Face to face with Straw Bear

Straw Bear

Fate is an interesting notion. Sometimes a string of coincidences happens and leads to incredible things. Straw Bear started out as a hobby, but over the years turned into something more than just a good way of spending free time. Life first brought these five amazing musicians together only to fling them apart all around south-east England later. However, it didn’t stop Straw Bear from making fantastic music – a mix of alternative country, folk and rock, which is the cocktail for those who like their music special. Singer and guitarist Ian Ray chats to Rock Britain about the band’s sophomore album ‘Black Bank’, the importance of names and places and the buzz around the collective.

– How was the end of the year 2013 for Straw Bear?

– 2013 has been an incredible year for us. We released our album Black Bank at the very end of last year, and it’s exceeded our expectations. We’re about to release our third single.

– ‘Black Bank’ is your sophomore album. How does it represent the band at your present stage? In what way does it encapsulate Straw Bear’s essence at this period in the band’s life?

– I think ‘Black Bank’ is the realisation of some of what we wanted to get into a record. We really wanted to make a long-player that had a distinct atmosphere hanging over it. We recorded it in the Fens in the east of England, which can be quite an eerie, mysterious place, and I think that found its way onto the record.

– You released your debut album ‘Victims of the Engineers’ in 2007. While it was recorded in a different line-up and was followed by a break in the band’s creative work, which role did this offering play in your development? In what way was it a step to the sound you’ve got now?

– Our first album was really good fun to make, because it was essentially a bedroom recording. It was a case of setting up some mics, sequencing some drum loops and seeing what we could do. But I think the break in between – when we actually all ended up moving to different parts of the country – was really good for us, in that we knew the next thing had to be different. Our drummer Pas had joined, and I found myself writing differently for a ‘proper’ band. The songs felt more like they were ‘ours’, rather than ‘mine’, and the record is better because of this.

– Straw Bear have been a band for several years. What kind of role does being together for a long time play in the way you make music?

– Three of us have been playing together for a long time, and I think that’s good for building up a working shorthand. That said, I think the band is infinitely better for having Pas and Catie in it, and now it feels like we’ve always been this way, to be honest!

– The band name Straw Bear was inspired by the Whittlesey Straw Bear festival and the album title ‘Black Bank’ is named after the Fenland road where the album was recorded. Which other events and places do you consider to be especially important in the band’s life?

– I think the Hope and Anchor and the Dublin Castle – two gig venues in London – have been really important to us.  We were lucky in having regular gigs at those places and it really gave us a chance to grow and to work out how to play our songs live.  Playing a session at the BBC is quite a big deal to anyone in the UK and we had a really amazing evening when we played there.

– What’s the most vital thing for you in your live shows?

– It might sound strange, but I really like it when I see people laughing at gigs when they’ve found the lyrics funny. It’s nice to see people are interested enough to listen!

– Out of all the shows you’ve played in 2013, which one was the most memorable?

– Probably the Great Escape Festival in Brighton, which is my hometown. The room was packed, and we got a really good reception.

– There has been quite a lot of buzz around you this year. How do you find it to be in the public eye?

– I’m not sure we’re really in the public eye … but we’ve had some very flattering attention, which has been fantastic. Of course it’s wonderful to be recognised for something you care so much about … but the most important thing is that the nice things people say can open doors for you, and get you invited to play gigs you might not have otherwise.

– Where do you want to take Straw Bear in 2014?

– We are really proud of the new songs we’re working on, which we’ll be recording as soon as we can.

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