INTERVIEW: ELIZA AND THE BEAR

I met up with 2/5 of Eliza and the Bear before their gig at Bedford Esquires. After getting over the obvious “is it funny or awkward that my name is Eliza and I’m interviewing Eliza and the Bear…” We got into the back of their tour van, which they also to refer to as the Champagne Lounge. And yes, it did feel as dodgy as it looked, which didn’t help when James Kellegher, the band’s front man, decided to throw in a “get in the van” from behind me.

Despite this, James and Martin Dukelow, backing vocals and guitar in Eliza and the Bear, were absolutely glorious! And the show exceeded every expectation I had for the band from Romford.

So, I’ve read that your roots were in grunge and screamo…

James: Properly heavy stuff. You (Martin) were in a screamo band; my band was kind of grungey, hardcore nonsense.

Because I could not imagine that from listening to your music, especially your recent stuff.

Martin: Well, what’s actually odd considering we’re at the Bedford Esquires is that both of our bands, about ten years ago, played here together at this venue.

Really? So you’ve been to Bedford before?

James: I feel like we haven’t stepped up. Ten years, change of band, still in Bedford. To be fair there was no one there when we played. So lets hope people are here.
Martin: There are a couple of people here.

Fingers crossed! I have seen a group of girls out the front…

James: I think there are some people inside the venue actually. When we walked downstairs I heard an ‘EEP’. Turned around and was like ‘alright’.

You know if you’ve got an ‘EEP’ you’re getting there. So how did you guys form as Eliza and the Bear? 

James: We’re all mates from Romford, Essex. The two bands we were in were local bands and we always played together at home. We grew, left college, got jobs. Got older. And then we were properly bored of not playing songs and writing music so we were like “sod it, shall we get together?” There was a conversation that we had, and we said let’s not really play gigs. Let’s not really push this, let’s just hang out and have fun. And that’s kind of gone a bit wrong considering we’re on a massive tour at the moment.

And I’ve gotta ask about the name, it’s from a series of poems no?

James: Yeah, it’s a collection of poems by a woman called Eleanor Rees. And as I said at the time, when we first started, we didn’t really think about the fact that I’m not a girl and we haven’t got a bear in the band. That wasn’t a thought.

Yeah, the first assumption is that there’s a girl in the band and not a group of five guys…

James: It was something that never crossed our mind that there would be people that wouldn’t know who we were personally, but knew what our music was or what our name was, that would assume there was a girl singing or a girl in the band. So that was one of those things that was way above us. And now it’s a massive problem.
Martin: And it’s only us.
James: Maybe you could join us!

I don’t think you’d really want that with my voice. But, this is the most important question for me, have you ever met another Eliza?

Martin: We have actually.

That’s so disappointing. 

Martin: Only one thought, only one.
James: Did we meet her? Or was it on Twitter?
Martin: Maybe it was Twitter…
James: You’re actually like the first physical Eliza though.

That’s good to know! Right moving onto ‘Light It Up’, the main single on your new EP, what’s the story behind it? Because the video especially feels like really inspirational.

James: It came from, when we were writing for the album, we had a lot of pressure to put some good songs out. And I was having a really shit time cause I couldn’t write any good melodies and then Martin and Callie were just like “go for anything that comes out, whether it’s cheesey or whatever. Let’s just go for it, we’ll work on it”. So it was that moment of turning a really shitty situation around and making it positive. And that’s what the whole idea of Light It Up is about, and the video kind of works on that as well. It’s a bin man having a shitty job in the morning but he’s dancing.
Martin: It’s seeing the positives.
James: Yeah, turning a situation around and making it better.

I like that. Can you guys dance?

James: Martin’s got some moves.
Martin: No, not really.

Maybe after a drink from the champagne lounge?

Martin: After the champagne lounge closes, usually the moves come out. The fist pump comes out.

That really is an Essex dance isn’t it…

Martin: Yes, that is. Callie. I want to see Callie dance more often. He hasn’t got bad moves.
James: He’s got the moves on stage. But he never goes out dancing.
Martin: No, but I’d like to see that.
James: I’d like to see stage Callie in a nightclub.
Martin: Kicking it off.

Have you been out in Bedford?

Martin: We did when we came here last time. And I met a girl in a café this morning that said apparently Hifi.
James: Where did you go last time?
Martin: I really don’t remember. We played together here like nine years ago. I do remember having really good fish and chips though.

