Before the first of their two London dates this summer, Bear in Heaven guitarist Adam Wills opens up about the joys and pitfalls of epic tours, getting into the studio headspace and making a new record to feel proud of.
Bear In Heaven are swiftly turning into one of those indie acts from across the pond who prove that cutting your teeth on the road can separate you from the buzz band posse if you put the work in. You may recognise them from their rich, poptastic 2010 single 'Lovesick Teenagers' but the Brooklyn trio (Jon Philpot, Adam Wills and Joe Stickney) have a new record out and have been promoting the synth-drenched and danceable material on I Love You, It's Cool all over the UK and mainland Europe for the last two months. It was their first foray into studio recording, and with help from Welsh producer David Wrench (Everything Everything, Caribou, Gruff Rhys) they've pulled together quite the belter of an album. Adam gives us the inside story, since we were always going to want to talk to a band who streamed their LP at 400,000% of its original speed in a hilarious and telling preview move.
I've been listening to the record on repeat for a while now: it's meaty! How long had you guys been putting it together before stepping into the studio?
We spent about six or seven months writing every day. Maybe six months doesn't sound like a lot of time but they were definitely full twelve-hour days, and intense.
Were you writing while touring Beast Rest Forth Mouth?
We tried bits and pieces: once touring becomes routine, you can spend thirty minutes at soundcheck jamming and use laptops to lay down some rough recordings as you go.
Yeah, because you guys go out on the road and really tour: you don't just pop out for a couple of weeks - you're often gone for almost a year at a time. How do you mentally prepare for going into that?
You can't really, you just have to throw yourself into that weird headspace. If you've ever been in a band you know: you just put yourself out of all your comfort zones. You think "oh my gosh, I'm subjecting myself to being broke, to sleeping God-knows-where every night". Hopefully we'll get good crowds, hopefully we'll play well - we may not. I'd imagine until you're like the Rolling Stones you don't get used to people showing up for gigs [he laughs]. It's a sort of anxiety but you have to let go of that, get excited to see your friends all over the world, play a show in front of a bunch of people and just have a great time.
So now you're back in the UK, you'll presumably have the chance to see David Wrench. Is he more of a directing producer, or a laid-back-and-tweaking producer?
It's very much a case of us steering and I Love You, It's Cool was put together like that. We were very prepared for this record, we'd written all the songs. For the next one we might have the more traditional producer role where we say 'you tell us what to do' and we go with that. We weren't ready to relinquish that much control on this, but went in knowing we'd agree on a lot of stuff and David would challenge us on others. He’d settle arguments for us, about basslines and all that sort of thing - it was a really good working relationship.
Sounds almost like a fourth member.
Yeah, normally he'd put in something we hadn't thought of.
How was the first-ever studio recording experience?
It was nice, but it was also daunting knowing we'd paid this much money to buy a certain amount of time that we had to use. Efficiency was a big part of it because we did the first two records ourselves at our practise space in Jon's house - this was pretty different. We were getting a lot more done, which opened up more room for experimentation: we weren't stopping to set up mics and tweak things. It was nice to achieve a level of success where we could go into a studio, it was cool.
I loved the idea of your ridiculously slowed-down album stream preview. What were some of the best responses you had to it?
A lot of like-minded people in the music industry really got it: the ones who work on the other side, for labels, publicity and A & R (not journalists). They're the ones always scrambling for new ways to market music and they saw how it was a conversation piece on the way self-promotion works now. That wasn't our initial intention, to come in and 'challenge everybody, while taking down the current marketing schemes for bands' [he jokes] but was just something we conceptually took on as a band.
How do you guys divide creative control on choices like those? And with your live shows and cover art?
Ha, sometimes I just think 'it's too much work guys!' but in our minds we care about every aspect. It sounds like we're control freaks but we all went to art school and it's just an extra project on top of the musical side of what we do.
On a final note, which songs are you most proud of on the record?
Personally, I think we stepped it up as musicians on all of it. I like everything about it, really [he laughs]. With Beast Rest the songs were really 'blocky', with a clear part A, part B and part C but we sort of let that go on this one. It's just the record we thought we were going to make before we'd even made it.