Q&A with Grizzly Bear

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Grizzly Bear, purveyors of ethereal, experimental and thoroughly excellent indie-pop and stars of our music portfolio in February are currently playing a selection of UK dates. Most of them have been sold out forever, but our spies tell us there are a few seats available at Warwick Arts Centre on Friday. If you haven't already got tickets — or don't happen to be in Coventry — here’s a chance to feel involved via this extended interview with multi-instrumentalist/producer Chris Taylor [far left] and vocalist/guitarist Daniel Rossen [far right]. And don’t worry, they’ll be back.

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ESQUIRE: How do you all feel about performing live now?  I know Ed [Droste, joint lead vocalist, second from right] has talked about nerves.

CHRIS TAYLOR: I’ve been performing for a really long time. I get nervous, naturally, a little bit, but I think Ed had never performed so he had to play through some nerves.

ESQ: What about the banter? Is that getting easier?

CHRIS: Banter we don’t excel at.

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DANIEL ROSSEN: We’re not so good at the banter. It comes off as very serious. It’s funny because Ed is so outgoing and gregarious.

CHRIS: Ed is one of the funnier people I know but when he gets on stage he just goes away.

ESQ: I suppose there’s a lot of pressure on that one thing you say between songs…

CHRIS: Yeah right. Make that one sentence count. I was in the sauna today thinking about one time I said something about some sports victory I’d heard about; it was a big victory for the town and I was like, “So everybody, this is kind of cool?!” And then I thought, “I don’t even care about sports – why did I say that?!” There was nothing else to say.

ESQ: As your career progresses, are you finding you have less time to explore new cities?

CHRIS: More time, I find. The bus revolutionises the way a tour goes.

ESQ: What did you have before the bus?

CHRIS: A little van. Sometimes a station-wagon, sometimes a Foreigner SUV. I drove it. It was my car. It was two in the front, three on the bench in the back, just driving around in the snow for six weeks and sleeping on people’s floors the entire time.

ESQ: What were your early gigs like?

CHRIS: Our first show was crazy. You couldn’t even see all of us. You could see [Daniel] and Ed; me and [drummer, Chris] Bear [second from left in picture] were behind actual walls. The sound was crazy and we were going for all these vocal harmonies. It was so atonal it was not even possibly pretty.

ESQ: Do you think you have a reputation as being a serious band?

DANIEL: I think we do. People always think when we’re making records we’re sitting down and deliberating and theorising what we’re going to do, and then when you actually ask, “How did you do it?” We’re like, “It sounded good! We’re just having fun, we’re just trying to have a good time.”

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CHRIS: The funny thing is, Ed asked one of the guys in Phoenix, “How do you guys make music?” He was like, “We all sit in a room and wait until a song is ready.” They have the most light-feeling sound and that’s such a more intense way of doing things.

DANIEL: I feel it has a little bit to do with our stage presence! [Laughs.] I really do think that’s part of it. We either look upset or we look like we can’t face the crowd.

CHRIS: We don’t feel upset.

DANIEL: No, no, no. I think we just have a demeanour that’s very solemn on stage.

ESQ: Is that a bad thing?

CHRIS: I don’t think it is. I remember Kyp [Malone] from TV On The Radio — he’s a long time friend of ours, I used to make coffee with him — I remember saying to him, “Man, I hope you’re not bored, we’re not very much fun to watch.” This was years ago. He said, “I like watching you because you guys act like yourselves, you don’t do stage kicks and put it all on. You just act like normal people.” Maybe that’s what it is. That’s his description, but it’s better than people thinking we’re really upset – that would be really unfortunate ‘cos I’m not upset, I’m actually having a lot of fun.

ESQ: Did you all study music?

DANIEL: We all, at some point, studied music. Ed actually didn’t, but his family’s really musical. I think he did a lot of singing when he was a kid. He sings very properly actually, but I think that’s from experience.

