The Bowery Presents
Mumford & Sons: The Full English Tour

Mumford & Sons: The Full English Tour

The Vaccines, Bear's Den

Wed, August 28, 2013

Doors: 5:00 pm / Show: 6:00 pm

Forest Hills Stadium (Queens)

Forest Hills (Not Flushing), NY

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This event is all ages

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Mumford & Sons
Mumford & Sons
For a band who had gigged pretty much nonstop since forming, Mumford & Sons' five-month hiatus – which began when they completed their world tour for the Babel album in September 2013 – was their first proper break in almost five years. Yet their decision to step off the merry-go-round was born as much of confidence as it was exhaustion, or a desire to catch up with themselves. In the months leading up to the end of the tour, Marcus, Ben, Winston and Ted had spent time with The National's Aaron Dessner, recording demos in his New York garage, pottering around guitar shops, experimenting with his vintage amps.

The band reconvened in February last year at Eastcote Studios in London, where they had recorded their debut album, Sigh No More. So began an eight-month period of writing. Joining them at these sessions was the producer James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, Florence + The Machine, Klaxons). "He'd listened to a few of the new songs," says Marcus, "and just said, 'Yeah, I like them.' No more than that. He's so understated, but it was good for us. So we started playing, he sat behind the kit, and off we went. It felt like having an older brother in the studio. And he made it fun. It should be fun."

Right from the opening bars of Tompkins Square Park, it's apparent that those early sessions in New York and London witnessed a change in the band's approach not just to writing and recording, but to texture and dynamics, too. There is a minimalist yet panoramic feel to the new album, whose sound Marcus describes as "a development, not a departure." Which came about how – by accident, or as a result of a conscious decision? "It was a bit of both. Towards the end of the Babel tour, we'd always play new songs during soundchecks, and none of them featured the banjo, or a kick-drum. And demoing that song with Aaron meant that, when we took a break, we knew it wasn't going to involve acoustic instruments. We didn't say: 'No acoustic instruments.' But I think all of us had this desire to shake it up. The songwriting hasn't changed drastically; it was led by a desire not do the same thing. Plus, we fell back in love with drums! It's as simple as that."

"It felt completely natural, though," says Ben, "like it did when we started out. It was very much a case of, if someone was playing an electric guitar, drums were going to complement that best; and, sonically, it then made sense to add a synth or an organ. We chose instruments that played well off each other, rather than consciously trying to overhaul it."

In another development, the new album is the band's most collaborative to date, with all four musicians putting their shoulders to the wheel, and much of the writing taking place in the studio. Moreover, in stark contrast to Babel, none of the new songs has been road-tested live: fans will come to them fresh. The shock of the new, then? "It's an invitation," laughs Marcus, "not a challenge." "Working with Aaron," says Winston, "his approach to making music is that you chase every idea; chase it to the end. Even if you don't like the idea, stay with it, follow it."

"He taught us more about collaborating, too," adds Ben, "in terms of working with each other. He gave us words of wisdom we hadn't heard before. It encouraged us to celebrate each other's ideas, and never abandon something. And that's not a bad habit to learn – on a personal level as well as a creative one."

"It was probably the most fun record to make out of the three," says Marcus. "yeah, it definitely was," says Ted. "It was just a much more democratic process," Marcus continues. "We were all allowed to have an informed opinion on what the others were doing, and I think that made us more vulnerable, but more willing to accept other opinions, too. We'd sit down and thrash ideas out." Ben: "And we were much more comfortable in a studio environment this time. It was our third bite at that, and our understanding of how a studio works was different to how it was before. Eight years ago, we'd be going, 'What's compression again?'"

The band who once told an interviewer that if they didn't play live they weren't a band at all now accept that the deeper perspective that that five-month break – and those writing sessions at Eastcote Studios – gave them was something they needed in order to progress. "One of the things I most enjoyed about being in the studio rather than on the road," Winston reflects, "was that you could play any instrument you liked; so you weren't thinking, 'I have to do this, play that.' We all felt that we could do anything we wanted, and achieve much more in the process."

