article by jennifer kelly|
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Edward Droste started Grizzly Bear as the quintessential bedroom project -- just a guy in his dorm room spinning out fragile harmonized melodies, recording them simply and allowing the sounds that drifted in through the window to become part of the fabric of the music. That was how he created the majority of the cuts on his debut album, 2004's Horn of Plenty, only bringing in friend and collaborator Christopher Bear near the end of the process to add drums and recording ideas (and to co-write one song, "Disappearing Act"). The result was delicate, lovely music, elusive and wistful and wrapped in the fuzz of home recording. But that was then, and this is now. Since the release of Horn of Plenty, Droste has widened his circle, adding two new band members and developing a fuller, more organic live sound. For Grizzly Bear's next album, tentatively titled Yellow House, Droste wrote only about half the songs, sharing that duty with newly recruited guitar player Dan Rossen and gathering ideas from all three of the other band members. He also embarked on a remix project, soliciting re-inventions of Horn of Plenty's tracks from a diverse group of artists -- Drew Daniels of Soft Pink Truth, Simon Bookish, Final Fantasy, Castenets, Ariel Pink and others.
I talked to Droste about his background, his first album and his band's transformation over the past year from one man's vision to something richer and more collaborative. Here's what he had to say.
Splendid: How'd you get started? Did I read that one of your parents was a music teacher?
Ed Droste: My mother was -- is. Actually, she's about to retire; she's a music teacher for children in Boston in an elementary school, kindergarten through fourth grade. Her father was head of the music department at Harvard and her sister is a classically trained cellist. There's a lot of music in my family, all over the place -- not necessarily rock or indie, but more classical and sort of old Scottish folk songs.
Splendid: Did you grow up with classical music? Do you play piano?
Ed Droste: I don't play piano. I did grow up with it. I took the clarinet when I was really young, but I gave up on it soon.
Splendid: You must have grown up in Boston.
Ed Droste: Yes.
Splendid: So when did you start writing songs?
Ed Droste: I started writing songs in high school, actually. Basically, when I started playing guitar. They were totally ridiculous songs. I did that for three years and then I took a year off to travel abroad to Africa and Europe and did various other things.
Splendid: Where did you go in Africa?
Ed Droste: Zimbabwe.
Splendid: Really? Neat.
Ed Droste: Yeah, I was teaching, community service teaching... global outreach, that kind of thing.
Splendid: Religious or secular?
Ed Droste: Oh, god, not religious. I grew up in the most unreligious family ever. I'm totally averse to religion. No. Definitely not religious. No offense to religion.
Splendid: I know some people who have done missionary work... But anyway, that must have been kind of interesting for you.
Ed Droste: It was great.
Splendid: How old were you?
Ed Droste: 18 and 19. Then I did an art program in Italy and Greece. But the point was, I couldn't bring my guitar with me so I stopped playing music that year, and then for a couple years afterwards when I started college. I didn't immediately start doing it again until the end of college.
Splendid: Did you go to school in New York?
Ed Droste: I first went to school at Hampshire College in Western Massachusetts.
Splendid: Oh... You know, I live an hour away from there.
Ed Droste: Where in New Hampshire do you live?
Splendid: Walpole. If you go straight up 91 from Northampton, it's about an hour.
Ed Droste: Do you know Winchester, New Hampshire?
Ed Droste: My dad lives there. I'm going there for Christmas. I'll be right close by.
Splendid: We should have a drink or something... Except that I think I'm going to be seeing my parents while you're seeing your dad here.
Ed Droste: Oh, you're traveling too?
Splendid: Mm hmm. Indiana. So you were saying you eventually picked up the songwriting again.
Ed Droste: Yeah... Well, then I went to NYU. So I didn't really like Hampshire that much.
Splendid: Was it too rural for you?
Ed Droste: It was very similar to my high school, which was a private boarding school `I was a day student, but it had a very campus-y feel. I loved my high school, don't get me wrong, but I think the year off opened my eyes to things outside of New England. I got to Hampshire, and it's a great place, but all of the sudden I was like, "What am I doing with 1,100 people in the middle of nowhere?" I just couldn't deal with it. That's why I went to... It was a very similar program to Hampshire, sort of a "create your own curriculum" kind of program called Gallatin at NYU. It wasn't the school itself. It was more the size and the location of the school.
