We spoke to the lead singer of Brownbear, Matthew Hickman, about Michael Jackson, musical influences and what we can expect from their debut album. We also previewed their upcoming single ‘Covers,’ due out on Friday.
Brownbear have used the past few years to gain valuable experience by touring with rock royalty; releasing a string of singles and of course performing to crowds at their own sell out gigs.
After a yearlong break, the boys hit the studio to record their long awaited debut album. A record that lead singer, Matthew Hickman, says he has “a lot of faith in.”
“We didn’t make an album full of singles, we made an album which is a collection of songs that, if you will, have a common theme. All the songs make sense to each other; they’re all related in a way. It all sounds right.”
Brownbears’ philosophy of ‘if it doesn’t fit then it’s not going in’ is taken very seriously. Proof of that lies solely in the confirmation that their first ever, and arguably most famous, single ‘Dead or Alive’ won’t be included in the album. Matthew said:
“People who have seen us live will recognize some of the songs (in the album). But, ‘Dead or Alive’ isn’t in there. My view is, we did it as our first single and it stood itself. To redo it for the album would mean changing it for the sake of it.”
“Two mistakes bands make all the time is: trying to do a song over and over again and ruining it; and secondly, not believing in their new material.”
“Dead or Alive had completely different production to what the album has, so I feel like it’d be a bit like saying ‘oh we don’t trust in our new songs.’ I can only hope that folk will look through iTunes or Spotify when the album is out and find ‘Dead or Alive’ and think; what’s this. We’re still going to play it live obviously; you’ll still hear it at our shows.”
For the band, new material is everything. Matthew told how he has become a keen experimentalist of performing new songs at gigs, especially after a solo tour supporting ‘The View’s’ Kyle Falcnor:
“When you’ve got a new song and you think ‘is it any good,’ the best way to judge that is to go up and play it in front of the crowd with just you and the guitar.”
“The Kyle (Falcnor) tour showed me which songs work and which don’t, by the end I was able to adjust my set to suit. If you play a new song off the cuff and the crowd go wild then you’re on to a winner cause that’s up against more established tunes.”
The lessons learned from that solo experience differed from the lessons the band learned when touring with bigger teams, like the tour with the Libertines. Matt said:
“Different tours teach you different things. Big tours, like the Libertines, taught us a lot about being professional. And then the Kyle tour obviously I learned a lot about playing in front of intimate crowds and reading the room, connecting with an audience. I had the best time on that tour because I had so many people that I’d just chat to after shows and getting to find out what they liked about the show if they enjoyed it.”
One of the new songs the band will be eager to play is ‘Covers,’ the first single off the album. It’s a very upbeat and catchy tune that has the classic Brownbear acoustics; however, it also boasts sobering lyrics that describe the mental unrest of a cheated boyfriend. The combination strangely works well, you’ll be humming ‘and I pull back the covers…’ in your sleep.
Thankfully the lyrics of ‘pull back the covers’ is just a metaphor for the suspected cheating, Matt joked that he didn’t literally catch anyone red handed:
“At the time I was with a girl and we were slowly deteriorating and I was beginning to think she might even be seeing someone else, just a pure gut feeling. I didn’t literally pull back the covers, thank God, that would be like something from a gruesome horror film.”
“The song actually started because I was singing the chorus in the car and sometimes as a writer you think of a line, I was singing like ‘cover and lovers,’ it sort of developed from that.”
Brownbear have developed an alternative acoustic/folk rock vibe over the past few years, something, which Matthew agrees, are the bands “own distinctive sound.” Yet the music Matt grew up listening to is a complete different shade of music to what he plays:
“I grew up very much a student of rock music, I love the Foo Fighters, Metallica and bands like that. I used to kick about with the black sweatbands on and that. But I’m not very metal orientated as a writer, when I began writing songs; they just didn’t come out like that.”
“I also love Michael Jackson, especially the ‘Thriller’ album. That album broke boundaries; it went so much further than the music. It was the first time an African American had been listed on TV; he broke down that relevance for everyone. At the time he had the dark skin and the Afro, I can relate to that part.”
“I think great records have more than just the music. People never really know where to place our music and I think that’s a good thing.”
As for now, Brownbear admitted you’d find a different type of music on his playlist:
“I’ve been listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar at the moment, and Alicia Keys new album. Both of those have total jazz vibes between them that’s what’s catching my ears I think.”
Transpiring through a range of genres whilst retaining a core Brownbear sound seems to be essential for the band. Matthew told how there’s a song on the album which has a “tip of the hat to mow town,” a genre which he admits is “his thing.” He also told how we could expect a bit of country in there as well:
“We had a guitar player play as a guest in a few songs who used to play in a band called ‘Whiteout’- they were pretty big in the Britpop era. He’s an amazing country player and he did this cool country riff over one of the songs. It just sounded right, man, so we were like ‘let’s just do it.’”
The album is sure to please ears of all music backgrounds and will be available sometime in early autumn. As for the new single, Covers, that comes out on Friday (5th of May). Something that we recommend you definitely check out.
Be sure to keep updated with the band through social media.
Photography: Murray McMillan
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