There’s a lot going on in Croydon lately. I know, not a sentence you hear a lot. There are some people (mostly from areas completely unlike this South London town) that make it their mission to focus on the negatives coming out of here. I’m not about to follow suit – shining a light on the positives is much more important to me. So I invite you to turn your attention to Croydon-born-and-bred George Berry, the man behind indie sadboys Bears in Trees.
Two albums and an EP in, Bears in Trees have reached over 200,000 plays on the single “Good Rhymes for Bad Times” – not bad for a track written and produced entirely in his bedroom. George has worked backstage for the likes of Dua Lipa, Jess Glyne and Nile Rodgers, and the band are going from strength to strength – but things haven’t always run smoothly. I sat down to discuss the upcoming new single, his career as a producer so far and his new role as Assistant Engineer at Subfrantic Recordings.
Bears in Trees have done amazing given the fact that you’re not signed to a label and are completely self-funded. What’s the story behind the group’s formation and how do you view the success you’ve had so far?
Well, I met Callum in college – he was in a band at the time with Nick and Iain called The November Criminals. Before there was another guy called Oscar who was part of the group but they went their separate ways so I kind of ended up replacing him a bit. In terms of the success, it’s very surprising. I think it’s all down to Nick really, he’s an expert as marketing and social media so a lot of the credit has to go to him.
“Good Rhymes for Bad Times” is a whimsical single about a young lad struggling through the transition from adolescence to adult life. Do you relate to the lyrics, as a young individual in the music industry?
Yeah, I feel as if I definitely can and, as a band, we all do. We’re at that age where it is tough – just coming out of uni and not knowing what to do with your life. It’s almost as if our music is representing us finding our way through all the problems life has to throw at us.
200,000 listens for a track produced in your bedroom is a phenomenal achievement. Was the reaction to the single a surprise to you and what’s it like having fans from around the world?
It was, but sort of a gradual surprise. 200,000 views don’t just happen overnight for a band like us, it’s been more over a year or so. Despite that, it’s still very surreal. When I see the numbers on the screen, weirdly it both matters and doesn’t. It can be very hard to gauge. But we had a gig back in January when we had our first fans who we didn’t know turning up. It was very strange them coming up to us afterward and asking for autographs. Is that something I’ll ever get used to? I don’t know, but it was a good feeling.
People from across the globe are either discovering music for the first time or developing a real passion for it. What is your first memory of hearing a piece music?
My first memory… that’s a tough one. I can’t remember who it was, but I went to see an orchestra play at Fairfield Halls in Croydon with my dad. I must have been about three or four. And it was just the most incredible thing I’d ever seen. From then on, I loved music. The atmosphere was amazing, I hadn’t seen anything like it, it was just so massive.
When did your enthusiasm become a career choice?
For as long as I can remember I’ve had a passion for music. I love the idea of learning new instruments and challenging myself, but it was from the end of my school years that I started to channel that passion through the more technical side of music. I still kept it going with the performing, but my focus became centred on production, recording and the live elements of music too.
Since university, how do you think you’ve grown as a musician and an aspiring producer?
While I was at uni I felt as if my performing suffered a bit. I was there to do production, and that’s sort of where I used most of my energy. We kept going with the band as much as possible but I spent a significant amount of my time on production – I really wanted to pursue that as a career. Saying that, since I’ve left I still try and practice from time to time, but it’s becomes difficult to do whilst working. I suppose what I’ve learnt the most is to try and find the right balance between both.
If I looked at your “Recently Played” on Spotify, who would be on there?
Well we can take a look right now. Foals, they’re an important band for me. Youth Club, you may have heard of them. And, of course Daft Punk, they’re amazing.
A lot has happened since you graduated. What’s been your highlight so far?
Good question. Nile Rodgers is a big influence of mine, so to get to work backstage at a show he did for Warner (Music Group) was a very big moment for me. Another was at Alexandra Palace with Dua Lipa – it was fantastic.
Are there any downfalls to your work? Is there anything in particular that keeps you motivated through rougher patches?
I would say they’re two downfalls. One of which is I get very busy within short spaces of time. The other downfall is the complete opposite. Sometimes work is hard to get, and I find myself twiddling my thumbs. I think the nature of the industry is very up and down, you’ll have some months where you won’t have a day off, and that can sometimes result in me getting very ill. On the other hand, you might have two or three months of very sporadic work. It’s difficult to stay motivated all the time. But I try to keep busy and get ahead of things in that gap, like the admin side and attempting to set up new jobs for the future –which can backfire when you land all those jobs at once. It can be very tough, but I enjoy it.
As a young person trying to make a name for yourself in one of the biggest creative industries in the world, what have you found to be beneficial to your learning?
I’ve grown the most by being thrown into situations I’m not always comfortable with. For example, over the weekend I was working at Croydon Rocks Festival. I was in charge of everything happening on stage, making sure everything was working technically and production-wise. Also, if anything went wrong, I would have to run in and fix it under very quick turnaround times. You’ve got to make sure the artists are happy, you’ve got to make sure everyone is happy to be honest. It was demanding, but I learnt a lot about myself that day and even over that weekend, I feel as if I have improved. Now, the next time I’m thrown into one of those situations, I have a better knowledge of how everything works, alongside the experience of being able to work in high pressure situations.
You’ve just been made Assistant Engineer at Subfrantic – congratulations! How did that come about?
Thank you! I’m really happy to be working there and it’s just a lovely environment to be in. That came about whilst I was recording for Bears in Trees and another band which I’m a session player for, Deafpony. We went in there to record drums for both EP’s (which should be out next year) and while I was there I got to know the team a bit better. Then I started helping out a little and now here we are.
My job is to make sure that everything happens. Whether we have in-house producers or external clients, I’m there to help them set up their equipment along with making sure it is all working. It’s also about make sure they’re happy whilst I run the technical side of things. It really is an amazing opportunity for someone my age.
Words by Thomas Fleury
Thomas is a recent graduate from South London with an unhealthy obsession with 90’s alternative R&B, whose work spans music, film and theatre. You can follow him @fleury.t