Brooklyn’s Bear Hands are celebrating the release of their second full length, Distraction, with a major national tour that will include a set at Coachella and six shows at this year’s SXSW music conference. The tour starts this Wednesday, February 26th, at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, with support from Miniature Tigers, Total Slacker, and Jack and Eliza. We caught up with the quartet’s shy but charismatic frontman, Dylan Rau, to find out more about their understated, but multifaceted sound, as well as their big plans for 2014, now that they count both ultra-respected indie label, Cantora, and the big guys at Warner Brothers Europe, as their professional bases.
Bear Hands has a knack of talking about some pretty dark subject matter, but keeping the music relatively light. Is that an intentional choice, or just the way your personalities blend when you’re writing?
Dylan: Yeah, I would say it’s slightly intentional. I have little interest in minor keys, tonal glumness, etc. We try to make dancey tunes and have a good time while doing it. At the same time, it’s impossible for me to avoid dark subject matter lyrically, so some kind of balance needs to be achieved.
Do you consider yourself an inherently dark person then, or is that just what you’re most driven to write about?
Dylan: I certainly don’t ever recall being described as sunny or anything like that. My father got me reading newspapers from an early age and I think there’s nothing more depressive than being acutely aware of the dire realities called ‘current events’.
So, is Bear Hands a means for you to exorcise demons?
Dylan: I haven’t figured out how to exorcise demons yet.
Distraction came out this month. What have been your favorite responses to the album so far?
Dylan: Reading reviews has never really been fun for me, so I’m not sure. I suppose the steady trickle of fans on Twitter make me feel happy about the record’s reception — people quoting the lyrics and stuff.
How important is New York — and Brooklyn, where you all live — as a form of inspiration when you’re writing?
Dylan: Very important in the sense that I often feel the need to leave town to write! I hate feeling claustrophobic when getting down in the pursuit of anything creative…
So, do you ever write in town, or is that truly impossible?
Dylan: Sometimes, I’ll write vocals while driving around Brooklyn in the van. No music or anything, just kind of that atonal rap thing that sometimes works to get down verses, or a hook if you’re lucky. Most of my writing is still done in my parents’ basement in suburban Connecticut!
The lead single from Distraction is “Agora”. Is that written from personal experience? If so, how does someone with agoraphobia manage on the road, where privacy is an impossibility?
Dylan: Yeah. I spent a couple years holed up in my apartment reading, interneting, and drugging, which manifested itself in a minor case of agoraphobia. Honestly, being on the road is such a repetitive, groundhog day-esque experience that I rarely feel anxious about the day-to-day minutia and social interactions.
You just signed a deal with Warner Brothers in Europe, at a time when few bands are given opportunities that big. How did that come about?
Dylan: Our dear, dear friend Hayley Connelly — who is one of the finest publicists in Europe — passed an advanced copy of our new record to our new managers, who secured the deal with Warner for us. We’re still on Cantora records in North America.
Does it feel like a vindication of eight years of hard work, being recognized on a larger scale like that?
Dylan: Yes, it’s very validating and slightly surreal. We had resigned ourselves to a slow burn: keep touring, day-by-day kind of career arc, but now it seems like a shortcut may have presented itself. But then again, who knows? It’s very hard to be objective when analyzing your own band’s successes or failures.
But, financially speaking, being in a “slow burn” kind of band must be very difficult at times…
Dylan: Oh, yeah! Almost impossible actually. I was moving people’s furniture ’round the city in our van to make extra money and it was kind of soul-sucking.
How much have you been able to tour in Europe and what kind of audience do you already have there?
Dylan: We’ve toured the UK three or four times and we did a one-off show in Paris. That’s the extent of our show experience on the mainland. We’re really looking forward to playing more cities/countries over there but generally it seems like you have to make inroads in the UK first.
What are your imminent plans for the next year or so?
Dylan: Start the tour February 26th that routes down to SXSW. Then we’re gonna fly to London to do a couple shows and maybe some press and radio stuff. Then back to America in time to do Coachella in April. Lots of touring all year it seems…
Because of the extra stresses on artists now — like not making much money from actual record sales — a lot of bands seem to give up if they don’t get past a certain point after four or five years on the road. What has kept Bear Hands going for almost a decade?
Dylan: Doing fun tours and meeting a lot of great people. Also the band has grown to trust each other more. I just think our songwriting is going to keep getting better.