Grizzly Bear are an inescapable force in indie music today. The New York-based four piece started five years ago as the solo project of Ed Droste, a tall drink of water with an angelic singing voice and an “air of geeky suaveness” (according to New York magazine). Nowadays, the band’s music is the result of a much more collaborative effort. Their third album, Veckatimest, is hotly-anticipated and promises to be a sonic cauldron of boyish choral harmonizing, prog rock and summery pop vibes.
We recently spoke with Grizzly Bear founding member/omgblog.com tipster Ed Droste about his band’s new album, the therapeutic effects of his music, gay photo shoots and so much more. Read the full Q&A after the jump.
On your Twitter feed, you eluded to a crazy wild photo shoot that you did with Peaches and Amanda Blank. What’s up with that?
I did that for Out… They were there basically to do the ‘hot’ issue and it was just the scheduling. I turned up and it was Peaches and Amanda Blank and it was pretty funny. I’d met Peaches before through Feist and she’s really nice. They were all glammed up and I was dressed really conservatively so I was basically like the referee. I have no idea how it’s going to look.
Do you do a lot of gay photo shoots?
No, not really. How many gay magazines are there? There’s Out and I did Butt once. Basically Out calls once every 15 months and goes, ‘hey let’s do something.’
Do you have a lot of gay fans?
Generally our audiences are mixed and I think a lot of people don’t even know I’m gay because it doesn’t come up in the straight media that much. It’s not at the forefront of the music, nor is it something where I need to be [lisps] ‘EXCUUUUUUUUUUUUSE ME! I need to talk about something here!’
The new album is called Veckatimest. Is it named after the place where you recorded it?
It’s named after an uninhabited speck of an island seriously the size of, if not smaller than, a city block. And we were on the mainland near that island and we spent a lot of time there. We recorded there, we rehearsed there in the past, it’s near my grandmother’s house. We just got into the topography of it and we liked the name, it fit with the weird, abstract artwork that we were going with. It conjured up good vibes so we went with it.
What was your approach to the new album? Do you start from a particular idea or concept?
We don’t really write theme records, so there’s not. What’s different about it is it’s way more collaborative, everyone was way more involved in the songwriting process, which was a new to us and I think sonically it’s way more dynamic than Yellow House. Yellow House was a dream frequency, it just sort of floated by. This can be really prog-y and rocky and be really stripped down in a way Yellow House wasn’t. This [sound] goes up and down more and is a bit more dynamic, which I think is cool.
Is that because all members were more involved in the process?
Yeah and because I think we’ve matured in our songwriting and we’re interested in having a more diverse album. And also just the recording techniques that we used accentuated drums and vocals more than last time around.
Your music has a lot of blended vocals and harmonizing. Is that your influence?
Dan [Rossen] and I are the main singers but everybody in the band can sing and I think that we really enjoy that feeling where everyone locks together and gets into it and can harmonize. It’s pretty awesome when that happens because it can be a challenge to do a four-part harmony. We really enjoy the challenge of doing that. It adds a lot of textures to have multiple voices instead of just one, and we’re definitely into having a textured type of atmosphere.
Grizzly Bear performs their new single “Two Weeks” on British chat show Later with Jools Holland.
What were your musical influences growing up?
I didn’t go to school for music so it’s a totally random thing that I ended up becoming a musician. I find the influence question to be very difficult and impossible to answer and I’ve sort of come to terms with that recently. It’s one of the most common questions that people ask.
Your influences are everything you’ve ever heard… I don’t know exactly what it is that influenced me. It’s this subconscious thing where everything you’re experiencing is brewing in you to a certain degree and that can be the same thing with things you really hate. I feel like I’m equally influenced by things I hate.
What kind of things do you hate?
I really don’t like lyrics that are telling a story that clearly was not experienced by the singer and that’s just my own personal preference. It feels disconnected and pointless to me to listen to someone sing about whaling and or some weird antiquated thing that they clearly never did.
What if it’s the opposite and the lyrics are really literal and emotive?
