When Brooklyn-bound band Grizzly Bear signed to British electronic music institution Warp Records in 2006, expectations were quite mixed in the beginning. While the band’s intimate songwriting and hermetic sound atmosphere quickly gained many new fans within the indie community with their sophomore album Yellow House, the laid-back songwriting didn’t connect to the mainstream music audience as well. This drastically changed with the release of Veckatimest and Grizzly Bear music being played in Super bowl commercials as well as Jay-Z making them the future of Hip-Hop. In advance of their new album Shields we got on the phone with producer and multiinstrumentalist Chris Taylor to talk the band’s new album and their next leap forward.
When did you start working on the new album?
We got pretty much all the work February of 2012 to May … May 15th.
And you’ve returned to Veckatimest island?
We recorded some songs there, some in western Texas and also at a church studio space in Brooklyn.
Ed’s Instagram account is quite fun to follow, trying to guess where he and the band is at the moment …
There are some images from the recordings on there, right. Ed loves to travel, so he takes photos from a large variety of places.
Let’s talk about the album. The first track that was released is titled ‘Sleeping Ute’. Is this connected to the Ute mountain?
Yes, indeed! Dan (Daniel Rossen) said that he liked looking at various books about old native american trails. There’s the Ute tribe, and well the trail lead to this mountain. The lyrics of our song talk about wandering and how to keep still in the wild. Well, we’ve been visiting the southwest and soak ourselfs into the imagery of the mountains.
What I liked about ‘Sleeping Ute’ song was that I worked pretty well pulling me into the rest of album, also the progressions, breaks, and rhythms reminded me very much of the post hardcore bands from the late ninetees. How do you as a band work when you write a song?
This particular song was partly written by Dan, just as the lyrics. We sort of came up with the feel of the overall structure. I’ve added some strange feel and sounds from the keyboard. We wanted to make it sound very bombastic and explosive. It’s kind of the constant desire to make a sound of the sun exploding, that’s a t least something I try to do every once in a while in a song. I wanted to have this kind of sensation of an exploding fire, to make the music explode through the speakers with a bright, shining, beautiful, scary light …
It’s funny that you put it this way, because it’s pretty much the same thing I was thinking when listening to the last song on Shields, ‘The Sun in Your Eyes’ with its constant swell and decay, the build-up until the sixth minute and then exploding. It has a very bombastic feel …
The sun is sort of the true god figure that you answer to and live and die by. It’s a spiritually pure thing. I guess we’re thinking about that a lot!
Would consider yourself being spiritual a person?
I personally do, very much. Not a religious person, but, you know …
How did you feel like when Jay-Z praised your last album Veckatimest to the highest levels? What do you as a producer feel when he mentioned that your approach to independent music could be an example for rap music?
He’s gifted and talented just as if the gods gave him something that everyone else can’t get. Everyone’s got their special way within them. It’s a huge compliment even being recognized by someone as prominent as him, but we see it as a great compliment by someone who truly likes the music. It gets a little bit more specifically cool when you’re a musician and you respect that musicians work so much and the they like you, that’s a unique giant compliment.
Was is it like for you as the producer in Grizzly Bear? Do you need to interfere much with the works of the others?
Only in a sense in trying to draw out the best moments that we feel capable of. It’s like insisting on showing their best and most interesting side, or maybe their most anxious side — whatever the case may need. It’s just knowing everyone in the band very well that helps pull these things from them — in a way that is unique and that you couldn’t hire an outside person to do something like that. I consider myself lucky to be surrounded by people that are talented. All I really want to witness is their finest moments. I try to challenge them. It constantly wouldn’t do to perform something in a way that they didn’t expect — in a very reactive, natural impulsive way. It’s sort of same spirit that helps you stay alive. It just feels interesting looking at people’s unexpected sides, and especially watch them witness it. And of course I want to make the experience of making music lovely, special and unique — instead of making it feel like a job. That’s not the motivation. The motivation is to try and make it a true experience. It’s my life, and I want it to be a real thing.
