By Michael Atkinson
By Luke Winkie
By Steve Weinstein
By Brian McManus
By Brian McManus
By Dan McQuade
By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
On a recent cloudy afternoon in Williamsburg, Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor and Chris Bear chain up their bikes outside Spuyten Duyvil, a favorite watering hole. The bartender leaps out from behind his perch, runs over to the entrance, and jokingly shouts, "No rockers allowed!" before slamming the door in their faces. The few boozehounds already seated at the bar stare as the two—now joined by bandmates Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen—enter somewhat sheepishly, embarrassed that they've been spotted. The bartender laughs and suggests they all try Sierra Nevada's Summerfest Lager. Then it's high-fives, pats on the back, and smiles all around.
They may be uncomfortable with all this attention, but they're also used to it. Grizzly Bear are one of the biggest and best bands to emerge from Brooklyn in the last five or so years: No group has fused indie rock's various emerging trends and sounds (from electro-pop to freak-folk to chamber music to straight-up rock 'n' roll) as effortlessly. They've toured with Radiohead and TV on the Radio; Feist is one of their biggest fans. Even old-guy Paul Simon invited the crew to perform at a BAM tribute concert alongside Mom-approved vets like Josh Groban, Amos Lee, and Gillian Welch; Droste describes the experience of performing stripped-back versions of "Graceland" and "Mother and Child Reunion" as "pretty awesome."
This month, Grizzly Bear return with Veckatimest, their best and most ambitious effort yet: a dozen gorgeous orchestral-pop gems peppered with strings, horns, clavinets, reeds, Mellotrons, and children's choirs, on top of the whole guitars-bass-drums thing and, of course, their intertwining, quadruple-helix vocal melodies, which soar up to the rafters. Hot-shit classical composer Nico Muhly also drops by to contribute some string arrangements: "Not since the Beach Boys have I heard such tight and well-rehearsed close vocal harmonies," says Muhly, who was approached by Droste via Instant Messenger to collaborate on some tracks. "With the band, every contribution is relevant. You can't imagine a song without that little guitar thing or that little bass thing, you know? There's a necessity to everything they're doing. You definitely don't find that in a lot of rock records these days."
If the result sounds like a ridiculously gilded Brian Wilson rip-off, well, maybe it is. But what's amazing is how loose and organic Veckatimest is, as if the band cobbled the whole thing together over one beer-soaked weekend. In fact, Grizzly Bear labored for months in various recording spaces, ditching Brooklyn to cut the record at a vintage studio owned by Taylor's pal in the Catskills and at Droste's grandmother's vacation home in Cape Cod last fall, which allowed for both solitude and occasional drunken oyster-picking. (The album title refers to a tiny, uninhabited island nearby.)
The resulting songs—including stunning ballad "Fine for Now" and the psychedelic-folk hymn "Hold Still"—reflect the band's varied musical histories: Taylor played clarinet in a youth symphony, Rossen studied jazz and music theory, and Bear geeked out in high school musicals like Guys and Dolls. "I had the crazy low part," he says. His bandmates look stunned by this admission. "You were in a musical?" Droste asks. "I was," says Bear. Then he busts out a few lines from "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame" to show off his super-deep baritone. "That's awesome," says Rossen with a big laugh.
As for Droste, his grandfather was Harvard's music department head, his mother taught elementary school music, and his aunt plays classical cello. Still, he insists that he took more inspiration from listening to Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville than from Bach or Mozart. Like Phair, he doles out deeply personal (if somewhat obtuse) confessionals: On "Two Weeks," for instance, Droste uses his lilting falsetto to lament being apart from his interior-designer boyfriend, with whom he shares a one-bedroom apartment in South Williamsburg. (Sample lyric: "Save up all the days/A routine malaise/Just like yesterday/I told you I would stay.")
"That song is literally about saving up vacation days," he explains. How did the two hook up? "We met on the Internet, about five years ago. I could've been like, 'Through a friend.' But I'm being honest."
Droste has developed quite an Internet persona lately. His endlessly entertaining Twitter includes ruminations on everything from Snoop Dogg and girl-group singer Lesley Gore to strange observations like "Why are there minimum 4 aisles of Candy at pharmacies." But occasionally, Droste finds himself in deep shit: Last November, he posted a new Animal Collective song taped from a French radio broadcast and wound up partially bearing responsibility for the leak. Indie-rock bloggers whipped themselves into a frenzy; the anti-piracy watchdog Web Sheriff, which sends out threatening e-mails and otherwise hassles potential leakers, forced him to take it down. All of this, Droste says, was totally blown out of proportion. "I thought the method in which the Web Sheriff contacted us was ridiculous and hilarious," he says. "I was a smartass and decided to post his [letter] with a sassy thing, but, as we all know, sarcasm doesn't translate on the Internet." Eventually, Droste reached out to Animal Collective to apologize for the snafu: "Everything's totally cool now."
It's a testament to Droste and the band's serenity that when Veckatimest itself leaked a few weeks back, they chose not to sic the Web Sheriff on the possible culprits. But that's just the kind of guys they are: laid-back, psyched with their success, and just happy to be along for the ride. "I think our label wished they could've hired them," says Droste. "But I had strictly said after our run-in that we wouldn't. I put that fire out early on. I mean, we're just lucky that people seem to really like it."
Grizzly Bear play Town Hall May 28 and 29, and the Music Hall of Williamsburg May 31