To standout amongst the outstanding lineup for the 2012 edition of Harvest Festval speaks loudly about Brooklyn-based quartet Grizzly Bear. Having long since mastered the fine balance of precious yet powerful music that defines quality indie rock, Grizzly Bear’s sustained excellence has earned the band greater notoriety with each passing record.
Now Grizzly Bear’s latest effort, Shields, is upon us. To ensure no tracks would be accidentally spilled into the viral ocean of the Internet, Grizzly Bear took extra precautions to conceal their new material, and in the process created a genuine and somewhat nostalgic sense of excitement around the deliverance of Shields.
As bassist and resident band producer Chris Taylor explained prior to release, by successfully keeping Shields close to their chest and revealing the album on their own terms, Grizzly Bear built for themselves an atmosphere of anticipation akin to their fans in the lead-up to the release of their fourth studio LP.
“I’m really excited for it to come out. It’s weird coz there usually isn’t a waiting game, usually the record’s been leaked. Weirdly, it hasn’t leaked yet so that’s really exciting; so this is sort of the first time, you know, for this sort of sensation where you kind of actually are waiting for it to come out.”
“(We’ve) never really had the luxury of waiting for it to come out but it feels exciting. We already learned the whole album to play live and it’s really cool that we know to play it through, recorded it and finished it and no-one’s heard it yet, that’s pretty neat to me… I like surprises.”
“We did go to a couple of extra lengths when we sent it out. We found these really funny titles for all the songs so no-one’d be able to figure that out I think, so it’s just disinformation basically, it’s worked pretty well,” reveals Taylor.
Part of the suspense felt by band and fans alike can also be attributed to the three-year wait between records. The prolonged turnover period, in comparison to the more common two year gap, has become an unintentional tradition for Grizzly Bear, and although Taylor agrees the longer the interval the higher the intrigue, he also adds that the reoccurring three-year intermission brings with it swelling uncertainty.
“When it’s three years between records it’s not because we’re chilling out for three years, it’s because we’ve typically just been touring for all of that time…so there would be no way of even humanly accomplishing it any sooner. It’s just not possible,” Taylor assures.
“It’s a little bit more exciting and kind of like a bit more of an unknown adventure ahead and then it’s also just like a little bit more of…it gets you even a little bit scarier that it might not work.”
“It’s kind of both, more exciting and a little more scary the longer you wait.”
In addition to any seeds of doubt that may have crept in over time also comes the pressure of following up the band’s most recognised album to date: 2009s Veckatimest was both critically acclaimed and commercially viable, equating to the most successful record of Grizzly Bear’s career so far.
However, Taylor insists that internal pressure from within the band to deliver another noteworthy album supercedes any and all external expectations.
“I think there’s enough pressure we put on ourselves just to make a good album. That’s way more than enough than to be concerned with trying to answer some sort of expectations from what people thought from the last record; I mean there’s just no room even for that part of it.”
“So it’s really just us stretching eachother.”
In their attempt to challenge and extend themselves, Grizzly Bear took a new approach in regards to prepping material. Whereas on previous releases Grizzly Bear would only come up with enough songs to necessitate an entire album, for Shields the four-piece toiled away constructing excess material that may forever have fallen by the wayside for the sake of a better overall LP.
“We kind of wrote demo versions of eleven songs or so that…may never see the light of day and just because we just really wanted to really insist on making sure the songs were good and not just like what we have to deal with.”
“So typically it’s just like, ‘OK, well we now have like ten or eleven songs, I guess that’s the record’ and there seems to be no room for writing anything more on this one… there was just an interest in trying to keep making material until we had the right stuff.”
“And even when we had the right stuff, some of the right stuff got cut to maker better stuff, to make a better record basically. You know, some real…nice strong songs didn’t make the record even at the very last minute just because it didn’t really suit the album well.”
“It was cool, it was like making tough calls and stuff but it was for the best I think. Being picky really kind of makes the best thing,” Taylor acknowledges.
The scripting of excess tunes and the eventual makeup of Shields came about via a more inclusive ethic where all band members functioned in a heightened cooperative environment. For Taylor his confidence to more actively participate was bolstered by his side project CANT; a solo endeavour where the onus fell squarely on Taylor’s shoulders and exposed the bassist to different aspects of songwriting.
“I think it was definitely more collaborative then previous records…it’s just because everyone has such strong opinions; one person’s opinion will just never do in this band,” Taylor affirms.
“It (Cant) did (help) just in a sense that I had worked and considered things on Cant that I hadn’t, there was a level of songwriting that I had never really done before, so I learned a lot about what I like and what I don’t like in departments that I didn’t have a lot of experience in prior.”
“So just gaining the kind of comfortability with that approach definitely helped me to be able to contribute more, which is a lot of (the reason) why I did it, you know. So I could learn to be a better musician.”
One area of recording in which Taylor is more than comfortable is that of producing. Having produced Yellow House, Veckatimest and now Shields, Taylor’s willingness to take on the responsibility of shaping the overall finished product ensures his impact on Grizzly Bear’s records is greater than the boundaries of his principal instrument.
“It just comes naturally to me, it’s just that I… devote a certain time and consideration for elements of sonic space and that’s just something I care about a lot so it’s like an asset I have to bring to the band. It’s something I work (on) and think about a lot.”
With Shields on the shelves, one of Grizzly Bear’s first destinations will be Australia as part of Harvest Festival 2012. Looking forward to returning to our shores, Taylor hints at the possibility of adding some dates to the band’s itinerary while in the country and expresses his excitement about performing the new songs before Australian audiences.
“Hopefully we can play more festivals too, but we’re doing (Harvest) because it’s an awesome opportunity to come to Australia and play new stuff and get out there soon, which is awesome, it’s great, it’s very exciting we get to be there so soon.”
“Typically I think our record was out for a while before we got to come over to Australia for Veckatimest; it’s really cool to bring it fresh like kind of hot out of the oven.”
Shields by Grizzly Bear is out now.
Grizzly Bear – Harvest Sideshows – Australian Tour Dates
Monday, November 12 – Billboard – Melbourne
Friday, November 16 – Metro – Sydney
Listen: Grizzly Bear – Sleeping Ute
Listen: Grizzly Bear – Yet Again
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