Constantly compared to the Animal Collective and all those spacey neo-folk bands everyone loves, Brooklyn’s Grizzly Bear sets themselves apart by being consistently mindful of organic elements, never letting you forget that there are actual people behind all those far-out sounds — quite talented ones at that. They perform at the Knitting Factory on Halloween with the Mountain Goats.
The L Magazine: Despite the extra media attention that sometimes comes as the light at the end of the tunnel, New York City is a difficult place to be in a band. Obviously, there’s no shortage of competition, but beyond that, rent is exorbitant and people are notoriously difficult to impress. What would you cite as the biggest obstacles you’ve encountered in your time here?
Grizzly Bear: I guess we really came at this all from such a different perspective as that the album that’s out (and now being re-released) was just sort of done as a side project of mine in my room while I was working, and then suddenly it was out and we just played a few shows here and there. But then, as things progressed and more people joined the band, the obstacles were indeed glaring. Granted, we haven’t been at it for very long, or had to endure that period of playing the Luna Lounge or Arlene’s Grocery over and over, but I would say the hardest part was finding time to practice and a space that suited us all well. Since everyone was doing their own thing in the beginning, that was sort of tough, but now that everyone is essentially doing this full time, we have found the time — and we save money by subletting our apartments while on tour. Much cheaper to live out of a car than in a NYC apartment... well that might be different now with gas prices, but you know what I mean.
The L: A year after the release of your debut full-length, Horn of Plenty, you’ve released a re-mix version of the same album. How did that idea come about, and how much of a role did you guys play in the actual process? Have you traditionally been a fan of remixes?
GB: The whole project started out on a much smaller concept to release a single and have one or two remixes on it. I was chatting with a friend who knew Drew Daniel (Soft Pink Truth) and we had both had our tracks “mixed” into each other (Matmos and Grizzly Bear) on a recent compilation for K48, so he was familiar with us and liked the music. I emailed him a few times and he graciously agreed to do a remix. Then at the same time, our label suddenly got major label distribution and the idea of re-releasing the album was brought up, and I suggested why not include a free CD of remixes with it. After Drew had signed on, it was just a collection of people who either came to us or I approached. It’s still amazing to me though, that everyone was so wonderful and friendly and was just excited about the project and willing to do it for free. You’d be amazed how many people will respond to an unsolicited email just saying hello and suggesting an idea. It was also so much fun for me because I was able to approach all these artists I love. As for how I feel about remixes, I like them a lot, but understand how generally they are seen as disposable, which is why I didn’t want to release the remixes separately but rather just have them included as a bonus disc.
The L: What are you guys recording right now? How is the new material different than your previous work?
GB: We have almost finished recording the new album. The majority of it was recorded at my mom’s house this summer and right now we are mixing it and doing some final tracking that we’ll hopefully get done before going on tour in the US and Europe this November. The new material is much different from the first album yet still definitely retains the mood and tone of it. If you’ve seen the live show you’d have a pretty good idea of the direction. The songs are 100 times more complex in structure, and now there are drums, horns, extra vocals and generally a more refined approach to recording. It’s a lot richer and definitely more epic.
The L: In the bio from last year on your website, you openly refer to yourselves as a “gay-straight duo,” and I’m wondering why you deemed that noteworthy. Do you consider that dynamic important in your creative process or in how you want to be viewed by an audience?
GB: That’s a good question. You are one of the first non-gay publications to ask about that. The thing is, I don’t think it’s crucial to understanding the music, and I don’t think it’s necessarily the best “label” for it either... however, at the time we discussed it and thought that while it’s not imperative, that it was still pertinent. In a weird time it felt bizarrely important to me to just sort of let that information be known since the album was so personal... but since then it’s been removed from the bio. Mostly because some journalists were calling us a gay band when really I’m the only one in the band who’s gay, and also I think the information is out there, so if anyone really cares, or picks up on the somewhat overt yet cryptic homoerotic lyrics in some songs, they can ask about them.
The L: How did you get hooked up with the Mountain Goats for the Knitting Factory show on Halloween? And the question must be asked: do you have any special tricks or treats in store for the crowd?
GB: Our lovely booking agent Jim Romeo set the show up for us. We are quite excited about it and have been rehearsing up on Cape Cod at a house that we were given access to and are ready to perform a ton of new material, which can always be a little nerve-racking at first, but you gotta do it sometime. Also, we’ve ditched the sitting thing and will be standing for the first time, which feels pretty good. So yeah, some changes there, as for Halloween treats... a few costumes here and there, and perhaps something more.