An interview with Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear's fantastic new album Yellow House came out Tuesday (9/5/06) to near-universal acclaim (the coveted "Best New Music" award included). You can buy it at Insound and it's still streaming at AOL.
BrooklynVegan interviewer Lily Olive and Grizzly Bear frontman Ed Droste live off the same L stop in Brooklyn, so it wasn't hard for them to meet at a local coffee shop in early August before Ed left on a tour of Europe. Below you can read what Lily and Ed talked about (plus a little added e-mail follow here-and-there that I conducted with Ed the other day).
BrooklynVegan Lily: So I’ve noticed just from reading about the band and your background that your mother was a music teacher?
Ed: Yeah, since I was a little kid.
BrooklynVegan Lily: So you grew up in a musical household?
Ed: I did…my grandfather was a music professor. He was head of the music department at Harvard for almost 40 years, he just passed away this year actually. And my mom was a music teacher - totally on a different spectrum of music. He was more like the classical, choir kind of thing and she’s more into stuff like playing the autoharp (she gave me the autoharp) and little maraca’s and things for kids to play, and singing. She finds interesting songs from around the world that are usually for kids and still have a lot of musical bearing to them, but a lot of it is also connected to little kid stuff.
BrooklynVegan Lily: Do you think that either one of them had a particularly strong influence on you growing up?
Ed: I think they both did, more than just their professions. On their off time they were so obsessed with music-different music then I am of course- I grew up with them singing all the time together. My aunt’s a cellist, so it kind of was everywhere, it was around a lot.
BrooklynVegan Lily: Did you study any particular instruments growing up?
Ed: No, I’m totally uneducated in the world of music, isn’t that horrible? I’m the most ignorant in the band when it comes to that..
BrooklynVegan Lily: So you didn’t take piano or…?
Ed: I took guitar lessons in high school, but it was a mild study. I’m not a great guitarist, Dan is the real guitarist, I don’t even think of myself as a guitarist. I’m just a power chord rhythm guitarist…
BrooklynVegan Lily: Were you trained vocally at all?
Ed: No. I would be interested to take lessons to extend my voice because I find the more that we tour the easier it’s getting strained and weak, and I’m probably doing a lot of things I shouldn’t be doing like drinking coffee and drinking alcohol and, you know, bad things, but I mean aside from those health things I think there’s vocal exercises that I should learn and ways to strengthen my vocals. I’m also not operatic so it’s not that big of a deal, ya know.
BrooklynVegan Lily: Yeah. So, I read that you played guitar in high school, and then you went to Africa for a while?
Ed: Yeah, I did…after I finished school I took a year off, and did half a year in Italy studying art, and I did the other half of the year in Zimbabwe doing community service and teaching at this school in a rural area.
BrooklynVegan Lily: And you weren’t playing at that time?
Ed: Ohh, well, I played but I couldn’t really bring my guitar traveling, it was too heavy and cumbersome. That’s actually I think one of the big things that put a halt to my music, cause I didn’t pick it up again till the end of college.
BrooklynVegan Lily: Really?
Ed: Yeah, the first couple years of college it didn’t work, I was studying writing - doing creative writing and a lot of essays…so just totally not even thinking about music in that way, and um then I had a bad end to a relationship and turned to it as a cathartic tool..that’s why the first songs are more intimate. It was never meant to be heard kind of…like I never thought it would be.
BrooklynVegan Lily: Yeah, I’d heard you just kind of did it for yourself,
Ed: Yeah, really, honest to god..I recorded it in my apartment.
BrooklynVegan Lily: Now you went to NYU right?
Ed: Yeah, but first I went to this school called Hampshire College for a year in western Massachusetts, and then I transferred to NYU.
BrooklynVegan Lily: Did you study music at all there?
Ed: No, not at all.
BrooklynVegan Lily: So how did you pick it up again?
Ed: I think I went home for Christmas and my mum was like “ will you just take this guitar back to New York with you?” Cause it had just been sitting there and I said ok and brought it back..
BrooklynVegan Lily: That’s so crazy…
Ed: Why? (Laughs) Just how random it is?
BrooklynVegan Lily: Well, just to not really play for years and then, you know,
a few years later be on tour in Europe…
Ed: It is funny to think about, cause I wasn’t planning on it but I mean once things started and I realized I loved doing it and performing I did actively try to make the Europe thing happen so it wasn’t entirely thrown in my lap…but we were never a buzz band really…it wasn’t like the thing like three months later we were selling out the Irving Plaza, ya know?
BrooklynVegan Lily: Right, right…so you wrote on your own then you met Chris Bear?
Ed: Right, totally random, the name had already been chosen…It was just like doing a little home project and I thought oh this is fun, I’m just going toll this stuff Grizzly Bear…I didn’t even know who Animal Collective was… I was starting to perform and getting re-involved in music really brought me into a whole world I hadn’t maybe been paying as much attention as I used to in high school, and it was weird, I just suddenly became a lot more aware and was like “Woaahh! Where did all these animal bands come from? I guess I really wasn’t so original on this one here.” At least it wasn’t Wolves,
BrooklynVegan Lily: haha, oh man!
Ed: This guy I know started a band called Wolf Scrotum as a joke, you should listen to it, it’s on myspace, it’s really funny! Several people wrote about it because it was a mock of all the wolf bands but there’s some new bear bands coming out now.
BrooklynVegan Lily: Ohh yeah?
