Exclusive Interview: Grizzly Bear's Edward Droste
In preview of their concert tonight at the Keller, we talk with Droste about his cousin, Pink Martini's China Forbes, hitting the gay bar with Thomas Lauderdale, and what they have in store for Portland audiences.
Grizzly Bear has officially reached the music stratosphere with their cosmically psychedelic, avant-folk chamber pop. They’ve opened (and grilled in the parking lot) for Radiohead, supported Paul Simon at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, had Jay-Z and Beyoncé jam out at their shows and Fleet Foxes call them its favorite band. More importantly, with the release of their fourth album, Shields, they’ve proven that they can consistently deliver inspired, innovative, tenderly beautiful music that seeps into your head to caress your opiate pleasure centers. And they’re bringing it all to the Keller Auditorium tonight at 8 pm. Tickets are still available.
The band also has an unlikely Portland connection: band founder Edward Droste is cousins with Pink Martini’s singer China Forbes. We caught up with him yesterday as he was leaving Pok Pok to talk about his cousin, trips to the gay bar with Pink Martini bandleader Thomas Lauderdale, stripper kicks, the new album, and what they have in store for Portland audiences (hint: floating, glowing jelly fish).
Is Pok Pok one of the places you always hit when you’re in town?
I do, because my cousin, China, is friends with Andy [Ricker, Pok Pok's owner] and introduced me to it a long time ago. He opened one in New York, but I haven’t been to that one.
Over the years, you’ve come to Portland a lot to visit China, right? Has she or the city played any particular role in your journey as a musician and a band.
She practically raised me [laughs]. I’ve been coming here visiting her since she moved here in ‘98 or ‘97. I’ve experienced a lot of fun Portland experiences as a result of China and her crew. It’s one of my favorite cities in the country.
Has Thomas ever taken you on his infamous Silverado tour? [Ed Note: Silverado is a gay stripper bar downtown.]
Yes! Thomas Lauderdale loves to take people into Silverado, take them out of their element, and then capture their shock and awe with his Polaroid. That’s a classic Portland moment. He even brought my band mates. It’s a very distinctive and defining characteristic of many visits. [Ed Note: Lauderdale has Polaroids of everyone from Gus Van Sant to Rufus Wainwright similarly captured in the Silverado bathroom during last call.]
I’ve been here for Thomas’s infamous New Year’s parties in the loft downtown. And Pink Martini New Year’s concerts. I’ve been here for all different seasons. I’ve seen different neighborhoods change. China’s lived in almost every neighborhood. She’s hopscotched the town.
The last time you were in Portland, you were at the Crystal. The Keller is a good jump in size. Are you making jumps like that everywhere?
We are. Part of the reason we’re doing it is to accommodate the light show. We’re putting on a bigger production and wanted everyone to see it.
What’s going to happen?
It’s like these really cool, I call them jelly fish. Our lighting guy designed a series of 20 things with multiple lights inside of them and dangling chords hanging down, and they all move on winches in different ways to different songs. They pulsate with the rhythm and move up and down like jellyfish. It’s quite cool because, since we’re not a band that does stripper kicks on stage, it’s nice to have a light show to compliment the music.
So you took a six-month break after touring Vekkatimest, and then you all went to Marfa, Texas, to record, but ultimately decided it didn’t work. What was wrong in Marfa, and what is that process like, to say, hey, this doesn’t cut it?
We needed to reacquaint ourselves with one another personally, but more so creatively. While we had been working on music individually, we hadn’t been together as a four-piece in a while. I think we were a little naïve to think could jump back into the process and immediately hit the ground running. We got there and recorded enough material to make an album, but realized the synergy and energy wasn’t quite there yet. We liked what we did but we weren’t fully in love yet. It’s important to acknowledge that not everything we write or do is going to be awesome. We had to say we’re not done yet. As a result, we have a lot of extra material this time, which is cool, because in the past we didn’t. So we were able to pick best of best.
Are you going to do anything with the extra?
Maybe release songs for free or do a 7” for record store day. We’ll definitely try to get it out there because I doubt it will be saved for a future album because I feel very much will feel dated from this time. We just haven’t figured out when or what medium to do that.
So then you all returned to your grandma’s house on Cape Cod, where you’d recorded Yellow House?
Chris Taylor [bass and producer] had recorded his own solo album and toured it, and Dan [Rossen, guiter] had done his own solo EP, and I had gotten married and went on a honeymoon. After all that, we reconvened after Christmas, and we were so excited to be together that there was this new source of energy and this sense that let’s just throw all preconceived notions of how we collaborated in the past out the window, and everything suddenly clicked. The right mood, the right energy, the right demos. We spent six or seven weeks in isolation there and got the bulk of the material written and recorded, and then we continued to track and finish them in New York throughout the spring all the way up until may when we finished it.
This new sense of collaboration—how was it different from past albums?
I’ve always been collaborative in the sense that Chris and I were a good songwriting team. This time, Dan and I found a new stride together to write songs from the ground up. Dan has been very much a writer on his own, and he was excited about trying things out on other people in the band at a much earlier stage than in the past. As a result, we were able to fully collectively start creating a song in an earlier stage than we used to be able to. We had always been collaborative, but now we were doing it from the ground up.
Now that you’ve been on the road a couple of weeks, what’re you reflections on the work you’ve created?
It’s so much fun to play live. We’re playing a lot of new material. But we’re playing a much longer set this time, so we’re definitely playing older stuff too. But we’re having a really good time because the new material has a lot more energy and has a new spirit behind it. I think we’re all excited to be back on the road and performing for people again because it’s such a satisfying experience.