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Bears in Trees on Storytelling and the Romanticization of Mental Illness - Tunes Tuesday Transcript

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

Maud: Hi folks! I'm Maud Mostly, my pronouns are they/them, and welcome back to Tunes Tuesday – a weekly series where I interview queer 2SLGBTQ+ bands and musicians to talk to them about their experiences, their music, and so much more. This week, I am joined by South London-based indie rock band Bears in Trees. Thank you so much for joining me. Would you like to introduce yourselves?

Callum: Yeah, I'll start. I'm Callum, my pronouns are he/him and I play ukulele and sing and do keys in Bears in Trees.

Iain: I'm Iain, my pronouns are they/them and I play bass and I sing and, uh, yeah, also in Bears in Trees.

Nick: My name's Nick, my pronouns are he/him. I play guitar and write half of the lyrics in Bears in Trees. And also High School Musical 2 is my favorite Pixar film. I just thought that was informative.

George: My name is George, my pronouns are he/him. I play the drums, I record everyone, do all the production, generally tell everyone what to do. Some people refer to me as band dad, but you know, just depends how I'm feeling.

I: Just so you know, I'm on – I write the other half of the lyrics, if you want to know that the – the – the – ratio, because Nick gave you a percentage, that we didn't have the rest of the information.

M: Amazing. Well, I'm so glad all of you are here to join me this week and we will definitely be diving into a lot of the lyrics on this week's episode. But the first thing I'd actually like to talk about is your social media presence, because I feel like that's really taken off in the last year or two and particularly over on your Instagram. It seems very dedicated to storytelling, with many of your captions diving deeper into personal experiences, feelings, and band history. What does this kind of storytelling mean to you?

I: That's a good question. That's a good question.

N: So, usually it's me who writes the captions. I think it can be summed up, um, I met my friend for breakfast like two weeks ago, and the first thing he said to me, he was like, you know, one day, I want you to take all of your Instagram captions and put them in a poetry book, because I will buy the heck out of that. Which I thought was really sweet. But I think like, we grew up with, like, Tumblr, predominantly was the main – I say Tumblr was like the equivalent to what Tiktok is now for adolescents, when we were younger. And that had a big focus on kind of like, just I guess pouring your heart out on the internet, to the void, not really assuming anyone was gonna listen. Just, you know, having a space that was yours, that you could cultivate. You could, you know, make it look aesthetically how you wanted. You could customize your theme, you know, you had friends on there, you had people you hadn't met. It was all very nice and communal, and I think a lot of that kind of sense of Tumblr sensibility, of like, just being like unauthentically honest, because it's so far removed from your – sorry, authentically honest, authentically honest, because it's so far removed from your real self. There we go, not inauthentically. Yeah, I think that's where it comes from. And also stuff like – like I know for me, when I was getting into bands I idolized, like even though it wasn't around when I was younger, like Livejournal and like Myspace, I was very much into the proper bands before us, like Fallout Boy, Panic, ETC era, who like, you know, would have Livejournal accounts, would just – that would be like an extension of their lyrics almost. And I think that's really important, and obviously Instagram, even though it's mainly a picture platform, somehow is the best place for that. Because, you know, I just like the caption system. But yeah, that's my take on it.

I: I love how you say E-T-C. It's so funny. Sorry.

M: Oh no, no, definitely. I’d love to hear more from anyone else. I just wanted to ask if you found that – you know, does that authenticity over social media and through those captions, you know, affect the way that you relate to people who, you know, listen to and enjoy your music?

I: Yeah, um, I think what's what's really important about our authenticity and our striving for authenticity and the storytelling itself is – oh, my phone's gone to low power. Am I still here? Am I still here? Good. Sorry. Um, yeah, so the reason why we definitely, like, want to strive for authenticity and we want to tell these stories is because to us, it's not just about making nice music. It's about conveying this, our lives, and also our experiences in a way that is constructive for the people who are consuming those things. So that comes through in the lyrics, but we want to create a space that is so much more than that. We want to tell a much bigger story than just individual songs. Obviously we want the songs to sound nice too, so it's not one or the other. It's a combination of the two. But I do think it affects how we relate to the people online. Because I think that what we're trying to do is create this space where people can be not just immersed in the stories that we love to tell about ourselves, but also create a space where people can be honest about themselves and share their own story in a way that is without kind of worry of being rejected or shamed or anything like that, is being able to tell your story in an authentic way and create a space that allows others to also tell theirs. That’s I think what it means to us a lot of the time.