Photo: © Barbara Anastacio
After a string of madly hyped first tracks and their critically acclaimed debut LP 7AM in 2010, Brooklyn-based duo Teengirl Fantasy return with their sophomore full-length Tracer, out August 20 on seminal Belgian/UK label R&S Records. For the new effort, Oberlin College alumni Logan Takahashi and Nick Weiss abandoned the sampling that defined 7AM, in particular standout single ‘Cheaters‘, in favor of pure instrumentals and four staggering collaborations that feature vocal contributions by Kelela, Panda Bear, Laurel Halo, and the legendary Romanthony. After a long night of performing and partying at Berlin’s Naherholung Sternchen and an exhausting full day of interviews, I took Logan and Nick to the Tempelhof Airport park to have a little chat about their upcoming record, the duo’s musical development and various influences, and the changing electronic music landscape in the United States.
Electronic Beats: Since 7AM, what has changed for you, musically and personally?
Logan: In terms of our own abilities regarding production techniques, it’s been two and a half years between the two albums, and in that time we’ve just become more experienced working with our tools and getting deeper into programming our hardware and also getting better with mixing techniques. In terms of stuff that we’re listening to, I don’t think there’s any watershed sort of change of the sounds and music we’re listening to – one thing I did start listening to is stuff from the era of early digital production techniques, so I think maybe that had an influence on our music. Personally, we graduated from school so this album was recorded pretty much entirely after we’d left school so it was our first chance to really focus just on one thing from start to finish, and that felt different this time.
The new album feels like emerging from one coherent concept. Did you have an idea how it all should sound like or was it rather isolated tracks that somehow added up to an album?
Nick: We didn’t really sit down and plan how the whole album would sound – we wrote isolated tracks but we wrote them kind of all at the same time, we would have a couple of days of just jamming and writing sessions. Also, we went on tour with our friends Gatekeeper while we were recording and we played our new songs, and I think in the live context they maybe matched together more and more, and then we went back and worked on them in the studio, so it had kind of like a feedback effect that maybe gave the tracks all a similar feel.
Logan: One thing we knew we’d definitely wanted to do with this album is to try to make it be like a cohesive sort of listening experience from start to finish.
You take structures of dance music but the end result is not a dance album. What would be for you the ideal listening environment?
Logan: Ideally, a lot of the tracks would function in a club situation, and we had people dancing to them when we were DJing, but they should also work on a headphone level.
Nick: I think the album is really good for train listening, I’ve listened to it a lot on public transport. It’s nice in order to soundtrack your daily adventures.
What I found striking about the collaborations on Tracer was that each one has a vibe that resembles the respective vocalists’ own styles. Was it only the actual vocals the guest artists provided, or did they also have a say regarding the actual production?
Logan: Well the one for Panda Bear, we had already made the instrumental before even sending it to him, and he was only an idea for somebody who would sound good on that track, as we also agreed that it has some kind of a Panda Bear vibe to it, so we just emailed that to him and then he sent it back with his part on it. The song with Laurel, we recorded it all together in the studio, that was a little bit more collaborative, she gave her input for what she wanted her voice to sound like, but even then the instrumental had pretty much already been written.
Nick: Rather than having our instrumentation following the way their instrumentation is, in terms of vocal production, Panda Bear sent us his vocals already processed, so it really sounds like Panda Bear, and with all the vocals we kind of let them do their own sound, we didn’t try to change it so much, the same with Laurel, she told us how she wanted us to process her voice, and I think that maybe gives it the feel of their music.
But you always had an exact idea which vocalist you wanted for each of those tracks.
Nick: Definitely. We only chose the vocalist we felt like would make sense, yeah.
Logan: The starting point for the Laurel track was that we were talking about it with her and we said that we wanted to make a song where the vocals sound like ‘It’s a Fine Day‘ by Opus III.
What is your recording setup like?
Logan: The instrumentation is all the same as our live setup. So when we recorded it was all of our instruments going into a mixer, and then we just recorded all the tracks live into the computer. Most of the tracks had at least another layer of overdubs just because our interface had only eight channels. But apart from that it’s all live.
