We Like Electric
Plugged-in Brooklyn Folk Boys Traverse Through Time and Land in Lasers
Live Laser Light Show
Tues Aug 23, Seattle Laser Dome, doors at 8 pm, $8, 21+
This is the story of a band traveling between eras—from the woody gleam of rolling hills in 8th-century Scotland to the strobing flash of a laser light show in 21st-century Seattle.
When we first meet them, the four boys of the band called Grizzly Bear—henceforth known as "our heroes"—are toiling away in a remote part of modern-day Massachusetts. Their surroundings are sparse but crucial, punctuated by old Navajo pottery, an array of artifacts, and a piano. Singer Edward Droste sits among them. He aims his eyes heavenward and sighs, "My mom is heavily familial, old-school New England. She can trace her roots back to the 8th century. Our family all vacations together on Cape Cod, and they're all very musical and connected and time-warped in a weird way."
Yes. He just said time warp.
Very well then. Continue.
Droste grew up listening to "nothing but Scottish folk songs; just the old shit. I was exposed to a lot of British folk... not Vashti Bunyan folk. I'm talking, like, 19th-century songs that people sung when they were out getting sheep in the field. It's really dated... really dated. Not like '60s folk, it's not country style. It's pre-electricity folk."
Off to sing with the blue bloods amidst the lingering scent of—crabs? lobsters?—at this moment in time, Droste's mother has allowed Grizzly Bear to set up a miniature recording studio in her living room, the place adds a flavor of Scots pastiche—and the dusty memory of eras past—to a varying array of mics and drums and pedals. "There are a lot of old artifacts around here that aren't worth much... it's like weird crap that's been collected. There's an old grandfather clock and a weird photograph of sheep in snow and an art-deco couch that got reupholstered orange... I don't even know why. We pushed the couch to the wall and set up mics around for different effects."
The Grizz are Brooklyn boys—Droste, drummer Christopher Bear, multi-instrumentalist/sound-hound Chris Taylor, and guitarist Dan Rossen—who have to leave the constant rumble and warp-speed pace of the City for the Massachusetts enclave to get any recording done, says Droste. And while the weird environment is not necessary to nurture the band's hypnotic vocal rounds, cascading layers of guitar effects, clarinet, and drum fills that all roll up and increase like they are scaling some psychedelic holy mountain—you can bet the quiet doesn't harm the folk. More importantly, certainly Droste's genealogical background has influenced the boys' love for crescendoing vocals and tweaky vibes. "My mom loves vocal rounds, and a lot of times we do them. They're not explicit, but I love the way they sound when they blend into each other."
Despite being shepherds surrounded by relics, Grizzly Bear are making distinctly post-electricity folk music. They're a band working in a New York whose most discernable movement is an après–"rock revival" collection of freak-folk bands of varying talent and increasingly high profiles—such meandering new psychedelic mavens as Black Dice and Animal Collective, who mix up their weird pop proclivities with a jones for experimentation. But they're not part of that scene, per se, though there are some similarities with Animal Collective at least in concept.
Grizzly Bear's first album, 2004's Horn of Plenty (Kanine), was written entirely by Droste in his apartment on his laptop, during a long depressive post-breakup whorl. Their affinity for delay, effects, weird little keyboards, and other types of plugged-in 21st-century accoutrements will be much more suited to their August 23 show, as their voluminous harmonies interweave with live lasers. "The new stuff is more psychedelic," says Droste. "There's more room for improv, and there's more swelling vocals and echo and reverb and delay and horns and drums. It's a fuller, richer, fluid piece. And this is the most excited I've been to do a show—cause as a band, we don't really feel like we need to be seen."
And as for their future? Perhaps as a metaphor for their onstage shyness, Grizzly Bear came up with a pretty genius concept. With their next record—label as yet to be decided—they're giving away an all-star remix album, featuring such a wide array of sonic collage experts as the Postal Service's Jimmy Tamborello, DFA's Tim Sweeney, Efterklang, Solex, and Animal Collective producer Rusty Santos, among others. So how'd they get so hooked up? Never underestimate the power of DIY.
"I just e-mailed them," explains Droste. "It's really awesome 'cause people were amazingly nice. The whole experience started with the idea that we'd release a single with two remixes on it. So I just approached Drew Daniel [of Soft Pink Truth] with the idea that I wouldn't hear back. But he'd actually heard of us, and he was really into our album! I was super psyched about it, so I e-mailed all these people about getting involved, and it snowballed into this really awesome thing. Part of it feels like indie gay boys working together, but it's also really diverse 'cause [remixers include] Jeff McLeod from the Double, the Castanets, Final Fantasy, that gay guy from Arcade Fire who does strings. Everyone pulled out all the stops." Illustrious companionship for an illusive act about to gracefully sear your eyes and ears with their lysergic beauty.
GRIZZLY BEAR HIBERNATE IN THE LASER DOME
Remember those days of taking the ol' camping pad down to the local science museum and allowing a skilled technician to unload the Led Zeppelin with a sea of colored beams and voluminous sonics? Just because you grew up doesn't mean you have to, like, leave the laser dome behind. After the success of The Stranger's live Jennifer Gentle performance last April at the Seattle Laser Dome (well, except for that couple who took rank mushrooms and thought the sky was falling), we're presenting yet another round of unusual audio-visual acrobatics. It's time to return to the land of eye and ear candy, with bands whose live performances lend themselves well to experiments in turning your temple into warm taffy.
For this latest installment, we've invited Brooklyn's cuddly electro-folksters Grizzly Bear to nuzzle your ear canals as local pro tech Ivan—who's spun the lights in cities across America, 7,000 times overall—mans the quality controls for the extraterrestrial experience. You may remember from the last laser show, but Ivan's supplier, Bellevue's LFI International, is the most successful laser-display company on earth, so you know this is no flashlight-on-the-brick-walls gimmick.
The gig is part of The Stranger's efforts to create and support musical events that deviate from the norm—whether that involves lasers, boats (the next I Sunk Your Battleship booze cruise is August 27), block parties, or parking-lot punk shows, the less normal things become, the more we like it. After all, sanity is so passé. Don't forget your pillow. JENNIFER MAERZ