M: Yeah, definitely, it's really incredible the ways in which, you know, when we choose to share those stories, that can really empower other people to, you know, not only share those stories back to us but also share their story with other people and that's amazing.

And I also really appreciate the fact that you, you know, discuss the fact of how this stuff moves outside of your music. I know Lauren Denitzio of Worriers was previously on Tunes Tuesday, and we were talking about how different forms of writing can be used to, you know, convey different feelings and different experiences. So I like the fact that you bring up the fact that like, what you can talk about in songs and through lyrics is sometimes different to what you can convey through, you know, say, an Instagram caption.

C: Exactly, yeah. I love seeing the stories on Instagram. There's like – I never know when they're gonna happen. As Nick said, you post, so say like, oh you go on the Instagram account, like oh, Bears in Trees posted, ah it's like a story, I'm gonna read it. And they're always fun because we always say we were, like, friends first before we were a band, so often a lot of the stories come from, like, you know, when we were at school or they're not always kind of at the same as when we were a band. And I think we're an opportunity where we have those stories a lot of bands don't, because they only had stories when they met each other and started a band, whereas we have stories from way back when. I think it again, like Ian was saying, it builds the narrative of Bears in Trees, which is both post and and pre Bears in Trees.

M: Definitely. And then I want to move into your music. I know we've been, you know, touching on it a lot, and your most recent music video was released a few months ago, for your single “Fresh Concrete.” It showcased a wide range of emotions while mixing splashes of colour with more harrowing images like blood and broken mirrors. In this instance, and often through your lyrics, you're addressing experiences and topics related to mental health. So why do you believe it's important to showcase that duality as it relates to the topic?

I: These are great questions. I'm loving it, I'm loving it. How – what was it, the duality of um… what duality do you mean?

M: Absolutely. So the duality of the imagery in the music video, as well as lyrically, the way that you're, you know, talking about both kind of negative and and more hopeful feelings.

I: It's basically – it’s the reason we kind of say a lot of the time, is life is really complex. Life isn't a situation of, you have this sad thing that is all encompassingly sad. Sometimes you do have moments like that, but ultimately, most of the moments throughout life are you'll have the worst moment of your life, and then the moment after. You have the best moment of your life, and then you have the moment after. And there is laughter sprinkled in. Every time you're crying your heart out to a friend, you'll start making jokes, and it's – a lot of the time, I don't even know if it's duality or whether it's just the multiplicity of human experience in every single moment. Now why we try and convey that through the videos and discuss it in the song, I think we are very committed to creating what we perceive as artistic forms throughout all the things we produce. And so I think what we really try and do is – we didn't want it just to be a music video. We wanted it to really embody, visually, the experiences that we were talking about in song. So especially with “Fresh Concrete”, the lyrics are very much about kind of recognizing that the desperate pursuit of happiness isn't necessarily a positive one, and recognizing that sometimes you have to take a step away from happiness to actually start healing from any mental trauma. And so trying to convey that complexity of emotion and allowing yourself to feel that emotion in video form, we actually have our friend – Rakesh is the person who made the, who kind of directed the video, we kind of came up with the concept and he directed it. Fantastic job. But ultimately, I think he's really good at not just using words, and really trying to embody these complexities in visual form. And I think that we spent like, a good half an hour just discussing the colour scheme. We were like, with the lighting person, we were like, does this – is this the right yellow to convey anxiety? Or something like that. But yeah.

M: Yeah, it's amazing to hear, like, how much, you know, thought was really put into every aspect of that. Is there anything else anyone else wanted to share about either those feelings or the process behind that music video? No pressure at all. We are going to be diving a little bit deeper into that song. Because alongside “Fresh Concrete”, “Evergreen” is your other most recent release. It's paired up on “Flower through Concrete”. and that title brings up this idea of, you know, pushing through barriers growth and hope, which are feelings that are deeply connected to the lyrics of both of the singles. And this looks like it's straying away from earlier work such as, say, “Ramblings of a Lunatic”, which, you know, confronts suicidal ideation and grief among many other things. Alongside the mix of emotions that may be inspiring this change in tone behind the scenes, do you find there's a difference when it comes to recording and performing these songs?

I: Well, what do you think, production?

