Straw Bear are back with their long-awaited new full-length ‘Fiction’, a cathartic sonic voyage that overspills with dogged invention, lush melodies and off-kilter lyrics. With the folk-rockers’ third LP out now and ready to stream, we caught up with frontman Ian Ray about the album’s whimsical lead single ‘Be Prepared’ and more.
‘Be Prepared’ is a dreamy folk song to savour. How did the track come about?
“Well, thank you. The idea for the song came from something cub scouts get told – that if you’re trying to look at something in the dark, you should look 45 degrees either side because your peripheral vision is more effective than looking at something directly. So the song is a very, very laboured metaphor about how it’s sometimes better to leave things on the periphery without trying too hard and agonising over them. Like being in a band or writing songs, for example. The whole samba shuffle of the track was just something we wanted to try out.”
How did Straw Bear start out?
“It started with two of us working out songs and instrumentals with sequenced beats, just for fun. We made a decision early on that we’d only take it as seriously as the music warranted, and so when others started showing an interest, the whole thing started to grow and we became a proper band with live instruments, who played gigs and had creative differences and everything. Like most bands, we kind of learnt on the job and we’re now on our third album, ‘Fiction’.”
What inspired your name?
“There’s an amazing festival in Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire called Straw Bear. It’s the first pagan event of the year and some poor soul dresses up in a huge suit of straw and dances at all the pubs in town before they burn the suit. I think they usually let the man out first. It’s annoying though because lots of bands came to prominence with bear in their title, and we thought a lot about changing it… but then I met Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine at a party and he loved it and said we should keep it. Horrendous name drop, but it’s true.”
Who are the Top 5 biggest influences on your sound right now?
“It was a strange mix. I was listening to ‘Court and Spark’ by Joni Mitchell a lot, along with Nina Simone, and the Talk Talk album ‘Spirit of Eden’. I have no idea if there’s anything that connects those people other than there being a lot of space in the songs and some distinctive vocals, I suppose. Deerhunter and The Shins are both pretty constant, in terms of more current influences. The new album was self-produced and so the chat between us was more about guitar sounds we’d heard or production we admired, rather than songcraft.”
Any other new artists you have played with and would recommend?
“Yes – our friend Max Taylor, a Brighton singer and songwriter who also plays with his band Creepy Neighbour. He has a pretty extraordinary voice and melodic sensibility.”
And finally, what does the future hold for Straw Bear?
“In the immediate future, it will be about telling more people about the album and playing some gigs in the new year. Beyond that, I’d like to try something outside of the album format and look at different ways to get our music heard. I’m not quite sure what that will be yet, though.”