Grizzly Bear - by Stephanie R. Myers
a soundtrack for your winter hybernation

Bearing the New Musical Torch: Grizzly Bear Tells All

Over mint juleps, Cobb salad, orange juice and coffee, Grizzly Bear (Ed Droste, Christopher Bear and Christopher Taylor) is sitting deep in the heart of Williamsburg in Diner, animatedly discussing everything from Huey Lewis and Pet Sounds to Scottish folk songs and crunchy hippies.
The eclectic conversation is reflective of the warm, cozy disconnect of their debut album, Horn Of Plenty (released Nov. 9 by Kanine Records), a conglomeration of "found" sounds and soft atmospheric soundscapes. Droste and Bear (Bear joined, coincidentally, after Droste had named the band) collaborated on the first album, and Taylor joined afterward. The trio now does live performances as a unit, and all three are writing new songs together.

SRM: How do you go about songwriting? What's the process?

Chris Bear: It's a two-part process. We first started with Ed's songwriting and then we kind of refurbished the songs.

Ed: It's like the recordings started off initially as my own recording and then Chris Bear came along, and then the live show with Chris Taylor came along and now we all write music together. But this first album is only us two (Bear and Ed), but now for live shows and everything it's Chris Taylor and for writing future stuff.

SRM: Are you working on a second album right now?

Ed: We're starting to write new material. That process is becoming much different than how the first album started.

SRM: What struck me on the album is that the music would be home at everywhere from an art gallery to a goth club. You describe it on your Web site as "electro-organic" and why do you think the atmospheres it creates are so diverse?

Chris Taylor: I think that's part of the psychedelic aesthetic, and we're into that. Just creating landscapes.

Ed: It's a lot of chance sounds. Those songs are like, the piece of a week, like maybe one or two days. I think that there were just outside noises that I would somehow integrate in and for whatever reasons that day, the sounds would be different, the feel would be different. I think it kind of captures of that, like, right there. As opposed to taking all of your songs into a studio and recording them all together. I think it flows well, but it is sort of mish-mashy, because they do span about 15 months, and they're not in order, and they all got a reworking. But not reworked in a sense that they were smoothed over and would sound the same, they were enhanced more.

Chris B.: I think what makes those original recordings interesting is that I'd be listening to it when I was mixing it and I'd isolate one of his vocal tracks, and I'd hear like a bus going by or something. I could have taken that and said "Okay, well, there's an outside noise and I'm going to make it cleaner" but I think it makes it a lot more interesting. I think more of the atmosphere comes from those little oddities that are left in there, which are not intentionally low fi but just placed where the songs were conceived and come from, because the album was done in his bedroom. And I think that's what makes the album warm and inviting. It's not a cold studio environment.

Ed: The songs are melancholic, but they're cozy. It's kind of a moody album, but it's definitely not sterile and distant, it's personal. The vocals are kind of hushed at times. The reason I called it electro-organic because there's a lot of things on there that people might be like "oh is that a sample, or is that a beat, or is that a crazy electronic filter?" For the most part, they're all sounds I just got from my room or from my apartment or around. And maybe they've been edited a little bit, but it's all done by hand. It's just basically manipulating lots of different instruments. My metal desk in my bedroom was used for percussion-clapping, vocals, just making them not sound exactly like maybe they would normally sound.

SRM: Certain songs on the album, like "Merge," reminded me about the multilayered sound of Pet Sounds.

Ed: There's a lot of vocal layering. I used my handheld tape recorder a lot, and doubled them up so they were layered.

Chris T.: Putting things in there? It adds lots of different colors and textures to it. Otherwise you have a guitar and somebody singing and that's cool too, but sometimes you want something a little more colorful.

Chris B.: I think what sets this apart from what Pet Sounds is about is that they purposely put in a train sound, or for the Smile recording, they purposely put barn animal sounds and placed them in there, whereas most of the sound effects that you hear on Horn Of Plenty are things that kind of worked their way into...

