Eliza & The Bear Love Playing Stoke
REBEL Editorial || July 28th
It's been a masive year so far. How're you coping with the hectic lifestyle?
Singer James laughs immediately. 'D'ya know what? In a weird way it's been probably the quiestest year so far for us. We finished the album in the back end of 2014, so we had the entire 2015 to kinda just do nothing. So we've written the second album. So this year we've kinda had a nice relaxed year, even though it seems like a mad year. Touring wise it's been pretty mad.'
Martin agrees, 'well yeah like February we did a pretty heavy tour, that was full on, and it becomes festival season quite quickly which is very weekend orientated. So now in the weeks days we're making the most of it. Playing COD.'
I explain how I have always struggled to get into Call Of Duty. Their answer is simple. Why? I'm more of an Elder Scrolls kinda guy myself. Modern Warfare 3 and Destiny are also high up on the 'like' list for the boys, but James does admit to having bought Skyrim when it first came out and playing on it for 36 hours solid... (Does crazed 'square-eyes' impression). But we're not here to discuss my favourite computer games. Eliza & The Bear have worked tirelessly for years now, building a strong following, but wit the release of debut album 'Eliza & The Bear' and the album tour, things seem to have 'gone off' a bit. I wondered how they were coping with the change from being a local band to touring the UK with your debut album.
'I don't think you ever realise do you? For us especially, sort of doing it the proper way, touring and picking up fans bit by bit. It travels so slowly that you don't have those massive steps. I mean going out to Nashville for the album was big though.' There's a modest tone in the answer from James.
'It's almost like those things where you do them, and once they're done you go 'oh shit, like that was a thing I've always wanted to do. Like go to America and record an album. Headline Coco in London. All these little markers that you just trudge along getting on with and you don't realise at the time. Crazy whirlwind and when you sit down you're just like 'oh shit. That's some pretty cool stuff.' I don't think you ever go with 'made it' cus once you've hit one milestone, you're straight away thinking right what's the next one?'
I point out that they are clearly doing well on this front, having written the second album before the first one was even released. But can they tell me anything about it?
'It's early stages. We just wrote it for the past year. We like to experiment with new sounds and, it's not a massive departure from the first album.'
'No, we just wrote 35 songs and that's all it is at the moment.' Martin adds. 'It's just a lump that needs to be chizelled down. We haven't even cracked it open yet. It's like sometimes I'll go and listen to some of the tracks and think 'yeah that's a really cool song' cus we did it where we was kinda like spend a week writing one song, demo it, gone it's done. Stick it in the hard drive and then we're coming back to them six months later and we're looking back on them to see how we like them. Re-evaluating.'
After the success of the fist album though, James evaluated the pressures between the that and the second.
'There was more pressure for the first album cus it was a case of right we've got to get this done. So we couldn't really relax and experiment where with album two, no-one's asked us to write album two we've just been doing it cus we found the time. So we were able to mess around and experiment a bit.'
Is that a good feeling to have? Knowing you've written songs because you had the time and you simply wanted to write, without being pressured into writing them?
'Yeah. Really good, cus even if we get to album two and we don't use any of those songs, we've still gone through the process of writing and going throught the shit. Cus when you write you might have a period where you're writing crap songs, so we've kinda meandered straight through that.'
Martin expands on the point, adding 'Well writing songs is an art, so if you don't keep doing it I feel like you'll get rusty. As five people who write songs, we need to keep that up. Make sure that we're listening to new music, writing stuff that's relevant, and that was what that year was sort of doing. If we hadn't done anything we'd just be like 'Where the fuck do we start?''
'Yeah how do we write songs again?!' James jokes. 'It has been well, the last song we wrote for album one was October 2014, so if we hadn't have written anything since then, I can't imagine.'
I go back to album one. It seems the band are so ahead of their own schedule that this album has been out for years not months. It was recorded in Nashville, so how could I not bring that up. Surely an experience like that is life-changing for any UK band.
'I don't suppose Nashville itself had an impact, I feel the people we worked with.' James recalls, with Martin agreeing. 'Yeah like the only thing where I think Nashville had an impact is that we got session musicians in from there. They call them cats and double cats. Cats are really experienced musicians, so playing with those people really influenced the sound.'
'Yeah we had a gospel choir which was amazing.'
'But yeah for like the first four weeks we didn't really get out of the studio that much, we were doing six, seven days a week, so we didn't see much. It wasn't until the last few weeks where we went to doing five days and we were able to go out and really seeing it. It's such a cool place it's somewhere that I would definitely want to go back.'
