published: 16 /
Bearsuit have been making gradual dents on mianstream culture with their distorted indie pop. Mark Rowland talks to the group about their forthcoming third album, ikts recording and and appearing on Top Shop's music video screens
Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes is swarming and buzzing with activity. The lanes themselves are all in use. In the seating areas, not one table is free. The bar is surrounded by thirsty punters. In the far corner, a stage is set up with mikes, amps and other equipment, in preparation for the all dayer that Bearsuit are headlining.
The band are sat around a table in the dining area of the lanes. The table booths have a distinct 1950’s American diner feel to fit the venue’s theme - bright, bold and slightly camp. A few tables down from Bearsuit, 'Spaced' and 'Royle Family' star Jessica Stephenson is sitting with a group of friends. This has got the Bears a little excited.
“We saw her earlier,” says multi-instrumentalist Cerian Hutchings, who provides most of the band’s horn and string parts. “We thought about going over to her, but we chickened out. Plus we thought we might seem a bit rude.”
The band - Lisa Horton (keyboards, vocals, theremin, accordion, keytar), Matt Hutchings (drums), Jan Robertson (guitar, flute, keyboards, percussion, samples, vocals), Iain "Mousey" Ross (guitar, korg, vocals) and Richard Squires (bass, guitar, vocals) - have just finished recording a new album, to be released in September. Called ’Oh:Io’, it features last year’s single, ’Steven Fucking Spielberg’, which received airplay on Phil Jupitus’ BBC Six show as well as from Radio One’s Rob Da Bank and Huw Stephens. The Bears made their first music video for the track, which also got decent coverage, appearing on MTV2 and even making an appearance on Top Shop’s music video screens.
Bearsuit are now preparing to tour the album, starting with a few festivals. They played the Dot to Dot festival at the end of May and are set to play the Indietracks festival in July, a two-day event which takes place on a 1950's steam train.
The band have now been playing together since 2001, and in that time have released two albums and several singles and EPs. Over that time, they have slowly become more and more popular. Though likely to stay on the fringes of mainstream indie (they’re a bit too interesting to be really popular) the band have become big enough to make tiny dents in mainstream culture.
One thing is apparent as the band sit down in preparation for this interview; they are obviously a very close group. There is no hint of the tensions that can appear in bands that have been together as long as they have, which is a sure sign that Bearsuit still has quite a long shelf life.
All are in a chipper mood, apart from Richard, who is seriously hungover after celebrating his birthday a little too vigorously the night before.
“I’ve stocked up on Snickers Ice-creams,” Jan explains to us. “A lot of us are vegetarians and Snickers aren’t going to be vegetarian anymore, and I love Snickers.”
Despite the relatively low-key-ness of the gig, the band are being visited by a representative by a PR agency. The interest in the band has started a small battle between several PR agencies.
“Wow, they’ve all come along at once,” says Jan after Lisa tells her about the PR interest.
“It’s just the one that’s come along tonight though,” says Lisa. “She’s got red hair.”
PB : You’ve just finished your new album…
CH : Yeah, it’s called Oh:Io. Not Ohio, Oh: Io.
LH : It should be pronounced Oh! Io.
(Chorus of different pronunciations of Oh:Io)
IR : We’re thinking of doing all the planets.
LH : Io is a moon of Jupiter.
JR : There’s an undercurrent of space but it’s not a theme.
MH : We’re not geeks. We’d just like to make that clear now. Mousey is a space geek but we’re not.
LH : It’s about travelling to Io, which is a moon of Jupiter, invading the planet, and killing them. Then realising that it’s wrong.
JR : I don’t think we do realise though, do we?
LH : I thought we did.
JR : That’s the moral anyway.
CH : I don’t know what it’s about, really.
LH : Hope that clarifies things.
PB : More members of the band have been writing songs for this one. How has that changed the dynamic of the band ?
LH : Rich has been writing songs, haven’t you Rich.
CH : It hasn’t really changed the dynamic because we all contribute to the song writing anyway. Someone comes in with a part finished song and we all sort of chuck all our stuff over the top of it, different instruments and whatever we want over the top, so you can’t really stop the process.
JR : Normally when Ian’s written the songs we just cut out the guitar solo in the middle and fill it with lots of honking and squawking sounds.
IR : I’m learning the guitar solo to 'Don’t Stop Me Now' by Queen. It’s the goal I’ve set myself.
(They all do guitar solo impressions)
MH : You should try to fit it in tonight.
IR : Well, I haven’t learnt it yet, but I could just try it and see what happens.
PB : The new tracks on the new album seem to be…
LH : More Bear less Suit?
MH : We’re trying to be more mainstream, aren‘t we ? To sell more records, That’s the plan anyway.
IR : We were going for a kind of Funeral for a Friend sound, those sort of bands.
JR : My Chemical Romance. Queen.
LH : It’s more how we’ve always tried to be, but it’s always sounded a bit weedy before. I’m not sure why, but seem to be able to do it now.
