An Interview With…Eliza And The Bear

Ahead of their set at Keele University’s annual ‘Woodstoke Festival’, I caught up with Chris Brand and James Kellegher from London-based Eliza and the Bear about all things music, gigs, and Girls Against. Eliza and the Bear are a five-piece band with an uncategorisable genre and a self-titled album that came out in early April 2016. You may have heard their song ‘Friends’ on a Bulmers ad, or caught ‘Lion’s Heart’ and ‘It Gets Cold’ on the radio.

ON… TOURING

The band had finished a UK tour earlier in the year and had already stopped off in Stoke-on-Trent to perform at the intimate venue, The Sugarmill.

CHRIS: It was good … we’ve been there three or four times before. It was part of a huge thirty-date tour over thirty-five days, so a pretty hectic tour; but it was pretty fun that it was busy and people were enjoying it.

ON… FESTIVAL SEASON

 Starting out on festival season at Woodstoke, it is apparent that the event is truly only a stepping off point for many more events that James and Chris couldn’t remember all the names of. These include Gloucester’s Barn on the Farm, Truck in Oxfordshire and Derbyshire’s Y Not.

CHRIS: We’ve got quite a few. It gets to the point where you don’t even know what you’re doing the next weekend; you just take it one weekend at a time. Festival season is kind of like our favourite time of the year; you get to play outside a lot and most of the time the weather is pretty good – most of the time. When you get a rainy one, it puts a right downer on it.

Eliza and the Bear kicked off a line-up of artists including Katy B and Sub Focus after our chat, performing a few songs off the new album and gathering a substantial crowd in spite of the appeal of the fairground rides and headphone disco happening outside of the indoor stage.

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Eliza and the Bear performing at Woodstoke, Keele University, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire. 27/05/16. Photograph by Caitlin Abbiss.

ON… THEIR ALBUM AND 2016

 JAMES: Well… [album number two is] almost there.

CHRIS: We spent last year, with our downtime, just writing again. We’re quite deep into writing album two already. We’ll probably be touring at the end of the year; hopefully we’ll get to spread out into Europe and maybe a bit further afield to get out and see new places instead of playing the same ring of shows (JAMES LAUGHS) over and over again.

 ON… SEXUAL ASSAULT AT GIGS

 CHRIS: Definitely… people feel that they’re in a dark place, and crammed together, you feel like….

JAMES: You can get away with it.

CHRIS: Yeah. And obviously you’ve got booze, in some places, and the drugs flowing and that kind of stuff happens; the guys aren’t thinking about the consequences of their actions, it’s all fun to them – but it’s not to someone else. They might be enjoying themselves, but then another person might just be hating life and when you’re in a crowd you haven’t really got anywhere to go.

ME: Does it affect your mentality, not being able to see past the first few rows?

CHRIS: Yeah, especially with our crowds – our crowds are quite young. If we were a metal band and our fans were thirty-year-old blokes… (JAMES LAUGHS) you’d be able to jump on top of their heads… But
it’s even for artists! I remember a story about Florence Welch – she
crowd-surfed at one of her gigs and she was sexually assaulted by a fan. It can
breach that gap. It can be anyone. At the same time, that person who did it
probably thought it was a bit of fun and overstepped the mark, and that’s where the problem lies. It’s like, being aware of what’s having a good time and
what’s too far…

 JAMES: It’s a mental thought process, really. I can’t get my head around it. Where the hell people think they can get away with it is bang out of order, to be honest.

 CHRIS: You wouldn’t do it. If you put yourself in the situation where there were just you and the other person you couldn’t do what you were doing in that crowd and think it was normal, just because you’re in a crowd, you’re in a mass of people… doesn’t mean you can push the boundaries.

 ON… SOCIAL MESSAGES IN MUSIC

 CHRIS: I almost switch off when someone starts – especially in their music – starts pushing a sort of agenda. I always feel like I wouldn’t do it myself; I don’t disagree with it, but I automatically shut off because I start to not enjoy it. I feel like, yes there is a platform to talk about these things, but I don’t like it when it’s in the songs. I like when someone talks about it and makes a statement with the platform that their music has created. When it comes down to messages in the music, I’m not a fan…

JAMES: Yeah. Kate Nash did it.

 CHRIS: Kate Nash went quite into a feminist kind of thing. It alienated quite a lot of people because some people find it like

 JAMES: ‘You will listen to me.’

 CHRIS: ‘You’re wrong, I’m right’ – pointing the finger. But if you sit and talk about it, you can put your point across and listen to someone else’s point, and understand it whereas, with music, it’s more of a one-sided conversation.

 ON… HAVING A ROLE IN TACKLING SOCIAL ISSUES

 CHRIS: Yeah, if you’ve got a platform then speak up for what you believe is right. I wouldn’t write songs about it though, I feel like it’s a one-sided argument.

ON… THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

 CHRIS: With the Internet, it’s a double-edged sword with music. You have the ability to post your music online to a million people in five seconds, but then you also can receive music and dismiss music.

JAMES: It alters everything.

CHRIS: Sales are gone and it’s tough to bring it to money, but bands need money to function; you have to find a new way to make money. It feels like bands heavily rely on touring to survive, and to be able to do this for a living. So that’s something that needs to change but I don’t know how it could. Spotify has tried, Apple Music has tried, there’s various different things that kind of make a stamp on the music industry to make it pay, and also make it pay for artists – but it’s not quite hitting the mark yet.

Interview by Caitlin Abbiss