CHRIS: We played jazz and I played in symphony for a long time too — we’re not sitting there with books deciphering codes and trying to find out the meaning of the golden triangle and that shit in the music.

ESQ: Were you studying music when you met at NYU?

CHRIS: Initially me and Bear were but we left that department to go do Audio Engineering. Geeky knobs and wires and stuff, synthesisers.

DANIEL: I’d studied jazz music theory. I went to a music high school, but then I decided I didn’t want to be a musician. I thought I’d figure something out, but didn’t really figure something out, so by the end of college I was just ready to write songs.

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ESQ: So you never had a masterplan to be in a band?

DANIEL: No, I thought it was a worthless pursuit, in a kind of angsty 18-year-old way. I thought it was never going to happen. I wanted to study other things any way, and I’m glad I studied other things, but Taylor and I lived together and he heard some of the very, very first songs I ever tried to do. Taylor and I, we’ve had a very intimate recording relationship…

CHRIS: He would borrow my microphone and I would come home from class and catch him recording and he’d be like, “Oh shit!” And try and hide everything. “Oh it’s nothing! Just my guitar here. Oh here’s your microphone back.”

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ESQ: And Daniel, you met Bear at jazz camp. What happens there? Or should we not ask…

DANIEL: It was a music camp, at a college outside Chicago. It was more of a programme but I always call it jazz camp because it sounds dorkier. Bear was like the virtuoso drummer of the programme. I always felt like he was too cool to talk to, and he randomly was friends with Taylor who I met at college. A weird thing.

ESQ: We hear you’re something of a “foodie” band.

CHRIS: We’re all into food. Not in a pretentious way, it’s the one activity we can all still enjoy together. It’s the one thing we all do.

DANIEL: It’s become a part of recording. We always take these trips outside of town often to places where we’ll really have no option but to be cooking every night. Especially the last one, the cooking challenges really ramped up. Last time Chris Bear was making his own pasta.

ESQ: As you mention, you’ve often headed upstate when recording your albums. Would you try an urban setting some time?

CHRIS: That method just works. I’ve tried recording in a studio and it just felt really weird. There’s a layer of glass and there’s all these people sitting on the other side of the glass on the couch, maybe listening, maybe not, probably talking about what’s in the news or something. Something about that feels really unnatural.

DANIEL: We do a lot of the arranging and building on the fly.

CHRIS: Like literally talking, “what about duh-duh-duh?” If you had to deal with glass and talk-back and stuff, that would just suck.

ESQ: Does that become harder to do the bigger you get and the more people get involved with what you do?

CHRIS: There’s not any more people involved.

DANIEL: We’ve never worked with a producer outside the band. I don’t think we ever could. It would be weird.

ESQ: Chris, as producer do you get the Simon Cowell vote in musical decisions?

CHRIS: No, no, no, no. I feel like most of what I try and do is just keep the vibe good, know when to move on. I’ve known Dan and Chris Bear for so long, that we work in a really idiosyncratic kind of way. Whenever other engineers come in I see it and I know – that’s making him feel uncomfortable.

DANIEL: That’s a huge part of our whole approach to making records: only record when you feel like recording; only put a part down when you really feel like it.

CHRIS: We got really good at keeping that consistent this time around. That made the whole record full of positive memories. The whole process for us was a very positive process. It was like, you’re only doing this when you want – as soon as you don’t want to you can go make pasta, you can go make a cocktail…

DANIEL: You can go for a walk.

CHRIS: Which is really nice.

ESQ: Is there a signature Grizzly Bear cocktail?

CHRIS: Bear’s pretty adventurous – the guy even makes his own bitters. He’s got a full range of bitters, like six varieties of  Bear’s bitters. Carraway, Lavender… Different herbal infusions, orange bitters. He’s very talented and he’s very prolific as a cocktail guy, so there’s no telling what he’ll make next. We’re all open to experimentation, we let him follow his muse.

For news and tour updates visit www.grizzly-bear.net