Chin up, cheer up: interview with Chris Bear of Grizzly Bear
It sweeps over you like a summer wave, ebbing and cresting. Or it's the soundtrack to an alien abduction, limp limbs trapped in the gravitational pull of something transcendent. Or it's a headphone dirge for a swamp of lost souls. Whatever, I don't know how to describe it. Yellow House is the kind of album that makes adjectives irrelevant but you helplessly stack them up anyway, in case one of them will stick. Here goes: gorgeous, pastoral, layered, ethereal, urgent, transportive, soulful, sweeping.
It all started with a suddenly single Ed Droste a few years back. In the spirit of all great bedroom art, he was more interested in catharsis than a record deal, channeling his post-breakup pain through ProTools. Droste brought in Chris Bear for some late-hour assists and so Horn of Plenty was born. With the subsequent additions of Chris Taylor and Daniel Rossen to round out the sound, Grizzly Bear reemerged as a foursome and soon embarked on recording their follow-up.
Their second album, Yellow House, has been floating around for months, slowly dismantling everyone it touched. Since it first appeared, bloggers have seemed near-illiterate trying to express how affecting it is. And so we retreat to the shelter of superlatives (album of the year assertions not rare at all) and back to the thesaurus, hoping maybe this time we'll nail it. But how do you pin down a sound that's simultaneously intimate and epic, traditional and experimental, down-to-earth and stratospheric? How do you explain the sadness, hope, power, vulnerability, delicacy rooted in it like gold ore? Eventually, if you're wise, you just give up. You give in the music, which says it all and much more eloquently. Or better yet, you can get drummer and sometimes-vocalist Chris Bear to do the talking. So slip on your headphones, fall in love and check out my interview with Bear:
NL: Clearly, Yellow House is very different from Horn of Plenty. What are the big changes in play?
CB: The biggest change is that we actually became a band. Chris T., Daniel, and I basically came into Grizzly Bear after Horn of Plenty was already finished. I helped Ed tie up some loose ends with Horn of Plenty, but that record was pretty much all him. Getting together the band for the live show changed things quite a bit, in terms of dynamics and instrumentation used. The songs were quite simple and open ended so it left a lot of room for interpretation, which was great because it allowed us to get a band sound happening and working a very reactionary level. Then Yellow House changed even more because we were working with new songs and reacting in different ways. A lot of the songs are composed by Daniel and the way that he writes brings out another side of how the band interacts. In general, having four people with different ideas and strengths has changed our sound the most.
NL: You seem to enjoy self-producing in houses versus the studio route. You even go so far as to celebrate that fact with your new album title. What's the advantage of recording in a house and doing production yourselves?
CB: I think the biggest advantage is just flexibility... being able to work at any time of the day and not be dependent on studio hours. A lot of the stuff we'd end up recording was really late at night after voices had really warmed up or after properly loosening up at our religious cocktail hour. Also, self-producing makes it a little more comfortable to try things out and toy with different sounds for a long time. After the initial basic tracking month, a lot of things were added individually by everyone and a lot of those sounds were very time intensive. I couldn't imagine doing some of those things with everyone around or feeling like you're on the clock at a studio.
NL: Why the remix CD for Horn of Plenty? Can we expect something similar for Yellow House? Are you planning on doing any more remixes for other artists?
CB: The remixes for HOP started because Kanine was going to rerelease the album with better distribution but need some sort of "bonus" to make it happen. It was kind of Ed's pet project. He basically just emailed a lot of people and luckily most of them were down to do it. Everyone was very gracious for participating. I don't think the same will happen for Yellow House... at least to level that it did for HOP, not every song, but there are some in the works. Chris T. and I did a remix for Of Montreal, and that was really fun. I'd be interested in doing some more. It is a fun way to think about music.
NL: Did any of the Horn of Plenty remixes affect your sound either live or recorded?
CB: Hmm.... I don't think we've necessarily changed our songs as a result of any of the remixes. But Final Fantasy did some strings on Yellow House as a result of the relationship we developed through the remix project.
NL: A lot of major blogs have really gotten behind the new album and you yourselves have a pretty great blog promoting music you like. How much effect do you think music blogs have on getting the word out?
CB: Blogs and the Internet in general are incredibly effective in terms of getting your music out there. It's kind of scary how quickly some bands come out of nowhere and blow up, primarily from gathering buzz on the Internet. But I'm very happy with the response and that people are excited about the music we make.