Believe, one of the new album's key songs, was a beneficiary of this more immersive, collegiate process. "We'd all gone to a wedding on this ranch in Texas," Marcus recalls, "and they let us stay in one of the outhouses for a week, so we could write. I left a day early, I can't remember why, and when we next met up at Eastcote, I swanned in, late, and they were working on that song. For me, that was the breakthrough moment in terms of the writing of the album; I could enjoy singing someone else's lyrics, as if they were my own. I adored singing it, and I think that experience, and the way the song came about, set the tone for making the rest of the album – for all of us."

Marcus had just come from Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, where, with Elvis Costello, Jim James, Rhiannon Giddens and Taylor Goldsmith, he had been part of T-Bone Burnett's pop-up band setting newly discovered Bob Dylan lyrics to music for the Lost On the River: The New Basement Tapes album. "I'd recorded a vocal for that record that wasn't high, or loud, it was a bit more subtle and embellished, and I loved doing it. Just singing – without an instrument in my hands, or bashing a kickdrum, or a tambourine. And the same thing happened with Believe; I felt like a singer. I felt free."

Lyrically, the album comes across like a series of snapshots – diary entries, postcards, internal conversations, about misunderstandings, heartache, commitment, deception and loss. It's a night-time record, a city record. Flitting in and out of the darkness of the shadows and brightness of the lights. Sound-tracking these clamorous emotions is music of incredible intricacy and subtlety, drama and depth, urgency and soul, which undoubtedly sounds like the turning of a new page, yet is still identifiably the work of a band whose songs struck a chord with millions because of the passion and fervour they conveyed.

"That's the feeling that has always driven us to make music," says Ted. "Going to a gig, standing there with this feeling of how mystifying and amazing it all is. And the danger is that you begin to lose that as you get older, especially if you're in the music business. Which is why it's so important to hold on to it."

"One thing that comes from being in a band for so long," adds Marcus, "is that you become much more sensitised to different sounds and dynamics; it's not a case anymore of thinking, 'We've got to put ourselves on the map here.' I think the new music is much less angsty, less frantic, because of that. Instead of 'Quick, we've got to get to the chorus', you learn to give yourself more space, and that means you can find yourself going, 'let's do a whole song that doesn't move beyond this level; it can just stay here.'"

Inevitably, after such a long break, they are itching to play live again. This is, after all, the band that responded to the glaring spotlight of the Grammys, the Brits and playing a gig at the White House by heading off to the Scottish Highlands for a series of small-scale, ad-hoc shows. And who, in 2012/13, staged the Gentleman of the Road Stopover festivals in out-of-the-way locations across the world, supporting local musicians and businesses, and in the process reconnecting with their reasons for forming a band in the first place.

"Our enthusiasm for just dropping off and playing gigs was really inspired by touring in the Highlands and going to Orkney and Shetland," says Marcus. "Those places were so welcoming, they seemed so pleased to have us there, so, when it came to planning a tour, we all thought as one: 'Let's do more of those.'

"Doing it that way takes you away from this small nucleus of the band," says Ben. "You start coming up with ideas, concepts, collaborating with new people. We are proud of them, there's no point denying that; it feels like something not many other bands have done. Whenever I speak to people we work with, they seem proudest of that. So they're the vehicle, rather than the other way round. Of course, we wouldn't be able to do the Stopovers without the music, but in a way, we create the music so we can go out and do the shows." As we meet, new Stopovers are being planned. The open road beckons.

Now, though, there's the small matter of learning to play the new material live – a task lent greater urgency by the announcement that they will headline the Reading/Leeds festival this August. When we meet, the band are one day in to a 20-day rehearsal period; endearingly, they betray the nerves of first-timers. "We've never played these songs live before," says Marcus, "which is another reason the new album is so different.

"But it's not just a case of learning to play them; we've got to learn how to perform them, too. We've got a lot of work to do."

They have, but it will be worth it. There is a clutch of new songs – Only Love, Believe, Ditmus, The Wolf, Wilder Mind, Just Smoke – that are going to soar in a live setting, and take us with them.

"There was this moment yesterday," says Ben, "on Tompkins Square Park, where there's this countermelody I thought I'd played on the recording, and it turned out I hadn't. So I was like, 'Well, what am I doing on the chorus, then?'"