CH : I think we can play our instruments better than before.
IR : Speak for yourself.
CH : It’s not quite as twee as our other stuff’s been.
MH : We got rid of all the twee shit and just did the really loud stuff.
LH : There’s still and underlying tweeness though.
PB : It seemed to take a long time to complete. Was it difficult to record?
JR : It took ages.
LH : It was kind of fraught with difficulties.
MH : It took about a year to record, but it’s only because we’re rubbish.
LH : Mousey had a breakdown, which added to the trauma.
IR : Drug induced, mainly.
JR : Lisa went into rehab, so it was quite a difficult year for us really.
LH : We laugh about it now.
CH : I think it was because we were restricted to weekends really. It wasn’t like we had two or three weeks to do it. We were recording every other weekend, stretched out over a year. And some things like ‘Stephen Fucking Spielberg’ took forever to get finished because we basically had to create a whole orchestra on our own. There’s another song on the album that has a choir on and as we didn’t have a choir we had to record our voices over and over again.
PB : Sounds a bit prog to me.
RS : There’s a prog element to it.
IR : We were thinking about that, but the songs are all still about two minutes long, so you only get about ten seconds of prog and then it goes off into something else. I think the concept is prog but the actual music is not. It’s too fast.
PB : Like prog nuggets.
RS : Prog always goes on way too long anyway. They take one idea and extend it for ten minutes without it changing.
IR : We like to change it a bit, don’t we ?
PB : I heard that ’Steven Fucking Spielberg’ was played in Top Shop. Is that true?
CH : Yeah, it got played on their TV! It was brilliant.
LH : It was great doing Peel sessions and things like that, but Top Shop TV! We’ve made it now.
JR : We did camp out in Top Shop for a bit to try to see it. I never saw it.
CH : I never saw it either.
LH : I saw it, I was in Top Shop picking out my summer wardrobe, and there we were.
CH : Were you like: 'That’s me! That’s me' ?
LH : I was hoping they’d see it was me and give me free clothes.
JR : But as you’re wearing a beard in the video they might not have recognised you.
CH : I don’t know how they found it.
IR : I think it’s just being on a bigger label (Bearsuit are signed to Fantastic Plastic-Ed). It gets us a bit more exposure.
LH : I think it’s being on a bigger label as well. People just become a bit more aware of you. You get a bigger media presence.
MH : They’ve got a better press office now as well.
LH : You should see our Shell Oil advertising campaign.
PB : I heard you’re doing a gig on a 1950's steam train. How will that work?
JR : We don’t get to play on the train.
LH : Don’t we?
JR : No, the disco’s on the train, and people go off on the train for the disco and back at the station for the bands. When one band finishes the people get back on the train again for the disco, and when it comes back to the station there’ll be the next band waiting for them.
MH : Maybe there’s more than one station and there’ll be a band on each station.
JR : Do you think it will be like that? What if there was a song you liked and you had to get on the train to get to the disco and you missed the song?
CH : They haven’t thought this through, have they ?
MH : You might be back on the beer by that week.
LH : Rich had his 21st birthday last night (He didn’t, it was his 29th). He got really drunk!
RS : I’m only 21?
JR : You’re only 21 once, aren’t you?
LH : He got so drunk that he had to be sick on the way down here.
JR : You could barely stand last night. He had to be escorted off the premises.
MH : We stopped just in time really, because you basically just got out before you started spewing.
RS :It was very lucky. I would havew puked up in the car if that petrol station wasn’t there.
MH : It would’ve been a long walk home.
RS : Yeah. Anyway, enough about me spewing.
PB : You mentioned on your website that you wanted to set up a tour of unusual venues. How is that coming together ? Have you found any venues so far?
JR : Not really, just the train so far.
IR : It’s difficult.
CH : Someone asked us if we’d like to play in the cave near their house, but it doesn’t have electricity.
IR : We could play on a boat.
JR : We could do a show on ice. That’d be good.
CH : Bears on Ice.
RS : We could play in the woods. That would be good for us. It'd be like a ‘Bears go back to the forest’ thing.
MH : Cerian had a brilliant idea for that earlier, called ‘Bears do Shit in the Woods’
RS : We’d just find a spot in the woods, and people could come and find us. Follow the smell.
IR : Like a hide and seek thing. People might get lost and die though.
JR : We could do it in Thetford Forest.
MH : Apparently there’s a big stadium in Thetford forest. Some big bands play there. We could hire it out or something.
LH : It’s a cruising ground though.
CH : What ?
LH : It’s a cruising ground. You know, don’t you, Mousey ? It’s where people wander into the woods with cloaks and masks on their faces so you can’t see who’s who and everyone goes round and does naughty things.
RS : Sounds a bit sinister
MH : Yeah, lets scrap that idea.
LH : We could wear our bear hats.
IR : We could being doing things to each other. No-one would be able to see.