'Every bar has live music.'
It's quality cus it's so music orientated, I love it. But at the same time it made me feel a little bit sad, because it's like a graveyard for amazing musicians. They all incredible and they're playing for like 15 people in a little bar.'
'But that's their living, that's what they do. They play guitar five nights a week.'
'Oh yeah, I mean some of them are just unreal. We went to BB Kings restaurant and this band came on, they were unreal.'
James was taken aback by this band, he took a video of them and all sorts. I move on. Since most of my work in music has been based around supporting local, unsigned bands, I'm curious to know how the band saw themselves. The age old question of 'where do you see yourselves in five years time?' Was really not one I wanted to ask, but since Eliza & The Bear have been around now for five years, I am able to ask them if this is where they saw themselves five years ago...
'Probably something we would have hoped for.' James states. 'I mean the one thing I would always say is if we can be in a band and do it for the living, then not many people get to do that. And that was the aim.'
'Well yeah we've always just kinda been we don't even know where we'll be in six months.'
Says the band who had written 35 songs for their second album before the first one was released...
Moving on though, I'm keen to know the band's thoughts and opinions of the internet age, an age which has completely changed the music industry both for good and bad reasons.
'Social media has definitely been a massive things for us. When we first started we had no intentions of gigging, but by putting songs on Facebook, we had like management and labels and agents contact us.'
So you're saying all that stuff came before you even started gigging?
'Yeah, it was mad. So we got with our managers really early on, then considering we were just kids hanging out in our bedroom, we were like 'shit' this is serious. But yeah, on the flip side, you have things like illegal downloads. The week our album releases we saw the top ten album sales figures and it was ridiculous.
Yeah, something needs to happen.' Martin seems quite passionate about the subject. 'I think new artists are gonna... It feels like at the moment that labels need to catch up with what's going on. Chart success is irrelevent. At the end of the day charts will always be dominated by your powerhouse pop stars. They sell consistently. Justin Beibers has like four in the top ten. A lot of the albums in the top ten have been there for like eight months. New artists find it hard to break that mould. You're not going to get a new band hitting that kind of success for a while I don't think, and that's because of streaming illegal downloads. It doesn't matter to Beyonce or whoever, but bands like us, it makes so much difference. Smaller bands need that cash flow to function. Charts are irrelevent to me, there's no money in it. It's a really tough time for new artists, especially bands.
But is there any way around this issue?
'Well this is is ain't it, I can't see how they'll ever end it.' James makes the sad admission. 'Everyone's trying to figure it out, Apple Music, Spotify, and it's like, how are you supposed to make people buy music when it's all available for free. I sound like an old man here but when we was kids it was about buying an album, getting bang into it, but nowadays it's just so accessible, it's like about playlists now. People don't go 'I'm gonna sit and get into this album. It's a double edged sword though ain't it, like if it is all about playlists, and you get placed on a playlist, and someone listens to you, then you've gained a new fan through the playlist. It's all double edged swords man.'
'Oh yeah definitely. I just don't know how they'll make it right. The charts were always a barometer of where bands were, it's just not like that anymore.' Martin agrees.
Things are getting a little emotional at the dimise of the true pop charts, so we had best be moving on... Plans for the rest of the year guys?
'Festivals until September, then it's a bit of a mystery. We'll probably do a tour. Yeah we'll do a headline tour, kind of October time, and then it'll be looking at album two. I mean that's how quick you've gotta be nowadays. We've got another single, we wrote a song for this indie film, quality film, we got chosen over loads of bands so we're buzzed about that. But yeah we're gonna ride the wave. We've not touched on anything in Europe so it would be good to do that, maybe touch on the US, see how it goes.'
Perhaps tyou could hit up your new friends in Nashville?
'Yeah, just drop them a message, “can we stay at your house?” Just tour Nashville.'
Speaking of tours, you've got a good fanbase in Stoke now since your shows here at The Sugarmill and Keele SU, are you planning on coming back?
'Yeah definitely.' James reveals. 'I mean what we tend to do, we'll do one tour that hits a certain area of places, then another tour which hits a different area. So it depends really on the booking agents.'
'I quite like doing the smaller towns, Sheffield, Stoke. I mean I like Stoke, went out in The Sugarmill after the Feb gig.' Martin adds.
'Didn't we go out for dinner in Stoke?'
Yeah. We tried to go Portofinos, but it's been busy every time we've played. Advance booking in the future. Soon as we book the gig we'll book a table.
Portofinos, if you're reading this. Be prepared for Eliza & The Bear. Don't worry, there's no actual bear.