Splendid: And the fact that it's in New York City.
Ed Droste: Oh, yeah. Well, I was talking about Hampshire, but New York was definitely a draw.
Splendid: I remember having a similar experience. I went to Dartmouth, and then I stayed there for about a year afterwards working for the history department, and I just got the sense that I could not live in a tiny little town like that any more, even though it's beautiful. So I decided to move to New York. It was such a drastic change. It was very disorienting. I remember driving down with my stuff; this guy was driving me from Hanover, New Hampshire, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world, to Sunnyside, Queens, which has got to be one of the ugliest. It was a such a transition. But it worked out okay. Anyway, this interview's about you, not me, isn't it? Tell me how you met Christopher Bear.
Ed Droste: Oh, actually, after I graduated. The songs that I wrote, pretty much... I started writing the first songs -- some of them are on the album -- my last year of college.
AUDIO: La Duchesse Anne
Splendid: Which are the earlier songs on that album?
Ed Droste: The first song is "La Duchesse Anne". It's about three-quarters of the way through. "A Good Place" is a very early one. "Shift" and "Don't Ask" are also pretty early. So is "Alligator". Those are the first ones, and then a lot of the rest of the album came right after I graduated. Right after I graduated I was working in documentary film, doing sound editing. That was sort of where I got better at ProTools. I had been doing it in school as well, and then I sort of stayed at this job. So this was sort of what reintroduced me to recording, working at this job. But then I met Christopher Bear through a friend. It wasn't at school or anything. He and the rest of the band are a lot younger. I took all the time off, so we were still at school at the same time, but I graduated before they did. So then I met Chris Bear, and I wrote one song on that album with him and he helped me do some mixing and stuff like that.
Splendid: Which one did you write with him?
Ed Droste: "Disappearing Act". Number six.
Splendid: Is it possible to say, assuming that you have two different sensibilities, what he brings and what you bring?
Ed Droste: I think on that song, it's hard to see, because it pretty much blends in with the other ones. But he added drums to some of the songs. He brought in technical, interesting ideas. He went to music school. He brought in a broader understanding of music. I was just sort of doing it, not really even knowing exactly what notes I was playing as I was playing. You know what I mean?
Ed Droste: I'm much more about songwriting and vocals and harmonies and melodies. I like playing guitar, but I'm not a good player. Dan, who is the last member to join, is a really incredible guitar player. You ask him to play a note and he immediately plays it without even looking. He can do anything.
Splendid: Maybe this would be a good place to talk about your band, which has come together since you recorded Horn of Plenty.
Ed Droste: Have you ever seen us live?
Splendid: No, I have not.
Ed Droste: It's a totally different thing. It's much more akin to the new material that we're working on. But yeah, Chris Bear came and he knew, already, Chris Taylor who does clarinet and flute and bass and sings, and Dan who sings and songwrites and plays guitar. They each came within a three month period of each other. So first me and Chris Bear and then we were like, "Okay, we've got to put a live show together." Then Chris Taylor. And we did three shows just the three of us. And then we were like, "We need a fourth person." And then Dan came and we've been playing ever since. It was about a year ago when Dan came, so we've only been a band for about a year. It was interesting because, as you know, the album has a lot of layers and textures and sample-sounding things. It's not really an electronic album; it's mostly just sounds that came in through my window and I sort of liked them and would cut up and keep them in various places. But we all realized that without using samples -- which we really didn't want to do, as we didn't want to have a laptop involved -- it was going to be hard to recreate the songs. So what was really fun was reinterpreting them for a live show. I think everyone likes the live show versions much more than the album versions. They're a lot more bombastic and dynamic, sonically. Also, more of us are singing, so it's not just my vocals -- it's everybody's vocals, which adds a lot of interesting textures. There are a lot of four-part harmonies. It's great. I really am grateful to have found them and to be able to work with them. It challenges me. Now that we're writing songs together, we're just writing so much more complex and interesting songs. Having other people involved... I really like working with other people that way.
Splendid: So your new record -- will it be less electronic? Is that something that you had to do to fill up the sound when it was just you?
