially with festivals. If you look at festival headliners, there are no new British, or any new headliners coming through.
CB: Who is going to headline Glastonbury in five years’ time? Without it being The Killers.
MD: Exactly. Those bands are great, but who is going to be the next generation of bands to take on that attitude of “we want to headline a festival.” I can’t put my finger on why that is.

If a band has that ambition and state it, particularly within the British media, they’ve always been knocked for it, or taken as some kind of joke.
MD: I think every band wants that to be the end goal and wants to be that successful. There’s no shame in having that ambition. I just don’t know what it is at the moment. They are a few bands worming through but for how many brilliant bands you hear not enough comes through. I don’t know if that is because there’s not enough backing from the label early on. Music goes in cycles – so before you know it there’ll be another Oasis who comes along and blows everyone out of the water.

Is that an ambition for Eliza and the Bear? Festival headliners?
CB: Of course.
MD: I’m probably going to get caned for this but I do believe that – if we work hard enough and we do enough tours and everything falls in to place – I believe that we can headline festivals. It’s getting to that point. It’s not realistic to just say “I want to headline festivals” because it is so far in the distance you can’t see it.
CB: We are a hard working band. We’re constantly in the studio. Constantly writing. Constantly playing.


Your track was used on a cider commercial recently. I think that’s another thing bands and the media are a bit snobby about. How important do you think that has been in helping develop the band?
MD: Certain bands can get away with it. I’m a massive Radiohead fan and I remember Thom Yorke saying in interviews “I would never give my music away. That’s not what it’s for.” I think for bands at the start of the career, getting a massive offer so early on – it’s a no brainer, to get our music out there and have so many people listening. So many people know that song without even knowing they know it. People will call it selling out, we don’t really care.
CB: It gets people listening to it. The amount of people we’ve had coming up to us at festival or at a gig saying “we heard you on the cider advert” and then have went and bought tickets to come and check us out. It’s a no-brainer.

What are your earliest musical memories?
CB: I went to Reading Festival with my dad when I was 8 years old. I was a massive Prodigy fan and went to see them – I don’t understand how. dad took me to see this band called Idlewild and it was when they just released their first album and they were tiny. I loved them then and I love them now. That album is one of my favourites.
MD: I remember my first gig. My dad took me to see AC/DC and they smashed it. Earlier than that, I remember my dad used to play guitar, he wasn’t very good, and I was 3 or 4, I learnt a David Bowie song and played it. Then at about 8 or 9 he started giving me lessons and in about two months I was better than him. That’s how bad he was. My family are all big music fans. That’s what pushes you on. From an early age there was always music on in the car.

Which of your songs are you most proudest of?
MD: It’s hard because there’s songs we’ve played so much live and we love playing live so much. Then something new comes along.
CB: Make It On My Own. When we just finished the album that was my favourite.
MD: Oxygen is something a little bit different from us, I’m looking forward to people hearing that one live. My favourite tracks are the new ones that we’ve just put into the set and are getting the first buzz for. To say we’re prouder of one song more than another is hard to say. It’s just the newer ones are fresher.

Which song do you wish you had written?
MD: I always say Fix You by Coldplay. It’s one of the songs that comes on at any point, no matter when and it is such a brilliant, epic song. Any of Thom Yorke’s work I wish I had written too.
CB: Fix You is the one and probably the same one for everyone in the band. We’re all big fans of the band and that probably is the song of this generation.

If the world were about to end, what would be the last song you’d listen to?
MD: Yours would probably be Break Stuff by Limp Bizkit. We were on holiday in Magaluf for my birthday and we were on a hotel balcony. It was gorgeous. We just got back from a night out, we were a bit pissed. The sun was just coming up, the sky was beautiful and we are all sat back. I said “put on a song Chris.” Limp Bizkit, Break Stuff. Totally killed the moment.
Not even Rollin!
CB: It’ll probably be Byegone by Volcano Choir.
MD: I’d just shuffle and hope for the best.

What do you hope people listening to your music take from it?
MD: Our music is very feel good and very uplifting and that is what we want to do. We were in a very positive place when we wrote those songs and that is what we want people to receive. With the album though, there are some darker moments on there. I actually like some of those songs because the music is positive but some of James’ lyrics are quite dark and like the way they play off each other. On a song by song basis it changes and I like that. We just want people to listen to it, listen to the lyrics and take what they want from it. Sometimes I’m the worst for it, going and researching what lyrics mean but sometimes, being on the other side of the fence; you want people to take what they want from the song and attach it to whatever you need to and wherever you are.

Eliza and the Bear’s self titled debut album comes out on February 19th on Capitol. You can preorder it from their website now.

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