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Staying True

Grizzly Bear’s rise in popularity hasn’t swayed the group from continuing to make music they love

By Jason Gargano · July 31st, 2013 · Music
music1_grizzly_bear_photo_tom-hinesPhoto: Tom Hines

Grizzly Bear is the kind of band that sneaks up on you. Its atmospheric, richly textured songs take time to process, its hooks less overt than your typical Indie Rock outfit’s. The band’s four multitalented members are just as understated in personality and presentation, all of which makes Grizzly Bear’s steady upward trajectory somewhat surprising — its latest album, 2012’s Shields, debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard charts just as the group was coming to Cincinnati to headline last year’s MidPoint Music Festival.

Formed in 2002 as a solo project of singer Edward Droste, it wasn’t long before the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based quartet became a fully functioning creative unit that includes drummer Christopher Bear, guitarist/vocalist Daniel Rossen and multi-instrumentalist/production guru Chris Taylor, all of whom contributed to 2006’s Yellow House and 2009’s Vekatimest, a Pitchfork-approved breakthrough that found the band moving from underground curiosities to world-renowned Folk Pop maestros.

CityBeat recently connected via phone with Rossen to discuss Grizzly Bear’s creative process, its curious popularity and the importance of making music you care about.

CityBeat: The two times you’ve played Cincinnati — at MidPoint last year and at MusicNOW a few years back — were in festival settings. You’ve also been playing a lot of larger festivals like Coachella in recent years. How are those kind of shows different from playing in more intimate settings?

Daniel Rossen: I’ve noticed that the larger the stage, most often it just makes the whole event feel more surreal. It’s almost easier in a way, because it feels like you’re not even playing for anybody. When it’s such a big crowd, you almost don’t see anyone anymore. I actually find the smaller shows sometimes to be a little bit more difficult, because usually you’re actually really connecting to people in a way that’s a little more intimate. 

I don’t know. It’s strange. I’ve noticed it’s not the kind of pressure you might think it would be to play in larger venues all the time. But we still do plenty of club shows about the size of that MusicNOW hall (Memorial Hall).

That’s still about my favorite size venue to play — big enough to feel like a Rock show but not so big that it’s surreal.

CB: Shields feels different, a little more muscular, than your previous records. Is that something you talked about when writing the songs for the new one?

DR: That tends to form over time as we’re recording a little bit. We had some conversations like that when we were doing Shields, about trying to challenge some of our tendencies in terms of how we would naturally arrange a song. Like trying to avoid layering too much, trying to avoid using a vocal arrangement that sounds too much like something we would have done before. 

Generally speaking, now all we ever try to do is find a point where all our interests meet and we can make a synthesis of the four of us that feels natural and feels good for everybody, which usually takes a little bit of time because we’re all in our own world and in our own head. We don’t have a method or a standard way we make songs. Every time it’s different and every time it’s a challenge to find that meeting place. 

CB: Given the way you guys kind of stumbled into being a band and the organic, low-key way in which you go about things, are you surprised by your steady upward trajectory in terms of buzz and attention?

DR: Yeah, especially given the way we started out. I think our ambitions early on were not very big. We were trying to play shows and have a following and basically make enough of a living to do what we love to do. It’s definitely developed in a way that I never expected, and we ended up making music that I never really expected. It’s one of those things that just kind of happened. I think we’re all very grateful for the success we’ve had. We’re lucky given the kind of music we make. I know there are some Pop sensibilities in there, but it’s definitely not big arena Rock. 

CB: Why, then, do you think your music has connected with so many listeners?

DR: For myself, it’s kind of like when I discover an artist that’s doing something that I’m really excited about, and it’s something unique that other people aren’t really trying to do. Generally speaking, we’re not trying to make hit songs. We’re not trying to be a flashy Rock band. We’re just trying to make music we care about, and I think that’s the best possible way I’d ever want to connect with music listeners. We make music we love and think is good. I think all the artists that I really love and respect would come from that perspective. Regardless of how successful they are, it’s like you must make what you love. 

CB: Can you talk about how the Internet has impacted you guys — not necessarily in terms of the music that you make, but in terms of how you guys have gained listeners over the years?

DR: I know early on in terms of how we got the word out there at all, the Internet was a big part of that. The music blogosphere was a huge help to us. We kind of came about around the time that file-sharing was just getting crazier and crazier and escalating toward what it is now, which is that there’s just full access to anything you want. 

It’s definitely helped us a lot in terms of bringing attention to us, because radio won’t touch our music at all — it’s not radio music, so the only way anyone is going to hear it is through things like YouTube or Spotify, or they just have to be serious enough to look it up or come to a show or buy the record. I’m positive the main vehicle of our success in recent years, and really our whole career, is from people just downloading the music. It’s a totally changing industry. There are depressing elements to that and there are really great ones, too. We’ve certainly benefited from it. 

GRIZZLY BEAR performs Friday at the Taft Theatre with Regal Degal. More info: tafttheatre.org.