Grizzly Bear On Candor, Democracy And Too Much Music
Grizzly Bear, which has just released its fourth studio album, Shields, spoke to Morning Edition host David Greene about democracy within the band, censorship and candor in interviews, and achieving success as an indie band. Hear the radio version at the audio link and read part of their conversation below.
On division of labor in Grizzly Bear
Daniel Rossen: "The ultimate goal for us is always to make an album that all four of us love and are excited about, which is one of the biggest challenges of all. We're not even thinking about the world or how it's going to be received or if the fans are going to like it. If the four of us can agree on it, then, mission accomplished.
"The beginning of 'Sun In Your Eyes' — sometimes I would just ask Ed to go to the piano and just play whatever he thought of. One of the very first riffs of that song was something that he just went and played at the piano, those first few notes. I recorded it and, over the course of a few weeks, started playing with it and then wrote a melody to it. And then Chris Bear played these kind of strange jazz chords at one point, and I went over and recorded those. Then we incorporated that into the middle of the song.
"It just kind of kept developing. And then Chris Taylor took it for months. We didn't even think it was going to turn into anything, but Chris kept chipping away at it and adding bits here and there. It took like six months for it to become something real, but by the end, it was the kind of song no one of us could ever have conceived on our own. I would never have sung over a track like that on my own. It was just really thrilling in that way where it almost felt like listening to somebody else's music rather than making your own record, which is kind of the best thing about having a band that's so democratic. That's the greatest goal, maybe."
On candor in interviews
Edward Droste: "I'm not going to lie, I feel like I sometimes have to censor myself in interviews. I can't quite fully be honest about how I feel about certain things because it can be taken out of context. People love a juicy quote, they love a headline, and they love to twist things and make it seem like it's something bigger than it is.
"I guess I would consider myself an opinionated person, and it just doesn't benefit to — I could just be, like, a really outspoken person and go for gold and just say a lot of things that are controversial, but I kind of feel like at this point, it's best not to. Not to be boring — there's plenty of interesting things to talk about that doesn't have to get into things that people are going to latch onto and retweet or blog a million times. There's an element to that. I definitely felt like there was a sort of freedom in the early times where it was like, 'No one's going to read this, so maybe the 20 people that do will get a kick out of it.' "
On making a living
Chris Taylor: "Now, an indie band doesn't really make much money selling records, so you have to be on tour a lot. And we're on tour, like, a lot. Talk about connection with your loved ones or your friends or romantic relationships or your family — it's pretty crazy how much we have to be away from home.
"And that is just in order to make a living — to promote the record and go on tour and play shows and have an income from working really hard on something. I think musicians deserve to — if they've worked hard, they should see some sort of remuneration for their efforts like everyone else who goes to work at their job. I guess if everyone was buying records, maybe indie bands wouldn't have to tour as much. Who's to say?
"I think the download scenario that we're in the middle of is kind of hopefully still a work in progress and the final model hasn't been realized, because at the moment things like Spotify are actually pretty harmful to musicians. The only people who really benefit is the company Spotify itself and large record labels. Not independent [labels] but, you know, Columbia Records, Sony. So things like Spotify, although they expose people to music, it doesn't really do anything effectively for the band unless that person decides to buy a ticket to your show.
"In order to make a living, all I know for us is that we have to go on tour. You won't really sell records if you don't tour. And also, you don't really make a lot of money selling records just because people just take them."
Droste: "You can get a record and legally buy it for sometimes as low as six or seven dollars. I'm like, that is some mozzarella sticks at your local diner. Two years of work making an album, and seven dollars is not a big deal.
"I do feel like there's a ceiling that independent artists hit, and the only way past it is radio — commercial radio. It's not like that's our aspiration. We don't write music with that intention at all. You shouldn't have to, but that is how one reaches people that aren't as curious and going online looking for new music."
On the surfeit of music on the Internet
Droste: "There's way more bands, first of all. That's 'cause of the Internet, which I think is a great thing because that means people get exposed to way more music. The traditional channels of media that I remember growing up with were very selective with what I could hear, like the radio or MTV. So I was funneled certain music, and I didn't learn about a lot of different music. People can still turn to blogs or websites and discover music and stream it and hear it and test it out much more than before, so in that sense it's really helpful.
"I don't think we'd be where we are pre-Internet. So, it's like push and pull again, where you're, like, very grateful and then at the same time you're like, 'Hey, y'all, just buy the albums.' "
Taylor: "I don't know if I even believe this, but just to pose as devil's advocate: There's also that buffet situation where there's turkey and chicken and fish and steak and you can decide what you want to eat. There's like eight kinds of vegetables. And none of it is really that good. Maybe the turkey is the best thing there. Maybe the house salad is safe, so that's what you end up with. Or you go for gold and you just try all of them. You don't really remember what you ate but you feel sick.
"It's a way you could look at it. There's an oversaturation of just everyone like, 'I'm going to start a band.' For me it can be a little overwhelming. And I run a record label, so it's my job to sift through things like this. There's an argument too that it's so easy to get something out there, and anyone can make an album with their laptop. I love punk music and I love how off the cuff it is, and that's an expression and that's amazing. But then there's also just, like, taking time on something as well is also a good thing."
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It's been sounding like that for the past couple of days.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Why don't we step outside for just a minute where it's quieter. So I've come to the 9:30 Club. It's this classic rock venue in downtown Washington, D.C. And the band you hear getting warmed up there is Grizzly Bear. And in a few hours, this wooden floor at the 9:30 Club is just going to be this sea of people. The concert's been sold out for a while.