I can get into those way more. The way I write lyrics is they’re very personal but they’re also a bit vague so they can apply to people when they’re listening. I like really explicit personal lyrics too. One of my favorite albums of all time is Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville ? some of the details in those songs are super explicit.
CLICK TO PLAY:
DOWNLOAD MP3: “He Hit Me” by Grizzly Bear
What albums are you digging right now?
I’m loving the new Phoenix album. I’m on a crazy addictive spree but I’m worried I’m going to burn out on it.
I read an interview with Nick Cave recently and the reporter asked him about licensing music for advertising. He said that he’s all for making money, but added that certain songs ? namely “Into My Arms” ? he could never license because they mean so much to people; they play them at funerals and weddings. Nowadays bands are expected to license everything from the get-go, so I wonder if kids growing up now will have the same experience with music as people in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.
I think it’s true. I think there’s a lack of collective consciousness now about a song or a big hit song because people are overexposed. There’s too much shit to sort through, and I’m not complaining because the Internet has given us our audience and it’s great. The reason that we’re even doing this interview is because our music spread on the Internet through blogs. I think 20 years ago we wouldn’t have been given a record deal.
The majority of albums are things you need to grow with. Obviously if something you listen to rubs you the wrong way, turn it off. It’s not like you have to give everything in the world a chance. But when you can download any album you want, it’s hard to have those moments ? it becomes harder to create a connection to an album because, I think, people’s attention spans are shorter. I’m speaking from experience: just recently I was like, holy shit people have given me way too many albums. I was trying to listen to them and process them, and the second I’d get into the zone of one, someone would be like, ‘here’s another album.’ I had to stop my self from over-consuming.
Are you worried that will happen with your new album?
There’s just nothing you can do about it. I don’t think we’re a super immediate band that you instantly get… A lot of fans have come up and said, I really didn’t get you or like you or thought you were boring at first, but a year later it totally clicked and now you’re one of my favorite bands. I’m not trying to sound arrogant but that’s really exciting because to hear it means hopefully there’s longevity to the music.
Is there a particular song that your fans have taken to?
Not in a collective way, not in the way you’re referring to, in that classic, everyone knows it and that song is in the collective consciousness. Just on a personal level, like ‘I just broke up with my boyfriend.’
Can you tell me any fan testimonial stories?
A lot of the stories are really sad and a lot of them have to do with death. A lot of the emails we get are, ‘your album is helping me get through a really bad time.’ I write back and say thank you but I don’t want to write back and say like, ‘what’s the bad time?’ I don’t want to pry. Generally it’s sickness, family death, break ups and those kinds of things. [laughs] I don’t want to say we’re a morose band, but I guess melancholy music helps you get through melancholy times.
Grizzly Bear’s new album Veckatimest comes out on May 26. North American tour dates below:
May 24 – Portland, OR @ Aladdin Theatre ^
May 25 – George, WA @ Sasquatch Music Festival
May 26 – Vancouver, BC @ Commodore ^
May 28 – New York, NY @ Town Hall #
May 29 – New York, NY @ Town Hall #
May 31 – Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg #
June 1 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club #
June 2 – Philadelphia, PA @ Trocadero #
June 3 – Boston, MA @ Berklee Performance Center #
June 4 – Montréal, QC @ Le National #
June 5 – Toronto, ON @ The Phoenix #
June 7 – Minneapolis, MN @ Cedar Cultural Center #
June 8 – Milwaukee, WI Pabst Theatre #
June 9 – Bloomington, IN Buskirk-Chumley #
June 11 – Carrboro, NC @ Cats Cradle #
June 12 – Manchester, TN @ Bonnaroo
June 13 – Atlanta, GA @ Tabernacle *
June 15 – Dallas, TX @ Granada #
June 16 – Austin, TX @ The Parish #
June 18 – Tucson, AZ @ Centennial Hall $
June 19 – Los Angeles, CA @ Wiltern #
June 21 – San Francisco, CA @ Fillmore #
July 19 – Chicago, IL @ Pitchfork Music Festival
October 2 – Austin, TX @ Austin City Limits Festival
# w/ Here We Go Magic
* w/ TV on the Radio
^ w/ Foreign Born
$ w/ Wilco