Bear-Chested Pride

14 August 2013 | 3:00 am | Greg Phillips

"The biggest shock to me with the first album was just how massive a project it is to do a record."

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There's a well-worn adage: 'Be careful what you wish for', which could easily apply to the making of Boy & Bear's second album Harlequin Dream. The band's ARIA award-winning debut record Moonfire was recorded relatively quickly and intensely in the unfamiliar surrounds of Nashville, Tennessee with American producer Joe Chiccarelli calling most of the shots. Despite the album's success, it wasn't an ideal way to make a Boy & Bear record. This time around the guys wanted to spend more time piecing songs together, approaching them from varying angles, exploring ideas and basically adding and subtracting sounds as they saw fit. They craved quality writing and recording time. Australian producer Wayne Connolly further encouraged that philosophy and the journey towards their second album had begun. But having acquired the creative freedom that they had desired, nearing the end of the recording period, the flipside of that approach reared its ugly head. After months of work multi-layering tracks, changing tempos and adding string arrangements, now people were calling for final decisions to be made. Mixes of songs were coming in from overseas requiring sign-offs while the band still tinkered creatively on incomplete tracks. The clock was running down like a musical version of Masterchef and it was time to plate up an album!

Boy & Bear's frontman Dave Hosking and guitarist Killian Gavin have assembled in Universal's board room to discuss the making of Harlequin Dream and the band leader pipes up first: “The biggest challenge was that we were still recording tracks and we were running on empty because we'd been doing it for so long. Those last two weeks, everyone was so exhausted. We were in there finishing these last few songs and you'd get the first mix in, so you'd stop. Often the first mix is pretty confronting. We definitely had at least one wounded soldier every day. You'd be listening and go, 'I can't do this, I'm out of here!' Someone else would be like, 'I'm on this, I know what to do to fix it.'  I mean, [first single] Southern Sun had something like 140 tracks in it. That was my absolute meltdown day. I was like, my ears are exhausted and I don't know what I am doing.”

With the new album complete and awaiting release, Boy & Bear have had time to reflect on their achievement and realise that the process, while at times challenging, was all worthwhile. They'd learned much from the first album experience and were able to use that knowledge in the creation of Harlequin Dream. “The biggest shock to me with the first album was just how massive a project it is to do a record,” states Hosking. “All of us had done EPs before but they were done in a week. To do six or seven weeks straight in Nashville at the time was a shock to the system. Personally, getting my head around that for this record was really good. Knowing to be really prepared and not to just storm in there over-excited. You play the long game and just chip away at it and try to keep your sanity and try to be creative… keep your energy levels up where you can and just get to the end.”

So how did the working styles of the two producers Boy & Bear have worked with to date compare? “Opposots,” Hosking blurts out in an attempt to say polar opposites. Gavin explains more succinctly: “Whilst both having pros and cons to them. Joe was probably wanting to get more energy. He would say that a lot about a take. Everything was about making it faster and bigger and louder, whereas Wayne was much more about, 'Relax, just deliver, be who you are. Let's record now because everything is working, just chip away at it. We can always come back and change it' – so somewhat more chilled-out and pragmatic about the process. There are so many more pros and cons but let's not go down that line!”

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As a result of the additional time and effort spent working on Harlequin Dream, the album has a depth that finds you discovering new sounds and evoking different emotions with repeated plays. The familiar, beautifully constructed melodies and harmonies Boy & Bear wear as a badge of honour are still there, but there's a more capacious feel to this one, a lushness and scope that comes from a band willing to grow musically. If a track cried out for a string section, it was tried. If the tempo wasn't right, the song would be recorded in other time signatures. Sax, synth and guitar effects were included then brought up in the mix or faded out completely. Eleven tracks survived the sessions to appear on the album. And the album title? The track Harlequin Dream best summed up the work they'd toiled over for so long.