NL: Yellow House has lately supplanted Kid A as my go-to album for night driving. What activities do you suggest pairing your music to?
CB: Oh wow... Replacing Kid A is pretty epic-- that is a pretty great night drive album. I guess Yellow House works as a nighttime album. For some reason, I sort of associate it with chips, salsa and cocktails, late afternoon... but that has very little to do with the music. That was just ritual during the first month we started the record.
NL: Speaking of activities, I read about a laser light show you did in Seattle? What was that like?
CB: Man... that was totally amazing. Probably one of the coolest places we've ever played. I just wish we could have watched the whole show... but it was hard to look up at the ceiling the whole time. Everyone said the laser technician did a great job working with the music.
NL: Horn of Plenty seemed very much like a breakup album, a heartbreak album. Does Yellow House have any similar overarching motivations?
CB: I don't think so... Personally, I feel like we were all just learning to play and interact with each other.
NL: If Chris T. could cut anyone's hair, who would he pick?
CB: He said Andy Warhol.... he's always had pretty awesome hair.
NL: What is your favorite trend or development in music as of late?
CB: Screwed and chopped shit.
NL: I've never seen you in concert before, but I'll be there on Sept. 29th at The Independent. What can I expect from the Grizzly Bear live experience?
CB: Well, it is very different from the first album. Any songs we play from Horn of Plenty will sound totally different... much more dynamic and fleshed out. A lot of the things from Yellow House are have changed in the live show too... we just worked out a live version of "Little Brother" that is more stone groove/classic rock song.
NL: Is there a tangible difference between American audiences and international ones? Where would you most like to play that you haven't played yet?
CB: I think international audiences are more curious perhaps. People are more likely to come up, introduce themselves, and ask questions or just talk about what they thought of the music. Also, more people want autographs internationally which is funny to me. I'd really love to play in Brazil and Australia some day.
NL: Rave about three artists or albums from 2006 everyone should check out.
CB: Dirty Projectors - I know he has been around for a while, but I discovered his music in 2006. I liked what I had heard before, but then we played with him in Canada and I was sold. His live show was incredible. I love how ambitious his music is, yet at the same time it is totally palatable and poppy. His choice of instruments, arrangements, voice, melodies.... all totally incredible and inspirational. [Ed. note-- Dirty Projectors are opening for Grizzly Bear at the Bowery Ballroom on September 26th. A good chance to catch them both.]
Wyrd Visions - I had never heard them until the first show of a Canadian tour we did with them and Final Fantasy. Colin [Bergh] has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard... pure, delicate and unaffected. It's kind of like Chet Baker if he made dark, nordic folky music.
Danava - I think their music is finally going to be properly released by Kemado soon. These dudes from Portland are so serious. I'm not really that much of a metalhead, but they are amazing. Kind of Black Sabbath/T. Rex but more acid metal like Hawkwind or something. I got to see them live and it was so great. One of the loudest shows i've ever seen, but I couldn't bring myself to put earplugs in.
Grizzly Bear take over the streets of Paris with "Knife"
* MP3: "On A Neck, On A Spit" - Grizzly Bear from Yellow House [Buy it]
* MP3: "Don't Ask (Final Fantasy Remix)" - Grizzly Bear from Horn of Plenty: The Remixes [Buy it]
* MP3: "Deep Sea Diver" - Grizzly Bear from Horn of Plenty [Buy it]
* Band Website: Grizzly Bear
* Upcoming Tourdates:
8 - Brighton, England, Audio
9 - Isle of Wight, England, Bestival
26 - New York, NY, Bowery Ballroom $
28 - Los Angeles, CA, Spaceland
29 - San Francisco, CA, The Independent
1 - Eugene, OR, WOW Hall #
2 - Portland, OR, Wonder Ballroom %
3 - Vancouver, British Columbia - Commodore Ballroom %
4 - Seattle, WA - Showbox %
7 - Fargo, ND - Playmakers Pavilion %
8 - Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue %
9 - Chicago, IL - Metro %
10 - Detroit, MI - Saint Andrew's Hall %
12 - Toronto, Ontario - Opera House Concert Venue %
13 - Montreal, Quebec - Le National %
14 - Boston, MA - Paradise Rock Club %
19 - Washington, DC, 9:30 Club %
20 - Baltimore, MD, Sonar Lounge %
21 - Philadelphia, PA - Starlight Ballroom %
$ with Dirty Projectors, Stars Like Fleas
# with Man Man
% with TV On The Radio