‘Bolder and more experimental than ever before’: An Interview with Hunting Bears

By December 30, 2015

Music. Leeds.

[Photo Credit: Bruno Merz & Dreda Blow]

[Photo Credit: Bruno Merz & Dreda Blow]

Hunting Bears have been a vital stitch in the vital seam that is the Leeds music industry for some time now. Their innovative brand of folk-meets-indie-meets-weird has drawn considerable audiences and a formidable following over their 5-year, 2-E.P. tenure. Festivals and living-rooms alike have hosted their eclectic ensemble, and with the release of their latest single ‘Sweet Anthony’, there is promise of big things from them in 2016. We slung some questions their way about songwriting, influences, and their next big release…

How did Hunting Bears begin as a fully-fledged band project?

An abridged history: we all met way back in the last decade at uni in Leeds. Mary decided she wanted to put a band together to escape the monotony of lectures about serialism and post-modern industrial neo-proto-folk… so she set about recruiting friends, friends-of-friends, and future husbands (Mary and Sim are now married!) We’ve been making music ever since, playing shows wherever and whenever to whoever… We actually sold a ticket to a cat once.

Your line-up comprises a vast array of instruments and sounds, resulting in a uniquely-textured catalogue of the indie-folk you describe as ‘somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Erykah Badu via Dirty Projectors’. How do your songs usually come together?

Our guitarist Rich writes the barebones of the song: lyrics, melody, and harmony. Then we bring it to rehearsal, pick it apart together indiscriminately, and find what we feel is the right arrangement for the song. Sometimes that means very little change, but some songs are almost unrecognisable from their starting point. There’s a track on the new EP called ‘Bronze & Silver & Gold’ which started off as a twiddly Dylan folk tune and wound up sounding more like D’Angelo… It’s always a thrill to see where the song goes!

Where do your lyrics and the stories they tell come from?

The latest E.P. is focused almost exclusively on the complexities of long-term relationships, so it’s far more personal and intimate. We’re all in long-term, committed relationships ourselves, and so it felt like a subject we could all throw our feelings behind. There isn’t a storytelling song in sight!

Having said that, I think narrative songs are an interesting approach to storytelling. Trying to convey the emotions behind a song whilst telling a quite literal story is challenging, and is what drew us to that method of writing on the last record. All the stories on ‘Brother Sister’ came from events that happened to people close to us, and I think the storytelling was our way of trying to make sense of the turbulence in the lives of people we care about.

Your upcoming E.P will host your latest single ‘Sweet Anthony’, which shows more of an experimental-pop edge to previous, more pastoral releases. Would you say your direction as a band has changed over previous records?

I think each of our E.Ps capture a musicality that was relevant to us at the time of release. Since we started out in university our sound has grown up alongside us, so there’s never been a conscious ‘change of direction’, more just a natural development of ideas. Bringing Sim in on keys after the last E.P. has definitely contributed to the more contemporary and soulful aspects of our new songs. We’ve grown more confident and willing to explore what sounds right for the song, and we’re bolder and more experimental than ever before.

As immaterial as ‘influences’ are, has anything in particular moved you to change your sound, or aesthetic?

I think it was really Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors. It came out back in 2012, but we’ve lived with it ever since. It’s got all these unusual keyboard textures, glitchy drums and wacky harmonies, but these stark, beautiful songs sit at the heart of it. Its like he’s taken John Wesley Harding and stuck it through a Talking Heads machine. There are so many influences on the new E.P. that come straight from that album.

With the new year comes a new E.P. Are there plans beyond the E.P. release currently?

We really enjoyed filming the video for ‘Sweet Anthony’, so we’re looking to do at least a few more videos to run alongside the full E.P.. We’ll also be looking to do a tour in support of the E.P. release, before hopefully getting some festival slots over the summer. As well as playing bigger gigs in the great venues in this country, we also enjoy playing the smaller, more intimate shows – Sofar Sounds and house gigs for instance. Playing live has always been one of our favourite things and we’d love to continue doing that as much as possible. Lots to look forward to!

What records have you been listening to this year, and what are your favourite live acts from the year?

It’s been such a great year of music, so much to choose from! I know Mary was really taken by Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens. How Joanna Newsom bends lyrics around melodies is beyond human comprehension I think, so Divers has to be up there! Reece and Alli have been obsessed with The Punch Brothers this year. They saw them play at Southbank Centre and wept for a good 3 months afterwards. San Fermin, Olafur Arnalds, Fatima, Blake Mills, Taylor McFerrin, Kwabs… man, there are so many!

First ‘Julia’, now ‘Sweet Anthony’ – who next?

Hmmm, what’s topical right now? “Can I ask you, Donald Trump, to bid the comb-over farewell?”

The music video for Hunting Bears’ latest single ‘Sweet Anthony’ can be seen here. Their upcoming E.P. will be released in Spring 2016.

Follow James Grimshaw on twitter at @jimgrimshank.