Ed Droste: I wouldn't say the first one is electronic. You mean like less cluttery sounds all over it? It will be less lo-fi, that's for sure. There will be elements of electronic stuff in there, although I think it will sound a little more fleshed out with organic instruments. I think the tone and the mood are totally the same, but the songs are infinitely more complex. It just goes a lot more places. Horn of Plenty stays in one mood, tone and level. It just sort of hovers there. The new stuff goes up and down. It's more of a journey. It's a lot more epic.
AUDIO: Fix It
Splendid: You've also got this album of remixes out. Tell me about that.
Ed Droste: The project came about when I was thinking about maybe releasing a single for "Fix It" and I thought it would be fun to have a remix or two with it. I had been on a compilation for an art magazine called K48 with Matmos. Our tracks were right next to each other and they were sort of mixed together. I love Drew Daniel's solo stuff, The Soft Pink Truth. My friend knew him and gave him his email address. So I emailed him, and I didn't expect to hear from him. But then I did, and he was just so friendly and amazing and loved the material and said, "Yeah, of course, I'd love to do a remix." When he came on board, after that, it just sort of snowballed. People heard about it just from word of mouth. I approached other people. It was amazing to be able to just email someone out of the blue and nine times out of ten get a response of "Yeah, I'd love to." Because I had no money and the project won't probably be printed in more than 2,500 or 3,000 or something. And they were like, "I don't care. It sounds really cool. It's totally different from the kind of stuff I normally do." So people were just psyched to get involved. I felt really fortunate to be able to pick the people that I did.
Splendid: Tell me about some of the songs you like. What were they like in the beginning and how did they change in the process?
Ed Droste: Well, I like how eclectic the remix CD is. It's not just dance. I like that there are people like Soft Pink Truth and Simon Bookish that add a distinct electronic flavor. What they did, which is so awesome, they really -- especially Soft Pink Truth and Simon Bookish and a few others -- they really took the songs' structure and turned it upside down. Especially with Soft Pink Truth, you can barely recognize the original song, which is so awesome. Whereas other people took different approaches, like saving the vocals and reorchestrating the background. Final Fantasy did sort of a string remix... Are you familiar with him?
Splendid: I was just reading about him in the New York Times
Ed Droste: Yeah, he did a big string arrangement for "Don't Ask" and then Esterklang, which is the band we were playing with in Scandinavia, this amazing, huge orchestral, electronic Danish band, they did a harp and Rhodes and horn remix of "Campfire". And then you've got people that were unfamiliar with remixing, which I really like, too, like Ariel Pink and the Castanets, and they just sort of did their own thing with it. So you've got ones that sound sort of mellow and acoustic and indie and you have ones that are lush and orchestral and then you have ones that are electronic and dancy. They're all over the place. It's a nice mixture, as opposed to one steady bass beat.
Splendid: How does it affect your creative process to hear these different reinterpretations of your songs? Does it give you ideas?
Ed Droste: Everything's giving me ideas. Now, I think Final Fantasy is going to be doing some string arrangements for the new album.
Splendid: You mentioned that.
Ed Droste: So I think that's a direct effect. Touring with Esterklang and seeing how they worth each other and their instruments was influential. There's no way I'm going to start adding crazy electro-beats to the songs, but I felt really lucky to be able to do such a big project like this. I sort of felt weird about it after a while. I felt like it was maybe too solipsistic. I was like, "Oh my god, this is the most self-indulgent thing I've ever done." Giving people your stuff and telling them, "Do what you will" and then having it come back. It was like Christmas morning, 17 times. Every time I received something I'd be so excited about it. How is it going to sound? What did he do with it? I just like giving people -- and this is why I like working with the new bandmates as well -- I like having ideas and then having people turn them upside down and have their own input take it into directions that I would never have thought of. I'm grateful that other people have such different ideas, and that we can find a common balance. Not that the remixes were altered at all. They're totally 100 percent the remixers' visions. It wasn't like they sent stuff back to me and I was like "Do this."
Splendid: More cowbell.
Ed Droste: Yeah. No, it was just awesome all around.
Splendid: It's an interesting process. going from a one-man or two-man enterprise to having all these other people involved. A lot of bands do it the other way, where they have a band and then one member or another will decide to go off by themselves to do something separate. Do you see the benefits of both approaches or do you really feel that the cooperative band is the way to go?
