Thursday, May 21, 2009
In this SENSATIONAL, X-CLUSIVE INTERVIEW, Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste (rhymes with ‘toasty’) SLAMS* the vague definition of old Native American words; DEMANDS* more on-street freakouts; and ADMITS his SHAMEFUL* obsession with reinvention!
ROSE QUARTZ: Hi Ed Droste. This album has been insanely hyped. Someone started a blog counting down the days until it’s released and Dazed & Confused said it’s “An album so good it could potentially end all human conflict”. Have you had any bad reviews?
ED DROSTE: (Laughs) I don’t know! Probably, I haven’t read them all. I think we’re probably only given the ones that are good. So I’m sure the bad ones get filed away in some bad cabinet where we’ll never see them.
RQ: How do you react to reviews as ridiculously OTT as that one from Dazed & Confused?
ED: I mean, it’s of course flattering and nice but it’s also totally hyperbolic, so… I mean, I don’t think anyone would actually really… you know, it gets to a point where people use descriptives that are a little too intense, and I’m sure people all around the world know that it’s just a bit of hyperbole. But it’s of course very nice, and I wouldn’t… I’m not criticizing the person for being kind to us, but of course it’s taken with a grain of salt.
RQ: Did you at any point while you were working on this album realize it was going to be a record that people would comprehensively lose their shit over?
ED: Uh, I guess I still don’t really believe that people are losing their shit over it, are they? I need to go see someone lose their shit.
RQ: Oh, yes. I assure you they’re losing their shit.
ED: I’d like to see someone literally just have a freakout on the street. I’d like to watch that. (Laughs) I mean, we didn’t… All I know is that when we were recording it, our criteria was that for each song we had to reach the point where everyone in the band could stand by it… And there were many songs that fell to the wayside. So it wasn’t until we came up with a collection that we all loved equally that we felt like we could release it. It was less about what other people think and more about, “Can we back this up if people hate it?” Because in the long run, if we can stand behind it, it doesn’t really matter whether other people like it or not.
I mean, obviously it does in terms of touring and making a career out of it, but, you know, we just have to feel secure enough in the material ourselves before we could release it.
RQ: This is a heaps different record to your previous releases, especially Yellow House, which was quite dark and claustrophobic. Veckatimest is a lot sunnier, a lot more upbeat – are you happier people now?
ED: I think we are. Also, we’ve matured a lot. I sort of look at this album as a very sort of grown up record for us in the sense that we’ve learned how to work together, we’ve travelled a lot together, and I think everyone’s a lot more secure in their roles and confident in their abilities and also OK with their weaknesses. So that was really refreshing. There was a lot more freedom and sort of interplay and collaboration because there was sort of less of a barrier around people.
RQ: Veckatimest is a small uninhabited island off the Massachusetts coast. Why did it grab your imagination?
ED: We spent time in the region rehearsing in the past and now recording with this album. I think we just grew really fond of it. It’s abstract and sort of hard to pronounce and something you can attach your own meaning to, because it’s got this… it’s not technically a nonsense word, because I’m sure when it was named hundreds of years ago or whenever there was a meaning behind that word in that language, I’m just not aware of it. So for most people buying the record, unless they know those languages, the word is a bit of nonsense we’ve attached our meaning to, which I think is kind of fun.
RQ: One thing that really makes this a Grizzly Bear album for me despite the difference in tone is the intricacy of it – it sounds like you put a lot of care into the most insignificant sounds, like the way a particular snare roll sounds. I read a while ago that a bunch of you guys have done time playing in jazz outfits – does that have something to do with your collective attention to detail?
ED: I’m the only one in the band who’s not a trained musician. My other bandmates are, they’ve studied jazz or classical. But I think the attention to detail is a production of our aesthetic because a lot of those things that you’re talking about are things that are afterthoughts or spontaneous ideas and fun things to sort of add into it as a new layer to discover after a few listens or something like that. But the arrangements are carefully orchestrated, and I’m sure that their training plays into that as well. I mean, for me, when I write, it’s very intuitive and sort of childlike in the sense that I don’t even know what key I’m in when I’m singing, or what I’m doing exactly, it just sort of bubbles up. But yeah, I think generally it’s a nice balance between being consciously aware of the details and also not overly aware of them.
RQ: Are you a big studio band?
ED: We have a lot of fun reinterpreting music for the live setting. I think we like what we do in the live setting. It’s different from the studio, for sure, because we layer so much, so it is really close to impossible for us to recreate that in a live setting without an extra set of hands, but every once in a while we’ll team up with a string quartet or an orchestra and sort of try to get the grandiose feeling of the album but there’s still a lot of layers and textures in the live show when it’s just the four of us, because we do a lot of looping and layering of our vocals. Luckily everybody in the band sings, so we still get to achieve a lot of those four-part harmonies.
RQ: You guys are pretty into the whole remix/mash-up thing. Who is it in the band that’s into all that?
ED: Oh, that’s mostly me, I will confess to that. I get a kick out of it. But I think the other guys are into it in the sense that we all really enjoy re-inventing the tunes. We sort of have the perspective that the songs are never really done. There’s always room for interpretation, it’s always fun to see someone else’s perspective on a song, see what part they pick up on and sample and choose to use. And also, I mean, even in a just inter-band level, we like to redo our songs ourselves in various versions, like an acoustic, stripped-down version or a horn version or like an electric version of an acoustic song, depending on where we are and what kind of setting we’re in. So yeah, I think we just kind of have a lot of fun playing around with our material and letting it evolve and change into different formations.
RQ: Do you have a favourite remix or cover that someone’s done of one of your songs?
ED: I’m a big fan of the Fred Falke remix of Two Weeks. It’s just, like, totally the opposite of anything I’d ever make. It’s like a French house-techno-jam version of that song and it’s really fun. There’s a totally different spirit and energy to it than anything we’ve put out, which is sort of always exciting for me because I love the ones that are so far from the original that you can’t even believe that someone decided to do that.
RQ: You were pretty chilled when a rip of Veckatimest leaked to the internet in March.You said on Twitter that you were glad people were enjoying it. Did it piss you off anyway?
ED: I’m not mad at people for file-sharing and I think it’s harder the way things work right now and it’s kind of inevitable. And we were all expecting a leak, it was just extremely early. There are a couple of things that bother me about it: one, it leaked in a really poor quality - we spent so much time trying to make it sound beautiful and using all this vintage equipment and transferring it to analogue tape and all these things. And then it leaked and it basically sounded like a really horrible YouTube video stream of it or something. So that was frustrating. The other thing that bummed me out was that I sometimes worry that the art of the album is dying a bit and that people are just deleting things prematurely and sort of being rash armchair critics and everyone wants to blog about it and talk about it and delete songs they don’t like, and, you know, it’s just a bummer sometimes to think about all the work that went into something and it leaks in a terrible quality and everyone’s going around and judging it immediately. I don’t wanna sound really precious, but I sort of wish that when it had leaked it had leaked in full quality. If you are gonna make a snob judgement, at least you’re listening to it in its nicest form possible. But mostly, I think the internet is a wonderful tool for sharing music.
[Grizzly Bear MySpace]
[Veckatimest will be released 26/5 through Warp Records]