Grizzly Bear Kill Their (Musical) Darlings and Make 'Painted Ruins' Better

Grizzly Bear Kill Their (Musical) Darlings and Make 'Painted Ruins' Better
Photo: Tom Hines
In recent years, Grizzly Bear have been a cornerstone of the Brooklyn music scene, releasing a series of critically acclaimed albums featuring a small army of instruments and sounds forged together into sweeping art rock soundscapes. The band's upcoming album, Painted Ruins, has all of their hallmarks, with plenty of duels between vocalists Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen on top of a dense tangle of instruments, but it also possesses an unprecedented amount of clarity and restraint — a surprise, given the album's sprawling origin.
The band went on hiatus after 2012's Shields and subsequent touring, followed by a splintering of members who disembarked to various locales. As multi-instrumentalist and producer Chris Taylor tells Exclaim!, "It didn't seem like anything was gonna happen anytime soon."
Slowly, they began reconnecting, if not physically then creatively, using a Dropbox account to pool song ideas, "To varying degrees of success," Taylor comments.
"It's really not ideal," Taylor says of the file-sharing strategy. "That technology is super cool and allows for fun things, but nothing beats four people in a room having face-to-face communication, verbally and musically. Nothing beats the real thing on that — you gotta be around one another. It [went] so much quicker once we were all together."
Grizzly Bear typically possess a busy sound, which Taylor characterizes as having "an additive and subtractive element to it. We tend to add a lot and take a lot away and see what's best there," yet Painted Ruins is remarkably pared down, their leanest effort yet.
Using Painted Ruins single "Neighbors" as an example, Taylor explains that the song "got really dense and a lot was happening, and it almost felt just like a brick of content. It didn't really have much sculptural form to it. Right before mixing, I remember sitting with Dan [Rossen] and Chris [Bear] and just cutting out a lot of the stuff that had accumulated, like 'This isn't really adding to it.' 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.
"I always liked it but in that process of stripping it back — it's still quite full, to be fair, I'm totally aware of that — but to hear more of the interaction between the elements, it had more of an elegant, specific form."
This perspective informs not just Painted Ruins, but the band's ethos moving forward. "Chris and Dan and I play a lot of instruments, each one of us," Taylor says. "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. It opens the song up and lets the song really bloom and breathe. That's also really equally fun, which sounds really counterintuitive to delete stuff you really used to love, but it is actually quite cleansing."
Painted Ruins comes out August 18 on RCA. Check out the video for "Neighbors" below.