Ed Droste: I see the benefits of both. If I really feel like there's something that is only me and I don't want anyone else tinkering with it, of course, I could go off and just do it by myself. But right now, I really like the growing process of working with other people. I think that has a lot to do with where I'm at as a songwriter now, myself. It's not that I'm uncomfortable with myself as a songwriter. It's more that I want to grow. I'm not sure that with just me sitting around by myself that I would necessarily be different from Horn of Plenty. Having other people involved has been good. Dan wrote half the material for the new album. It's amazing. It's totally on key with what I love and feel represents the band and the mood, but it's still distinctly Dan.
AUDIO: Disappearing Act
Splendid: How would you tell what was his and what was yours? What are some of the differences?
Ed Droste: My songs tend to be more repetitive than his. A lot of the songs on Horn of Plenty are a guitar lick, looped, but then crescendoing in various parts and then stopped, and then another loop. I have a weird way of writing songs. It's not a chorus, verse, chorus thing. Whereas Dan -- it's not that he's a traditional songwriter. He's more Van Dyke Parks-y, going from one thing to another thing to another thing and sometimes back and a little lick from earlier will appear. His songs are really complex. It's cool to work with him.
Splendid: What inspires you? It doesn't have to be music. It could be music or books or anything that's made you inspired to write music.
Ed Droste: This is a hard question. It's hard to narrow it down to something. I really very influenced by the music scene in general. I feel that I'm very aware of that, and I love music, and I'm definitely the one in the band that keeps up with new music the most. I like being around it. I like meeting lots of people, like the remixers and other local bands. Just seeing what's going on. That all, in its own way, is influential. Just sort of absorbing it all. Especially living in a place where there are so many bands. Some might see it as a curse. It's like you're always fighting to get attention, or competing. But I really like it. There's always someone doing something new and exciting. Although a lot of people are just doing the same thing over and over again, too. But there's so many that you're going to get a little of everything else.
Splendid: What have you heard recently that's good?
Ed Droste: God, I wish I had my list with me. Someone asked me to do a top ten recently and I was thinking about my favorite albums of the year. Musically, locally or what albums was I really psyched about this year?
Splendid: All of that. Three or four things that you were excited about.
Ed Droste: I really love Chad Vangaalen's album. He's a Canadian singer-songwriter whose record got re-released on Sub Pop this year. I think his album is one of the best albums I've heard in a really long time -- super bare bones, and his voice has kind of a Neil Young quality. His songs are really haunting and so beautiful. I also really love the Russian Futurist album. The Black Mountain album. Have you heard of Jose Gonzales?
Ed Droste: He's this Swedish singer/songwriter. He's awesome. I like a lot of what Warp has been putting out. I like Boards of Canada and Broadcast and all that stuff, but there are a lot of great local bands, too. There's this band called Anorak that contacted us and gave an MP3 and I thought they sounded really cool. The Mugga Bears. Another "bear" band. I like that, as we've started playing more shows, people have started emailing us stuff. We hear all sorts of things. It's cool to hear what everyone's doing. I like it. I like Blood on the Wall.
Splendid: Do you go out a lot? Are you always at shows?
Ed Droste: Actually, I haven't been going to shows that much lately. We're taking a break this winter. I'm going to go to Argentina in January with my boyfriend for a couple of weeks.
Splendid: Cool. We just went there last year.
Ed Droste: We're going to go to Patagonia.
Splendid: Wow. We were just in Buenos Aires the whole time, which was really fun. You're not a vegetarian, are you?
Ed Droste: No, I'm not.
Splendid: Well, that's good. You'll be eating lots of meat. Have you ever been there before?
Ed Droste: No, I haven't. I've never been to South America.
Splendid: Is your boyfriend from there?
Ed Droste: No, but we know someone there who is going to show us around and travel with us to Patagonia.
Splendid: Cool. The distances are really vast there.
Ed Droste: I know, we're flying to Patagonia.
Splendid: I remember watching the little map on the plane, and it was the middle of the night, and I was like, "Oh, wow, we've crossed into Argentina. We're almost there." But it was another four hours.
Ed Droste: Oh my god. I hate flying. I'll have to heavily medicate myself.
Splendid: That's a good idea. If you can sleep, it won't be so bad. There are so many things about Argentina that are really wonderful. It's really worth it, and it sounds like you're going to be there for long enough that the plane trip won't be a huge part of it.