So this is the third date of your tour…

James: Officially yes.  We started like a week ago in Brighton. And then after that we did Southsea Festival.
Martin: In Portsmouth.
James: Then we went to Hong Kong for four days. We landed 24 hours ago.

Any jet lag?

Martin: I didn’t get any jet lag.
James: It’s massively ahead, but there wasn’t enough time for us to really get into Hong Kong time. So we were still going to bed properly late and waking up really late. It was almost like going to bed at ten English time. So it was okay.

But you’ve toured with Paramore before? To a sold out Wembley arena?

Martin: Exactly a year ago today I think.
James: What date is it? (After checking the date) Wembley was a year ago tomorrow.
Martin: Emotional.

What’s the difference between headlining and supporting?

Martin: I just think the pressure is completely different. When you go to Paramore, you know you’re going to have a crowd and it’s going to be amazing and the shows going to be cool. And there’s a little bit of pressure to impress someone else’s crowd.
James: You’ve gotta make a stand.
Martin: But then obviously when it’s your show you’ve got the pressure of obviously putting on the show. People have paid to come and see you.
James: There’s always the worry in the back of your head that no one’s going to show up. No matter what the ticket figures are.
Martin: And I think that’ll be the case when we’re doing bigger venues. I think no matter what venues we play or no matter what we do, we always sit there in the room before and we’ll say, “there’s going to be no one there tonight”.
James: We have emails with ticket numbers and these amounts of people have paid for a ticket but you just think, “They’re going to forget to come”.
Martin: Then when we get out on stage, and we realise there’s people there, then we think we’ve got to be amazing and we’ve got to give people their value for money.
James: But it’s a good feeling thought.

So you’re enjoying it?

James & Martin: Yeah!
Martin: And when we come off we go “okay, that was cool”.
James: Brighton was really cool.
Martin: It was really special.

I’ve been to some pretty amazing gigs in Brighton.

Martin: It was just a really, really good way to kick off the tour. Hopefully we can continue like that.

Esquires is a pretty good vibe too…

Martin: Sweet. Fingers crossed.
James: And it’s a Friday night too. Everyone’s up for it. So fist pump fist pump first pump.

I’ve read that you weren’t a natural front man James…

James: Yeah, not at all.

How are you dealing with being pushed into the spotlight?

James: I’m always asking Martin to help me sing…
Martin: And I can’t sing.
James: The bands that I played with here, I wasn’t the front man. I just kind of sung and played guitar. Then the front man left and we had this show, so I was like oh, I’m doing this now am I? It’s just carried on like that. I’ll never be, “I’m the front man listen to me”. I suppose it’s better to not have front man syndrome anyway. Have my own dressing room and transport.

Where are you looking forward to most in the rest of the tour?

James & Martin: London.
James: It’s got to be the one. We’re playing at the o2 in Islington Academy. So it’s our biggest headline show to date. And it’s family and friends.
Martin: We’re going to be bias because we’re from there, so like family, friends, it’s almost like our celebratory end of tour. It’ll be a great send off and a big party afterwards. We played Garage at the last tour and it was a special show. But asides from London, because it feels separate, there’s going to be some great places. Like Manchester. We played Ruby Longue before, that’ll be great. Glasgow.
James: Glasgow this year feels like, like we’ve had great shows in Glasgow before, but this really feels like it’s stepped up another level for us. It feels like there’s a lot more people involved in the whole of Scotland.
Martin: In Scotland, we’re played a few more places where we haven’t played before. So we’re just slowly building and Glasgow is the place where we seem to have mainly played so hopefully that is like a step up of people. And our whole crew is Scottish too.
James: They’ll bring their friends down and have to be like “I’m really sorry, there’s no one here”.

Have you got any preshow rituals? Anything weird that you do?

James: I get really tired.
Martin: Yeah you get tired. I think we all get really nervous. Really nervous.
James: Nerves is quite a big thing.
Martin: Like chatty nerves. Callie is sick quite a lot.
James: Probably like 8 times out of 10.
Martin: But he hasn’t done it recently. We’re due a sick. Maybe tonight… (You never did let me know about the situation with the sick boys). But we don’t have rituals as such.
James: More nervous tics.

So you don’t have the touch the doorknob three times before you go on stage or anything.