G: I guess when it comes to, like, the production side of things, historically we've always done a lot of it alongside the writing process. And it's very much about, like, capturing those themes and letting them run through the whole sort of essence of the track. In terms of the writing and the recording and the producing and, you know, layering things up and things like that. But then, I think when it comes to live, I don't know we – I'd say live, it's still definitely about those themes, but it's also just about how we can change things up, you know, make it a bit different. And yeah, I think it's – live to me is very much about the feeling in that room at that time and making that great and not really worrying so much about the the complex things going on within the actual writing of the track.

N: Yeah, definitely. I think when we played live – because we just did our first ever tour, like, you know, very recently, last month – what changed it for me, every night was you never know what songs are going to get what reaction, which is very interesting. So I think it's actually – it's more, when you play live, it's more influenced by the way the people watching react to the song than the way you feel when you play the song. Because all songs feel great to play. It's like they'll come from a place of just, like, you know, absolute heart. So I love playing any of our songs, but especially when there's a song that you, you know, wasn't a single, doesn't seem as popular on like, you know, social media or streaming or whatever metric you use to quantify your success – and then like, that's the song that people scream the loudest. That's when the song changes to me, and when I think, like, I started to think about it in a new way. But yeah, I guess, you know, in terms of the progression of the tracks, I guess because “Flower Through Concrete”, the idea, right, is it's like usually coming through something very brutal, and I think that was always gonna be the logical next place to go after “Ramblings” and the entire “I want to feel chaotic” era, because if you kept focusing on that, I think you'd run the risk of, you know, romanticizing it to some extent. So I think, you know, people need to know that there is progression past that.

M: Absolutely. Can you speak a little bit more to, like, those concerns with romanticization? Just because I think that's a really interesting aspect of music that a lot of people don't think about, and I think – you know, I think of a lot of bands in the past who have kind of been… I don't feel, like, “accused” is the right word, but that there has been concerns, you know, expressed with them before because of that kind of ongoing conversation through their lyrics.

I: Do you mind if I speak on this one, guys? Yeah? Okay, I’ll take it as a yes. Yeah, so, I think we've always… so me and Nick grew up – less so Callum and George, but Callum I think was listening to a lot of emo music with us as well – but we grew up on on a lot of quote-unquote emo music. And you find that, whilst it's incredibly cathartic to listen to, and incredibly helpful to be given a language to articulate the pain you've been experiencing, it does sometimes go without that second step of reflection. And not that I dislike any of this music – I deeply love it, it was deeply, it was a deep part of my growing and healing and journey – but I think we always were very reflective of, okay, so is this a healthy projection to be putting out? I think even in our earlier music, there's one song that I was writing about a breakup – or not really, a very messy kind of thing happening – and I wanted to speak to this deep emotional pain, but I preface it first by kind of going like, hey, by the way, I hold no hard feelings to this person. This is about my feelings. And I feel like me and Nick have always said, you want to be constructive with every kind of moment you make. And I think “Ramblings of a Lunatic” was probably the most somber song that we've written and released in a very long while, but I think it's not just – I think what was really telling was when we were performing live, “Ramblings of a Lunatic”, after, I always was saying like, hey, when I wrote this song, I was in such an isolated, disconnected space that brought me to write this song. And in this room with, you know, 200, 500, however many people, I see all these people singing these lyrics back and know that they connected to that emotion, and reminding everyone that even though you have felt that alone and disconnected, just remember how not alone you are right now and how together you are right now. And we can be together in this mutual kind of reflection of our pain… Does that answer the question? I think it does to some extent.

M: Yeah. I think that's really powerful and definitely relatable. You know, I think this is very much a queer series, obviously, and run by a queer person. And I can think of myself and so many other people I know who also grew up emo, grew up, you know, around the emo music. It was where we found that catharsis, if there were feelings inside ourselves that we didn't understand. That's where we were looking for them and grasping through them and, you know, screaming or yelling or even, like, crying to that music was such a huge step. So from there, I think it's amazing that you're thinking of, you know, how do we take that and how do we take those feelings that gave us and you at that time, and how do we push that forward so that we can make sure people are feeling, you know, supported and hopeful or understood, and not feeling that isolation past that when they are confronting growth? Absolutely yeah. Well, thank you so much for joining me this week. It was incredible to hear all of your answers. If you want to check out more Bears in Trees, either the songs we've been talking about, the videos, the social media content and so much more, you can head to any of the links below. I'm looking forward to seeing you next week on Tunes Tuesday, and Bears in Trees will be playing us out.

*Fresh Concrete by Bears in Trees begins playing*

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