By Chris Hammond
While the international festival season has been kind to most music fans, there was one big name American band that was notably absent. Appearing at just a few smaller events, New York’s premier experimental indie act Grizzly Bear had a low-key summer. Not that they were idle. Having put the finishing touches on their upcoming album Shields back in May, the band have been busy preparing for an extensive world tour.
Band member Daniel Rossen took some time out of the studio to talk about the upcoming tour and why they’re quietly optimistic about their latest album.
“We were trying to get it (Shields) done for the release date and we just all assumed this one track wasn’t going to make it,” says Daniel of his favourite album song Sun in Your Eyes. “But Ed (Droste) said we should look at it again. We persevered with it and worked on it till we were happy.”
At over seven minutes long, Sun in Your Eyes is the lengthiest track on Shields, but perhaps best showcases the stylistic changes they’ve made since 2009’s hit release Veckatimest. The fact it was retained and polished to the point of inclusion, rather than punted for something else, speaks volumes for the bands’ determination to include only the material they feel deserves to be heard. Previous releases from the group have veered from the wistful to the distorted, yet they have always maintained their dynamic and ambitious sound.
Speaking about Shields as a whole, Daniel was keen to explain why this release will be a little different. “It’s definitely a bit of a departure, but we still sound like us. It’s a bit more forceful and there are some louder moments compared with our last album. There are less lush harmonies and there’s less of a dreamy quality. It’s a bit more stark and forceful … we just really wanted to achieve more with less elements.”
While Veckatimest was a slower burner here in the UK, it went right into the US Billboard’s top ten and subsequently racked up a clutch of plaudits from a variety of media sources. As an album it was as near to impeccable as an articulate and intelligent indie effort was ever likely to be. With expectations from both a feverous fanbase and clutch of critics, isn’t there pressure on Grizzly Bear to deliver again?
“I’m sure that would be true if I had a think about it,” starts Daniel. “We put enough pressure on ourselves internally not to put out anything that would be embarrassing to us. I think we all have an expectation Shields will at least do as well as our previous album.”
Daniel tells us that Shields is a more collaborative album than previous efforts, with every band member playing a big part in its direction and style. But for a long time fans were left wondering just when exactly the group would get round to putting together their next album. Daniel explains, I think if anything, last time it was just an intense experience with a lot of tours and shows. We ended it pretty exhausted so since then we’ve all taken time to get away and live our own lives. A lot has happened recently… Ed got married and I released an EP and toured on my own.”
With so many side projects and personal commitments taking place during their sojourn, was there ever a chance that the band might have shelved their fourth album indefinitely? “I think there was an unspoken agreement we had to do it. It wasn’t an easy album to put together, but we’re not working with a label who tell us what we have to do. We just took our time to make sure that it worked.”
Provided their upcoming world tour doesn’t lead to “anyone having a breakdown,” Grizzly Bear expect to be on the road for much of the next year. While you suspect the tedium and intensity of the touring will be arduous, each band member has a city or country they’re looking forward to visiting on their schedule.
While Daniel admits that it’s Australia he’s most looking forward to getting reacquainted with, he’s also happy to be back performing in the UK. Though what they’ll be performing exactly is still open to question. “We’re trying to decide on that,” says Daniel. “Some of our new tracks will be nearly impossible to play live but about half should be pretty easy to add to our show. I guess we won’t have to wait too long to find out!”
Perhaps unsurprisingly the song that almost didn’t make it, Sun in Your Eyes, is likely to be one of those which doesn’t make an appearance on the live circuit. Not that fans should worry, Shields is an accomplished and effortlessly intriguing album laced with potential crowd pleasers. The breezy melodic Gun-Shy and the excellent up-tempo catchiness of Speak in Rounds are unlikely to do anything other than seduce audiences of both the bedroom and live variety.
“We’re just looking forward to getting these songs out there and having a good time when we do the shows. We’re going to play it by ear and hope it doesn’t spin out of control,” laughs Daniel.
Shields is out on September 17th. For more info on Grizzly Bear check out www.grizzly-bear.net