Minus The Bear

If you could associate any one phrase with Minus The Bear it would have to be genre defying. Their usage of mind-blowing guitar tapping techniques, supported and smoothed out by a jazzy, laid back rhythmic section has had journalists and music critics alike stumped when attempting to determine a proper label for the Seattle natives. Punknews contributor Matt Pagirsky recently had a chance to talk to drummer Erin Tate about the forthcoming new album, their current label situation, the always-evolving Seattle scene they were bred from, and the real truth about the dirtiness of their comrades in Portugal. The Man.

This is Matt with Punknews and I’m here with Erin from Minus the Bear. How are you doing?

Good, how about yourself?

Not too bad. You guys wrapped up recording your new album with producer Joe Chiccarelli. How was it working with Joe compared to your previous records with Matt [Bayles]?

It was completely different because we’re so close with Matt so sometimes when he offered suggestions, we’d be like, "no you’re wrong," but with Joe, we were more willing to try it because we hired him and respected the stuff he’s done. It was really different, it was really good, and sometimes it was a little terrifying.

Was he intimidating?

He just knows what he likes. It turned out great I think. It’s the most cohesive piece of music we’ve done as a whole.

Stylistically, what’s the biggest difference between this and Planet of Ice?

I don’t think it’s as rock as Planet of Ice is. It has more of a [Highly Refined] Pirates and [Menos El] Oso vibe. It has smoother jams. It’s different in the sense that every one of our records has been different than the last, but it’s still definitely the same five guys writing the songs.

I actually caught you guys also a month ago here in New York City for the Gramercy show. Each of the new three songs sounded really individually diverse. Is that somewhat the direction the record is heading in?

I feel like most of our records do that, most of the songs are different from each other. That "Broken China" song might not make the record, although our managers are telling us we’re dumb not to put it on. It just doesn’t seem to really fit the vibe.

Was that the second new song you played? I love that song. You need to put that on there.

We still might, we’re not sure yet. We don’t even have a label yet, so we don’t know what we’re doing. We’re just sitting on the record and hoping somebody puts it out. We’re totally open at this point to talk about not being on a label. In this day and age, labels are so fucked up, so it’s really a matter of what we feel like is going to be the best fit and the right people to do it. Whether it be ourselves like we did with the new 7" and that acoustics EP, or going back to Suicide Squeeze. Our management is talking to people and we’ve done some meetings and we’re going to do some more.

I feel like you guys have kind of built this really strong fan base very organically in that people just come out to your shows without much promotion. It’s like people just know you’re coming and you’re able to draw these really big crowds. Putting out the record on your own wouldn’t seem like such a bad idea.

It’s definitely not out of the question, in this day and age labels are just fucked. Like I said it’s really a matter of where we feel comfortable and who’s going to get the most out of the record. Suicide Squeeze is only run by two people so we’ve never had a label. Granted they’ve done an incredible job, and every label we’ve talked to in the past few years has said the same thing, they’re just fucking great. I guess there’s a certain lack of push a label can give you and we have some of the best fans ever who have gone to so many shows. We’ve had fans being like, "this is my 7th time seeing you" and I’m like, I can’t think of a band I would ever go see seven times - maybe Pink Floyd.

You guys released a brand new song, "Into The Mirror" a few weeks ago. You had a great female vocalist on there, Rachel Flotard. How did you get hooked up with her and will she be making any other appearances on the new album?

Nope, she’s just on that song. She’s a really old friend of ours; she’s in a band called Visqueen from Seattle. The bass player Kim used to be in The Fastbacks. Rachel has been around forever. We’ve been trying to talk to Visqueen to come on tour with us for about 6 years now and hopefully next year that will happen since she’s singing with us. But yea she also sings with Neko Case, she does most of the back up vocals on the new record and the one before. She tours a lot with her too. She’s just great. Joe and Jake came up the idea that there’d be a female lead, like his side of the story, her side of the story sort of thing and we kind of pooled together a list of female singer/songwriter’s that we know and that people who have sang with us before and other people who were in Seattle, and we had a friend in L.A. and New York that’s great, but Joe was instantly like, "That’s the one." It just so happened that she was around and wanted to do it and I think she did a great job on it. Maybe we’ll do some more work with her in the future as a side project. Everyone should check out Visqueen, they just self-released their new record and it’s going really well. She’s the funniest fucking person in the world too. Her between show banter is just incredible. She’s hilarious.

Are there any other bands from the Seattle area that you think deserve more attention or exposure?

I always say this, but These Arms Are Snakes are one of the better bands in the area right now, and it’d be great if everyone checked them out.

I was actually up in New Paltz, NY this weekend and I was out at this restaurant and saw a These Arms Are Snakes painting, it was really cool.

Their live energy is just unreal, I don’t get how they can go on a 3 month tour and do what they do every night.

I’ve never seen them live unfortunately.

Do yourself a favor and see them live. They’re amazing. Steve, the singer, used to be in my old band and we had him come in the band for a reason and he’s just getting crazier, drunker and more rowdy.

The Seattle scene has really produced so many great musical acts over the years, going back to Nirvana and nowadays with the more recent progressive stuff. How has it been watching it grow?

It’s great, I’ve lived there for about 10 years now and when we first moved there my first band played a house show with The Blood Brothers and four years later they’re on a major label. It was like, "Really, The Blood Brothers?" Not that they didn’t deserve it by any means. It’s cool, there are so many up and coming bands from there that people will hear about in the next year or two. It just never stops and it’s great and everyone is cool as shit. You can go to a show and there will be a metal band playing with a rap band and they’ll totally be friends and they just do that because that’s what they do. There’s really not much genre confinement. On any given night you can go to the bar and go see X amounts of dudes from a bunch of bands, just hanging out and talking. It’s a very diverse musical scene and everyone seems to get along.