Amid the gales of laughter that are always feature of hanging out with the Mumfords, Marcus adds: "And I realised that all I have to do is strum my guitar, one chord every four bars. I did think, 'Can't I do that on all the songs?"
The Vaccines
The Vaccines
Soon after the release of the debut album, "What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?," Justin Young and his band-mates wrote a track named Teenage Icon. "I'm no teenage icon/I'm no Frankie Avalon," it says. "I'm not magnetic or mythical/I'm suburban and typical."

The song is now the centrepiece of The Vaccines' second album, set for release just 18 months after that March 2011 debut. But if Justin and co still feel "suburban and typical", they certainly don't seem it. To look at them in their latest incarnation; longhaired, denim-clad, more confident than before, is to see a proper gang of four: Young plus bassist Arni Arnason, guitarist Freddie Cowan and drummer Pete Robertson. Teenage icons -- whether they like it or not.

"The biggest headfuck of all is the fact that people have an opinion of me as a human being -- not as a singer or songwriter, but as a human being," says Young, musing on the point. "It's so weird to think of people talking negatively about me or even hero-worshipping. A year ago I could have met said people in the pub and become friends with them but they'll already have an opinion of me now before we meet..."

But a lot can happen in a year. Formed in West London in 2010, The Vaccines were selling out venues nationwide by December. They released their debut the following spring and have since released two standalone singles, three EPs, a live album and the forthcoming follow-up album "The Vaccines Come Of Age."

"What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?" propelled the band into the spotlight -- going platinum by the end of the year -- and saw them end 2011 with two headline shows at London's Brixton Academy. By the spring of 2012 the band had amassed awards (including an NME award for 'Best New Artist'), nominations (including at the Brits), 3 NME covers, 6 straight Radio 1 A-list singles and a sold-out a run of U.K. seaside arena shows.

It's a rocket-fuelled rise that's left critics and cynics eating their words, even if those words have stuck with the band. "When we first started talking to the press, I think we were quite timid," says Young. "We were being forced to defend ourselves because it was happening so quickly for us. I think people were suspicious. We're so confident in what we do though. And we turned the hypothetical situation into something real. We won."

The attitude shift came at 2011's summer festivals. "We'd done festivals all around the world and not really at home. 46 I think," says Young. "I remember saying to our tour manager backstage at our first UK festival, is there anyone out there? He just said, Listen! And I could hear about 20,000 people chanting our name. It felt bigger than anything anyone could say."

While everything was falling into place, however, Justin's future as a singer was in jeopardy. He developed hemorrhaging on his vocal chords, requiring surgery three times last year. "It was cruel, but life is like that," says Young, who was left unable to speak for three weeks and sing for five after each operation, resorting to using flash cards saying 'yes', 'no' and 'I can't speak'. "Emotionally and socially, that was quite an interesting experiment. I spent my first date with my girlfriend communicating with a notepad. It still scares the shit out of me though -- if I take it too far on a night out or I get a bit too overexcited in a show, I know it may be my last. The silver lining is my voice has more character as a result. I think that's where the softness on the new record comes from."

If anything, the experience has put even more wind in the band's sails. Young and his band mates collected over 150 songs during 2011, written in hotel rooms from Tokyo to New York and Sydney. If The Vaccines's work rate seems unusually high, note that they don't judge themselves against their contemporaries; they judge themselves against the prolific pop groups of the past. It's one reason why they found themselves recording "...Come Of Age" live. Some tracks were cut in just one take. "You think back to when people were paying for two or three hours in the studio. It was, OK -- go!" says Young. ''Bands make records and then work out how to play them. We wanted to do it the other way round. It feels purer.''

Producer Ethan Johns was the man charged with capturing lightning in a bottle. "He felt like an old-fashioned producer -- an instiller of confidence," says Young. "He only cares that it sounds exciting. The songs were only ever finished when he said the hairs on his arms were standing up."

They recorded in Belgium and Bath, stopping to play in Brazil, at Coachella and in New York. In Belgium they worked solidly, breaking only for one night out (they went to a gay bowling night, FYI). At the studio, there were banks of guitars and amps available but Young chose to use his own axe -- a cheap Danelectro he bought on Denmark Street for £180. Like his songs, it's honest, sturdy and deceptively simple.

