If you’re looking for a reason – beyond live music and camping on the banks of the Red River – to attend this year’s Tye-Dye Festival in nearby Adams, Tennessee, look no further than This Old Bear, a six-piece hometown band that plays original “throw-back country” and folk music featuring guitar, bass, banjo, drums and accordion. As front man Tommy Havell puts it, “We sing songs about late nights and broken hearts.”
This Old Bear should be flying high, having just completed their debut album, Doomed from the Start, at the Welcome to 1979 studio in Nashville. The album will soon be available on iTunes, but you can get a sneak peak, including a few free downloads, at www.ThisOldBearBand.com.
We caught up with Tommy to learn more about the band’s music and story.
Describe your sound for those who haven’t heard you yet.
We like to call it throw-back country — trying to pick up where outlaw country left off. But you sound like what you sound like: drums, guitars, banjo and an occasional accordion.
Can you give us a brief history of the band?
I’m from outside D.C. and the rest of the band members come from Nashville, Illinois and Wisconsin. I didn’t move to Nashville for music. It was more for adventure and because I had friends here already. After about two years living here I started doing solo shows and gradually started asking more people to play with me. Now we’re up to six players. Everyone was already a friend before they joined. We’ve been lucky with that.
Who are your influences?
Personally, my biggest influences would be Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Townes Van Zant and a band called The Microphones. They all have very unique styles, and they all know how to open up what can be done with a song’s structure.
How has living in Nashville influenced your songwriting?
The cultural scene here is quietly exploding, and it’s exciting to try and jump in and be a part of it. So just being here has influenced me to do it more. There’s also some charm in the musical history here — it’s a really easy city to get out and play for people. In Nashville there are so many other people doing it that 1. you’re not alone, 2. there is always a place to play, and 3. there is always gonna be somebody worse than you (and someone better than you).
Your first album, “Doomed from the Start,” was financed by friends, family and fans. How did it feel to have such a strong response to help make this a reality?
It’s the most encouragement I’ve ever gotten. It meant a lot to all of us. It felt like people weren’t just being nice, but that they actually believed we might have something here worth going for. So it also gave us a push to try to do the best job we could with the album. We didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I guess it introduced a “community project” aspect to the band, which I think we all prefer.
Speaking of Doomed from the Start, isn’t that an ominous title to pick for your first album?
It’s a line from the third track on the album. We wanted to use something from the record. As far as the tone it sets, we never want to be too melodramatic or overly tongue-in-cheek. We never want to try and be funny. Everything is already sad and funny. So this title covers that whole spectrum. People can interpret it however they want. That aside, we still made the record.
What do you want people to experience at one of your shows?
I want them to enjoy themselves and I hope they can relate. Most of the songs are pretty upbeat sounding, but they say some pretty real things, at least to me. I want everybody to leave with some line stuck in their head.