Grizzly Bear are an indie act from New York whose music is a mixture of four-part harmony, folkie guitars, and slight electronic flourishes; a beautifully-composed sonic stew captured on computer but sounding timeless. Chris Taylor —the live keyboardist/vocalist who serves as the band's producer/arranger on recordings— calls such sound "creating landscapes."
Grizzly Bear began as a solo project for Ed Droste, but soon grew into a full band of equal collaborateurs. They record for famed English electro label Warp Records, and have toured with Radiohead, Feist, and TV on the Radio.
All of Grizzly Bear's members came from musical childhoods. Droste's grandfather was the head of Harvard's music department for 40 years, his aunt is a concert cellist, and his mother a music teacher. Co-songwriter Daniel Rossen grew up studying jazz guitar. Taylor was raised his father's Neil Young records. And drummer/vocalist Christopher Bear (whose name is wholly coincidental to the band's) was also heavily influenced by his father.
"My dad's a musician," Bear recounted to The Deli, "so since I was very young, I was always messing around on his bass, and keyboards, and always listening to music, and it's always been a part of my life."
Grizzly Bear was born in 2004, as the solo recording project of Droste. Though Droste had given up music while in college, a bad break-up found him reaching for the guitar as therapy. "It was just like doing a little home project, and I thought oh this is fun, I'm just going to call this stuff Grizzly Bear... I didn't even know who Animal Collective was," Droste explained, of those beginnings and his adopted band name, to Brooklyn Vegan.
Droste's breakup was, notably, from a boyfriend, instantly opening Horn of Plenty —an album consisting of Droste's home recordings— up to a gay audience. Well, at least those who noticed.
"There's a line that's like, 'cum all over me,' but nobody ever hears it," Droste said, to Prefix. "The lyrics definitely have a homo bent to them, but most people don't notice unless they're listening for it. It's definitely not 'gay' type of music, like Xiu Xiu. Basically, the only times people ever know about it is if they've read a piece of gay press."
Bear 'joined' Grizzly Bear when helping Droste with theHorn of Plenty recordings. By the time the record was released, in late 2004, Bear's friend Taylor (who, in a piece of coincidental fate, had worked with a pre-fame Kyp Malone and Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio) had been brought in as 'arranger.' Yet, after playing a handful of liveshows, they found the trio set-up too slight, and Rossen was brought on board as second singer-guitarist.
After a solid six months of touring, the band set to work on Yellow House, which they recorded in Droste's childhood home in Massachusetts. It was on this album that Taylor's 'space'-centric production greatly expanded Grizzly Bear's sound.
"One time he put the microphone at the top of the stairwell and had our amp in the other room and recorded a really distant, hot signal and had a lot of white noise with it," Droste marveled, toCoke Machine Glow. "There're a lot of different techniques that he had that I was totally clueless about."
On its 2006 release, Yellow House earnt sizeable critical acclaim, but that didn't immediately translate to sales. "I thought that when Rolling Stone came to interview us," Taylor joked, "that meant we had made it. But I was still broke."
Grizzly Bear's arrival on the pop-cultural consciousness was more of a slow trickle, occurring not with an album or single, but between LPs. Through tours with TV on the Radio (2006), Feist (2007), and Radiohead (2008), they were exposed to a broad range of listeners.
"It was really amazing and surreal," Droste gushed, to Pitchfork, about their Radiohead shows. "I can barely believe it happened. I don't have any contact with any of them. All I have is a few digital pictures and people being like, 'Yup, that happened.' It was kind of a dream come true for us, to play in front of that many people."
2008 also found Grizzly Bear playing shows in New York with Paul Simon, and appearing onLetterman, Conan, and Craig Ferguson. Not to mention making their third album, Veckatimest.
Like Yellow House, Veckatimest was a huge evolutionary step for the band; a glorious, orchestral pop record of grand melody and tiny details. By the time of its release, Grizzly Bear's slowly-grown following were pregnant with expectation, making the LP hotly-anticipated and, eventually, feverishly-acclaimed; widely hailed as one of 2009's best albums.
And it wasn't only audiences and critics who loved the record. "I've got to tell you," Droste beamed, to Drowned in Sound, "I'm infinitely more excited and proud of this record than Yellow House. I think we all are."
After the cross-cultural crossover of Veckatimest —which probably reached a peak when Jay-Z and Beyoncé came to an outdoor summer concert in New York in 2009— Grizzly Bear toured endlessly and then laid low. Taylor debuted his side-project Cant on the album Dreams Come True and produced records by the Morning Benders and Twin Shadow (amongst many others), and Rossen released a solo LP, Silent Hour/Golden Mile.
In 2012, Grizzly Bear finally returned with their much-awaited follow-up to Veckatimest. The album was initially announced without a title, before the band settled on Shields, and the record was a dark, proggy opus that alienated many fans of their harmonic, woodland pop.
"The mood for Veckatimest and the mood for Shields is so different, almost opposite," Taylor said, of the change. "Veckatimest was pretty summery and light in a lot of songs on the record. [Shields] doesn't have those moments of lightness; it's across-the-board heavier."