Ed Droste: Two and a half weeks. We're going to have a week in Patagonia and a week and a half in and around Buenos Aires. That should be enough. And then after that, I'll come back and go to some shows. That's going to be my rejuvenating New Year's experience to go travel somewhere.
Splendid: You can do the tango album after that.
Ed Droste: Exactly.
Splendid: It sounds like there might be a little bit of Latin influence in Horn of Plenty. Do you listen to any of that? Tropicalia?
Ed Droste: I'm not huge on the Latin scene. I like a lot of it. That's the first time someone's ever said that. I'm curious, which songs give you that impression.
Splendid: I think it was the combination of the really soft, harmonic vocals and some very interesting percussion.
Ed Droste: Yeah, some of it's just me banging on my desk and stuff. Some of it is Chris Bear coming in and putting in things.
Splendid: It was just that combination of melody and rhythm that gave me that idea...
Ed Droste: Maybe subconsciously... it might have filtered through. I don't know. I don't know what I'm saying.
Splendid: It's great stuff. It's not a bad thing to be influenced by. So you're going to come back and do some shows in the spring?
Ed Droste: We're probably going to put together a variety of... you know, ten days on the east coast, ten days on the west coast. Maybe a Midwestern thing or Canada. A bunch of spot tours during April and May. And hopefully, with the album released in the UK and the rest of Europe -- it's only released now in Scandinavia and Benelux -- but hopefully it will come out in the rest of Europe in February. Hopefully, if all goes well, we'll go over to the UK and France. I don't know. It would have to be worth it. We're down to go and break even, but we can't go and lose money, as much as we'd like to.
Splendid: You just got back from... was it just Scandinavia?
Ed Droste: Yeah, we toured Norway, Sweden and Denmark. It was absolutely incredible. First of all Esterklang as a band, I could see them play a million times and never get sick of them. They're the nicest people, too. We've toured with so many bands where we haven't really clicked on a personal level. With Esterklang, I loved their music and I loved them. And they were playing the perfect kinds of venues for us, like theaters, a lot of sit down shows, playing to 300 to 500 people, and everyone there is so attentive. It's ridiculous.
Splendid: You don't have drunks in the back yelling stuff?
Ed Droste: Barely ever. Of course, there were some things, but it's nothing like playing shows here. People are always talking during shows here, unless you're playing the Town Hall or some sort of regal space. Which is, of course, what they were doing. We played some rock clubs with them, too, and people really like their music. Not that people here don't. They get there on time. Everything starts really promptly. But we were always playing to 90 percent of Esterklang's audience.
Ed Droste: They had done a good job with press there, so some people had heard of us already. It was just awesome all around.
Splendid: Did you do a bunch of interviews over there?
Ed Droste: We did. I was really surprised. Here, it takes a while to get the momentum going, to get the press buzz... Everyone's sort of waiting to see who's going to write about it.
Splendid: That's right, you don't want to be the only one.
Ed Droste: Yeah, but wouldn't you want to take a stand and expose people to something new.
Splendid: You know, it's weird. There's definitely a wait-and-see thing. I don't really feel that way... but if you write a rave review about something that nobody else is covering, there's always that month or so when you're waiting to see if anybody else picks up on it and whether you're completely out to lunch on it.
Ed Droste: I feel that's more the case here. There, it was just like... journalists loved the album and then they're like, "I'm going to do a feature on you." It was like, first, nobody here had heard of us, and then everyone started writing about us. Maybe there's some sort of pack mentality there, too, but I felt like it was way less than here. People were more, I want to write about what I like.
Splendid: Anything else you want to talk about? Are you doing anything for other people?
Ed Droste: We were asked to do a remix for Of Montreal, but we haven't had the time to do that yet. I'm hoping that we will still be able to do it in January. We're just working on the album right now.
Splendid: Do you have a tentative title yet?
Ed Droste: Yeah, Yellow House.
Splendid: And we don't know where it's coming out, yet, I guess. Or when.
Ed Droste: No. We're still working that out. It's a long arduous journey to the label.
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Jennifer Kelly gets to take a rest now.
[ graphics credits :: header/pulls - george zahora | photos - provided by ed droste :: credits graphics ]