We hear how the East Coast art-rockers relocated to the West Coast and got their mojo back.
It’s a tale as old as time: band burns out on tour and calls it quits, scattering as far away from each other as possible. But for East Coast art-rock superheroes Grizzly Bear the magnetic pull back to one another proved too strong to resist. Laura Barton meets them relocated in LA to hear, basically, a love story.
Late autumn 2012, and the Brooklyn quartet Grizzly Bear arrive to play the Bruce Mason Centre in Auckland, New Zealand. It will be the final show of that cycle, the end of a gruelling 90- day run of dates in support of their fourth album, Shields, during which, as singer Ed Droste, recalls “one by one each person cracked”. It was, he remembers now, a “wild” night, a performance played with a kind of end-of-season fervour. For several minutes mid-show, the band’s touring keyboardist Aaron Arntz disappeared into the thick of the crowd. “Because when he cracked he decided his new thing was just to run around in circles in the audience when he wasn’t doing anything,” Droste explains. “And the security at the venue didn’t think he was part of the band and tackled him.” Droste feigns making a plea for his return over the microphone: “‘We can’t continue without our fifth guy… please…’ There was actually a five-minute period of like ,‘No, seriously, please…’” When Arntz finally reappeared it was with a torn shirt and a look of dishevelment. “And we were like, ‘OK,’” says Droste. “‘End. Of. Tour.’” The band flew back to the US. Droste headed straight to his grandmother’s house in San Antonio, Texas, to spend Thanksgiving with his family. Daniel Rossen (guitar, co-lead vocalist) and Christopher Bear (drums) returned to their significant others. Bassist Chris Taylor took a circuitous route to Upstate New York, where he had rented a house to write a cookbook. “So I take a plane from New Zealand and a cab across town to Penn Station,” he recalls, “and then take a train upstate for two-and-a-half hours and then take a taxi to the house, then unlock the house and it was empty. And I put my suitcase down, go into my room and grab my car keys and just go drive. I’d just drive around upstate by myself, listening to Joseph Campbell lectures. Like I couldn’t land. Like I can’t be this alone right now. Like falling off a social cliff. And it was like that time and time and time again.” What happens when a band decides to take a break? When, run ragged after 10 years, they decide to step away from the rhythm of recording and touring, leave their label, and make no tangible plans to ever make music together again? In 2014, after four successful albums, a laudable reputation for hypnotic pop harmonies, and a grand tour finale playing Sydney Opera House, Grizzly Bear did just this. “We needed distance from being ‘a guy in a band,’” explains Rossen. “We needed to find a renewed appreciation of: ‘Why do we do this at all and what makes it enjoyable?’” In that distance several things happened. For Droste, there came a recalibration of his personal life, divorcing his husband of three years and moving West. For Bear, it would bring fatherhood and solo work scoring soundtracks. For Taylor, it meant pursuing his role as a producer and, like Droste, a relocation to California. And for Rossen it was a chance to try his luck as a solo artist, heading out on the road across the US, to the UK and Australia. But then, a couple of years ago, the four began to contemplate the idea of making music again – though there were of course some uncertainties to answer: what happens when a band gets back together? When the people and the places and the circumstances have changed, do the songs change too? Will their way of making music together shift? After all this time, and all this space, will the same desire and impetus still be there?
Mid-summer, 2017, and the four members of Grizzly Bear are strolling through the Angelino Heights area of eastern Los Angeles, past elaborate Victorian houses and humongous cacti, the air sweet in the heat of the day. Fighter jets rip through the sky overhead, Bill Withers plays from an upstairs window, and in a back street with a view of Downtown, the band stop to confer. There is a gentleness to the way they interact today that is strangely moving –
Bear necessities: (below) live at Radio City Music Hall, New York, 2012; (right) Droste at a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, New York, 2016.