James: Nah, we don’t even do a huddle or anything.
Martin: Yeah, I don’t know about that.
James: That’s one thing I’ve noticed, I don’t know if you have but I’m quite separate, I like to chill out on my own.
Martin: But sometimes even if we’re in the same room, sometimes we’re nervous and we’re not talking to each other, we’re just walking around. No matter what show we play there’s always real nerves. I think we want the show to be so great and we want it go well. So we worry.
James: I think if we didn’t have nerves, it wouldn’t be a good show.
Martin: And that just turns into adrenaline
James: As soon as we walk on stage.

So they’re good nerves! Have you guys got any musical idols that you aspire to or are inspired by? 

Martin: I’m a massive, I say this every time, but yeah I’m a massive Radiohead fan. I love Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood.
James: Tell her the story about Thom Yorke.
Martin: We played Leopallooza Festival in Cornwall and we were camping, this black RV turned up and he jumped out and was camping right next to us.
James: I’ve never seen Martin turn into a little fan girl.
Martin: I couldn’t say hello though, I was too nervous. I almost don’t want to meet him incase he’s really horrible to me. They do say don’t meet your idols. And I don’t say it a lot, but I love Angus Young from ACDC and he’s one of the reasons I started playing guitar. I don’t say it enough. So I’m a fan of ACDC and Thom Yorke, and yours?
James: I don’t know!
Martin: When you say idols, I don’t mean I’ve got posters of them on my walls. (Are you sure Martin?)
James: I’ve never had like, an idol. There’s not one guitarist I’m like “that’s the reason I started playing guitar”. There’s not one singer that I’m like “that’s my favourite voice”. There’s more bands, like Coldplay. It’s a band that made me want to be in a band.
Martin: Chris Martin though…
James: Yeah Chris Martin, but I wouldn’t say Chris Martin was the reason, it would be Coldplay as a whole.

Because you obviously know what it’s like to be a new band, what do you think is the most fundamental thing for a band starting out?

James: The one thing that I always say that we did differently to any other band that we’ve been in before is that we stopped writing music for other people and started writing music for ourselves. And that was a massive catalyst in how we’ve pushed onto here. Every song we write we ask, “Do we enjoy do that?”
Martin: “Do we want to play this live?”
James: A lot of songs get cut because we’re like “this is a cool song, but I don’t really like it”. There’s something authentic about it then.
Martin: Yeah definitely.
James: If you write a song and you feel really passionately about it
Martin: It comes across and people read that easily. I think it you’re passionate about a song that comes through, it’s see-through.

So, is there a full-length album on the way?

Martin: It’s been written.
James: It has been written. We finish this tour and then we have a week off, then we go to make the album. There’s a penciled in release date…
Martin: It’ll be finished by the end of the year.
James: We finish it just before Christmas, and then we have Christmas off and then we really start to push.

Extremely exciting stuff.

Martin: It’s going to be really exciting. I think it’s going to be one of those moments that I’ve never really had in any band, where you get that in your hands and you think about how much work has gone into it.
James: When you work so hard. Someone just asked what I did in my spare time, and I just thought, “I don’t have any spare time”. If I have free time, I’m in bed. It’s been 18 months/2 years of solid writing. And if we’re not writing, we’re on the road and if we’re not on the road, we’re writing. It’ll be nice to have Christmas off!
Martin: It’s going to be a good moment holding that album in your hands and thinking how many versions of songs there’s been, how many arguments over songs…
James: The stress over melodies.
Martin: But then we will stress over something else I’m sure. That’s never going to stop.

I’m going to finish with some this or that questions… I’ll keep it simple to start with. Hot or cold?

James: Hot but cold side of the pillow.
Martin: Hot weather, but cold in the evenings. I like a cold bed.
James: “So I can cuddle”

Sweet or savoury?

James: Sweet
Martin: Sweet.

Sweet tooth’s then. Indie or screamo?

(Very long pause)
Martin: See, it’s still a hard question man!
James: …Indie. It pays better.
Martin: Yeah, screamo will always be special but I’ve listened to it so much that it’s indie now probably.

Eliza or the bears?

James: It’s gotta be Eliza (I believe this one was mostly influenced by my presence)
Martin: …Yeah, Eliza. (This answer was more forced…)

Wembley or Esquires?

Martin: ESQUIRES!
James: I’m gonna say Wembley, I’m gonna be honest, I’m sorry.
Martin: Do you know what, Wembley if we play it as our own show.
James: Maybe ask me again after…
Martin: Bedford what you saying…

Words by Eliza Frost

Illustration: Anke Weckmann