Ed:...placed strategically after they were there. A lot of them are coincidental. If it sounded cool in one part, and we wanted to unify it, we might use that sound again. And then there are some things that are just there. Like a click sound. Like my watch alarm is in there and no one hears it, but I hear it every single time.

SRM: I hear your families are a big part of your musical influences. Can you tell me how that influenced you into adulthood?

Chris B.: My dad's a musician, so since I was very young, I was always messing around on his bass, and keyboards, and always listening to music, and it's always been a part of my life. Definitely my father raised me and turned me on to great music and my family has always been very supportive.

SRM: What kind of albums did your parents play for you?

Chris B.: I think the first singer I was really into was Huey Lewis. But my dad played me a lot of stuff. I grew up on a lot of Frank Zappa and a lot of Led Zeppelin and he also started hipping me to a lot of jazz stuff. I just remember the first time he played me this Coltrane album, Infinity. He was like "you're going to think this is really weird right now, but I think someday you're going to really appreciate this album." And now it's an album I totally cherish. So yeah, he raised me on a lot of things.

Ed: My family is really, really musical in a totally different genre. My mom's a music teacher for kids and my grandfather is the head of music department at Harvard for like 40 years. My aunt's a celloist. I think I was raised a lot more on Scottish folk songs. Weird, country-tinged things that were folky, or weird songs about shearing sheep. My family is super New England-y in an old school kind of way, like a Scottish background way. My grandfather's very classically inclined as is my aunt. My dad was the one who brought pop albums into the house. My dad brought in, you know, typical '80s records. Yeah, definitely didn't have him being like "you're gonna love this Zeppelin record, man!" They were former hippies, but of a different kind. They were a lttle more farmy-crunchy or something. What do you call that? Crunchy? Do crunchy hippies listen to Scottish folk songs?

Chris T.: I guess my dad got me excited about music. The music that he showed me-later Beatles stuff, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin , Crosby Still Nash and Young, especially Neil Young lately which I've come to have an incredibly meaningful relationship with just because it was something my dad listened to all the time. I guess the music he listened to when he was a kid has come to mean to most to me when I'm his age. Even though it's kind of classic, that style of songwriting. Just in general, just a real sense of-not to sound hippie-ish or '60s-ish, but a sense of freedom-they just felt okay with going for something. That always turned me on right away. It plays a part in everything from the way I write songs to the way I perform to the way I mix music-I think about that stuff constantly. So yeah, just stuff he listened to when he was a kid. My mom was always into lame music, like Neil Diamond. Everything that I would like, she would hate. But whatever I would play, she would love. That was a big thing, she was very, very supportive. Whatever I did, she was just into it. That was very encouraging, because I've always had to deal with self-defeat, like "oh, it's not good enough," but my mom always dug it, so I would keep going, and eventually, it would sink in. Just that realization of family support even though I didn't believe it at first. And even though I didn't understand the music my dad showed me when I was young-it's all coming into fruition now. All of those things, I'm actually digesting those ideas they put in me a long time ago. It had a long half-life, but I think it's working out now.

SRM: Where do you see Grizzly Bear in five years?

Ed: It would nice to have a solid following. I don't see it exploding into wild-it's just not a mainstream type of sound.

Chris T.: I'd be excited if we did a record a year at least, just a lot of output. By five years, to have a solid discography that's real eclectic and that we're very proud of, that would be fantastic.

Ed: We're already sounding different too. I already see things changing and that awesome 'cause it would be kind of weird if we went back and replicated the exact same sounds on the first album, because it's such a moment in that time. It would be too deliberate to go back and be like "Okay, let's keep all the random sounds-let's just record it in the street!"

Chris B.: I hope that we're still moving forward and progressing our sound. As far as plans, I don't know. I'm along for the ride, you know. We're excited about it right now, you know. It's hard to think about what's going to happen. Definitely still making stuff. Regardless of the size of audience.

