An Interview with Eliza and the Bear
Ahead of the release of their debut album later this year, Eliza and the Bear embarked on a sold-out country-wide tour, spreading their unique brand of indie-pop all over the UK. Ellipsis caught up with Martin and James from the band before their gig at Studio 2 to discuss Hannah Montana, their crazy videos and why they’re ‘not like other bands’…
Hi, welcome to Liverpool! What have you guys been up to so far?
Martin: We’ve had a good day, we’ve been over to Everton’s ground, which was really cool, and they showed us around. We always love coming to Liverpool, so yeah, it was fun.
How’s the tour going so far?
James: It feels like we’ve been on tour for ages! Are we halfway now?
M: We’re over halfway now.
J: It feels like – if you think back to day one of the tour, in Colchester, it feels like a lifetime ago. But it’s been amazing. When we got told we were doing this tour, and shown the route and all the places we were visiting, we were a bit nervous, because we forget that anyone listens to our band, so we didn’t think anyone would come to the shows, but they’ve been sold out, most of them!
M: I think we’ve sold out every show bar like, three? So it’s been a kind of progression. A lot of venues we’ve played on this tour we’ve played before supporting other people, so to come back and sell them out shows how much we’re moving forward as a band.
How does headlining compare to supporting someone else?
M: It’s a different ball game. You’ve got a shorter set [when supporting] for one. I just think there’s a different kind of nervousness about it, because when you’re playing a support show, you’re playing to a crowd that don’t know you so you’ve got the challenge of winning them over but at a headline show, they’ve paid to see you so there’s always that nervousness.
J: It’s like, if you play a support show and you’re rubbish, people aren’t really bothered, but if you’re rubbish at your headline show people are like ‘that band I like are really bad!’ You don’t wanna be shit on a headline tour.
Where’s the best place that you’ve played so far?
J: Exeter was surprisingly good.
M: It sold out really fast, and then we were sitting in the dressing room, which was like this tiny little cupboard, and you could just hear people going mental for all the support acts, clapping along, singing along, jumping around, and as soon as we walked out people were just buzzing for it. That was surprising, but most of the shows have been good.
J: Gloucester was good too. It’s getting to the point now though where I couldn’t tell you where we played last night.
M: It sounds like a really bland answer but every night has been great, like there’s not been one night where I’ve thought ‘aw, that was crap’, every show we’ve thought ‘that was awesome’.
J: I think it’s because we’ve got such low expectations!
Have you got any plans to go abroad at all?
J: We’re looking into going to Europe. We’re doing another headline tour in April, and then the idea is to go out and do a couple of headline shows and festivals around Europe. Further afield, I don’t really know.
M: To be honest, our album’s only just getting released, so our focus will be in the UK for a period of time.
J: We’ve got like, in South Africa there’s a radio station playing us, so there’s not a solid plan, it’s more like we should go there.
M: I just think once you make it in the UK, that’s your platform for going onto other territory, but at the moment we’re only focused on the UK. We’ve done stuff in Europe before, but if that comes up, we’ll start looking into it this year but it all depends on where the album goes.
J: A tour in America would be so cool.
M: Who knows?
You mentioned festivals, have you got many coming up this year that you can talk about?
J: We haven’t got any, really.
M: It’s a little bit early for festivals to be booking us, it’s normally towards the end of February that they contact us, which coincides with this tour, because we can finish this and then look at festivals. We played Reading and Leeds last year so we’d be looking to play there again, we’d love to play a Glastonbury slot…
J: That’d be the dream.
How was Reading and Leeds, by the way?
J: It was amazing. It’s like one of those festivals we went to as kids, so to be able to be on the other side of that barrier and be able to play was quality, and the tent was rammed.
M: Especially Reading, that was one of the first festivals we went to, so it was cool.
J: The problem with festivals is, you’ll be playing a tent and watching the band before, and it’ll be rammed for them and then everyone will leave, and you’ll think no one will come to see you, but then it fills up again. So before you go out on stage you’ll look out and think ‘there’s nobody here!’ but then it was absolutely rammed, and we gave out loads of free t-shirts as well, so if you looked at the first few rows of the crowd it was like they were all just hardcore Eliza and the Bear fans, which was funny.
You guys have got such a unique sound, do you really have any influences?
