Despite having aname that might suggest otherwise, Hunter & The Bear are not a 70s US buddy-cop drama, nor a kids’ fairy tale, but a London-based four-piece who mix Soundgarden-esque vocals and Foos-style driving riffs with a soupçon of Springsteen. That quaint name? Hunter is guitarist Jimmy, The Bear is Scottish-born frontman Will Irvine. “When I was a kid everyone called me Bear cos I was like a dustbin for everyone’s food,” he explains. “I know it’s a strange name but, really, we had so many other terrible options.”
I’m sure we’ll get used to it. Certainly the band’s debut album, Paper Heart, is one of the most accomplished (and varied) albums we’ve heard for some time. Among air-punching anthems like the title track, there’s a clutch of soulful acoustic numbers and even a Floyd-like ambient interlude. “I personally prefer albums where you have some variety, a bit of light and shade,” says Irvine. “Being a debut, we didn’t want to come across as a one-trick pony.”
Irvine was very much raised on classic rock. “My parents were into Zeppelin, Bad Company, those sorts of people. When I was about five, my mum would put me to bed with a tape of Deep Purple’s greatest hits – I’d drift off to Child In Time blasting in my ears. Later on I was really into Dire Straits. At university, when everyone else was getting into the next cool thing, I’d be trying to convert them by playing Brothers In Arms. People were like: ‘Mate, these guys are so old!’”
These days the frontman’s tastes have broadened out to include Biffy Clyro, Muse and Springsteen, who gets a namecheck on the album. “It wasn’t something I was brought up on at all, but I went to see him at Wembley a while back and I was blown away at how tight the E Street Band were. We’ve all been reading his book, passing it round the van.”
Lyrically the band draw heavily from life that goes on around them – friends, family and (sometimes brief) acquaintances. “A lot of writers talk about themselves and their emotions, but as young guys we’ve only a certain amount of life experience,” Irvine protests. Several on-the-road incidents have found their way on to the album: Who’s Gonna Hear You retells an experience with a promoter who ripped off the band, while You Can Talk skewers a full-of-himself hanger-on they once encountered.
“He was this American guy who’d found his way backstage,” Irvine recalls. “One of those people where everything they say is a huge over-exaggeration; anything that you said you’d done, he’d done it ten times bigger, ten times better. He’s telling us that he’s been shot and been to jail – and he was about seventeen. We’re looking at each other like: ‘This guy is unbearable.’ I can’t imagine he’s still in the UK, but we’re thinking of adding a thank you in the album credits for providing us with the inspiration.”
Paper Heart is released on May 12 via Hunter & The Bear.
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“I just love the things Biffy Clyro do with choppy vocals, unusual guitar sounds and really modern production techniques,” Will Irvine says, enthusing about 2007 album Puzzle. ”The way they blend all that together in a very mathematical way is something we’d never attempt to do. We really admire what they did with that album.”