Boy & Bear is an indie folk band band from Sydney, Australia. I first got wind of them when they were tapped to support everyone’s favorite Grammy-nominated English folk band—Mumford & Sons—on tour, and their hit “Mexican Mavis” from their With Antartica America EP began to generate some buzz. But back in 2009, Boy & Bear was a solo project for singer/songwriter Dave Hosking. Soon after, bassist Jake Tarasenko joined and then, Killian Gavin and Tim Hart. They found their footing as a five-piece when Jon Hart came on board, but there’s more to Boy & Bear than just all of the members being bluesy singer/songwriters.
All the members originally had their own musical endeavors and came to be acquainted to one another through performing together. So what drives these guys? How do they create catchy, power folk with strong harmonies and lyrics that speak of old-world problems? And what’s the focus for a band whose stock is only on the rise? I called Dave Hosking to find out.
Kristina Villarini: What were your original goals when this was your solo project, and what felt right about expanding into a full band?
Dave Hosking: As a kid, I always wanted to be an artist, but as I got older, it never occurred to me I couldn’t make a career out of music in some way. I wanted to write songs, I liked it. Well, when Jake and I met and we started playing together, it felt really right. I wanted to continue to see what happened with it. Then Killian came on board, and Tim. It didn’t feel like a solo project at all. It felt bigger than that.
KV: Do you think there is a responsibility for larger, more established artists, to take acts that are coming up for support?
DH: I don’t think it’ll ever be a responsibility, but an established act bringing a smaller band is a good thing. There’s always a bit of double-edged sword business to it though, where you don’t want to find your place in the shadow of anyone. At the very beginning stages though, really anyone listening to you is great.
KV: Who are the artists that inspired you?
DH: Crosby, Stills & Nash, James Taylor, Neil Young. My dad played guitar and my family is very musical. At around age 13, I started listening to John Mayer, and it definitely affected me. It was really indie music that really changed everything, three years ago, things like Sigur Ros and Fleet Foxes. Arcade Fire is just a band that, you really have a sense of them, aesthetically. I love the concept of really knowing a band, and then, The Suburbs was such a spectacular record. So that’s what I want to do, as a band.
KV: Is that your small obsession?
DH: To create a sound that is completely ours? [Laughs] Yeah, it is.
KV: How would you describe your sound to people who have never heard a Boy & Bear song before?
DH: It’s really driven, with big harmonies and big drums. It’s indie-folk. But I’d say just listen to the EP to get a better indication.
KV: What is your process as a songwriter, and does sharing that responsibility with your band make it easier or more challenging?
DH: Sharing it is a pretty good system. It’s probably a bit slower than another system but it works for us. We’ve toured since November 2009, and we got four weeks off in July/August. It was around that time that I realized that I’m not very good at writing on the road. I really need space and time to write. I demo a lot of songs alone on my PC, but I’ll sing while I’m jogging. Sometimes, the chorus or verse come naturally. I’m not very good at writing about a particular subject or having a theme, but I do believe that however you are feeling will come through subconsciously.
KV: What are your thoughts on performing as a solo artist versus in a band?
DH: As a songwriter, you’re sort of cocooning for years, spilling yourself into music and lyrics so performing comes a lot less naturally. I think we did 120 shows last year. I definitely performed more as a solo artist before we took off. But it’s the same concept either way: you have to practice and try to improve every day.
KV: Tell me about your relationship with cover songs?
DH: So we played “Flume” by Bon Iver a few times. People are generally conflicted. The danger is that your spearheading another effort that isn’t your own.
KV: Going back to the songwriter’s cocoon, is it a challenge to share that part of yourself with an audience?
DH: I’ve been approaching it as a sponge. I know I’m at the start of my musical understanding. There’s a part of you that just writes a song and you’re happy with that but you know there’s another world out there. Performing is that world.
KV: What advice would you give to singers and songwriters trying to break into the industry?
DH: I think, a lot of bands should just focus on writing and recording. So many people spend thousands on trying to record a six-song EP, when they could really put the two best tracks they have on a two song EP and spend the rest of that money on traveling to perform. That should always be the focus: writing and performance. When one song is great, it doesn’t matter if there are eleven songs around it. You just have to prioritize your agenda.
Boy & Bear will be playing two shows in Australia: January 22nd at Port Nepean, Portsea and March 12th at the Meredith Supernatural Amphitheater. They were also named by The Music Network as one of 2011′s “Seven Acts to Watch.”
Look out for their full-length LP late this year, which they will be traveling to the U.S. to record in April.