By Ed Droste, Grizzly Bear
Words by Nikolaj Hansson / Illustration by Sine Jensen
Born in Massachusetts and now residing in L.A, Ed Droste is the founder, lead singer and songwriter of rock band, Grizzly Bear. We recently sat down with Ed to discuss the group's latest album, the current state of music and whether or not there is some maturity process involved with being a performing musician.
Recording your latest album, Shield, first in Marfa, Texas and then in Cape Cod, were none of the tracks from Marfa were included on the final outcome, how do you think this affected the album?
Actually, "Sleeping Ute" and "Yet Again" were included but the majority of the songs were left on the side, because there was something off about the session. I don't think we had really found the right synergy and collaborative spirit, not to mention the time of year we were there was so insanely hot. There were wild fires and temperatures rising up to 105 degrees daily. We had an amazing growing experience there but all in all, we left there with a bunch of songs and a feeling that we needed to start fresh, and so we did! I'm really happy to see a lot of the songs find the light of day now though, through the reissue. It's not that we didn't like them, it's mostly I think that we got burnt out on them and perhaps didn't have the energy to fully realize them to a stage, where we felt comfortable putting them on the album.
♦ Grizzly Bear: Will Calls (Diplo Rremix) from Shields: Expanded & Shields: B-sides released November 2013.
Having been an artist and performed for quite some years, do you find that there is some sort of maturity process involved when performing at bigger venues?
To this day, I still get insanely nervous before every show. In some ways, a giant venue creates more of a disconnect between audience and artist and it's easier to just focus on what you are doing and you don't necessarily feed off of the energy in the crowd. That said, I really find my favorite shows are the ones where I can really feel the energy of the audience. Often people don't realize they dictate with their energy and applause what type of show they will get, whether it be a more energized spontaneous show or more songs, essentially the more the audience gives, the better we perform and more engaged we become.
How do you think your personal experiences can be traced to your lyrics?
All of my lyrics have really direct references that are deliberately vague, if that makes any sense. I like to tell a story but not an explicit one. If lyrics are too literal, in my own opinion, I often find them alienating and since there are so many universal emotions out there, I like to tap into them without being overly detailed. If someone can find meaning in our songs that they can relate to, I think this is my ultimate goal and will hopefully give the song longevity and more meaning to the listener, regardless of whether or not they actually interpreted the lyrics correctly.
Having grown up with the likes of Randal Thompson and Benjamin Britten and also having performed with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, is classic music used as an inspiration for your work?
It most certainly is an influence, but I really find it impossible to pin point one genre or artist as the definitive influencer, so to say. I was recently doing an interview for the New York Times and they were trying to get me to pick 5 moments in life, that defined my creativity and I asked them "Do you want the stock answer or the honest truth, because I can give you five easy memories but in reality it's much more complex than that.” They of course opted for the truth and for me that is, that there is no such thing as a top 5 anything, when it comes to influences or impacting memories. Each day my answers would be different depending on my mood or what memories float to the surface, and I truly feel both consciously and subconsciously influenced by almost everything I digest and experience.
♦ Ed Droste interview at Lollapalooza 2013 by craveonline.com
You studied writing at NYU prior to forming Grizzly Bear. In what ways did this help you with the process of writing lyrics, both in relation to content as well as methodology?
Oddly my time studying journalism and creative writing at this point seems almost irrelevant to song writing. What I was crafting in school in retrospect feels so impersonal to me compared to lyrics I write now. I'm sure in ways I can't articulate, it helped me, but I chanced into becoming a musician and ultimately, lyrics for me are something that I need to conjure up extreme emotions when writing and also need to provide a sense of catharsis when performing them.
Do you prefer to keep your work and your personal life separate? I read somewhere, that you can’t find space, so to say, in New York to produce music.
In a way, yes. I have a hard time incorporating my social, romantic and regular life with being creative, which is often why I choose to go on isolated retreats to work. That said, my personal life plays a large role in dictating my creative moods and lyrics. Depending on where I am at a certain point in my life, I'm either inclined or shut off from creating. It's always changing and to be honest, I'm always a bit confused and baffled at my own creative process, which I can never see to get a blueprint for, because it's ever shifting.
♦ Photo by Sebastian Kim for Interview Magazine
How do you as a group approach the aspect of making a new record?
We usually approach it with a giant question mark, ha! Like, how on earth are we going to do this again? Then what often happens is that someone will get the ball rolling with some demo ideas, which will spark the interest of others in the band. Once enough ideas are on the table, we decide to give them a go and record them, sometimes to great success, and sometimes in vain, such as in Marfa.
Nick Cave once said: “I think it's an essential fact for any performer or artist to fail as poignantly as they can succeed.” Can you relate this to your own experiences as both a performer and an artist?
Yes, definitely. We have countless songs that will never see the light of day because we ultimately saw them as a failure. You can't have everything you create be great, nor can you think that way, because it taints any ability to challenge yourself and be able to think critically. That's why being in a band is both frustrating and amazing. You are constantly butting heads with different ideas and egos, but ultimately we all want the same thing; to make an amazing record and we challenge each other in ways that, if left alone, we'd never challenge ourselves.
With the Internet and media outlets of today, it can be difficult to navigate through the large amount of content we’re exposed to on a daily basis. What impact do you think this has had on up-and-coming artists?
I think the general public is exposed to too much. There's no attention span these days. Naturally the internet is greatly useful in getting your music out there to places where people may not have access to you, but I also don't believe in the Spotify-culture, which I find mildly entitled in the sense that people now generally believe they have a right to have every album at their finger tips, whenever they want. I don't believe in that mentality. It's not necessarily the fact that the music is essentially free; it's more the vastness of it all. Yes, many of us have access to giant public libraries with countless books, this is a great public service. However, do I feel entitled to have all these books on a little kindle with me at all times for $9.99 a month? No. It's gets into the tricky debate of paying for art and what should and shouldn't be free. On one hand, I love that our music is readily available to people without the funds to buy it in countries it isn't released in. Then on the other hand, I find people who have access to everything all the time to have short attention spans, and honestly not even bother listening to albums all the way through the way they were meant to. It's always "What's next? What's new?" I distinctly remember the wonderful feeling of saving up, buying an album and sitting with it for weeks and discovering new things about it all the time. I know some people still do this, but generally speaking we live in a singles world, a world of constant shuffle. Obviously, we have to adapt to the times and I'm no luddite, but I do miss lots of elements about the way people respected and treated an album in the past. I'm just not sure there's room in people anymore for this type of relationship. There's too much being thrown at them, or being grabbed at. In the grand scheme of things, I’m happy about how things are though, because ultimately it's a much more exciting world. We’re able to access new and different things that we might not have been able to 20 years ago, rather than being limited to 1-10 records a year. It's so tricky and my opinion on it changes everyday. That said, I always pay for music.
♦ Ed Droste and Grizzly Bear performing during CBGB Music & Film Festival at Times Square in October 2013. Photo via Zimbio.
In relation to your personal style and how you dress, do you have any particular influences?
Well I'm rather obsessed with Soulland right now, hence why I’m doing this interview. That said, I can't say I have a particular person or style that I'd regularly adhere to. Many have noted though, that I can't seem to shed my preppy New England-roots. I love a good boat shoe and I like companies that take the traditional prep school look and give it a twist.