Grizzly Bear | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Grizzly Bear

Anything Can Happen

Mar 13, 2012 Issue #40 - In the Studio 2012 - Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, and Twin Shadow Photography by Tommy Kearns Bookmark and Share

“After five years, I think we deserved a little break. And to be completely honest, the last show was only a year and two months ago. It’s really not that long. It was in October of 2010, the Neil Young Bridge School benefit,” says Grizzly Bear frontman Ed Droste, a tad defensive at the notion that his band has disappeared from the indie map for too long of a stretch.

After a couple false starts, they’re about to immerse themselves in the recording of the as-yet-untitled follow-up to 2009’s Veckatimest, and Droste and co-frontman Daniel Rossen have met up with Under the Radar to discuss the metamorphosis of their new LP at a nondescript café on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It’s been an unusually protracted process for a band that, to now, has been a prime example of efficiency, churning out records and tours at an expeditious pace that you could set your watch to.

Over this stretch, the band managed to forge their trademark sound: glorious guardian angel harmonies; woozy, vertiginous chamber arrangements redolent of Van Dyke Parks’ Song Cycle; and Technicolor guitar and keyboard flourishes vaguely evoking the acid-fried moments of late-era The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev.

Grizzly Bear essentially began as a Droste solo recording project at NYU in the early ‘00s, with assistance from drummer Chris Bear. The era was nicely documented on the 2004 album Horn of Plenty, which was a nascent glimpse into the genius that Grizzly Bear would become.

The project flowered into a band with guitarist/vocalist Daniel Rossen and multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor augmenting the Horn of Plenty tour. The full band would contribute to 2006’s excellent Yellow House, and the unit’s strengths would be embraced to an even greater degree on the band’s magnum opus to date, Veckatimest.

While the sessions for Veckatimest went smoothlylargely taking place in the Cape Cod area after the band sufficiently road-tested much of the materialits follow-up has been at times an unwieldy beast to corral. The process has been more of a haphazard travelogue for the band this time around, as Droste took an exploratory trip to Mexico with Bear in early 2011. Droste and Rossen each have been writing Grizzly Bear material separate from the band’s recording sessions as well.

Of the trip to Mexico with Bear, Droste enthuses, “It was great. It was just like a writing retreat. We probably won’t even use a lot from it, maybe one song, two songs. It was more about getting the songwriting juices flowing so that I’d come back into the situation and be able to jump into something with Dan and not be hitting my head against the wall.”

The full band sessions began in a rented house in Marfa, TX, ostensibly to record the bulk of the LP.

“We got started there, but it wasn’t quite the start we needed,” says Rossen. “We didn’t have our momentum, a flow going. We took some time away. It took a false start to get it going.”

“We thought the open desert of Texas would be the right place for us, but it wasn’t,” says Droste. “It was a worthwhile experience, but it was a false start. The living situation wasn’t ideal. It was June, in the middle of wild fires, black earth, 104 degrees every day. It’s a cool town, though. We gave that a whirl. We got a lot done there that we’re gonna have to redo.”

The band proceeded to take a break. Droste married his longtime partner in September and traveled extensively thereafter, including a trip to Asia. Rossen continued to work compulsively on his own songs, some of which appear on his new solo EP, Silent Hour / Golden Mile. Taylor continued to work on his CANT solo project and Terrible Records label, while Bear worked a bit with Fred Nicolaus of Department of Eagles on some of Nicolaus’ solo work.

“I had fun pretending for awhile that I wasn’t in a band. I had fun traveling, just not even thinking about music,” Droste admits. “I always have to clear my head to find my own inner writing spirit rather than like, listen to a thousand records and take pieces of inspiration from everything…. Pretending I wasn’t in a band actually was part of what made me excited to come back and do it, because I’d missed it. It was a fun little moment, not hearing from my manager, just doing my own thing.”

While Droste keeps a sanguine, cheery attitude about everything that’s gone down in the band’s camp over the past couple years, Rossen clearly has gone through periods of doubt.

“It was too much of a break, way too much of a break,” he confesses. “I can’t deal with that. I should’ve prepared more. I still kept busy.”

He continues: “We had this roll for a few years where we were recording and working together a lot all the time. We’d record, put it out, go on tour, come back and wait a few months and do it again. We had kind of a momentum and flow going, and then after that we sort of lost it. We stopped for a while and it was broken. That was a little bit shocking and for a while a little bit scary for me. And now we’ve gotten it back for sure.”

