Photo credit: Tim Gray, TartanZone Photo
Temperatures seem to be plummeting pretty fast in Glasgow but things could not be heating up quickly enough for Matt Hickman, who stands front and centre in the band BrownBear. Today though, we are safely sheltered from the frozen Scottish winter inside a cafe in the West End.
BrownBear didn’t even need an album to fuel their success as must see touring musicians. Their reputation as talented stage artists propelled them from small town boys playing in dodgy pubs (although still Matt’s favourite) to concert halls in Berlin, stages at T in the Park and Hyde Park, as well as embarking on tour with The View then the Libertines.
They have also enjoyed radio exposure from their single ‘Dead or Alive’, sold out their first ever headline London show and drew in more online viewers than the likes of Arctic Monkeys and Biffy Clyro for their BBC Treehouse set at the 2014 T in the Park festival.
But this isn’t Matt’s first rodeo. ‘BrownBear and The Bandits’ is the name of his first band, comprised of friends he met his primary school years. They ultimately divorced years after a happy career touring a multitude of stages and even came close to releasing an already recorded album. But Matt didn’t just sit and dwell on good times past; he shortened the name, whipped out his address book and joined forces with his favourite musician pals he met while on the road. Thus, the new and improved ‘BrownBear’ was rebooted, reloaded and raring to go.
His position as lead singer was literally decided by fate. Originally the lead guitarist in BrownBear and the Bandits, the now defunct group had to decide on a singer when theirs originally called it quits. “I guess we drew straws or something and I got the short one and they were like “you have to sing” and I’d never sang in my life.” he says. “I couldn’t sing, I didn’t know anything about it and it turned out alright I suppose.”
Matt, Andrew McAllister (lead guitar), Ruairidh MacDougall (bass) and Sam Waller (drums) have been holed up in producer Joe McAlinden’s house and studio in Argyle working away on their debut eponymous album, due to come out later this year.
The process of songwriting is described as a personal one, “I started off as a songwriter from a young age [and] I’ve always been in studios just making demos so I always go in and demo what my idea is then I take it to [the rest of the band] like right, this is what I’m thinking.”
He pauses for a moment then continues, “At the same time it’s not like I’m precious and if they come in with another idea I’m always open to do it but quite often I do the demo stage then we go into the studio together and rehearse it and go on and record it afterwards.”
When Matt discusses his music, he comes across as extremely dedicated and passionate. After all, he’s been waiting for this moment for so long. He recounts moments when promoters and venue managers were put off when they realised he co-manages his own band, due to his time studying commercial music at the University of West Scotland, “if you can believe it.” However, after meeting him for myself, it is apparently clear that this shy, humble and pleasantly kind musician is not interested in the glitzy and superficial side of the music biz. He only cares about what has been the number one most important thing to him since childhood: the music.
In the studio he worked with another musical force, singer and songwriter Joe McAlinden. “I’ve always been so driven and I’ve always kind of known what I want [but] Joe doesn’t take that as a reason to do it. He’s like no, I’ve got ideas. He’s a songwriter at heart so he kind of understood what I was trying to achieve and we ended up becoming really good friends. We’re keen for him to do [a] second album. It was an amazing experience to do it with Joe.”
The first single off the album, called ‘Wandering Eyes’, will be released on the 22nd of January and will be accompanied by a swish new music video, produced by Still Game director Mike Hines. Matt describes writing, recording and playing live as both a long time coming and exactly the right moment.
“I think it’s a long time coming because I went through the BrownBear and the Bandits thing and we were ready to do the album then [I] started from scratch. But [now] it feels like the right time because I was still learning so much about myself and about music. I don’t think I’d of been happy with it whereas [with] this album, I feel the songs are strong.”
There’s a glint in his eye, a smile on his face and a real passion in his voice, which proves happiness in his hard work, “It’s the first time I’ve come out of the studio and felt like I have no complaints, I’m really proud of what I’ve done.”
From what couple of singles BrownBear have released already, there is an alternative folksy vibe. But it has fire, Matt’s emotive and raspy vocals are powerful enough to grab a hold of your attention and never let go. When asked about the flavour of the debut album, Matt described it as “pop and acoustic driven”.
With the album all wrapped up, the boys are finally ready to play live and make their mark on the charts. “Now I feel like, alright, I’ve done the best I can do, what’s the next challenge?”
BrownBear’s music video for their first single “Wandering Eyes’ is out now!
Glasgow fans can see them live at the Hug and Pint, 27th of February.