Emo, Curious, and Well-Traveled; or Ed Droste Is My Kind of Person
You could call Ed Droste a bonvivant and you wouldn’t be wrong. He loves to travel, to make and listen to music, to cook and eat, to swim in the ocean, and to hike – all telltale passions of a human who knows how to live well. You could also call Ed a magically essential songwriter and musician. His band, Grizzly Bear, has become well loved all around the world. I feel like his music works so well and connects with so many people because it honestly expresses what’s inside him – love, kindness, curiosity, passion, and a desire to explore, meeting new people and enriching his journey with new experiences and new points of view.
I’ve seen Grizzly Bear perform a few times – once in a beautiful wooden church on the Upper West side of Manhattan and once at the Bowery Ballroom, where the band played a totally poignant cover of the Gerry Goffman and Carol King’s song, “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss).” Both shows conjured up a feeling akin to spiritual, and it didn’t have anything to do with the church setting, nor the fact that most of the audience was stoned. The audience during these shows was truly riveted. And seemingly in love. But it felt like a twoway street, this affection, and maybe that’s the secret.
Though Grizzly Bear and their ethereal performances are firmly in the Brooklyn style, Ed and his husband Chad have recently changed things up in their lives – relocating from life in New York to sunny Los Angeles, seeking out the light and space, and a change of scenery, that feeds their creativity and way of living. Change is, after all, the only constant, so why not embrace it?
Where did you move to in LA and why?
I moved to the Los Feliz/Silverlake area. I moved because I’m from Boston originally and spent the last 15 years in NYC in small apartments and was just tired of it. I wanted space and sun. I realized the older I got, that weather actually really affected my mood and it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made. I don’t need to party every night, nor do I want to anymore. NYC was perfect for my 20s and I made some of the best friends ever in the world in NYC, but I’m not the same as I was then. I don’t care about going to fashion shows or gallery openings (they happen here too but seem less daily). I also know I’ll always be in NYC once every few months so there’s basically nothing to miss. The sweltering summers? The freezing winters? NYC gets about three weeks of good weather a year. One and a half weeks in May, the other one and a half in September. I’ll visit during those weeks and that’ll do me just fine! Ha ha. I love being so close to Palm Springs, Big Sur, Big Bear, et cetera, plus, there are just countless hiking trails in the city here – you don’t have that in NYC. You drive for ages and you get to a polluted public beach. Just wasn’t what I wanted anymore. I will always think it’s the best city in the world, but it no longer makes sense for me. I never realized how much I was effected by SAD [Seasonal Affect Disorder], but after having moved I’m a much less anxious, healthier, and happier person that tends to rise and fall with the sun which is almost the opposite of my life in NYC.
You’re in a long term relationship with Chad McPhail, who was interviewed for our first issue. Tell me your thoughts on relationships, and what makes yours work for you and Chad.
I think there are many challenges being in a long term relationship, married or not. Gay or straight. I think you have to find things that make it work for you. Whether that be redefining what many see as a “traditional” relationship, or having space apart with touring, etc. There are a myriad of factors that are keeping us together, first and foremost love, but we definitely have done all sorts of things to keep the relationship fresh. I love being an open person, and would totally delve into details with you over a beer, but I don’t really feel the need to broadcast them in a public outlet. I think most of all being open to the fact that a relationship is ALWAYS changing, and being as adaptable and loving and understanding as possible, it one of the main keys to success. At least for us.
Chad’s been commuting between NYC and LA working in both cities, hoping to set up full-time shop in LA, but that can be challenging because all his knowledge and resources in his profession have been rooted in NYC, although he’s already hit the ground running in LA with a new project, not to mention our own space which is a great way to test drive new contractors, and get a lay of the land.
Speaking of LA, everyone here loves to hike, and this is one of the reasons I recently moved back to LA from NY, because being outside a lot in nature is very important to me. How does nature affect you? What does it mean to you?
