he borough of Brooklyn is home to a steady supply of boys in their bedrooms thumbing through ProTools manuals and struggling to fulfill their Ted Leo dreams. Sometimes their music’s bad. Fans know that if you’ve heard one sadsack rocker ramble, you’ve heard it a zillion times. But occasionally, Brooklyn boys get catharsis just right. Take Grizzly Bear. With only two live performances and Horn of Plenty, a collection of muffled, melodic ballads under their belt, they’re about to become the most popular new band you’ve never heard of.
Lead singer Edward Droste, a doe-eyed twenty-five-year-old from Boston, recorded the album over the course of fifteen months in his apartment. The topics are standard-issue: old love, bad love, new love. But the delivery is remarkable — muffled vocals waft over found sounds and sometimes-psychedelic melodies that recall the melancholy of Nick Drake and Iron and Wine as well as the idiosyncratic warblings of Animal Collective.
After hooking up with Christopher Bear (yes, that’s his real name), who helped polish the sound and add vocals, the Grizzly Bear demo made the rounds in Brooklyn and Manhattan. A record deal, a Virgin Records listening station and a string of interview requests later, they’re suddenly busy bees. Nerve sat down with the band — drummer Christopher Taylor recently joined Grizzly Bear to round out the group — in Droste’s Greenpoint apartment to learn how they feel about “freak-folk,” and to determine, when, really, the time is right to pop in a Grizzly Bear disc. — Meghan Sutherland Ed, you started this project a while ago on your own, right?
Ed Droste: Yeah, at first it was a little therapeutic thing I did in my room. I just got ProTools and started recording songs and passing them around. And then Chris Bear came on and revamped. After we were done mastering, Chris Taylor came along. When I starting recording, I was in the middle of an intense, long relationship. The album talks about two relationships, but the majority of songs follow the decay of the old relationship. They’re kind of like confessional diaries. I’ve heard you don’t like the term “freak-folk,” the new genre that refers to bands like Animal Collective, Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart and Sufjan Stevens. You said you call it “cave core” and “wood tempo” instead.
ED: It was a joke, that’s totally a joke [all laugh].
Christopher Taylor: It’s because everyone’s talking about freak-folk lately. And that week there had been like three reviews or interviews or something about bands like Animal Collective, and they said things like, “There’s a newly deemed genre, it’s called ‘freak-folk.'”
ED: It’s just annoying. So I said my stuff is “wood tempo” or “cave core.” [laughs] I like the idea of it, you can sort of imagine somebody saying, “Let me out of this cave!” A lot has been happening with collectives and groups of bands with tons of side projects and people who are constantly morphing into new groups and playing with each other. Are you guys a part of a group like that?
CT: With some bands — take, for instance, Black Dice, Animal Collective and Gang Gang Dance — you can see why they’re buddies and why they play shows together. That’s not how it is for us. I don’t know of anybody like us, stylistically. Grizzly Bear is cluttered. It’s simple, yet with a lot of static-y noises and some psychedelic stuff. But not overwhelmingly noise-band style. We’re not a noise band. Yeah, Horn of Plenty is definitely more accessible than some of the more ambient, trippy, almost experimental albums out there. Was it a conscious decision to make more straightforward songs?
ED: I don’t think any of this was conscious. It was all so accidental. This was intended for myself originally. How many shows have you done?
ED: We did Rothko with Oxford Collapse for CMJ and we played at this bar in Williamsburg called Zebulon, and we performed on a radio show. I’m not used to performing, but the other guys have played around. Wow, so it’s still pretty new. But you have a lot of gigs planned in the next few months. What are the performances going to be like?
ED: We’re going down the psychedelic road. Have you heard Dungen, the Swedish album that everybody’s been freaking out about? It’s really good, super classic, ’60s-style guitar solos and psychedelic sounds — which is more entertaining for people. Horn of Plenty is nice to listen to at home or on your headphones, but for some bands, especially mellow bands, not so much when it’s live. We’re trying to liven up the live show. In your press kit it prominently states that Grizzly Bear is a straight-gay group. Who’s the gay here?
ED: I am, I’m gay. [he laughs] My label wanted me to put it in the press kit and I don’t care either way. As far as the music goes, there are gay elements to it, but I wouldn’t call it “gay music.” Some people said, “You don’t want to position this as gay music, because gay guys won’t like it!” [laughs] I think that some of them will, but there’s not really a cabaret, Rufus Wainwright element to Grizzly Bear. If you’re talking mainstream gay, that’s not what this is. My music is more like post-orgy, post-E-trip, when somebody says, “Man, let’s just put this Grizzly bear CD in.” While they’re totally mellowing out, mixing mimosas. [laughs] It’s not often that you hear about gay indie rock.
ED: I know, you don’t. But I’m totally here and queer. [laughs] I wouldn’t say it defines me. The album has gotten a lot of attention early on, considering that you haven’t played many shows or toured yet.
ED: We’ve been extremely lucky in getting press and attention. I got a note from a random fifteen-year-old today, who told me that he had his guitar teacher teach him the beginning of “Deep Sea Diver.” We have a Myspace profile and it’s actually super beneficial in terms of getting the word out. What does Grizzly Bear mean?
ED: Well it’s funny, because it’s a gay term — there are those guys they call “bears” — but that’s not what it is at all. It’s a combination of a nickname I used to call someone and I also think it’s a cool image. And I like that it’s just one grizzly bear. Although there’s a Panda Bear out there, too. There’s enough room for all the bears.
CB: I think there should be a bear convention, there’s also Seabear in Iceland, who is awesome.
CT: And there’s the whole wolf scene. There’s Wolf Eyes and Guitar Wolf. Whoa, showdown?
CT: Not showdown, just bro-down. n°
© 2004 Nerve.com.