Grizzly Bear are a quartet from Brooklyn best known for their four-part harmonies, brilliantly produced records, and almost chamber-pop-like aesthetic. The band began as the solo recording project of songwriter Ed Droste, before growing into a full line-up in which he was offset by co-songwriter Daniel Rossen, and multi-instrumentalist/in-house-producer Christopher Taylor. After their second album, 2006's Yellow House, captured critical acclaim and built a solid buzz, 2009's Veckatimest proved their huge break-through, becoming one of the standout albums of the year. From there, Jay-Z and Beyoncé turned up at their gigs, the band ended up on a Twilight soundtrack, and their follow-up album grew feverishly anticipated. After a divided 2011, when Rossen released a solo EP (Silent Hour/Golden Mile) and Taylor an LP as Cant (Dreams Come True), Grizzly Bear finally returned in 2012 with the challenging, chaotic, dark Shields.
Interview: 24 August 2012
Where in the world are you?
"I'm in Germantown, New York, where I'm living at the moment. I moved up here earlier this year. Because we're about to spend most of the next year on tour, and I figured, in between tours, it'd be nice to come home to the woods instead of the city. I grew up close to the woods in Seattle, and I've been missing that so much. I've been living in the city for 13 years, I'm ready for a bit of a shift."
Talking to you when the Cant record came out, you said you wanted time away from compromise, that you wanted to be able to call the shots. What's it been like, having been the boss of something, to returning to the world of four-way, collaborative democracy with Shields?
"Um... interesting. I knew what I was getting back into. That was part of the deal with Cant: it was this thing I could do right now, then it would be back to the Grizzly Bear lifestyle, although it's different every time we do records. In general, coming back was really cool. We've all grown up a lot since we last recorded. And there's a lot more confidence in each other. It's weird, because there were more unplanned decisions on previous records; just that spontaneous 'yeah, that's great, sure'. But this one was definitely about trying to challenge ourselves to do something different. We did not want to make the second version of Veckatimest. That seemed really boring to us. As producer, I really wanted to see everyone do things in a way that they hadn't, just to keep it interesting for all of us."
Did you feel that the world wanted you to make a second version of Veckatimest?
"I don't know. That's a really interesting question, actually. Really interesting. Because you don't really know. I thought about that, though, because I feel like the mood for Veckatimest and the mood for Shields is so different, almost opposite. And I wonder how that's going to go over with people. And I don't know. That's where your question's interesting; because maybe people really did want the second version of Veckatimest, and they might not like this record at all."
How do you feel that they're opposites?
"There's definitely a heaviness to this record. But, I feel like Veckatimest was pretty summery and light in a lot of songs on the record. This record doesn't have those moments of lightness; it's across-the-board heavier. Our minds are all a lot heavier with stuff; we're all 30 now instead of 26. And it's a different place in your head. There's a lot of peering over the edge of proper adulthood at 30; a lot of consideration to really how you're going to make your moves. But at 26 you're just kinda going. You're just going. And it's really exciting. There's just so much more self-reflection at this stage than when you're younger. Which I think is actually nice, because I remember feeling like older songs of ours lacked that amount of reflective quality, which is something I really like in music. I thought that was a cool thing to get into; to get into seriousness, and heaviness."
Are you talking heaviness of theme? Heaviness in sound? Or of both?
"Both. Because, for me, the theme will always dictate the sound. So, it's an 'if A then B' sort of thing."
Did you know that this was the direction the record was going to head in?
"No. Definitely not. I think I was really ready to have something feel really easy. That was what I was hoping it was going to be. But it was anything but; this record ended up being harder than any others."
Why did you think it would be easy?
"I don't know. I feel like I've grown and learned a lot since we did Veckatimest. I've worked with a lot of other artists, I've been working on my solo thing, we've all grown up so much more, and we've already spent all this time playing together. There were times when I was doing things in Cant, and I was looking forward to how easy it was going to be when I was back working in this old collaborative relationship with guys that I knew worked truly well together. I thought: 'this is gonna be great; we'll have all this experience under our belt, and we'll be able to nail things we haven't been able to nail in the past, and it'll all come together, and just be, like, cool'. I really thought that was how it was going to go, the first month we got together. And it certainly did not go that way."
Was that frustrating to you?
"Yeah, of course. It was frustrating to everybody! But it was a productive frustrating. Because I think we actually really tried to get to know who each other were. And that's a hard process. Like, we know a lot about one another, but this time it went deeper. I think we all respect one another more than we used to. It's a longer relationship, now. We really wanted to know how to do what would really satisfy everyone; we really cared about making everyone feel pleased with it. So, that was the challenge. But that's a really good challenge. That's a challenge where you care a lot. And that's a nice challenge. And it means that even if it's hard, you persist, and you do so with a kind of care, because its origins are in the right place. It's coming from the heart. And it's a lot harder to do that; a lot of bands get to this place and they just do like their cocaine record. Because it's easier to do that than to really explore your relationship as a band, and to really get to the heart of what it means to be in your band, and what exactly you want that to mean."