Hunter and the Bear – Exclusive Interview
Written by Tracey Duke
I’ll be honest catching up with Hunter and the Bear, was more than a little self-indulgent. Not only do they rock out some of the best tunes I’ve heard but they also happen to be, despite their rock star image, four of the most humble, fun and down to earth guys I know.
A favourite of music critics, across the globe, I caught up with Jimmy, Will, Chris and Gareth in Kensington High Street’s Hand & Flower to talk music tech, breaking free and social media.
So guys, first of all, thank you so much for taking the time out to meet with me today. It’s no big secret that I’m a huge fan of your music and it’s a real honour to have time with you. So as always, let’s jump straight in and focus on the journey that you’ve been on; from when I first heard you play live in Exeter, three years ago, you’ve made some big changes. Will, let’s go to you first.
Ok, so in terms of what’s changed from then until now, the main thing, as you know, is that we were with a management company back then. They did loads of really great stuff for us and we achieved some awesome things with them at that point. But, as is the way with many of these things, you find yourselves looking in very different directions and that’s exactly what happened with us. It was clear that we needed to fly the nest. We did and it’s been great; we haven’t looked back since.
Yes, it was a risky move, but we’re now completely self-managed and have been for about two years. It’s incredible; really empowering and seems to be working very nicely for us at this stage.
Stylistically, our music has changed as well. It’s been quite a natural process; we’ve definitely grown as musicians and writers since you first met us. We’re learning about the kind of music we want to make and having the power to make those decisions, has really helped enormously.
It feels that you have a strong, powerful sense of who you are and what you want to be doing; you come across as being very intuitive as to what your audience wants.
If you have a loyal audience, which we somehow have; they’ll come with you; so long as you don’t make a complete U-turn and become something that you never were. Ours has been a progression and we’ve been lucky that the fan base we have is building. They seem to be keen to come with us and trust our judgment about the kind of music we want to make; they’re right there with us, which is something we are really lucky to have.
And you also have this amazing engagement with them. Your social media presence is fantastic, giving that constant behind the scenes feel; there’s never a time that you’re not there and that takes a lot of commitment.
We came across a few bands who were doing it really well; you could see the engagement they were having with their fans, regardless of genre. Giving people, who are really into what you’re doing, that kind of insight, is so easy to do. It doesn’t cost anything; it just gives people that extra bit of interest and adds value.
Yes, they might wake up and listen to your music on Spotify, but if it ends there you’re not really a part of their day or their life. Whereas if you can really engage with them, which I feel we’re doing more and more, you’re giving them that little bit extra. It’s also a great way of getting feedback from fans; that’s key for us. We want to know where people want us to go and play.
Yes, which we are doing. The South West is a really great example of fans that have stuck with us. We went down there in the early days when we were doing the slightly softer stuff and they were great to us then. The fanbase is bigger than it has ever been down there, considering we’re playing quite heavy rock. That’s great and a testament to the people of Exeter!
Ok, so that’s really interesting. Do you think that that comes from having played those smaller, more intimate Live Loft Sessions at Higher Eggbeer, for example? Jimmy, what are your thoughts?
We try to make every gig into an intimate one, even if it’s in a big stadium. The connection with the crowd will make people want to come back.
We’re fans of music as well. If we go and see a band and they just stand there going through the motions of playing, yeah ok it might be a great gig, but you might not be on your toes to go straight back. We try and break that wall between band and crowd and make it so everyone’s there together having a really great time.
So Gareth you’re out here on your own. You’re empowered. You’re self-managing. What’s been the biggest challenge on that journey? What have you learned along the way?
I think learning is the word; none of us claim to be industry professionals when it comes to this. It’s just taking on new skills.
Will has absolutely smashed this whole social media thing and it’s no illusion that it comes from a very humble standpoint. There’s no trickery to it; that’s the great thing about music. It’s very, very honest.