Grizzly Bear, they're these four guys from Brooklyn who have just been growing in popularity. Their last album, it hit number one on the Billboard Indie charts. Now they've got a new album out call "Shields" they're on tour. The group seems to be on this journey, navigating all the pressures in this modern age of music and really figuring out what it means to be an indie band today.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DANIEL ROSSEN: I'm Daniel from Grizzly Bear.
Hi, my name is Edward.
CHRIS TAYLOR: Chris Taylor.
CHRISTOPHER BEAR: And I'm Christopher Bear.
GREENE: OK, so we've got two Christophers in the band. And then the two lead vocalists are Daniel Rossen and Edward Droste. We were all chatting at the club a few hours before their show last week. It was Edward who started the band back in 2004. And I asked him how it all began.
EDWARD DROSTE: I was feeling a little bit of like the post-college confusion malaise. And I had taken guitar lessons in high school and started messing around on it and writing songs. And through very stereotypical low-fi bedroom, pop story where you just start of like I'm going to make songs in my bedroom. And then I met Chris Bear through a friend. And I had a bunch of songs, he was intrigued and he sort of came in at the tail-end of the first album.
And then, basically, even though the first album was essentially just me, when that came out, almost immediately we became a band. And from then on, it just totally changed to no longer became a bedroom situation.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A SIMPLE ANSWER")
GRIZZLY BEAR: (Singing) Oh goodness, mercy mine, soldier on but please not so long this time...
GREENE: I'm also struck, because when you guys perform, you're lined up, just a line together. It feels very democratic.
ROSSEN: It is.
DROSTE: Pretty democratic, yeah.
ROSSEN: It's good to have like three other very different creative minds around that push you, as opposed to just being left spinning your own wheels. And the ultimate goal for us is always to make an album that all four of us love and are excited about, which is one of the biggest challenges of all. I mean we're not even thinking about the world or how it's going to be received, or whether fans are going to like it.
It's just like if the four of us can agree on it, then mission accomplished.
GREENE: Is there a song on the album where you really feel like that comes through?
DROSTE: It's like the last song that was really interesting sort of journey of passing hands from person to person.
GREENE: Yes, remind us what song that is.
ROSSEN: This song is called "Sun in Your Eyes." The beginning of "Sun In Your Eyes" is sometimes I would just ask Ed to go to the piano and just play whatever he thought of. And the very first riff of that song was something that he just went and played at the piano, those first few notes.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUN IN YOUR EYES")
BEAR: (Singing) You've fallen once, you'll fall again. And lean on...
ROSSEN: Over the course of a few weeks, started playing with it and then wrote a melody to it. And then Chris Bear played these kind of strange jazz chords at one point, and I went over and recorded those. Then we incorporated that into the middle of the song. And it just kind of kept developing in this weird way. And then Chris Taylor took it, kept kind of chipping away at it and adding bits here and there.
By the end, it was the kind of song, like, no one of us could ever have conceived it on our own. It was just really thrilling in that way, where it's like it almost felt like listening to somebody else's music, rather than making your own record.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUN IN YOUR EYES")
BEAR: (Singing) Look on your face. The burden's on your back. The sun is in your eyes. Stretched out, far and wide. The light that scorched the sand...
GREENE: As you guys get - have been getting more popular, we're sitting here, you have two sold-out shows in Washington, D.C. Jay-Z came to one of your concerts. And he kind of joked about why is everyone asking why I'm here. I'm here because great music and I like it, and these guys are doing great things for kind of indie.
But the tradition of indie means independent. It means, you know, underground. As you bigger, I mean do you lose that sort of identity in some ways, of being underground and independent? I mean you guys have huge crowds.
TAYLOR: If you're just referring to the record label situation. We are still on an independent record label and we do run our own ship. Now an indie band doesn't really make much money selling records, so you have to be on tour a lot. It's just in order to make a living, you know. I guess if everyone is buying records, maybe indie bands wouldn't have to tour as much.
So things like Spotify I think, you know, although they expose people to music, it doesn't really do anything effectively for the band, unless that person decides to buy a ticket to your show.
DROSTE: You can get a record and legally buy it for sometimes as low as six or seven dollars. And I'm like, that is some mozzarella sticks at like your local diner.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YET AGAIN")
BEAR: (Singing) Yet again, we're the only ones. No surprise, this is often how it's done...
GREENE: Is this as far as you can get, having sold-out your other 9:30 Club. Is there any way to get kind of the next step and explode?
DROSTE: You got to be a Bieber.
GREENE: Got to be a Bieber.
DROSTE: I do feel like there's a ceiling that independent artists hit, and the only way past it is radio - commercial radio. And like, it's not like it's our aspiration. We don't write music with that intention at all. You shouldn't have to, but that is how one reaches people that aren't as curious and going online and looking for new music. That is how you reach people that you may just never reach.
GREENE: And that might mean doing a song that you kind of know would make it on the radio.
DROSTE: It would just have to be by chance. We always write music for ourselves and what we like...
GREENE: You would never make a song knowing it was for...
DROSTE: No, that would be a total false intentions and I think it would ring really insincere to us. And I feel like the audience would be able to tell what's going on here. You know what I mean?
GREENE: We're actually going to be hearing a lot more music this week, as MORNING EDITION explores the challenge of making money in today's music industry.
As for the guys from Grizzly Bear: Edward Droste, Daniel Rossen, Chris Taylor and Christopher Bear, they played on into the night at 9:30 Club. And you can hear that full concert at NPRMusic.org.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
(SOUNDBITE OF A MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.