The Butterflies effect
He’s been on the Grizzly Bear rollercoaster from day one, but singer Ed Droste still gets serious pre-gig jitters, he tells LAUREN MURPHY
You all took some much-needed time off after the huge success of your last album, Veckatimest
We chilled out for eight months, which was very nice, and when we were ready to reconvene again, we had a lot of new material – because I had gone with [drummer] Chris Bear to Mexico for a month to do a writing retreat, and Dan had been writing a lot of material, too. So we made a plan to go to Marfa, Texas, in June 2011, thinking we were gonna write and finish an album, but the weather was crazy – it was like 104 degrees, super-crazy wildfires in the region. We were thinking that a different environment would be kind of inspiring, but it was just the wrong time of year to be there. Ultimately what happened was that we really just needed some time to reacquaint ourselves with one another.
What happened during those sessions?
Well, we sort of faltered on while we were there, and recorded all these songs, but it felt sort of forced, like a false start. So we left there sort of discouraged, but by the time we left, we realised ‘OK, well we came here for a month, we recorded over a dozen songs . . . this is not the album, but we know where we stand.’ So we headed back to a familiar place – Cape Cod – a place we’ve been going to for a very long time, and all of a sudden, we started writing in new ways. The synergy was there and the momentum was there, and it was just really amazing.
Given Veckatimest’s success, it must have been a challenge not to repeat yourselves, knowing what your audience responded to, but Shields is much more of a slow-burner
Well, we’ve never really repeated ourselves in the past, and I think there’s an unspoken fear between us of becoming redundant and falling into some boring pattern of relying on the same sort of tricks. We were trying to challenge ourselves, trying to expand our musical palette and our songwriting skills, and as a result, I really think it’s our strongest album yet. I still think it sounds like us; I actually think it’s more accessible than Veckatimest, it just has a different energy to it. Veckatimest was much more sort of ethereal, this is more like, from the earth. But it wasn’t a super-conscious decision to shy away from it, just a desire to evolve and grow.
You took a different approach to recording the vocals on Shields . . .
In the past, we used to layer my vocals; so much so that there was zero chance of anyone hearing any imperfections, because there was like, five takes on top of each other. This time, on songs like The Hunt and Speak in Rounds, you can hear the cracking and idiosyncrasies of my voice because they’re one-take tracks. So that’s kind of refreshing, I guess. I feel like it opens up the album to the listener and makes it a lot more intimate.
Does that mean that you weren’t completely confident in your vocal ability before?
Y’know, I don’t think I fully was. Maybe if you interviewed me three years ago, I would have said I was – but I don’t think so. I still don’t think I’m 100 per cent comfortable in my role of being in the band. I mean, this is not something I grew up thinking I was going to do; I never performed publicly growing up, or sang, or did any of those things. There’s also a part of me that loves performing, but no matter what, I will never get used to the butterflies I have before a show, no matter how small or big. But I think those butterflies are important, because they also provide a sense of urgency and excitement to a performance, and they make sure I don’t get too lazy and just dial it in.
Maybe that explains why you haven’t followed in Chris and Daniel’s footsteps with your own solo project, although you contributed to Robin Pecknold’s EP last year
I just really love singing with other people, so if anyone ever asks me to sing with them – and I’m into what they’re doing – I usually take them up on the offer. I’ve been trying to do something with Matthew Dear, actually. We’ve been emailing back and forth and trying to find a time. Our schedules are so crazy, but we’re committed to doing a song together at some point. I don’t know when, or how it will be released, but it’ll happen.
* Shields is released on Warp Records on September 14th