We caught up with Kevin Jones of the UK folk-rock band Bear’s Den on their headlining tour of the U.S. After some delays due to a Minneapolis snow storm, we were able to talk about their music, their relationship with politics, and their friends in Mumford and Sons.
Vanderbilt Hustler: There seems to be a theme throughout your music, but it never sounds too much like the same thing over and over again. Is that a very conscious effort? Because it seems like on the last album, you had somewhat of an atmospheric, almost 80s kind of sound with a lot of reverb on the guitars as opposed to the first album which felt like very straight-up folk.
Kevin Jones: In terms of the difference between our first and second albums, absolutely…I don’t think it’s a complete departure, but I think you’re probably right, the evolution is part of having different instruments at your disposal, and that keeps us excited.
VH: Are there certain people that you’ve been listening to that inspired you to make that transition?
KJ: I think we’ve been listening to a lot of American 80s music, and some Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Hadley. I think we like the sort of expansive sound.
VH: Are there any people currently that maybe don’t directly influence your sound but make you excited about music currently? People you want to work with or maybe people that you admire?
KJ: Definitely, there’s a band called Pinegrove (New Jersey alt-rock/alt-country band) who is pretty awesome.
VH: You guys have worked pretty closely with Mumford and Sons, between touring and your work with Communion Records where you work with their producer. Were they sort of a mentor to you guys, or were you coming up around the same time so that you guys consider them peers?
KJ: Davie went to school with Winston, the guitar player, and I was in a band with Ben. Basically all of us played in bands with each other.
VH: They’ve blown up quite a bit over the past few years in America and you guys also have seen a lot of success in the UK. Is it weird being at this stage seeing your friends shined under this huge spotlight?
KJ: I guess a little bit weird, I think we’re just really pleased with it. I think occasionally it’s funny because we just think about them like friends.
VH: Speaking of Communion Records, how do you balance that project with touring with Bear’s Den and recording, because you have some big-name artists on that label?
KJ: I think I’m just a very busy person. I always seem to manage quite well. I’m lucky I’ve got a good team of people back in the UK that can cover while I take time away. I like listening to the development of the artists and A&R and signing the artists, so I think it’s a nice feeling and what I do with Bear’s Den makes that easier in a way because you relate to bands when they tour and record.
VH: So at your core you guys are essentially a folk rock band, which I guess you could classify under protest music if you look at the 60s and the foundation of the counterculture. With a lot of things today between Brexit in the UK and Trump being named president in America, it seems like a lot of those styles of music are becoming a little bit more relevant, and you’re seeing that in a lot of genres. It seems like a lot of the lyrics you guys write are about more personal things. Is that a conscious thing?
KJ: No, I don’t think it’s a conscious decision. I think instinctively when you write songs, you can’t really control what it’s about; to a degree you can but to a degree you can’t, because you have to be true to yourself. But at the same time, I think we feel quite strongly about politics in the world, and I think that may be something that we may see how we can integrate more of that into future records, because I’ve been feeling much more politically active as an artist.
VH: Do you ever think of what you would be doing if you weren’t a musician right now? Or do you think that was always what you would have ended up doing anyway?
KJ: I think I’d probably be running a record label, unless that still counts and you mean completely unrelated to music at all. I used to be a shoemaker, so I’d probably be making shoes.
Bear’s Den will be playing at 3rd and Lindsley on February 7th.