Emo, Cu­ri­ous, and Well-Trav­eled; or Ed Droste Is My Kind of Per­son

Hello Mr. Magazine - - EMO, CURIOUS - in­ter­view by Blair Mast­baum pho­tos by Daniel Se­ung Lee

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?

My­self.

What do you want to do right now?

Fin­ish my cof­fee.

Me too.

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.

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