The Tab Meets… Bears Of Brasov

On Saturday night ‘Bears of Brasov’ played at The Portland Arms on Chesterton Road. The band comprises front-man Jon Smith, who captivates the crowd with his catchy riffs and grungey vocals; drummer Issy Oon, who harmonises while punctuating songs with energetic fills; and James Redburn, the bassist keeping everything water-tight. They joined me afterwards to talk about their music, Cambridge and why they probably should’ve been nominated for the Mercury prize.

bears of brasov


Immi: So, how did you all meet?

Issy: We (Issy and Jon) were at Sidney Sussex, so we obviously knew each other, and then we put up a poster and James came knocking on our door…

Immi: And how did the name come about?

Jon: Issy and I went to Romania and there’s this place called Brasov, which is just a really cool town, and they have bears there that live in the mountains and roam around the streets at night and eat from bins. And we liked the alliteration

Immi: What sort of bands do you like

Jon: Queens of the Stone Age, The White Stripes

Issy: Nirvana, Yeah Yeah Yeahs

James: I’d go for Muse, the bassist is very cool. And Morrissey, I’m doing a dissertation on Morrissey

Immi: Your sound is quite Arctic Monkeys-ish. Is that something you’re going for?

Jon: Yeah, a lot of people have said that. And Franz Ferdinand

Immi: There was a lick in the last song that was almost exactly the same as one from ‘Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?’

Jon: Oh, really? I think I probably wrote it before they did because we wrote that song last Summer. I reckon they must have copied us. Bastards

Issy: We could’ve been nominated for the Mercury Prize!

Jon: Next time we’re playing in Sheffield, I’m throwing a brick through Alex Turner’s window

Immi: What’s the Cambridge music scene like?

Issy: It’s covers and jazz.

Jon: You’ve got Clare cellars, obviously, which has wicked jazz nights, and you’ve got big band music, but there’s no Indie scene

Issy: Bears of Brasov didn’t really exist while we were at Cambridge – our first gig was at Anglia Ruskin

Jon: It was on Valentine’s Day and it was themed the ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre’ so then we get up and don’t quite fit the bill. The thing is it’s probably the best stage we’ve ever played on with the best sound system but there was no one there

Immi: What are your ambitions?

Jon: Headline Wembley, Glastonbury, nah… Actually… yeah! Why the fuck not? But not in the next year we just want to keep playing shows, get more people interested in our music, record more music as well. We’ve kind of found our sound, in that we know what works and what doesn’t work for us

Issy: Student gigs are really good actually, everyone wants to be at those gigs

Immi: What are you doing now? Are you writing a lot?

Issy: Yeah, you have to keep writing songs. So, three of the songs in that set we’ve had for like 2 or 3 weeks, and you just kind of test them out

Immi: And how do your songs come together?

Jon: It depends really, like obviously James writes the bass line, but for our song ‘Sunset’ I did it as an acoustic song and then Issy wanted to jazz it up a bit, give it more energy with a new riff. So we were playing the chords through and Issy just like sang the riff and we worked out what it was as a guitar part.

Immi: As a band, what are your strengths and weaknesses?

Jon: I think there’s quite a lot going on in terms of our vocals. A lot of bands just have one singer and we have two, plus a half… Issy and I share lead vocals but then we always have James with nice bassy backing vocals

Issy: Weaknesses… We just need to play more gigs. Our song-writing could be better, our musicianship could be better, but we just need to play more gigs

Immi: If you had the option to have lots more effects would you go for it?

Jon: No, I want to keep it natural. As much as you can put in effects and you can make mad sounds in the studio, there’s only so much you can actually do on stage, and I don’t really want to have a sound we can’t reproduce live with 4 guitars overlaid and synth effects everywhere

Issy: It works if you’re Lou Reed, but look what happened to him…

Immi: Were you regulars at the Portland before you started playing here?

Issy: Not really for drinking purposes; more for the music

Jon: We saw a really cool synth band here called Casiokids from Norway. They have like proper touring bands here

Issy: Yeah, they were awesome. I can’t believe it’s not more well known because it genuinely is the best venue


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Or on their website


And all their music is on Soundcloud