Whether it’s their preference or not, a loaded touring schedule is an essential requirement for musicians in the 21st century. Boy & Bear’s second LP Harlequin Dream came out 12 months ago and the band has been on tour ever since. Ahead of the Sydney quintet’s Australian theatre tour next month – which falls in between a European festival run and their third US jaunt of the year – guitarist Killian Gavin weighs up the pros and cons of life on the road.
“We’re over the moon that we do get to do what we get to do,” he says. “Then also somewhat intimidated when you look at your schedule and realise how much more you have to get through. We love getting to do this and playing shows and travelling around. At the same time, you do get those moments where you’re like, ‘You know what, I could just enjoy being at home seeing my friends, my family, have a normal coffee at a nice cafe, et cetera.’”
In 2011, Boy & Bear’s debut record, Moonfire, established the North Shore group as one of the nation’s most loved indie bands. It often happens that artists with such auspicious career beginnings falter when it comes to album number two. But not only did Harlequin Dream please Boy & Bear’s existing fans, the record widened their listenership both at home and abroad.
“[Moonfire] obviously went so well for us here, but if I can be completely honest, artistically, had we had the benefit of time and experience, we perhaps would have made different decisions,” Gavin says. “So we were so focused on making another record and fixing all those little things that we didn’t really spend any time thinking about this being a follow-up record or the pressure associated with that.”
Despite Gavin’s slight criticism of the first record, Australian audiences have never found much to complain about when it comes to Boy & Bear. Ever since triple j picked up their debut single ‘Mexican Mavis’ in late 2009, they’ve been one of the station’s highest played acts. However, prior to Harlequin Dream, overseas success was fairly limited. But if this year’s sold-out UK/European tour, US radio play and a spot on popular late-night talk show Conan is anything to go by, that’s no longer the case. That last achievement jumps out as Gavin’s highlight for the year.
“To me, that was a different level,” he says. “It’s very hard to get those kind of shows and we were just stoked to be offered it. The thought of ever playing one never occurred to me. We were privileged and thrilled to be able to do it.
“As much as I’d like to say it’s just another day on the job – and it’s sometimes better you treat those things like that because it stops you getting nervous or building it up to be something it isn’t – it was very hard in this case to do that.”
While Gavin let himself soak up the prestige of that particular event, generally speaking Boy & Bear are a very relaxed bunch. It’s refreshing to hear that, even as their international profile continues its upward trajectory, intra-band relationships remain relatively unchanged.
“We get along remarkably well and the more time we spend [together] sometimes the easier it is,” Gavin says. “Not every band is fortunate enough to be in that situation. At the same time, when you’re touring it’s pretty natural to go, ‘You know what, I’m really getting along with this guy,’ and you spend a few days with him. Then it shifts a little bit and you end up spending more time with this guy. It’s full-grown men on a high school camp getting the shits with each other and also having a great time.”
As it happens, the band’s recent US run was conducted on a tour bus and it led to the discovery of a new favourite indulgence.
“We’ve recently become addicted to Spotify,” Gavin says. “On the bus we just put on Spotify a lot. We’ve actually been talking about music and looking up music and listening to things as a band – something we don’t do that often. We had a ’90s rock night. We literally were getting pissed on the bus and listening to all the bands in the ’90s that we all used to listen to, like early Pearl Jam and Nirvana and Pennywise. We were just playing all this ridiculous ’90s rock that was still really awesome.”
When Boy & Bear bring their internationally honed live show back home next month, their tour will include two nights at the Sydney Opera House. Far from feeling like indomitable superstars, Gavin says hometown shows still impose unique pressure. “All of us in the band find Sydney shows the hardest show of the tour. It’s usually because we’re from Sydney, so we might have family and friends and it’s your hometown – these weird factors that make it more difficult. At the same time, because it’s your hometown, it’s also the most exciting show. I think if people in the crowd know that you’re a Sydney band there’s a different kind of warmth in the crowd. They’ve traditionally been really fun shows, but leading up to the show they’ve been quite nerve-wracking.”