Ed: Yeah, I read about it somewhere, someone was doing an article on bear band names, and I was like “what? Ohh well, there it goes.” Whatever, it is what it is..our name was actually just a nickname for an old boyfriend of mine.
[this is where I interjected with some follow-up via email]
Me via email: Do you currently have a boyfriend?
Ed via email from Europe: I do indeed. Nearing the three year mark. Touring without him is hard, and we have a dog together, but they take care of each other and our dog can go to his office while I'm gone so there's no animal cruelty going on here. I will be home in a few days, and just answering this question makes me homesick.
Me via email: It sounds like like he's supportive. Does he ever come along?
Ed via email from Europe: He's very supportive the problem is that he can't get off from work all the time--He came to London for a long weekend in the spring, and he came out to LA once but there are only so many vacation/sick days one can take a year.
Ed via email from Europe: Oh dear no. Little Brother was written by Dan so you'd have to ask him about that.
I've been reading some reviews lately that indicate I did all the song writing which is just false. This album is entirely collaborative and a total debut for us as a band. Dan wrote a large part of the new material and we all would bring various things to the table and try to work them out--we haven't exactly figured out a way in which we definitively write, each song comes from various places, people and at random times. Perhaps the next album we'll all just sit down together and write but I don't think that's how we work best.
We all need alone time and sometimes that's where the best beginnings come from.
[end of follow-up]
BrooklynVegan Lily: How did the songwriting process differ for you and Chris on the new album?
Ed: Well, we wrote the songs together on the first album and my recording technique was also very untrained so I was doing a lot of really crazy things with vocals which is kinda why they all sound so fucked up and low fi..and everyone was like “So, you must be a really big fan of –low fi bands A, B, C, etc”- but actually I really just didn’t know that much about microphones..and everyone thought it was this real deliberate thing and I was just totally an idiot..getting the levels all wrong, and just like lowering them in other zones and it would be really high pickup on one zone so it would be weird….I dunno. We went in there and tried to fix as much as we could because before it was even more screwed up sounding, it was crazy. It still has that but...
BrooklynVegan Lily: So you did that, put the release out on Kanine, then..
Ed: ...then we put together a live show- that’s when Chris Taylor and Dan came, then we did that first tour..
BrooklynVegan Lily: So before that you didn’t play a live show?
Ed: I did a live show with me, Chris (Bear), Chris (Taylor) and we did that four times then realized there was something missing. Then we got Dan.
BrooklynVegan Lily: How did you find the other band members?
Ed: Well, I met Chris through a friend, and Chris, Chris and Dan all know each other from college, they went to NYU as well and they had studied music and they had all played together kinda..
BrooklynVegan Lily: How did the Warp Records deal come about? By the way I don’t think it’s that weird you’re on there.
Ed: Well, it’s kind of a departure, but I love the direction the label is going in, how they’re really diverse. We had a period where there was one label interested in us, but it fell through which was kind of a bummer. We decided to record the new stuff anyway, and gave it to them, and they were totally into it..someone from Warp had contacted us earlier, and asked if we had new material, but they weren’t going to sign us based off the first album.
BrooklynVegan Lily: Cool. How did you come up with the new album name “Yellow House?”
Ed: My Mom’s house is yellow, we recorded there.
Me via email: Is that in Boston?
Ed via email from Europe: Yeah, a town called Watertown largely considered part of Boston, but it's still area code 617--that means something I think!
Me via email: When did you move to Brooklyn?
Ed via email from Europe: I moved here after living up near Columbia University for awhile which was strange because I went to NYU, so it was kind of a dumb place to live. But I had a big apartment and at the time I was so new to NYC I still had that "must live in manhattan" mentality. So then I believe in 2001 I moved to brooklyn. Been happily there ever since.
[end of follow-up]
BrooklynVegan Lily: How does the Brooklyn music scene treat you? Has it been supportive so far?
Ed: I like it, there’s friends, but it’s not like everyone gathers around and is like “hey, let’s have a jamboree.” My band mates are friends with several other Brooklyn bands, TV On The Radio. I don’t like that there are so many labels attached to the area, both good and bad. But I do like being around so much great music, it’s really exciting. It motivates me.
BrooklynVegan Lily: Who are you listening to lately?
Ed: I love Hot Chip, I really like Camera Obcsura, the new Ratatat, the new Of Montreal, which is amazing, Diane Cluck, Boards of Canada, The Futureheads, and then all this random stuff that I download from blogs…
BrooklynVegan Lily: Well thanks for taking the time to meet up and chat. Good luck on tour.
Ed: Thanks, hope to see you at The Bowery in September.
AROUND THE BLOGOSPHERE
* Fader - Warm and Fuzzy
* IGIF - GB - YH
* Rewritable Content - Grizzy Bear Haunts the Yellow House
* So Much Silence - GB - YH
* This Yellow Stereo - GB - YH
* Stereogum - Inside The Rockers Studio: Grizzly Bear
* the torture garden - check in
* PAPER - Grizzly Bear - The Cuddliest Band Of Them All
* Good Hodgkins - GB - YH
Lily Olive previously interviewed Lifetime.
Stream Grizzly Bear's Yellow House
Grizzly Bear | 2006 Tour Dates
Grizzly Bear @ Knitting Factory, NYC | Halloween | pics
Grizzly Bear | Tour Dates, Remix Album | Warriors
Grizzly Bear playing Bowery Ballroom | (video) cover of Mariah Carey w/ Final Fantasy
Grizzly Bear | MP3s & Homoerotic Streams