Special thanks to iCrates, who originally published this piece, and the Michelberger Hotel. iCrates provides reviews, interviews and guides to the international record digging scene. The following is an excerpt. You can read the full interview here.
If getting praised by musical icons like Radiohead and Jay Z isn’t a real slap-in-the-face that you’ve ‘made it’, then I don’t know what is. But according to bassist and producer Chris Taylor, Brooklyn quartet Grizzly Bear can’t put their claws to rest on compliments like that just yet. We spoke to Chris ahead of the release of the band’s long-awaited new album Shields.
Indie rocker vagabonds Daniel Rossen (guitar), Ed Droste (singer), Christopher Bear (drums) and Chris Taylor (bass) have come a long way from gate-crashing NYU loft parties to play sets. Collectively, Grizzly Bear have been living the dream since they were catapulted to fame with their third album Veckatimest in 2009. Known for its immaculate vocal harmonies and other-worldly folk sound, Veckatimest made many critics’ “best of the year” lists, was called a “game changer” by Stereogum and ‘one of the best rock discs of this century so far’ by the Wall Street Journal.
We met up with Chris Taylor during Berlin Music Week to discover whether the three-year wait between albums had paid off. With his oversized nerd specs, childlike grin and humble demeanor, my verdict on the guy? Not at all grizzly!
So Chris, you’re living the dream. You’ve been enthusiastically endorsed by Jonny Greenwood as being his favourite band while you were touring with Radiohead in 2008; Jay Z said you guys were incredible when he saw you play in East River State Park in 2009. This all must feel pretty surreal. Do you feel like you’re walking around pinching yourself these days?
Those are nice compliments for sure, but as much as that means a lot to hear such kind words from such respectable musicians, I don’t feel like I can ever just rest on that and get too comfortable. I feel like I should constantly keep trying to outdo whatever I’ve done.
I heard there was an increased focus on collaborative songwriting within the band for this album. Ed said in a Pitchfork interview "As we get older, more confident, and more mature, we're becoming more comfortable with stepping on each other's toes." How were songwriting duties split up for this album? Do you feel like there was equal input?
There’s always equal input which is good because everyone has a lot of opinions, so it’s a process of learning to collaborate with each other in the sense that you can be like “that idea isn’t good enough” or “we need to keep working that out”, and become comfortable with facing that kind of productive criticism without your feelings getting too hurt. It’s important to know how to do that in any sort of collaborative relationship.
You’re a producer as well, producing bands like Morning Benders, the Acrylics and Yeasayer on top of being in Grizzly Bear, which means you’ve seen the system from both sides. Musician Vs. Producer - which side do you prefer?
They’re both really different. I’ve always just been partial to playing music, but I get a lot of joy out of the creative challenge of working with other bands. A lot of why I’m doing that is actually very selfishly motivated. I’m really just trying to get better. It’s like a project, because all I want to do is to make the best music I can. Also, I intentionally work with very different acts, like Twin Shadow or Dirty Projectors or Jamie Lidell, and change it up like that so that I can always be ready for something new.
Do you feel like Grizzly Bear would be a very different band if you weren’t operating in this dual-role capacity?
Yeah, of course. It sort of ends up being up to me to keep us functional. It can be pretty difficult. There are some pretty different personalities and creative methods in the band, so to synthesize them is a full time job. I’ve been friends with Chris and Dan for so long, so at the end of the day, they’re really good friends of mine. I have an unconditional love for them, so I’ll wait until they feel good about playing, and that’s a patience most musicians won’t find in other producers! But I don’t think the band would exist without any of us. We all have our own roles that we bring.
As we all know, music is more accessible than ever these days, as you can listen or download a new song with a click of a button. What are your predictions or thoughts on future CD and vinyl sales? Do you think digital music will ever completely erase physical sound carriers (CDS/vinyls)?
Maybe this is not a fair comparison, but McDonalds didn’t actually destroy good food. Good food is still around. You can still put a tomato seed in the ground and a really nice tomato will come out eventually. Statistically vinyl sales have actually gone up since MP3’s came out, which is weird. Maybe it was a reaction to the MP3. People decided they really did want the tactile form, because there’s something to that and we are physical people.
Okay wrapping up: what message do you have for the wannabe rock ‘n roll vagabonds of today’s youth? Any words of wisdom from the top?
Try to focus on making music that you personally believe in, as oppose to music that’s trendy on the Internet right now. Try to make something that you can connect with, as opposed to what you think people will connect with. That’s a better place to start from.
Don’t focus on the trends like glo-wave or glo-fi or some other new genre that Pitchfork comes up with. Just don’t pay attention to that. And don’t read so many Pitchfork reviews.