You guys have been on the road for a few weeks now doing a headlining tour. Any favorite stops or interesting moments so far?

The whole tour has actually been a bit of a nightmare. A month before we left our bass player found out he had a slipped disk in his back and it wasn’t so bad before we left but as we’ve been progressing it’s been getting worse and worse. So he’s been sitting in a chair every night while we play and it’s hard for him to walk and it’s just been fucked. But he’s a trooper and he’s doing it and he’s determined to finish the tour and not bum a bunch of people out. Then three or four days before we left, our singer found out he had the swine flu so we had to cancel the first show and he had to fly down to California to meet us once he became non-contagious and started feeling better. Then two days before we left our guitar tech had to be rushed to the hospital and told us he couldn’t come. Then we had to find a fill in tech and then our other sweet, sweet tech flew back, did a week with us and then had to be rushed to the emergency room and flew home the next day. His brother who’s also a tech flew in to meet us and he’s with us now. But, yeah the shows have been unreal. It’s kind of what people call a "B-Market" tour. We’ve played a ton of towns that none of us have ever been to and so we were a little like, "How is this going to go?" and it’s been unreal. We played McAllen, Texas. It’s right on the border of Texas and Mexico and we’re playing an 800 capacity venue none of us have ever been to or heard of and the show ended up selling out and it was great. People crossing the border, there was a big gun fight between these police and the drug cartels and people were still crossing the border. It was super weird but it’s been fun and every show has been sold out and overselling shows and packing them in. For us, it’s just an honor to come to a smaller place where you might not expect it. It’s great.

I think that speaks to what I was saying before about you guys having such an organic fan base. Drifting back to the new album a bit, do you have a title for it or any album art picked out?

We think we do, but I’m not 100% sure so I’m not going to talk about it. We came up with a title we’re all pretty stoked on and that day Dave started mocking up a bunch of album artwork and it was great. But we might try having somebody else do the artwork too because we’ve never done that before. We’re an insanely hands on band from recording to artwork to all the T-shirt designs and everything, we do it all ourselves. We’ve been self managed our entire career up until about 6-8 months ago, maybe a year ago now and we’ve just had a booking agent for a long time, but everything else has been taken care of in house. Now it’s starting to get to the point where it’s getting a little overwhelming. We tour six months out of the year at least and when we’re home we rehearse five days out of the week, like noon to six, noon to seven, so we’re around each other pretty much 360 days each year. It’s just getting to be a little more of a workload and we have people who are willing to handle stuff so it was like, "Yeah it’s time to get management, time to start being a band instead of a bunch of jokers running around with each other."

Well I think you’re music is just amazing and in this day and age, you have to make music that is real and somewhat different because otherwise you’ll get lost in a sea of all these other bands, so I think that also propels you guys.

Yea there’s some really bad music out there, and I’m not saying by any means that we’re a good band, but there’s some shitty shit. Man oh man.

You’re going to be releasing the new album in early 2010, right?

In theory, yeah. We want to get it out as soon as we can.

Do you have any other touring plans for next year that has been finalized?

There have been ideas that have been kicked around, but nothing confirmed yet. Whenever we release a record we tour our asses off so everyone’s pretty much expecting a crazy year next year and we’ve gotten some festival offers and stuff.

It would be great if you came to Bonnaroo again.

[Laughs] Tell them that. I shouldn’t even say it, but I think there may have been an offer made so…

Well I have my fingers crossed. I saw you guys there two years ago for the first time.

That festival was unreal. We’ve done Coachella and some other festivals, but there was something about that show that was so fun. Our friends’ band, Russian Circles just played this past year and had a blast and was like, "This is a great festival." Coachella is great too, but there’s something about the vibe of Bonnaroo. It was so diverse and people were just there to see music. Have you ever been to Coachella before?

Nope, it’s kind of far.

There’s more of like a, "Oh, who’s in the VIP section," sort of thing. There’s way more celebrities walking around and stuff. I hope we can play Bonnaroo again. It’d be an honor to play it.

I interviewed the guys in Portugal. The Man recently as well and we were also talking about Bonnaroo and…

Those guys are dirty as fuck. Very dirty men. We took them out last year. Great band.

Yeah, they’re amazing, I can’t believe I missed that.

It was one of those things where everyone for years was like, "You should tour with Portugal. The Man" and it was like, "Okay noted." I think the guy who put out the vinyl for the last couple of our records put out their vinyl, from Vinyl Collective [Virgil Dickerson] and he was like, "Listen to this." We listened to it and we were like, "Yeah, we’ll take them on tour." We became very good friends with them and they’re great, just really funny. I’m shocked they’re not bigger than they are right now. I guess they’re blowing up in Europe right now.

Well I know Kanye [West] posted on his blog about them, and Justin Timberlake as well…

Our friend Ryan, who’s working on a video for us right now for an old song, did that video for that song that Kanye posted about. It’s really good. But yeah, they’re just stinky bastards.

You guys did the acoustic song, "Guns and Ammo" not too long ago. Is there any chance of a studio rendition of that?

Nah, we’re just going to leave it at that. We’re all so excited about the new stuff that it seems better to leave it what it is. We’ve definitely talked about it for the new record and it was kind of one of those things that was like, if we don’t end up having the material that we want for it we’ll try it, but we wrote…in theory - there’s going to be 10 songs on the record and we tracked 14 and it was really hard to figure out what songs weren’t going to make the record, just length wise, we wanted it to be exactly this length and this vibe. We’re going to have some great B-sides though. The song we’re going to do for the iTunes exclusive is one of my favorite songs that we recorded, but it didn’t really fit the album. There’s some stuff we’re really jazzed on.