Minus the Bear

Minus the Bear
When they first emerged in 2001 from the ashes of Botch, Kill Sadie and Sharks Keep Moving, Minus the Bear quickly garnered a reputation as "that tapping band with disco beats and funny song titles.” The band were respected but also pigeonholed immediately. Their second full-length release, 2005’s Menos el Oso, saw them take a pretty significant step away from the clichés of their earliest recordings and with Planet of Ice, they have managed to cement themselves as startlingly original purveyors of epic-sounding, technologically-aided math pop, with heart. Sam Sutherland spoke to Minus the Bear drummer Erin Tate about the adjustments the band made to find their new sound.

It seems like you guys are sounding more and more organic - more like human beings than guitar machines. I was wondering if that was intentional?
Drummer Erin Tate: We definitely tried to take it to a different place than we’ve done before. Make ourselves sound different than we’re used to sounding. There’s definitely a vibe of wanting it to sound more like five guys jamming, but still have a technical feel to it.

I thought was interesting because the artwork that accompanies the record, and the name of the record, is so obviously icy, yet the music is probably the warmest you’ve ever produced. Is that an intentional dichotomy?
No, not really. The Planet of Ice title is just what it is, it’s not a planned out thing or anything. It just came from the vibe from when we were writing the first batch of songs. The title just seemed to fit, because the songs seemed a bit darker and little more epic.

Did you go into this record wanting to write more epic material? I mean, the record ends with a nine-minute song.
We just agreed to not hold ourselves back. Generally, with a lot of the writing that we do, we’ll write and write and write, and then say, "This part is eight bars, let’s cut it down to four.” We’re generally cutting ourselves down and editing ourselves with our writing, but with this record, we just agreed that if this part needs to go on for two minutes, it needs to go on for two minutes. If it works, it works.

Were those songwriting ideas getting discussed beforehand, or did they just evolve from record to record?
It happens from record to record. Generally we’ll sit down and hash through three or four songs and continue with where the feel is going. It takes us about a year or two to write a record.

What was it like having a brand new member in the band? Was Alex’s [Rose, keyboardist] influence substantial, having only been in the band for a year-and-a-half?
Yeah, it made a big difference. When Matt [Bayles, producer and former keyboardist] was in the band, he was generally recording the whole time we were home. He’d come out to practice sometimes, but mostly he’d write his parts in the studio. So generally it was four guys writing and then he came in later to do his thing. With Alex, he was at every practice and it made a big difference in how things turned out, because we had a keyboard player around to write with. He’s a really talented guy who plays just about every instrument, and it was great having him there.

Has it been weird adjusting to Matt’s absence? Or since he wasn’t around that much, is it just not that big of a change?
It’s not that big of a change. Alex had been doing live sound for us for a couple of years, and had been travelling with us, and he engineered a bit on the last full-length. He’s been in the scene with us for a while. I’d see Matt a lot on tour and then barely when we were home. So it wasn’t a huge departure. A few things changed, but that’s it.

It’s pretty clear there are no hard feelings in that situation either, right?
No, not at all. We’re all still totally tight.

You talk about Matt’s work in the studio, and you guys doing a lot of interesting technological stuff on record with keyboards and samplers. Have you ever created a sound or effect in the studio that you just found impossible to recreate live?
We haven’t run into that problem live. The only thing we haven’t been able to do is vocal stuff where there are four harmonies going on and only two people can sing live. But I think we pull off most things live. Sometimes Dave [Knudson, guitarist] has a hard time playing pedals with his feet and playing guitar at the same time, but he seems to pull it off live.

With this record, as well as Menos el Oso, you guys have pretty much officially moved on from funny song titles and record titles?
Yes.

Funny song titles is a dead scene?
Yup.

Makes sense.