SRM: What are your desert island albums?

Chris B.: Neil Young On The Beach, for sure.

Ed: I think I would have to say a Pixies album. Doolittle, maybe.

Chris T.: I'd say In Utero, and the Animal Collective Dance Manity, and definitely a Neil Young record, couple would be good maybe Everybody Knows, 'cause we'd all be on the desert island island together, so Chris would have On The Beach.

Ed: Man, I gotta bring some jams or something.

Ed notices the mint julep he ordered has arrived.

Ed: Oh my god, this just magically appeared.

Chris T.: Ok, so Grizzly Bear loves drinking, um, occasionally we smoke cigarettes. Fairly healthy diet plan, very little sodas, lots of salt, little yeast.

Ed: You guys are so healthy.

Chris T.: I had a deep fried turkey for Thanksgiving once.

SRM: What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Ed: We are aspiring musicians.

SRM: Well, those who might not even have an album.

Chris T.: Just go for it. It doesn't matter. If you have the spirit, it carries through. If you don't, then it doesn't.

Chris B.: If you really believe in it, you just have to go for it.

Ed: Tenacity!

Chris B.: Do performances regardless.

SRM: Why do you think the landscape of music has changed so dramatically in the past couple of years to this assembly line of pre-packaged pop artists? Why do you think it's changed into this mindset of "oh yeah, Hilary Duff, she's an artist"?

Chris B.: Who's Hilary Duff?

Ed: I think there's just always like, a place for those people. I don't see it as a problem, you know. It's actually a little bit encouraging. I remember in the early '90s, there was a lot of cool music coming out, like Nirvana and the Breeders and stuff that broke through. And then in the late '90s, there was nothing. It became all about Limp Bizkit and Creed, and that was the only rock option. And then all of the sudden-- it's kind of annoying-- but you have to admit it's better than nothing. Like the whole Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I don't know, some people still think of them as New York indie, but no way, they're all Buzzclips and playing the MTV Music Awards and whatever. At least there's now a little bit of a market for those somewhat more interesting bands.

Chris B.: I think there's still this pop star-rebel mentality. Take anyone who has enough money and a pretty face and market them. I feel like there's more of a choice for young people to be into new music by the nature of the Internet.

SRM: What's next on the agenda for Grizzly Bear?

Chris T.: A tour, write new songs, get ready to record the second record. If we can both of those things at the same time, I think that'd be perfect.

The first strains of Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale" comes on.

Chris B.: Can I be on a desert island with Nico?

SRM: What's your favorite Deli in New York City?

Chris T.: Red Apple, north 8th and Bedford.

Ed: I like my Deli in Greenpoint.

Chris B.: We have a close relationship with our deli woman. She loves us.

Ed.: I don't like the name of our deli, it's called God Bless Deli. But the guys that work there are really nice, and they're open all night.

Chris B.: Our deli lady is kind of grumpy sometimes, but it's always fun to try to get her crack a laugh. One time I walked in there and she stuck a cigarette in my mouth and lit it. She's so awesome. I don't know if she felt like I just really needed a cigarette or what.

Chris T.: I have to say I'm definitely close with the health food store people, they're very friendly. Next door to the Red Apple. I would have to say both of them equally.

SRM: Anything you'd like to add?

Chris B.: I give good hugs.

Ed: He's a Bear. That's totally coincidental.

Chris B.: Probably when I was in eighth on ninth grade, I was starting to write a bunch of solo stuff, and I was either going to call it Polar Bear or Grizzly Bear.

Ed: No way.

Chris B.: You didn't know this?

Grizzly Bear hash brownie = psychedeliasalad = folk/countrysoup = rock banana = prime NYC music
"Horn of Plenty" (Kanine Records)

listen to: "deep sea diver"

what it is a conglomeration of "found" sounds and soft atmospherics.
reminding of Animal Collective, Syd Barrett, Nick Drake, some of Brian Eno's softest episodes (post-Roxy Music)