“We’re definitely all continually growing and changing,” says Droste. “And it’d be a lie if we said there weren’t growing pains. There are with all bands. It’s not that you’re growing apart or anything. You become more and more entrenched in your own life. You have to then reconnect with your band, and if you take a little break, there’s contact, but you don’t see each other every day, and you aren’t hitting the road, and jamming and chatting and playing. We have to find each other through the music again.”

“We went in all these different directions,” admits Rossen. “Now that we’ve met in the middle again, this is great. It took about six months to mesh back together again to where we were all reaching that kind of momentum, reach the level where it’s go, go, go. That’s why I feel like we’re just starting in that way. We just hit that level.”

“It’s been like its own journey,” says Droste. “I wouldn’t call it a struggle or a conflict, just a new approach. An approach that takes longer. It’s in the process of being very rewarding, and the thing is there’s never been any album we’ve released where there hasn’t been some type of struggle. It’s just a different kind of thing.”

The band is wary of revealing specifics regarding the record’s sound, and it becomes evident that they’re still figuring that out for themselves.

“We’re a little early in the stage,” says Droste. “We can’t be like, ‘There’s 11 tracks. This song’s about a penguin and it really means a lot to me.’”

Rossen learned to play a bevy of instruments for his solo EP, and his newfound prowess may or may not make it onto the new Grizzly Bear LP.

“Probably not as much with Grizzly Bear as with my EP. There might be some amateur cello. It’s interesting sounding. It sounds more like a Mellotron,” he says with a laugh.

“I feel like you’re better on keys now,” interjects Droste.

“If anything, there’s that,” admits Rossen. “Writing songs on guitar has been kind of boring to me. We’ve been doing so many piano-oriented, kind of rollicking songs, which has been kind of exciting to me.”

“The best way for me to write is on keys,” says Droste.

According to Rossen, the band’s members are vowing to use their trademark multi-part harmonies more economically.

“To me it can be a little bit of a crutch,” he says. “I want to use it when it counts and when it really fits the song.”

“But there will be harmonies,” Droste concedes, before admitting his subtle attempt to subvert his peerless vocal style. “I’ve been trying to sing differently and not the way that feels natural. Just not exactly the same long tone holds all the time. I went through a period where I was trying to flex my singing ability, and I want this record to have less of that. But the biggest surprise so far is actually our ability to powwow together more this time. Not that it was bad before. Before it was like Dan would bring things to the table, and some other people would bring things, but there’s no set way now. Anything can happen.”

With years of steady touring and releasing stellar records, the band built a following one brick at a time, in the mode of the classic bands of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Although they’re critically adored, the praise heaped upon them has never been of the flavor-of-the-month variety. They’re a band in the vein of Wilco or R.E.M. or Radioheadcomposed of formidable, protean parts cohering as a viscerally potent unit. And there’s a substantial, fervent audience eagerly anticipating their next move in 2012.

“I feel so grateful to be in a band with the people I’m in a band with, and still doing it, still excited with it, and growing at a pace that feels comfortable,” says Droste. “I’m relieved that we haven’t wallowed in obscurity, and also that we didn’t have a crazy overnight explosion where everyone knows you but you’ve only been a band for a few months. For me, it feels like the most comfortable way to establish a relationship with a fan base, to sort of like grow together instead of appearing out of nowhere and disappear, or just never appear at all.”

During the Manhattan interview, Droste is adamant in stressing that, with Taylor’s portable recording rig, they could find themselves anywhereoutside the city, at a family member’s house, or even near their home base in Brooklyn. He even comments that “I think we’re a pretty nomadic band. There’s really not a home base. Now that we’ve gone to Texas and done it, there’s no story about it. Unlike last time when it was like, ‘We went there and did it there’ with Veckatimest.’”

So it was a bit surprising to find out from Rossen 10 days later that the band had retreated to a small town in the Cape Cod area to once again immerse themselves in recording sessions.

“We’re comfortable here, since this is the same area where we worked on Veckatimest,” says Rossen via phone. “It’s just about finding a space where we can work fluidly again, and it’s going well.”

Perhaps it makes sense for the band, after some trial and error, to return to an area where they’re comfortable working, where they reaped their finest artistic achievement to date.

“Every time we come together as a band now, everyone’s just doing something new, maybe rethinking some idea they’ve had, and playing on something someone else brought in,” says Rossen. “The songs are building. They’re in the moment and really spontaneous. It’s gonna be really great, just a combination of old ideas and newer, more collaborative stuff.”

He sounds legitimately confident now, whereas during our earlier interview his words were often belied by his downcast tone and frustrated expressions. There’s no time frame for the completion of the album, or looming deadlines, which can be an albatross for bands as easily as a blessing.

“We’re taking some time this go-around,” says Rossen. “Our standards are raised every single time we make a record, so we want this to be our best one yet.”


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