Nick: Usually, we’d write the songs in a kind of jam session style and then record scratch live versions and then go back later and listen to them and see if any ideas look good, and if so, we would try and play them again and again until we’d feel like we have something, and then on tour we’d play new stuff in the set and form it that way. The vocals then came as the last step. It was more like when we felt a song was empty or we had purposefully left a song with some room for vocals, then we would find people, but it was pretty natural. All the vocalists except for Romanthony are friends.
But the decision to abandon the vocal samples; did that come early in the process, before the decision to use actual vocalists?
Nick: I think vocal sampling is such an easy way to just drop emotion into tracks, like cut-up R&B vocal samples if you feel like a track needs something human or an emotion, but it’s actually a very inhuman way of doing it because you don’t have to talk to anyone, you can just be alone in your room and chop up someone else’s very emotional outpouring. Someone had to get in a booth and give everything, and now you just use a snippet of that. Not that I’m hating on that, I’m just saying, ‘Cheaters’ is exactly that.
Logan: That was one thing, like anytime anybody wrote about that track, it was usually just like, ‘…and then it samples this track by Love Committee…’
Nick: So yeah, we’d just already done that. And on our other tracks we also did use snippets of vocal samples and stuff, but after everyone was doing it, this time it was just like, ‘Okay, let’s not’.
Are you already working on new stuff?
Logan: We’ve been doing like some soul stuff for the last couple of months or so, kind of in between touring and finishing the album, we have ideas, but we haven’t started recording new stuff yet.
But it’s gonna be something entirely different?
Nick: I can only imagine (laughs).
When you were starting with 7AM, the whole house thing in the US was at that point rather small, but since then it has kind of exploded with all the 100% Silk stuff coming out etc. How do you feel towards that scene?
Logan: Sometimes we get grouped into like that whole ‘Hipster House’ thing – but even before 100% Silk started we had run into all those guys just playing shows in the Bay Area, all those guys used to live there. Me and Nick lived in Oakland three summers ago, and we would see those guys playing parties, so we were aware of that scene. Even though the music they were playing wasn’t like straight-up house then.
Nick: When we started making music, none of our references were any contemporary artists or whatever, a lot of references were older, so I don’t feel a kinship with that scene at all. I think it’s cool though.
What do you find exciting about music right now then?
Logan: A lot of our friends (laughs). Laurel’s new album is really great, Gatekeeper’s new album is amazing, James Ferraro, also AraabMuzik is really exciting to watch.
Nick: All the Fade To Mind releases, all the Night Slugs, but yeah, a lot of the new music that I’m really into is stuff that friends are making, like Fatima Al Qadiri’s stuff for example.
What I was always wondering about is your name. When you started, some blogs and websites criticized you for that name and the Angelfire site you had made.
Logan: Well it started all out as a joke really, but not that we were trying to be a joke band, we just thought it was a funny, catchy-sounding name.
Nick: Yeah, we weren’t even thinking in terms of that anyone would ever listen to it, it was really like our own thing I guess, and I think it was only by coincidence people started finding it.
You guys just met at Oberlin College and then realized that you share the same musical direction?
Logan: Pretty much, yeah. It came very natural, I guess it was just coincidence, like we just found out that we have a similar taste in music, and we have this gear so let’s jam. It was pretty organic.
In a way your music feels very European. Is the reaction to your music different over here compared to when you play in the US or in Canada?
Nick: I think the understanding of our music is different here. Although our roots are American, in America a lot of those roots are kind of forgotten by the general public, whereas in Europe it seems like a lot of people kind of just know about the bases of house and techno.
Logan: It seems more accessible to people who haven’t ever heard us before to get into it over here maybe.
But I guess that’s changing now in the US.
Logan: I think it’s changing, yeah. Even like this past year or so in Brooklyn, there has just been way more warehouse all-night dance parties, those have gotten really popular, and even on the mainstream level it seems like people are getting more into like EDM or whatever.
But for that, apart from the fact that it is a stupid and misleading term, would you think the whole coverage of ‘Hipster House’ was also helpful in a way?