I think that in terms of challenges we’ve faced, it was recording and releasing an album; that was a massive challenge. Usually, people who record and release albums, are all signed and secured to labels. They’ve all got these amazing teams of people who make their videos and record their stuff in amazing studios. We’re at the beginning of that process, thinking how the hell are we going to match that? We didn’t want to compete with those at our level; we wanted to be competing with the top dogs. So that process was a huge challenge; with many small challenges in between. It’s nice to be on the other side of it having done it. Not necessarily having done it to the most amazing level of all time, but to have come through those challenges is a great feeling.
Ok guys, jumping into the theme of this month’s issue, who’s the tech guy here?
That’d be me; they call me Steve!
haha no they don’t actually call me Steve Jobs.
They do now! Ok so let’s talk technology and innovation in the music industry and how things are moving forward.
Obviously that’s a massive part of the music business. Everything is created and consumed through technology, be it Spotify, turntable or listening to it on a digital radio; all the way back to recording it.
We’ve got a home recording studio set up in our living room; a very, very modest rig that allows us to demo up songs or ideas and allows us to really get stuck in, without having to pay anyone else or hire space. We can get demos that are in our heads, all the way through to proper ideas for songs in just the living room. That’s definitely one thing that technology has helped.
There’s obviously the argument that technology has killed the music business; people say that all the time. I disagree though. Spotify, although we don’t get paid for it, is a good thing because it allows you to get yourself out there.
It’s always about the bigger picture, right?
Absolutely! If people can hear your music for free, via an app on their phone when they’re out and at the touch of a button, when they’re home, that’s a great thing. They can have your whole back catalog, your whole story and all your videos and they can carry it around in their pocket. I personally think that’s a good thing.
It goes back to the whole social media thing that we were talking about. Back in the day, it was all about the distinction between the fans and the bands. It was the smoke and mirrors of bands like Led Zeppelin, where the fan was wondering what their lives were like. Whereas now it’s flipped on its head and you basically feel like a friend of the band you follow or the people you follow online. And that’s kind of what people are looking for now. It’s like an insight into your day to day life.
The fact that we’re sitting here now eating chips and wraps in a pub. Back in the day that just wouldn’t be heard of, but now that’s the way things are. That’s all rooted in technology and how it’s changed the business and how it will continue to change it.
So what’s next in music technology? Where does it go from here?
I can see a world, in 20 years, where people won’t travel to go to gigs anymore, because you’ll have virtual reality headsets; you’ll buy a token online and you’ll be there.
Oh that’s right! You guys did the live gig from the Convent when people could pay and watch from their homes. That was amazing!
It was amazing and I can see that going further and further so people will just buy a headset and all of a sudden you find yourself in these massive studios; like Elm Tree in London. I can see big industry spaces being kitted out with really high-quality audio, video and studio equipment. People will just sit in their living rooms, put on a virtual reality headset, buy a ticket and go to the gig experiencing it from their headset. Who’s to say they couldn’t be sat on a drum kit with Gareth or sat on the edge of the stage with Will?
These things will continue to change quicker and more remarkably than we can foresee them changing; because that’s exactly what’s happened over the last ten years. It’s not like it’s going to slow down. So yeah, it’s a useful tool and a scary thing for us to watch; but we’re all at the mercy of it whether we like it or not, so we’ve just got to try to adapt.
Exciting times! Let’s bring Clarky in at this point. Chris, you’re without a doubt, one of the most incredible Bass players I’ve ever heard! You are simply mesmerising to watch! For all our younger readers and budding guitarists, how do you get to the level you’re at? It must be down to, pure dedication?
Thank you! I realised, at the age of 11, that this is what I wanted to do. From the age of 13, I was playing in bands pretty much every weekend. I joined a touring band at 17 and my life choices took me down a route of college and touring.
I had various degrees of success with bands but constantly pushed myself outside of my comfort zone: I was pretty bad at Jazz, so I joined a Jazz band. I didn’t understand folk, so I joined a folk band. The secret is to constantly challenge yourself if you want to be the very best you can be.
Fantastic! And so to sum things up Will?
I think that there comes a point, with everyone, when you suddenly realise that the project you’re working on now, is the project. The dress rehearsal is done and this is where your focus & energy needs to be.
And to also remember that it’s about the people you meet along the way. Don’t ever forget your roots and where you’ve come from.
You can follow the boys on Twitter @HunterTheBear