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Cover Story: Grizzly Bear

Written by Michael Carr on May 27, 2009

“We haven’t really gotten underway yet,” Grizzly Bear singer and drummer Christopher Bear tells me. “We did one show in the UK last week, but pretty much we don’t get started for about another week.”

Having just recently released their latest album Veckatimest, the band are currently gearing up for their next tour. “It does feel a little bit like we’re training actually,” he tells me in response to my question about the band’s physical fitness regime. “We’re still a pretty DIY sort of operation, so we’re trying to write arrangements and re-arrange the songs in our own little way. But we’re very busy bees.”

With nine releases in 5 years, including three studio albums, as well as touring with TV On The Radio and Radiohead, playing shows with Paul Simon and appearing at such festivals as Coachella, Sasquatch, Roskilde and Pitchfork, they’re not just busy bees, these guys are almost German.

But the band’s Teutonic work ethic aside, Grizzly Bear’s music is a delicate mix of layering and production applied to acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies. If you imagine the Beach Boys and Nick Drake on acid (ok more acid), and add in a little Death Cab For Cutie on acid (for good measure) you’ll have some idea of what the band sound like.

Veckatimest, the bands third album, has been eagerly awaited by fans and critics alike for some time now and it sees the band embrace a more organic and natural sound.

“I think we really enjoy natural sounds and I think on this one we were sort of able to capture more natural sounds and just maybe not layer so many things on top of things and leave it sounding very simple and natural. There are parts that are definitely very built up and lush but I guess we sort of went through both extremes this time, like having a lot of really dense moments and then having very stripped down and natural moments as well.”

Having long been fans of collaborations and working with other artists, when they were offered the support slot for the second leg of Radiohead’s American tour the band pounced on the opportunity like, well, like a Grizzly Bear.

“The Radiohead thing was like a dream,” Chris tells me, his voice going up in pitch with excitement. “They’ve been a favourite band of mine for a really long time. They put on an amazing show every night and we were all just super grateful to be able to play with them and share music with them and also just hang out with them, they’re all really sweet dudes.

“Not so much jamming really, I had gotten into a couple of really nerdy discussions with Johnny about laptop music and what sort of programs we were using, trading ideas and stuff, but there was never a proper jam session,” he explains, a hint of regret immediately apparent in his quavering voice.

However Thom and the poms aren’t the only heroes the band have had the chance to work with, having been specifically invited by Paul Simon to play with him for five nights as part of his month long residency at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music.

“It was really interesting taking his music and kind of completely reinterpreting it in what we do,” he tells me, sounding like a little kid on the end of the line. “It was also really interesting to get his take on it and to hear what other people did with his music.

“I think we actually changed it the most out of everyone, the other covers were fairly true to the original song but we pretty much completely revamped Graceland and Mother & Child Reunion. I find those types of projects really fun. Taking a song, especially those songs because I’ve had a relationship with them since childhood, especially Graceland, to take them and then to be able to sort of put our own spin on it was really cool, especially because it’s with the man who wrote the song.”

It’s not hard to understand why the band attract so much attention from artists as varied as Radiohead and Paul Simon, as every album, especially Veckatimest, has a timeless and hypnotic quality that is so rare in popular music. It’s no surprise then to discover that, after playing with an orchestra, the band have decided that certain songs will only ever be played live with orchestral accompaniment.

“What was cool about playing with the orchestra was that we were able to do things we weren’t able to do before. We were doing things that were more true to what was done on the album as a lot of the time we sort of have to reinterpret what goes on with our live arrangements.”

One such occasion was when the band collaborated with Vincent Moon for one of his famous Take Away Shows, where the boys were placed in a bathroom and asked to play one of their songs acoustically.

“It was very interesting, that was like one of the first shoots he did. We happened to be in Paris and one of the guys from the label we were with got a call in the middle of the day when we were out doing the tourist thing, and he was like ‘are you guys down to do some acoustic things at so and so’s apartment?’ We were like, ‘we don’t know we don’t really have it together,’ but somehow his sort of, spirit and character really pulled some interesting creative ideas out of us you know. He brought a bunch of beer and wine and a bunch of cute French girls, and yeah, it all worked out!”

With that venture also yielding an a‘capella performance of Knife as the band walked the street of gay Paris it would seem Moon’s formula of booze + women + band = great creative ideas, should be embraced worldwide. With the band having already embraced France as well as many other countries, it would seem as though the time may indeed have come to venture to our fair shores. “Yes, yes indeed,” Christopher answers excitedly. “I think as of right now there’s sort of talk of sometime in the winter, well winter for us which would be perfect, it gets really bleak in New York around that time.” All the better for us.

Grizzly Bear’s third album Veckatimest is out now on Warped through Inertia. Get it on Grizzly Bear

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