LH : Ergh
MH : Don’t think so ,Mousey. I mean I love you and all, but…
JR : Yet again we’re going to read a Bearsuit interview and go ‘God, what have we said?!’
LH : At least we’re not talking about Nazi architecture.
RS : When did we talk about Nazi architecture?
LH -:We didn’t. It was some guy. What was his name?
RS : It was Bryan Ferry, wasn’t it ?
LH : Yeah, it was Bryan Ferry.
IR : I agree with him.
PB : I have a Nazi fact for you: did you know that the Nazi SS uniforms were designed and made by Hugo Boss?
JR : I’ve always thought the SS looked stylish.
IR : Bryan Ferry said something along the lines of; I appreciate the work of Albert Speer, who was the architect for the Nazi party. He appreciated his work i.e. His designing of buildings and his planning of a new Berlin, that sort of thing. True enough, that would have been funded with the money they made from destroying the world…
JR : But that aside…
MH : It’s shaky ground whatever way you look at it.
IR : But he wasn’t saying ‘I love the Nazis’, he was just saying you could admire the man’s work, that he was an interesting and amazing man (Ferry also described the flags marches and propaganda films as “Really beautiful” which is probably what caused more offence - PB)
CH : Anyway, next question…
PB : I heard that Phil Jupitus has been playing your songs. Has that opened up your music to a wider audience at all?
LH : Yeah, but he’s not doing that show any more now.
JR : He wrote to us to say that he was going to come along tonight, but he had to do a gig.
LH : We sent him a bear hat, but he never got it - someone at BBC Six stole it!
PB : If Jessica Stephenson had stayed you could have wowed her with your tunes, but it looks like she’s going now.
JR : She’s heard enough. She’s made her judgement. They were talking about doing a extra one-off episode of 'Spaced', which I was hoping they were going to do, because I really like 'Spaced'. I think if they’d done one more it would be done then, but it doesn’t look like they’re going to do any more.
PB : Well Hollywood is beckoning now, so they’ve all moved on.
IR : Though they did say that despite the Hollywood stuff they’d still like to do one more episode of 'Spaced'. I could have asked her if they were doing any more, but I’ve missed my chance now.
PB : I’ve never been quite sure what your songs are about - what subjects to you tend to write about?
CH : Space, Girls, Space.
LH - Mousey writes about space and girls. He’s always thinking about space and girls. If he’s not thinking about girls he’s thinking about space, and if he’s not thinking about space he’s thinking about girls.
CH : Or girls in space.
LH : Nothing else really enters his head - no normal things like keeping himself clean or eating. He doesn’t remember anything else.
CH : There is a song about wanking on the new album you know.
JR : Yeah, but that’s basically about girls.
LH : Anything to say Mr Ross?
IR : I’ve nothing to say.
JR : They’re always on his mind so they crop up in the songs. Have you ever written a song about anything else ?
LH : There’s a song about a crow.
RS : That’s probably about wanking as well.
LH : There’s a song about an albino crow, a dirty old, manky crow.
MH : Bet it likes to masturbate.
IR : I’m sure some of it isn’t about girls or space.
CH : There’s a song that’s about…more soul.
LH : 'Dino Heart'. That’s about a Dinosaur ,isn’t it?
JR : Isn’t it about falling love though, so it’s kind of about girls ?
CH : Isn’t it about falling in love with a really big lizard?
LH : ‘Stop What You’re Doing What You’re Doing is Wrong’ wasn’t about girls or space, was it?
IR : (Thinks) That actually was about fascist architecture. Not how great Nazi’s were, how imposing Nazi architecture is.
MH : Now we know why you were defending Bryan Ferry.
IR : It’s just that every time we do an interview I say something about Nazis, and everyone tries to suggest I’m a Nazi.
LH : It’s a little game we like to play.
MH : We’ve had a few bad experiences in the past with the whole thing.
JR : Let’s not go into it all again.
IR : I’m sure there’s some other stuff that I’ve written about. 'Hark' was about children. Demonic children.
MH : We’re heading into Michael Jackson territory now.
PB : Are you finding it hard to find time for Bearsuit with your jobs and all the other bands you are in?
LH : There’s not really any other bands that we’re doing at the moment, apart from Cruiser Chimps, so it’s not really a problem right now. Cerian was doing Grand Prix 86 but that’s over, The Aprons, that’s over, we were doing Keytarded, but that’s over.
CH : After two gigs.
LH : Hyper Kynako, that’s over. So it’s only Cruiser Chimps taking up Bearsuit’s time, but we haven’t done anything for a while.
IR : We’ve stopped it now.
LH : Bearsuit; that’s over.
IR : Takes up too much time.
PB : Keytarded was a great name for a band.
JR : It was a good band. We should do more really. We’re quite lazy.
LH : It got quite heated on our MySpace page because we did ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and lots of people didn’t like it. They thought it was a bit taking the piss.
JR : It was!
PB : Thank you.