David Bird-Hawkins of Beartown Zodiac shares tales of his travels to 12 countries in 12 months. Check it out after the jump!
In 2007, at the age of 29, I took a career break and travelled the world with my wife, Rosie. I wanted to take an instrument on my travels. I was worried that my guitar would be too large and a travel guitar too expensive. My friend Jason suggested that I take a ukulele and so he presented me with a white flying-v ukulele. It was perfect. Small and light enough to carry as hand luggage, it would make a great conversation starter and be easy to write songs on. My friend asked me to learn how to play it and return to England with some new songs.
For the next 12 months my wife and I visited 12 countries. Most of our travel was overland, including some extremely long journeys on local buses, trains and boats. Some of these journeys were the perfect time to construct songs in my head, which I could then try out on the ukulele once we had arrived at our destination.
The inspiration for lyrics came from overheard conversations, corrupted English translations, signs across tourist bars and snippets of travel guide suggestions.
I returned to the UK in 2008 and for the next few years I performed the songs I had written under the name Beartown Zodiac.
Initially I performed the songs on my own with a ukulele, however in 2012 I signed to independent label Woodenhouse Records and decided to form a band, enhancing and unlocking the full potential of the songs. The ukulele is now making less of an appearance in favour of the more practical electric guitar.
On May 17th 2013 the debut EP from Beartown Zodiac will be released digitally everywhere. The EP includes four songs written while I was travelling.
The songs include the karaoke-disco-boat inspired “Karaoke Bites; Mountains In My Sunglasses”, inspired by trekking in the Annapurna range of Nepal; “Rosiebird” about keeping positive while waiting for a bus or a train, and keeping yourself entertained in “Write Me A Story. “
The title track “Karaoke Bites” is based in Thailand and Vietnam. The song is set on the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi, Thailand where Karaoke Disco Boats are extremely popular. It was quite difficult to sleep at night with all the boats drifting past with the sounds of Thai Karaoke. Hence the chorus “Sleep tight, sleep tight. Don’t let the Karaoke Bite.”
The line “get shit faced on a shoestring” comes from a sign across an actual bar in Kanchanaburi: The No Name Bar. Kanchanaburi is the home of the River Kwai, made famous by the Bridge over the river Kwai, where prisoners of war built the bridge. This clash of history and culture is referenced in the song.
“Mountains In My Sunglasses” was written while trekking in the Annapurna region of Nepal. The song references altitude sickness; a condition that can happen when you’re high up on a mountain unless you ensure you acclimatise first. The higher you go the thinner the oxygen gets, hence the feeling of being drunk without actually drinking. The line “I’ve got mountains in my sunglasses” came from an extremely windy and dusty trek along a former sea bed. As I looked at my wife I could see mountains reflected off her sunglasses; I told her this and she replied “But I’ve got dust in my eyes”. This went on to form part of the chorus.
Other songs not included on the debut EP include the horrors of discovering my Ipod shuffle was broken (“Time Stands Still”), the feeling of endlessly moving on and travelling to new destinations (“Time To Move On”) and becoming attached to organic vegetables while working on a farm in New Zealand (“Raw”).
The time I spent travelling inspired many of the songs that we as a band now perform. The EP remains a snapshot of an amazing year, but my songs and the Beartown Zodiac sound continue to develop with every new experience and influence.
Karaoke Bites EP is released May 17th 2013 and can be downloaded via iTunes, Amazon and play.com You can find tour dates and find out how to buy concert tickets here.