Nick: I guess. Though it seems from the outside like a pretty derogatory term, so I prefer to just not even think about it. That’s the same thing with like ‘chillwave’, any trendy made-up genre name is just lazy, and that’s also just not how we write music, we’re not influenced by micro trends. We try to not think about trends at all. We try to excavate sounds that are less typical so that it’s something that feels new in the end.
April 15, 2012
At the subway entrance, Schneider picked up a copy of the New York Post.
SWILLARY—Hill knocks back brew as scandal rocks summit!
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday slugged back a beer and kicked up her heels at a Cuban-themed nightclub in Cartagena, as the brewing Secret Service prostitution scandal stunned the Summit of the Americas in Colombia. America’s top diplomat was all smiles as she… (cont. on page 4)
Next stop: breakfast at Joe’s Coffee (9 East 13th) with Steven Levy. There was music in the café at noon and revolution in the air when Levy mapped out the future of the music on the Internet. “We will soon have live streams of every single concert all over the world. We’ll be able to share not only the live experience but also to browse through endless stream archives. Our perception of time will change, as will our understanding of music. I could even imagine that the format of the album will be replaced by the format of the live show.”
Levy couldn’t have known that V2 Schneider was eagerly expecting the kick-off of Bob Dylan’s spring tour later that night in Rio de Janeiro—constantly thinking about the patterns of set-lists and how even the slightest changes can mean the world to caring audiences. Just ask any deadhead.
His mind swimming with ideas, Schneider took the Q Train to Queens to meet the inimitable François K at PS1. At the entrance of the museum, he bumped into Klaus Biesenbach, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Ralf Hütter—the latter wearing his black pants 1940’s style, like Humphrey Bogart in Key Largo. As it turned out, Hütter had chosen this sunny afternoon to do a joint DJ set together with François K inside the Kraftwerk exhibit’s “Performance Dome”. Hell, this was inspiring. To the matching beats of Kraftwerk’s ‘Numbers’ (manipulated by Kevorkian on laptop), Hütter played melancholic melodies on both a Mini Moog and Korg MS20 and even sang live—his voice treated by a heavy vocoder effect. The crowd went berserk as K mixed Afrika Bambaataa, Kraftwerk and various obscure electro grooves into a single pulsing entity.
Unfortunately for Schneider, a planned interview with François K didn’t take place. Schneider wanted to discuss K’s influence on the mixing of Kraftwerk’s Techno Pop (originally Electric Café) in 1986, but Kevorkian, when asked, simply replied: “I haven’t slept for three days. Please forgive me. I need a bed.”
Later that evening, Schneider and Rainer Calmund went to the MoMA to see Techno Pop live. In light of the fact that the medley ‘Boing Boom Tschak/Techno Pop/Musique Non-Stop’ had been the climax during every single one of the Kraftwerk’s previous shows, both Schneider and Calmund were expecting nothing less than the outstanding. One word about Techno Pop: The album is sparse when it comes to melodies, but this actually is its greatest asset. On the A-side, Kraftwerk had begun experimenting with songs that are rhythmically in-synch, helping to introduce the dawn of a new DJ culture where one beat had to match the next. But this didn’t spare the band from being critiqued for the album’s lack of melody and subjective lyrics when it appeared in the mid-eighties.
While Calmund curiously left the MoMA before the set had even started, Schneider managed to witness the best Kraftwerk show of the retrospective so far. In his gut he could feel the group’s desire to rewrite history. During ‘The Robots’ Ralf Hütter even did the robot – only slightly, but nonetheless.
After the show, Schneider once again found himself on the rooftop terrace of Rockefeller Center, this time surrounded by a swarm of small birds whose chirping seemed to strangely increase the strength of his Wi-Fi signal.
In Rio de Janeiro, Dylan had just finished the first concert of his South American tour. The set-list on his iPhone read as follows:
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
It Ain’t Me, Babe
Things Have Changed
Tangled Up In Blue
The Levee’s Gonna Break
Tryin’ to Get to Heaven
Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
Simple Twist of Fate
Highway 61 Revisited
Thunder on the Mountain
Ballad of a Thin Man
Like a Rolling Stone
All Along the Watchtower
And then: linguine with salmon, ginger and green pepper in the loft on Grand Street.