To say this year has been hard for bands and musicians who love touring and performing live, would be an understatement and a cliché. From lockdown livestreams and online fundraisers, musicians have done everything they can to keep busy and more importantly, stay relevant throughout this shambolic year. South London indie band Bears in Trees have been no different.
From working on their most recent EP Keep Me Safe and becoming a TikTok phenomena, they really haven’t had a whole lot of down time. I got the pleasure of chatting to the whole band, a group of brightly dressed boys sat in a line in their rough and ready studio. It felt a lot like a virtual parents evening, sitting opposite a progressive, kind and cheeky family, who were full of the excitement that comes with an EP release day.
George Berry, Iain Gillespie, Callum Litchfield and Nick Peters are objectively, pretty cool guys – in their words, and mine. With big Frank Turner “be more kind” energy and an emo-uke vibe, they are a group of mates who met in primary and secondary school. The band grew up together and with songs like ‘Nights Like These’ and ‘Always Sunny In South London’ soundtracking their very own coming of age montage, it really feels like you are getting a look into these friends’ homely and cheeky worlds.
Despite the natural pattern of growing up and moving away from your hometown, the band continued working hard together, despite all heading off to different cities (Birmingham, Guildford, Southampton, and London). They made music where they could, be it through Nick and George sleeping on Callum’s floor or them all being crammed into a small, dingy uni room. Their love of spending time together and creating heartfelt tunes really brought them together, wherever they were; even in the chaos of 2020.
Bears In Trees were halfway through recording Keep Me Safe when lockdown struck. Despite not being able to work on it for three months, they pushed on and the friendship they all share provided a real anchor in the rough seas of 2020.
Bassist and singer Iain said: “I think the band has definitely been the biggest anchor. But also, I think that personally, I finished my Master’s last year and I went through a big period of positive growth when it comes to my mental health. But I know if this happened, a year ago, for example, I would be in a much different situation, I would have been in bed all day… It would have been just terrible. And I think to be honest, the band has a lot to do with that. Being together as a band, working together, making music and starting to enjoy our lives together. Having that purpose and meaning behind your life, making music people like, working with friends; it gave me that…”
Part of their desire to keep busy, took them down a similar road to one many of us have travelled down: TikTok. Callum filled us in: “It’s the power of being bored, locked at home and needing an outlet to, release content and promote the band, but also have a bit of fun. We started seeing more and more people finding us and then finding our music through it.”
The TikTok phenomenon really took off in lockdown, with musicians like Doja Cat, Harry Styles, Lizzo and Billie Eilish being promoted on the platform. But, for many, self-proclaimed “dirtbag boyband” Bears In Trees were the backing track to what was a long, and difficult few months. Despite the prominence of boy bands on social media, I wanted to know why these guys would refer to themselves in the often divisive term of ‘boy band’.
They were honest, calm and funny in their response: “We know that our experience as middle class people is one that has been told a lot in music. So we don’t want to be acting like we’re revolutionary or anything new. So like, what can we do to distinguish ourselves? We can take a title like ‘boyband’, which a lot of people have used as a derogatory one, for us. People take themselves too seriously. We’re not trying to be cool. We’re just a bunch of nerdy kids who grew up with music and want to make music. We’re not taking ourselves too seriously, because we know no one should take us too seriously.”
The music they make is authentic, honest and emotive, much like they are. Authenticity has been a growing undercurrent online over the last year, with people like Lizzo, BodyPosiPanda and Tom Fletcher showing a more genuine side on the often rose-tinted Instagram. Bears In Trees have kept it real both online and in their music, and Callum shared his views on this issue: “Authenticity is so important. And people know if you’re not being authentic, I think even online, if you try and put up this front of being intellectual, being cool, or being aloof, or whatever people will see through it, you can only really be kind of true and authentic. And people like that. “
On the band’s authentic approach, Callum continued: “I think people kind of get the genuineness. And that’s kind of part of why people connect with us. We’ve always been honest, that like, the reason we started the band was because we wanted to, we did it because we were all friends.”
Despite the temporary stopper the pandemic put in their plans, the band was finally able to finish the EP. Keep Me Safe is a collection of honest and open music, and a combination of heart-aching, soul warming and sad-humour inducing tracks. Iain offered us some precious pearls of honesty on the subject of mental health and music: “Everyone has their own trauma, everyone has their own story. And we want to deconstruct and dissect that lyrically and musically. However, we grew up on music that did that a lot. And sometimes that music just ends with the message that like, it sucks, and everything sucks. And we wanted to provide a constructive add-on to that. We wanted to explore those topics, whilst also holding out that it can get better and you can cope with it. I think Nick said something the other day about the fact that life doesn’t happen in a singular motion. You’re not experiencing sadness, and then happiness. It’s not like a singular set of emotions. You’re experiencing it all at once.”
Sitting back in the warmth of this EP with this knowledge and honesty is a way to bring some self-awareness and calm to what has been a chaotic year. Despite being the climax of the year for the band, there are still so many things to look forward to for them in 2021 – which I’m sure we all hope, runs a lot smoother. With vinyl dropping on their website soon and a socially distant tour on the horizon, it’s a wonder that they’ll have enough time to start working on their debut studio album, which fans from TikTok, Twitter and from the first car park gigs, will be thrilled to hear about. So, if this was the virtual parents evening that Zoom inevitably feels like, I’d say the band gets As for enthusiasm, authenticity, tie dye and adaptability, because they really are “pretty cool guys” – be it on TikTok, on Instagram or in the songwriting they grew up on.
Words by Imogen Brighty-Potts
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.