With the release of their latest album Paper Heart earlier this year, Hunter and the Bear have taken the UK by storm; from their humble beginnings playing covers in small university venues to their 14-date tour this November around England and Scotland, the band are going from strength to strength. However, this does not diminish their huge ambitions, as they wish to get bigger and better, hoping to eventually achieve “world domination”. I spoke to the band’s lead singer Will Irvine, who informed me of his hangover, history and hopes for the band.
I started off with my own story, as I’d met the band before in August 2013 at the pre-match for a Manchester City football game, with my Dad. I told Will how it was the first time that I’d heard their music, and that I have been listening ever since. I also had a picture taken with them all, which he thought was hilarious! It was great to finally be able to chat to a member of the band.
So, let’s start from the beginning: there are currently four members of the band, but it didn’t start out like that – there were just two of you is that correct?
Yeah, so it was me and Jimmy.
we thought, you know what, let’s give it a go and see if we can get some gigs
Can you tell me a bit about how it began with just the two of you?
Yeah, so we went to uni together in Newcastle, and at that point Jimmy was teaching me guitar because he was already really good and I hadn’t really played at all. But I kind of enjoyed singing and stuff, but I still in no one’s imagination was a singer at all, but it was a bit of fun. And we started kind of jamming together and playing some gigs, some cover gigs to the drunken student masses which was a pretty good way to learn, and then we just decided we wanted to write some of our own music, so when we finished uni we went and did that for about a month up in Scotland, and we decided that it wasn’t terrible, so we thought, you know what, let’s give it a go and see if we can get some gigs down in London. So yeah, we came down and stayed with some pals, and got some gigs on the initial London scene and that was the beginning really.
Right, so do you remember your first proper gig?
I remember our first ever gig, but we weren’t even in this band yet but it was me and Jimmy and we played a couple of originals but it was mainly covers, we only had about two songs at this point.
So you just sang your two songs repeatedly?
Yeah pretty much! It was really bad because it was a birthday party and in the first song we blew both the amps, and it was the first gig we were being paid for, and we were like, “awesome.” And you know, after we do the first song we blow the amps, and are like, “oh man!”
I guess that was very memorable, but for the wrong reasons?!
Exactly! But basically, the reason for coming to London is that there’s such a big scene here, so we said you know we can go down and play basically every night of the week somewhere, that’s going to be the best way for us to get good.
I bet that was very tiring then, playing lots of gigs in a week?
It was pretty serious, but it was fun as well, because you know we’d never done it before so it was so exciting to be playing in front of people, and somehow, slowly but surely, we started to sort of get a little following and people would start coming to repeat shows and we sort of got off that initial level of venues, and we had a band name at this point, so it was all good.
So how did you then become a four-piece band?
Well one of our gigs was a residency at a place called Ronnie Scott’s in London, we sort of played there once a month, we would headline every month, but it was a tiny, tiny room, and on the support bill of this particular month was a female solo artist called Milly Upton, who’s really great, and her drummer was Gareth, so basically we stole Gareth! Yeah, we basically nicked him, which wasn’t received particularly well, but it had to be done! So that happened. And with Chris, we held auditions for bass players and, unbeknown to Chris, he was the only person to show up! Because at this point nobody cared at all about the band, so he showed up, but I guarantee if 100 people had shown up it still would have been Chris we chose.
Well that’s good to know, but I hope you’ve told him now that he was the only person that turned up?!
Yeah, well we pretended that there were other people!
You pretended you hadn’t just given it to him, that he was the best one?
Yeah! We didn’t want people to think we’d just given to him, we were like, “ah man we’ll have to listen to the other candidates!” But yeah, he’s the best musician in the band for sure, so it was easy.
So you’ve mentioned your band name, how did you think about that? Because obviously there’s lots of bands at the moment with Bear in their name like Bear’s Den, Boy & Bear, and a few others, so what was the inspiration for the name?
Well we didn’t know that at the time otherwise we would not have done it if we’d known! But basically, it’s really hard picking a band name, it’s like naming a child, not that I’ve done that! But, I imagine that’s what it would be like, so we came up with some puns, some terrible ones, and we were kind of getting a bit sick of it, we were like we need to settle on something, it’s just a name. So as soon as we decided it didn’t really matter, and Jimmy’s surname is Hunter and when I was small I was always known as Bear, by like my family and friends, so as we were a duo, we thought you know we could be something and something.
it’s really hard picking a band name, it’s like naming a child
Literally Hunter and the Bear!
Yeah exactly! But then, when we added the other two guys we thought, “oh should we change the name?” But we then decided that Chris could be ‘And’ and Jared could be ‘The’, and then we all had something, you know.
And also people probably knew you by this point, so you don’t really want to change the name.
Yeah, so that was the other thing – we’d got a bit of a small sort of fan base at that point, so we didn’t want to confuse them.
So you also mentioned that you used to go up to Scotland to write music, do you still do that? Do you have a favourite place to write?
Um we write a lot, I mean, we live in London now, but we do write a lot here just because it’s convenient and we obviously live here. But I love sort of doing little writing retreats, just when the whole point of your trip is to write music, because there are so many distractions when you’re at home, there’s always like friends around and there’s all sorts of things happening, and to get away really sort of helps my headspace for it I think. But yeah, I mean Scotland, where I’m from in Scotland, which is where we’ve been a couple of times to write, is really, really remote, and kind of very isolated, so that helps.
I love sort of doing little writing retreats
Yeah, massively. And it kind of, going home, going properly home, always kind of brings out some sort of nice or not nice feelings for people. So yeah, I think it helps, but we write a lot in London now.
