Since I am thoroughly unreliable in my posting habits (see: 10 hour work days with 50 five-year-olds and a 10pm bedtime), a friend of mine, Miss Claire (not my girlfriend Claire but also cool) Wasserman, has asked if she could guest blog every once and a while for the next few weeks. I went to high school with Claire, and she’s currently attending Boston University, where she just finished her sophomore year. She’s working in LA for the summer, and has been given the opportunity to see, review, and interview a few solid bands, including Feist and Sonic Youth. Just recently, she caught up with the members of the up-and-coming GvB favorites, Grizzly Bear. Check it out.
“I thought that when Rolling Stone came to interview us, that meant we had made it. But I was still broke.” –Chris Taylor, Grizzly Bear
Post-orgy, post-make out, and post-drug trip, Grizzly Bear is the band for you. With lush vocals and eerie harmonies, listening to Grizzly Bear is like entering another world, an alternate universe where psychedelic polka-rock rules.
Grizzly Bear recently concluded their tour with Feist, a cross-country promotion of their sophomore album Yellow House. After their performance at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, I spoke with band member Chris Taylor who is the group’s jack-of-all-trades, responsible for the bass, woodwinds, electronics, and vocals (though he describes himself only as a “professional flute player” according to his Myspace page).
Though he looks like a rock star with the requisite tattoos and shaggy hair, Taylor was disarmingly genuine and honest. He was candid about in-band tension as he reflected on the inevitable frustrations that accompany their democratic and collective writing process.
Taylor acknowledged GB’s steadily increasing exposure and critical acclaim but he is reticent to admit that they have ‘made it’. GB is still very much in the beginning stages with their following largely composed of the Facebook crowd and coffeehouse hipsters. Though they have been written up in such magazines as Rolling Stone and Spin, Taylor was frank about the disconnect between positive reviews and positive cash flow, “I thought that when Rolling Stone came to interview us, that meant we had made it. But I was still broke.” When I suggest that ‘making it’ could be measured by things other than financial success, Taylor agreed that while they have yet to make a profit, he is encouraged by the creative and artistic progress they have made.
Wholly distinct in sound and instantly recognizable, Grizzly Bear stands out as one of the truly unique bands currently on the music scene. GB is musically all over the board with strains of polka, country, and gospel. Taylor discussed the difficulty of creating original music while inevitably being influenced by other musicians. Instead of shying away from the influences of other artists, Taylor argued the importance of embracing them, “Don’t be scared of being influenced by other artists. The key is in the details, like incorporating the way Pink Floyd’s drum sounds in a certain part or the way Neil Young makes transitions. It’s all about the details.”
Grizzly Bear, which began as lead singer Ed Droste’s personal project, has been called everything from “Modest Mouse on sedatives” to “Neil Young on cough syrup”. Taylor, who doesn’t read his own press, laughs when I tell him about how journalists struggle to pinpoint GB’s sound. Though Droste doesn’t like the term psychedelic because it places a label on the band, Taylor doesn’t mind it. In fact, Taylor welcomes any publicity as long as it leads to more money in the bank. Taylor is not a sell-out, nor is he driven by money; he is merely realistic about the difficulty to survive in an industry ravaged by pirated music and rapidly diminishing album sales. However, Taylor is heartened by the positive feedback GB has received, especially the surprising popularity of their breakout hit, Knife and its ensuing covers and mash-ups (Recommended are versions by Girl Talk and Born Ruffian).
What makes Grizzly Bear simultaneously exciting and frustrating is their constant build-up of anticipation with multiple crescendos and very few releases. The beauty of GB is that they force you to listen carefully; the audience at the Wiltern stood in rapt attention as Droste’s choir-boy vocals echoed throughout the theater. At the end of the concert, even celeb attendees Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen had to give them a standing ovation. Grizzly Bear certainly deserves it
Thanks to Claire for taking the time to write up her experiences with the band. Stay tuned for more interviews, and more general posts from Claire in the near future. Also check out a few Grizzly Bear tracks, which I’m sure most of you have heard before:
Zack & Claire