I am at heart a city boy that cannot live without nature if that makes any sense. I love vacationing in nature. I love going places where there is no electricity, or staying in rustic cabins, etc. The only thing I hate is camping. I get too hot and wet in those tents. Didn’t like it as a kid, still don’t. I love the campfires and the rest of it, it’s the sleep element that steers me clear of all out camping. I’m always in awe of festival “punters” and the refugee-style camps of thousands all converged together either in mud or being woken up under the baking sun, presumably insanely hungover. I guess that’s youth for you! When I was in my early 20s, festivals weren’t really as huge as they are now, especially not in the US. Sorry I’m rambling, nature ultimately is really important to me, especially in the creative process. While I will likely always live in a city, I need to isolate myself in order to really channel my musical tendencies. It’s hard for me to focus in cities with all the friends and engagements and plans constantly, even if you cut yourself off from them all, it’s still just buzzing around you, distracting you from finding something potentially special. That’s at least how I see it, so, as a result I always try to find inspiring locations with the band to go and do writing retreats. Sometimes we go stir crazy and insane, but it’s most often than not a crucial part of our creative process.
Tell me a bit about your creative retreats.
We’ve always found ourselves gravitating towards rural environments for the most intense of creative retreats, whether they be writing, recording, or rehearsing… something about city life (and significant others!) can be too distracting when there’s a lot to get done. I’ve always found I really need to get to a place where my head is completely clear of outside influences. Ideally we try and find a place without Internet, that’s far off and with spotty cell coverage so there’s really no way for us to zone out into our smart phones. We’ve succeeded in finding these types of places a lot and usually those trips have been the most fruitful. However, there are also a lot of shining moments where you just can’t take it anymore and the nearest way to civilization is hours away and there’s no friend or boyfriend around to snap you out of your internal crazy spot….haha. At this point we know three weeks is the max we can do in total isolation. We did six for the last album and it was just TOO crazy by the end. I laugh when I look back at it but I wasn’t laughing around week five.
So, what’s the stir craziest you guys have ever gotten at one of your retreats? And does this craziness help you create? For instance, how do you make a beautiful song out of that?
We often get stir crazy and people’s nerves and sensitivities flair up and there’s a weird chaos that can happen, which if not checked can be totally destructive and set you back a few days. But if the right person has their head on right and reigns the situation in, there can be a manic- like productivity to the craziness which can yield amazing results, albeit loaded ones. It’s really a hit or miss-type of process. We never know what formula will work for everyone at that period in our lives, and that time of year and even in that weather! We’ve done retreats in blistering hot rural Texas brushfire land and getaways to isolated snowbound areas with no TV or Internet or paved roads. Seems like we often pick extremes but we aren’t always trying to. We’ve also spent bucolic summers recording upstate in a giant house someone lent us. I think we are always up for something new. Who knows, maybe next go around a new country?
What do you do when work starts to feel stale or routine? Kind of like your relationship, how do you keep performing feeling fresh after so many years?
We did 107 shows in the past year supporting Shields, with many of the shows having almost identical sets. We try to switch up the sets to freshen things up, but it’s only natural the newer stuff feels more fun to play and there’s a catalog of songs we feel obliged to play because they are perceived as relative “‘hits,” which is comical to even say since nothing we’ve ever made has even come remotely close to being a REAL hit, (i.e. on the radio, etc.) So as a result it can sometimes feel a little like “Whoa I’m playing ‘Knife’ for probably the 500th time or so in my life, how do I make this fun?” and honestly it’s about losing yourself in the venue and with that crowd. The audience often has no idea how much they are essentially dictating what type of show they are going to get. If they give a ton of energy and cheer loud and are energized and excited, we feed off of that
and play harder and try out new things and are more inclined to play a longer set. I never fault a crowd for being sleepy. There’s nothing more sleepy than a sit- down show in a dry theater, and certain cultures, are just predisposed to be more reserved which isn’t a reflection on how they are enjoying the concert. However, when you are on show 80 of a yearlong tour and you hit one of those crowds, you play your hardest even if they golf clap, but you can’t help but wonder how much better and more stoked you might have played had they been wildly unhinged and energetic.
What does traveling provide to you? How important is it, especially outside of touring, or are you exhausted of traveling too much to do it outside of touring?
