Published Aug 23, 2017After releasing fourth LP Shields back in 2012, it seemed likely that avant-rock quartet Grizzly Bear might never release new music again. Not out of irreparable personal conflicts, but out of geographical displacement, after all four members moved from their Brooklyn home: vocalist Ed Droste to L.A.; vocalist/guitarist Daniel Rossen split between upstate New York and Santa Fe; multi-instrumentalist/producer Chris Taylor to the Hudson River, where he wrote a cookbook then spent a year in Berlin; and drummer Chris Bear to Long Island.
"It didn't seem like anything was gonna happen anytime soon," Taylor says.
Slowly but surely, the band began pulling themselves back together. Taylor joined Droste in Los Angeles, bringing with him Terrible Studios, Taylor's long-time base of operations, which he moved from a converted Brooklyn church.
"I was transient for the last decade or something," remembers the producer. "It was cool to have a home and a studio and have stuff set up. It just became something I didn't have in my life for a long time, so it feels like a luxury."
With a new home base, Grizzly Bear began work on what would become Painted Ruins, their fourth full-length since expanding from Droste's solo project into a proper band. Though the album bears the band's trademark ambience and instrumental density, it also marks their leanest effort in a decade, reflecting their newfound stability.
Not that the record started out lean — Taylor found himself going back to the recordings and taking out chunks of instrumentation.
"Chris Bear, Dan and I play a lot of instruments, each one of us. We have a lot of options in terms of the stuff we can play on, so we have a lot of fun recording, but it's kind of equally fun to delete stuff," says Taylor. "What it does is it opens the song up and lets it really bloom and breathe."
Painted Ruins single "Neighbors," for example, "didn't really have much sculptural form to it," Taylor reveals. "In the eleventh hour, right before mixing, I remember sitting with Dan and Chris and just cutting out a lot of the stuff that had accumulated. After removing a lot and leaving the parts that excited us the most, what happened was we uncovered this song that I ended up loving a lot more than I initially thought I would."
Despite, or because of this approach, "Neighbors" — as with the rest of Painted Ruins — is unmistakably Grizzly Bear, signs of a band identity beyond the tangle of sounds. "I feel like sometimes, the heap of stuff is part of the voice of the band, I would think," summarizes Taylor. "But I guess the clarity is just a matter of growing up and learning how to do stuff better and more succinctly. Maybe just a product of maturing, I would think, too."