J: Whenever we get asked about influences, we can’t really answer, because we all have such different music tastes because we all come from slightly different backgrounds, so I listen to like, Radiohead and stuff, Callie (the keyboardist) listens to nothing but Hannah Montana…
M: He does listen to other stuff, but mostly it’s all just cheesy pop music. So he’ll listen to Demi Lovato’s new track all the time.
J: He doesn’t really know anything pre- about ’94?
M: If it was made after 1990 he’ll only know it if it was in a film. But we’ve got so many personal influences it’s like a natural push and pull when we write a song. It’s not like a deliberate thing when we go into writing, thinking that it should sound like this or it should sound like that, it just comes naturally.
I think you can tell that in your music, because there’s not really a single genre or artist you can compare it to…
M: We don’t really have that many comparisons to other bands, do we?
J: We have like, Mumford and Sons sometimes.
M: We had Flaming Lips a couple of times as well.
J: Yeah, someone said that we’d never have become a band if we hadn’t heard Flaming Lips, and no one had ever listened to them, so I don’t know what that was about.
Your videos are pretty unique as well, do you have much input in those?
J: We couldn’t sit down and be like ‘Right, the video’s going to be this’, so we have a guy at the moment who we’re working with, he’s done the past two videos and the next one as well, Marcus, who comes to us with these crazy ideas and then we sit down and tweak it until we get it right.
M: We do get hands-on once the idea’s there. We give him the song and he comes up with the video, and then once he does that it kind of ignites us as well.
J: We’ve just seen the cut for the next video actually, it looks sick.
M: What I like about Marcus’ videos is that they’ve all got a certain style to them, and people talk about them, they’re not just bog standard videos, there’s something a little bit more interesting visually, something a little bit more stimulating than just us standing in a studio.
J: Because most of the time seeing a video is the first place people are going to come across us, so if we can impress them with the video, it’ll draw them in, and Marcus seems to come up with ideas that interest us, so hopefully that works for other people.
Everything about your band is really different and unusual, why did you choose to take that route rather than something a bit more mainstream?
J: There’s so many bands out there these days that you’ve got to make yourselves stand out.
M: I think that comes with just being honest and being yourself, like there’s a lot of bands that are like ‘oh, we want to sound like this’, or ‘we need to do this because this is cool’, and they’re the kind of bands who just end up sounding like a poor man’s version of what you’re trying to recreate, whereas with us, we’re just doing what we want, and we just play how we want and we do videos how we want.
J: We just do stuff we enjoy.
M: We do stuff we enjoy, and it just so happens that other people are starting to enjoy it too, which is cool, and the more people that enjoy it, the more freedom we get to believe in ourselves and just carry on doing what we’re doing.
Where did the name come from?
J: When we first started, we had no intentions of being an actual functioning band, so we found this collection of poems called Eliza and the Bear, and we just emailed the author saying ‘can we use the name’ and she said yeah, but obviously because we had no intentions of being a proper band, we didn’t really figure out that someone might hear our music and not know who we were. It never really crossed our minds that everyone would be asking who Eliza is and stuff like that. It’s a bit awkward now, everyone thinks there’s someone called Eliza in our band. Or a bear.
M: It’s one of those names that I think ended up doing us more of a favour than not, because it’s just one of those names that doesn’t necessarily fit the band, and you end up making it your own. Like ‘Arctic Monkeys’. When you first hear the name you think it’s really weird, and now they’ve kind of made it their own, and it becomes them.
J: The meaning of the name matters less and less eventually.
The album’s out soon, right?
M: April 8th.
Why should people buy it?
M: Because it’s the best album ever!
J: It’s something that we’ve worked really really hard on, we’re really really proud of it, so if you’re a fan of what we’ve released so far, you should definitely pick it up because it kind of offers a 3D look at what we can do. All the stuff we’ve released so far fits a kind of formula, and the album’s given us a little more leeway to delve into our musical influences.
M: We listened to it yesterday, for the first time in months, and listening back, I’m really proud of it and I just don’t think we could’ve done anything better. I listened to it so much I didn’t really know if it was good any more, but genuinely, listening to it now, I don’t think we could’ve done any more, that’s the best thing we could’ve come up with, and we’re really proud of it. And hopefully people feel the same, because I don’t think people realise how much work goes into making an album. Not that we’ve worked harder than anyone else, every band goes through really hard work, but once you’ve done it yourself, you realise how hard it is and you get attached to it, and hopefully people get attached to it too.
J: And obviously if people buy it it means we can make another album, and carry on doing this for a little longer.