The album shows the band's songwriting and performance entering a new phase. If the debut was them finding a sound somewhere between The Ramones, Jesus & Mary Chain and The Strokes, the latest, says Young, is them striving to "sound like The Vaccines. We needed to work out which characteristics are going to make people compare bands to The Vaccines in five or ten years time. It's quite a searching record in that sense." It means there's a spotlight thrown on Cowan's 50s influenced guitars, Robertson's pounding drums and Arnason's pulsing basslines.

Highlights include the groove-driven "Bad Mood," the timeless "Lonely World" and the new wave-influenced "Aftershave Ocean," one of the more recent tracks that hint at where The Vaccines may head in the future.

The title -- "The Vaccines Come Of Age" -- is tongue-in-cheek, but only a little. "It's a lyric from the album's first single, which is how we named 'What Did You Expect...,' and it continues the theme of having the band's name in the title," explains Young. "Then there's the whole coming of age thing. The lyric is "it's hard to come of age," and that thought ties together the record. I'm bang in the middle of my 20s and I'm finding it to be quite a difficult place to be. You're expected to know what you want to do and who you want to be at this point, but I don't know who I am yet. Everyone I know is in a different place -- some have it all figured out, some have bad problems, some are parents, some are living with their parents, some are earning money, some are broke. I guess I still feel like I'm a kid. Recently I've found myself realising that a lot of my favourite music is no longer talking to me, but people younger than me. And that is a strange realisation."

On the album sleeve, The Vaccines really are kids: it sees the four band members replaced by four androgynous, teenage girls. "People said The Vaccines don't look like rock stars, so we thought, OK, have these girls instead. I wanted them to look androgynous. You can't tell who they are. They're at a time in their lives when they probably don't know either. And of course they're a gang," says Young. One of the four stand-ins, who have appeared in The Vaccines' videos too, will appear on the cover of each of the singles from "...Come Of Age," and the B-side will be written and sung by the individual band member represented on the sleeve.

Though they may claim not be teenage icons, The Vaccines have reset their expectations for this album. "I want to mean something to somebody," says Young. "I want to keep getting better and better, and if bigger and bigger is a by-product of that, then that's fucking awesome. Quite simply, I want us to be your favourite band."
Bear's Den
Bear's Den
"Without/Within," the sophomore EP from critically acclaimed British trio Bear's Den will be released March 4, 2014, via Communion Records.

Ian Grimble (Travis, Manic Street Preachers) produced "Without/Within." Of the new music Andrew Davie (vocals, guitar) notes, "The songs were in many ways our most personal yet and also our most ambitious sonically. Joey's playing is particularly beautiful to me and his guitar and banjo melodies carry the songs so perfectly at times. Kev was experimenting more with synth bass and piano on top of drums before anyone else even picked anything up. I was experimenting for the first time in my life really on electric guitar and with delayed and reversed guitar loops. We all had our own responsibilities within this record and we all had complete belief and trust in each other. We wanted to push ourselves so that we could grow into the songs on the road and hopefully push ourselves to become a better live band because of it."

"Without/Within" follows the band's 2013 U.S. debut "Agape" (ag-ah'-pay), which received widespread praise -- New York Times T Magazine premiered the title track and the band was featured on NPR's "World Café." Since the release of "Agape," Bear's Den embarked on a massive three-month tour of the U.S., Australia and Europe including support slots with Mumford & Sons, Daughter and Matt Corby.

Davie, Joey Haynes (vocals, banjo) and Kevin Jones (vocals, drums) make up Bear's Den. The London-based trio played music in various incarnations before officially forming the band in 2012. They developed a cult following in their short existence as a result of their writing, harmonies, D.I.Y. approach with custom hand-stamped CDs, and extensive touring. It was only after finding their identity on the road that the band focused their attention on studio recordings.
Venue Information:
Forest Hills Stadium (Queens)
Forest Hills, NY (Not Flushing)
Forest Hills (Not Flushing), NY, 11375