Traveling for me is like food, a total passion. Something I will never tire of. I do so much traveling with the band, but it’s a very superficial style of travel. One where you just glide in and out of a city, often only seeing a backstage. I like to absorb a place, explore the city and find the best food spots. I’m very outgoing and will use any method to find a local tour guide, no matter what type, to show me around. Recently I was in Sydney and met an older gay couple by chance and totally took them up on their offer to show me around. It was the best day. I saw parts of the city I would have never seen and they were really interesting and great tour guides and seemed to enjoy showing around a random American the perks of Sydney. I’ve used Instagram to find hiking partners in Hong Kong, or good dinner dates in Osaka. I love meeting new people even when it’s a dud (there have been a few) but it’s always worth it.
Where do you want to go that you haven’t been and why?
I want to explore more of Brazil outside the major cities, but since I’ve been there I guess that doesn’t count. I guess I’d REALLY like to see India, or Bhutan or Nepal – that area. I’ve never been to that region of the world and it often seems daunting (especially India) because of the size and population of the country, like “How will I ever have the time and energy to see such an
“The audience often has no idea how much they are essentially dictating what type of show they are going to get. If they give a ton of energy and cheer loud and are energized and excited, we feed off of that and play harder and try out new things and are more inclined to play a longer set.”
intense place?” but I will and I must. They are high up there for me. I’d also love to explore more of Africa. I’ve only been to Morocco, Egypt, and Zimbabwe and I’d really like to see Namibia and explore those really isolated areas.
I pray to every god I can think of before a plane takes off, even though I don’t necessarily believe in any of them. Do you ever fear flying?
I used to. Big time. Then I discovered Klonopin and I became a top-level flier that got free upgrades. Suddenly flying became easy.
Do the places you’ve visited turn up in your music? Either specifically or just in tone? In what ways?
I rarely write songs that are super literal. I’ve made reference to Cape Cod a bunch, and Argentina once, but generally speaking, I sing about specific experiences, emotions I’ve had or felt and write them in a semi vague way which I hope can be interpreted in many ways so each person can find their own connection to it. I’ve never been a fan of hyper-literal lyrics discussing a situation that no matter how hard I try I can’t relate to. I respect the storytelling craft and can enjoy the music, but there will always be an emotional wall keeping me at bay if I can’t find some sort of connection to the songs. And it’s usually the songs I’ve found meaning in that resonate with me the longest. This is what I HOPE we can do with our songs, but again you never know!
“I sing about specific experiences, emotions I’ve had or felt and write them in a semi vague way which I hope can be interpreted in many ways so each person can find their own connection to it.”
I think you’ve most definitely achieved this with your songs. When you’re not writing, recording, or touring, what’s a perfect day for you?
Wake up naturally. Walk to a coffee shop in the sun with the dog. Go on a hike with friends. Spend the afternoon laughing and drinking with friends by the ocean or a pool and finally a giant dinner party where everyone helps with the cooking and a relatively early evening in.
Do you have hobbies?
I suppose learning how to cook is a hobby. Studying Spanish. Oddly enough, even though it’s directly correlated to the band and music, piano lessons feels like a hobby because it’s something I’ve come to terms that I’ll never be great at, but I’d like to become better at it.
“I had no motives to be in a band and make my living that way, it was truly just something I did that I loved and what changed it I suppose, was sharing it.”
What do you think of the “hobby” as a concept?
I think they are conceptually nebulous. Sometimes people think of music as a hobby, sometimes a career or a passion. I suppose a hobby is something you do in your spare time that you never really have lofty career ambitions for? That said, music for me went from hobby to career without me even realizing it. I had no motives to be in a band and make my living that way, it was truly just something I did that I loved and what changed it I suppose, was sharing it. Once it went from something totally personal, to the public realm that’s when I think the definition gets a little confusing. I mean my mother likes to collect drift wood and paint on it. She sold a few for 25 bucks at a local coffee shop – does that mean it’s no longer a hobby? I’m not entirely sure! Did I even answer your question? Ha ha…
What’s most important to you?
Love, music, travel, and food.
What are you most afraid of?
What do you want to do right now?
Finish my coffee.
Blair Mastbaum is the author of the novels Clay’sWay and UsOnesInBetween. He lives near the beach in Los Angeles, where he hopes to overcome a dreadful fear of the ocean and finally complete a third novel. Follow him @blairmastbaum and on Instagram @scrappysoldier.