Glasgow-quintet Wojtek The Bear have been something of a fixture on these pages since back in 2018 when I premiered their excellent debut album, A Talent For Being Unreasonable. After spending 2019 drip-feeding some brilliant singles on the Scottish Fiction label, the band recently transferred over to Last Night From Glasgow, and last month they shared their new album, Heaven By The Back Door.
Recorded with acclaimed producer Jamie Savage at the Chem19 studio, Heaven By The Back Door is in vocalist Tam Killean’s own words, “ten songs about love, life and regret. But not necessarily in the order”. Recorded in a series of sessions across 2020 between various Scottish-lockdown restrictions, it is something of a sonic departure for the band. While it sticks to some of the breezy, distinctly Scottish indie-rock that won them many admirers, here they took their sound across the pond, embracing their love of Motown, and Philadelphia Soul. Take a track like Fear Less, with its beautiful Rhodes-like piano and prominent bass line, it owes as much to Thundercat as it does Frightened Rabbit.
Particularly wonderful across Heaven By The Back Door are the moments where the band throw out the rule book and embrace the joys of making music. Take the recent single, Ferme La Bouche, which takes a punch in the chops as a metaphor for everything life has to throw at you but still manages to strut about the place like a Peacock at a Supremes-concert. Another stand-out moment is the title track, a scramble to atone before it is too late, contrasted with a joyous, sliding lead-guitar, and Tam’s easy vocal, “I’m not searching for religion, it can come find me. I’m not asking for permission, I don’t need you to agree”.
As the record slides to a close on the fluttering brilliance of The Magician, a song that has a similar beautifully atmospheric sound to early Band Of Horses, it all feels like it’s gone too soon. An ambitious and brilliant record of transatlantic influences and a distinctly Glaswegian heart, Heaven By The Back Door, is a record that deserves to come crashing through the front door looking very pleased with itself as it does.
Read on for my interview with Tam, where we discuss finding their own sound, getting back to playing live and his fear of misplaced atheism in the face of the apocalypse.
FTR: For those who don’t know who are Wojtek The Bear?
Hello! We’re an indie-pop 5 piece from Glasgow. We are Becky (violin, keys & vocals), Chuck (guitar), Paul (bass & vocals), Scott (drums) and Tam (guitar & vocals) and have been playing together for around 5 years.
FTR: You’re about to release your debut album, Heaven By The Back Door, what can you tell us about recording it? What did you do different compares to previous releases?
We recorded the album across 2020 which created additional challenges over and above what you’d normally expect! At points we were only legally allowed to have a few of us in the studio at the one time which meant we did a lot of agreeing on mixes or song structures via Facetime.
In musical terms I’d like to think there’s a pretty clear progression on this record from our first album. We’re more confident as a band and have grown into what we’d like to think is our own sound, hopefully that shines through on the record.
FTR: Where does the title come from?
The title came from the song of the same name on the record, which is about me reflecting on the very catholic upbringing I had as a child and how despite rejecting and turning away from that I was always secretly hedging my bets incase my atheism was misplaced and I had to answer to someone for it come the end of the world! Nice, lighthearted stuff I’m sure you’ll agree…
FTR: Were the songs on this record written specifically for the album? Did it change your songwriting process?
We actually had 3 songs written and had gone in to record them last March with the intention of releasing them as singles spread out over the year. Then the first lockdown hit and we gradually saw all our live shows and festivals being cancelled for the rest of the year and realised that we were facing an enforced break from playing live. At that point we decided to keep writing and see what happened and the album came together pretty quickly after that.
FTR: Who are the influences on you music? What were you listening to when you wrote this record?
I can’t speak for the rest of the guys but I was listening to a lot of Motown and 60’s girl group stuff while writing the bones of the album. I think that comes through pretty noticeably on stuff like “ferme la bouche” and “one thing’s for certain”.
FTR: It’s obviously a strange world to be releasing the album into, how has the pandemic affected your plans?
We unfortunately had to cancel the album launch which was pretty gutting and at the minute we don’t know if we’ll be able to play any live shows before the end of the year. On a positive note we’ve got some live stream shows planned and recently did a live stream for La Blogotheque which you can check out on their Instagram.
FTR: What’s the best way for people to support musicians at this time?
Buying physical copies of records and merch direct from the artists is probably the best way but even simple things like sharing the song with their friends and being supportive on social media all helps!
FTR: Once you can get back out on the road, what can people expect from the Wojtek The Bear live show?
We’re absolutely desperate to get back to playing live for people so hopefully we can tap into some of that excitement we have and just give people an hour of absolute joy for them to lose themselves in.
FTR: What are your ambitions for this record? Is music still a viable career?
Without trying to sound like a massive cliché we just want it to reach as many people as possible, and for us to be in a position whereby we have made enough from record sales that we can make the next record. Anything over and above that feels like a bonus!
The current structure of the music industry means earning a sustainable living from music alone has never been harder. We all have other jobs and don’t’ expect that to change any times soon but I think the work the likes of Tom Gray has done with the #brokenrecord campaign shows there is a real momentum and desire for change across the industry and hopefully a full-scale restructuring in favour of artists isn’t too far away.
FTR: What’s next for Wojtek The Bear?
We’ve got a full UK tour to announce soon for spring next year and we’re also hoping to have some more music to share before the end of the year. Most importantly we hope, some live shows!