Grizzly Bear’s Latest Album Demonstrates Their Power As A Band
‘Painted Ruins’ drops tomorrow
The following feature appears in the August 2017 issue of NYLON.
Ed Droste has a love-hate relationship with the internet. The Grizzly Bear frontman doesn’t have a personal Twitter, preferring instead to occasionally drop by his band’s account. He helped craft the group’s Facebook post about their upcoming album, Painted Ruins, poking fun at their extended promotional cycle in today’s fast-paced digital era. And the idea of the dark web seriously freaks him out: “It sounds so scary and horrible,” he says over artfully displayed salads at an eatery in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood. “I read an article about how you can go onto the dark web and hire hits on other people. It’s so crazy. Transfer the cash—‘I want that person killed’—see you later.”
Even so, earlier this year Droste inadvertently created an online secret society when he previewed the new record for a handful of fans—142 of them, to be exact. “I [played] some songs on Instagram Live because no one could rip it,” he explains. “It sounded crappy but people were like, ‘Cool!’ They all remember it really well. It was a fun connection with a very small group of people. Someone was like, ‘We’re the 142 Crew.’ Every once in a while someone will hashtag 142 [and say] ‘I was there!’ It’s cute.”
It’s hard to fault the fans for their enthusiasm, considering that it’s been quite some time since they’ve heard from Grizzly Bear. The band formed in Brooklyn in the early 2000s, establishing its psychedelic sound with the four critically acclaimed albums that preceded Painted Ruins, and solidifying a position in pop-culture history with its inescapable 2009 hit “Two Weeks.” But their last live show was at the “Sydney Opera House, January 2014,” as Droste points out. Still, they’ve kept quite busy during their break. There were marriages, children, and a divorce. Bassist Chris Taylor wrote a cookbook, produced albums with Scandinavian band Liima and L.A.-based artist Loren Kramer, and penned his own songs. Drummer Chris Bear scored music for the HBO show High Maintenance. Droste dabbled in travel writing for Vogue and rode sidecar with the Bernie Sanders campaign, which he recalls as being more intimidating than performing. (“Hats off to public speakers,” he says, imitating gagging sounds for comedic effect. “I don’t know how they do it.”) And vocalist and guitarist Daniel Rossen continued to work on music privately.
When the band initially convened to work on Painted Ruins it was primarily via the internet, since they found themselves scattered around the country for the first time. (Each member has relocated since the recording of the album, with Bear, Taylor, and Droste landing in neighborhoods across Los Angeles, and Rossen setting up shop in Santa Fe.) As it turns out, however, they found they needed face time in order to fuel their creative process. “Nothing was really clear until we got together,” Rossen explains, recalling their recording sessions in upstate New York, as well as at Taylor’s studio and Vox Studio in Los Angeles. “That’s when it seemed pretty obvious that this was going to work out. There is something in the momentum and chemistry that we all have when we’re in the room and developing the songs. I wasn’t finding that until we all got together, and then once we did, then I was like, ‘OK, this is definitely going to happen.’”
Even though their endgame was obvious, Grizzly Bear refused to refer to their project as an album until they were fairly deep into its production, as a way to develop music at their own pace. “By not defining it, it was more comfortable to be like, ‘We’re not sure if this idea is working yet,’” Taylor explains. “‘Let’s not discard it. Let’s see if it works out.’ Sometimes things took a really long time to get figured out, but because we didn’t have that pressure of, ‘This has to be a song on the record,’ songs were [still] able to come together.”
Painted Ruins, the fruit of the band’s transcontinental efforts, is certainly a Grizzly Bear album, filled with dense instrumental layers and melodic vocals from Droste and Taylor, who sings lead on a track, “Systole,” for the first time. The record is also a study of opposites, as evidenced by the diametric guitars on “Three Rings” and “Mourning Sound,” and formidable bass lines and intricate interplay of drum machines featured throughout. The album lacks an overarching narrative, but that doesn’t mean the band isn’t going to try to create one on the spot: “[The songs are] all sort of a journey, and they go different places,” Droste says with a laugh. “Sort of like hiking in an area with a lot of microclimates.”
There’s a subtle undercurrent of this type of blitheness throughout our conversation. Sure, Grizzly Bear make moody music, but they’re consistently finding joy in the process—in everything, really. Even though they’re not thrilled with the current presidential administration (to put it lightly), rather than add to social-media timeline terror, they’ve resolved to interject positivity into the national conversation, a quest that’s manifested itself in supporting Planned Parenthood and coordinating activations at their shows with nonprofit organizations, spearheaded by HeadCount, an organization that encourages civic participation among young music fans. “Politics and art have been connected for centuries,” says Droste. “I’m disappointed when peers that I respect and love don’t say anything. They have a strong opinion, but why don’t they say something? There are many ways to speak up. You don’t have to be anti-something, you can be pro-something. Just do something.”
“There’s definitely people who are like, ‘I don’t want to hear about your politics,’” Taylor adds. “If people are upset about our position that’s their right. But we still stand where we stand. I don’t regret being outspoken. It’s important no matter what side you’re on. You have to put it out for discussion. We can’t just all hide behind our iPhones and wait for this to go away. It’s not going to happen that way. We need to be talking about it. Anything you can do to put it out and make a positive change will counteract all the negativity.”