Okay, what’s your ‘inspiration’ for your music?
Um, well it’s so hard to say. I mean more and more we’re kind of writing songs that, you know, don’t have a brief. We’re not sitting down and saying, we need to write a song that sounds like this or we need to write a song that’s this style. I mean one of us will have an idea, and be it just a riff or some cool chorus maybe or like even one lyric, or a title or something, and then we’ll just go from there. I mean, but the inspiration lyrically which is what I kind of find more interesting, we’re just writing about normal life, you know, we’re not kind of – when we first started we thought that songs needed to be these massively profound things about sort of everything, an all-encompassing thing about love and life and everything.
Kind of like poetry?
Exactly, yeah. Of course, there’s an element of that, but I think more and more these days people are just writing about sort of natural, you know, just occurrences in their life, because people have remarkably interesting lives! We’ve got a new song coming out called ‘Skin Tight’ that we literally just wrote about like an evening that one of us had and we sort of wrote that, and you know it obviously involved a significant other and la la la, and that can spark so much, because of all the sorts of stuff that we’re doing, and travelling round and meeting all these people, it’s really exciting for us, and that in itself is more than enough to inspire us to write. So also, I think it’s more real when it’s not some big made up huge fantasy tale, it’s this kind of, this is a genuine window into our lives.
So you’ve got a tour coming up in November, and you’ve got 14 dates so that’s very exciting, what’s it like being on tour?
It’s the best thing ever! And we love it so much, our live shows are what we sort of pride ourselves on, and that’s definitely – obviously recording’s great, writing’s great, doing videos and everything, you know that’s all fun, but playing live shows is just why we do this. The energy you get from the crowd, and we always try to leave everything on the stage so we come off and we’re absolutely dead, but that’s kind of the most rewarding part of it; soaked with sweat and, you know, blood and tears, all into it!
I imagine it’s a very tiring experience as well then?
Yeah, it’s very tiring. It’s kind of, you don’t realise how tiring it is until you stop, and then your body just goes into this state of shock, being like, “woah, why aren’t you going at a million miles an hour?” Because by the time you’ve loaded out and done some fan stuff after the gig, you’re getting to your hotel and kind of 2, 3 in the morning a lot of time, and then you’ve got to be out of there, depending on where you’re going the next day, you’ve got to be out of there pretty sharpish. And you don’t get much sleep and there’s always – you know the best bit is, best or worst depending on how you see it, but every gig we play is someone’s big night. The whole crowd are there, they’ve been looking forward to the gig – we go to gigs all the time, we’re really excited for it, we go and have some beers – and you know, we’re doing it every single night, and so you’ve got to just kind of ride that wave and make sure it doesn’t swallow you up. But it’s great, we love it, and trying to just get better every night and you know every crowd is different. It’s amazing the difference in just regions of the UK, just how the crowd differs, and what people are like, and if people are reserved or you know – down the south west, for example, they’re not reserved! Which is great, that’s what we love, and in Scotland they’re mental, but you play a London gig and that’s a very different thing, but it’s all part of the learning curve for us as well.
Very interesting! What sort of music do you listen to?
Um well, I try to listen to loads and loads of new stuff because I think it’s important, as a writer as well, to kind of just hear what’s out there. But we were all brought up on older rock music just by our parents, that kind of laid a foundation of that sort of ballsy, rock guitar led music. But then, now the modern equivalent of that is – we find ourselves, in the van, we’re always listening to people like Biffy Clyro, you know that kind of thing at the moment, Twin Atlantic, people like that. And everything else as well; Jimmy’s been listening to loads of Stormzy! Like we’re a real sort of mixed bag in what we listen to, but we like to obviously play rock music. I really like the new Haim album, for example. Just, you know, anything.
A real mix then?
I try not to pigeon hole myself into only listening to rock, so yeah, it’s quite a nice thing – and we’re always showing each other new songs that we’ve found, and yeah, it’s good.
That’s nice – so my final question is, what are your plans for the future? Where do you see the band going?
Well, I was asked this question the other day, in a meeting we were in, and we’ve got really, really high ambitions! We’re not doing this to just sort of be a band that’s around for a little bit of time and then sort of disappears into the ether.
Well there’s no point having small ambitions, is there?
Exactly yeah, you’ve got to dream big. We’re not scared of failure we just want to aim big and see where it takes us, but we are very, very set on world domination – it’s the plan!
Wow, that’s a great plan!
It’s a huge plan! Yeah, but we basically just, we want to be one of the best live acts around, and that’s going to take a lot of time. You know, we’ve got to play hundreds and hundreds of gigs to get there. And we’re under no illusions that we’re anywhere near where we want to be now, but we just, we’re learning at the moment, we want to just be a really, really tight band and record lots of great music, and play everywhere, play all around the world. Just be a band that can have that longevity, because so many acts these days they sort of pop up into the limelight for summer and then they’re gone, and that’s because they haven’t put in that sort of groundwork of touring and having those, building up those fans in an organic way. And so, we want to do that, and we want to be right up there with the big dogs.
World domination! Well it seems like you’re well on the way.
Well thank you very much for talking to me today. Just to let everyone know that Hunter and the Bear are playing at Exeter Phoenix on 16th November, so everyone better be there, because I’ll be there! And I’m looking forward to it, because it will be the first time I’ve seen you since 2013!
Well we can get another picture!
Yes, we can! And I’ll look hopefully a lot better than I did back then, because I was very young!
Well we can look back and see how we’ve both aged!
And reminisce together!