Oh boy! Oh boy!
Exercise in gratitude: Boy & Bear Photo: Supplied
Big, national success is a rare fortune that many bands strive for and few achieve. For those that do, it can come as a shock.
''It certainly was very 'one in a million' and surreal for us,'' says Jake Tarasenko, bass player with Boy & Bear. ''The past couple of months has been the first time we've had enough time to step back and digest everything and have a think about exactly what's happened and how crazy it's been.''
The trajectory of Boy & Bear's success, over the 2½ years since they emerged, has been remarkable. Buzz began to build when they won Triple J's Unearthed competition, which gave them a spot on the Homebake 2009 tour. They were so impressive that they were immediately touring with big local names such as Hungry Kids of Hungary and Angus & Julia Stone.
Then they hit Britain with Laura Marling, and supported fellow folksters Mumford & Sons across Australia.
While they released a debut EP, Emperor Antarctica, it was their heart-aching cover version of Crowded House's Fall at Your Feet that drew them to mainstream attention.
All five members: Dave Hosking (vocals, guitar), Killian Gavin (vocals, guitar), Tim Hart (drums, vocals), Jon Hart (banjo, mandolin, keys) and Tarasenko had fronted other bands before but it had never been like this.
Expectations were high for the debut record, with the band selling out shows before it was even released. When it was, in August 2011, it went stratospheric. Moonfire went to No. 2 on the ARIA charts and won five ARIA Awards. Three appearances on Triple J's 2011 hottest 100 list made it even clearer that Boy & Bear were suddenly one of the most popular bands in Australia.
Tarasenko says ambitions for the first album were minimal.
''I don't think we really had any,'' he says. ''By the time we recorded it I think we were just spent. We just wanted to get it out there and in a way the result or the success or non-success of the album was out of our hands.''
The Nashville-based recording of Moonfire was, by all accounts, an exhausting process, with the band frequently locking heads with producer Joe Chiccarelli, who urged them to push for a more radio-friendly sound.
''The circumstances in which we recorded the first album weren't completely ideal for us. It just ended up being a difficult period in our lives because we were overseas and Joe was trying to pull the record in ways in which we probably wouldn't want to go. It just made it a less-than-ideal environment for the whole six weeks we were getting it down.''
Despite the tensions of the Moonfire recording experience, it resulted in a record with obviously broad appeal. Tarasenko describes the sound as ''polished, verging on pop''.
''It has seemed to work okay,'' he says. ''But I don't think it's what we would have chosen if we had full control over everything. There are a million ways it could have sounded. If we hadn't had Joe at all we might have had a really different result and maybe no one would have bought the album. Or maybe if Joe had gotten his way on everything it would have been massively successful and we would have outsold Adele.''
With the band currently working on some demos for a second album, perhaps one of the biggest potential challenges will be the difficult second-album syndrome. The enormous success of Moonfire could quite easily have stifled the band but if anything, it seems to have opened up a sense of creative freedom.
''I think the best thing for us to do is not think about the second-album syndrome. In a way we've been lucky that we've gotten that really professional studio, big polished record sound out on our first full-length record. Because I think if we had done a first record the way that the second record is going to sound, our second record might not be received in the same way that it has the capacity to now.''
Hinting at what might be to come from Boy & Bear, Tarasenko says, ''It's always nice to do something really honest and earthy and stripped back. But I think if we'd done that first, we might have had to have done the second record which was polished and then people would have thought we'd sold out or something like that. But I think we've been really lucky because Moonfire did so well that we can now go back and do something really honest and artistic and people will be cool with it.''
Boy & Bear have taken the charming step of embarking on a thank-you tour.
''I think winning a couple of ARIAs, which was extremely weird for us, we just feel super grateful for that. And we just want to make sure that our fans don't think we've become something different after that. Because we realise we couldn't have done any of it without the people coming to watch us or buying the music.''
With the Remembering the Mexican tour an exercise in gratitude, the band has chosen smaller venues to play in because, Tarasenko says, ''There's more of a connection. We were intentional about playing smaller venues that maybe we hadn't been to before and thanking the people that we might not have had the chance to thank yet and who were instrumental in getting us to where we are now.''
''We're focusing on the construction of the set, the spectacle,'' Tarasenko says. ''We're going to try and mix it up a little bit. We'll be focusing on making it a night out.''
Boy & Bear
WITH: The Jungle Giants and Tin Sparrow
WHEN: Friday, June 1
WHERE: ANU Bar
TICKETS: $41.05 from Ticketek, ticketek.com.au
■ Kate Kingsmill is a former Canberran, a music lover, writer and radio broadcaster