'Touring removes you from life; you lose a lover or four'
In the five years since their last album, life has changed for Grizzly Bear: new town, new relationships, new label and new album ‘Painted Ruins’
Five years since the release of Shields, and the Grizzly Bear team are rising out of hibernation. Slowly, though. On a glorious day in London, frontman Ed Droste arrives at the designated hotel lobby a little on the tardy side – not that we’d noticed, as producer/multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor is telling us about their return to the promo trail. It feels like the first day of term.
It’s their first steps into the working world after a lengthy break. They had earned that, after 10 years spent building their name from experimental Brooklyn hipster band to purveyors of baroque-pop anthems of the lowest key, among them Yet Again and the ubiquitous Two Weeks.
“It’s super healthy and important to take time away,” says Droste, explaining the gap. “And actually it’s a year where all these bands that disappeared are coming back: Feist, Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem . . . we’re on the shorter end. I’m wondering why they took time out.”
“Those bands were all touring hard so they probably also needed a break,” Chris Taylor responds. “It starts to get weird when you start to lose touch with your friends and your family; you might lose a lover or four. I remember seeing older people in bands, and you could tell that they’d lost close ties to their friends and family. Touring removes you from real life, and you start to feel unhuman.”
On their proverbial summer holidays, Taylor kept himself busy producing acts such as Kishi Bashi (formerly of Of Montreal) and releasing solo material under the guise of Cant. He published the cookbook Twenty Dinners, lived in Berlin, moved to LA and built a studio.
Divorced for reality
For Droste’s part, he joined Taylor in LA (they’re now neighbours), while also dealing with an upheaval in his personal life: in 2014 he divorced his husband of three years, “but he’s with a fantastic guy now,” Taylor adds, patting Droste with fraternal affection.
“It was for the best,” says Droste. “I wanted to get divorced, but it doesn’t matter what side of the coin you’re on, it’s the end of something. That was heavily on my mind for a year, and then you move on and you deal. Thank god it didn’t happen during a tour or making an album. It happened when I had the time to process it appropriately and properly mourn it.”
Was creating Painted Ruins a cathartic experience for him? “I think writing music throughout my life has been cathartic,” Droste says. “It’s not always hyper-explicit, but there’s something about getting it out of your system and sharing it in some capacity.”
Behind the allusions to love and loss, the album picks up where Shields left off: it’s meandering, introspective and oftentimes a little trippy, but in songs like Four Cypresses and lead track Mourning Sound, this album is marked by fewer, bolder ideas that are woven in with care.
As with their previous albums, Taylor took on the responsibility of playing as well as producing, making it his remit to ensure the band remained cohesive and productive.
The major or indie label difference wasn’t important to us
“The vibe is really good right now, and it got better as the record became more like we wanted it to sound,” he says. “We ended on a high note, which I’m proud of because after some recordings we were pretty burnt out. But holy s**t, it was a lot of work. I was happy to do it, but I was there for every second of everything we recorded, and working on it afterwards too.”
For album number five, the band – completed by co-singer Daniel Rossen and the fabulously named Chris Bear – left the esteemed Warp Records and moved over to (dramatic gasp) a major label, in a two-album deal with Sony subsidiary RCA.
“It was cool. We had a three-record engagement with Warp and we obviously fulfilled it,” says Taylor. “We went about recording this entire album independently, and afterwards we sent it to all types of labels. Warp was even one of them.”
“The major or indie label difference wasn’t important to us. The name brand doesn’t exist because people aren’t buying records, and you can’t see the label on Spotify,” adds Droste. “The structuring of deals now is so topsy-turvy that the idea of indie labels being sweeter doesn’t exist any more. Majors offer the types of royalty splits that indie labels did, where you’re in it together rather than them controlling. And there are indies who offer 360 deals, which began with majors, but now they want part of your touring.
“Then there’s also the cool thing of us reaching more people because RCA have more of an international presence; for example, there’s an office in Singapore and so they’re able to push there. Who knows whether they’ll like it, but it’s a good concept.”
Hear them roar
“We asked very direct questions in the initial meeting to make them understand were not a pop act,” continues Taylor. “Like, ‘we’re not going to sell as many records as Foo Fighters, is that okay with you?’ They didn’t have any unrealistic expectation about what they wanted us to do; they’re trying to help us execute what were already doing. No one’s expecting us to be on par with Katy Perry any time soon.”
With realistic ambitions to go with their new album, they’ll dust off their flight cases and tour in the autumn, with Dublin first on their schedule.
“I’m super excited to start there. It just panned out that way, but when we saw it we were like ‘sweet’,” says Droste. “The audience give all their energy, dating back to when we played small shows.
“There are some cities, like Basel, that we know are going to be really quiet,” says Taylor. “It will seem like they’re not enjoying it and then we hear that people really enjoyed it. We’re like ‘wow, you could have fooled us’. But Ireland does not hide their enthusiasm, which we love.”
Given their past record here, the feeling is mutual.
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