Paul Simon likes Grizzly Bear. At least that´s what drummer Christopher Bear deduces from Simon staying for the entirety of one of the band´s recent New York City sets, which wrapped up with a cover of the legendary songwriter´s jaunty ´Graceland.´¯ The schoolboy nervousness of meeting the legend dissolved amidst a half-hour conversation about the Beatles. ´It´s just funny talking to someone like that who has probably met and played and hung out with them a number of times,´¯ says Bear, whose name is merely coincidental.
After last year´s Yellow House´”recorded in the Cape Cod pad of founder Ed Droste´s mother´”created a hubbub in the band´s Brooklyn neck of the woods, Grizzly Bear took hold of hype´s coattails and released the Friend EP. A mishmash of new songs and Grizzly covers from band friends such as Atlas Sound and Band of Horses, it was an opportunity for the quartet to display how different it sounds live. ´After a year of being on the road all the time, it was kind of nice to document it and move on,´¯ Bear says.
Since Yellow House was pieced together via multi-tracking, Grizzly Bear´s shows aren´t chiseled replicants of the band´s record output, but rather echoes of the albums´ textured intricacies. Droste often nurses an autoharp, and like a careful game of Operation, each note is so fragile that it almost serves as a dare for audience members to break the deafening silence.
The name of the EP was literally handed to the band after passing through the Art Institute of Chicago and seeing local artist Josh Faught´s banner (the one brandished on the cover of the EP). The knitting, which spells ´friend´¯ and now hangs in Bear´s apartment, seemed to fit the pal-riddled songs. ´It was a little bit poking fun at the whole guest appearance thing,´¯ Bear says, citing Justin Timberlake´s Future Sex/Love Sounds as an example. ´It wasn´t deeply entrenched in sarcasm; it just made sense.´¯
As the bear niche in the fauna kingdom of bands expands, Grizzly´s winding orchestration has the feel of a footprint left in the snow. Even the sordid subject matter of ´He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)´¯ (from Friend), originally written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, has a wraithlike charm that is becoming the signature Grizzly Bear sound. ´We´re learning the good ways of taking something really huge and stripping it down to something smaller,´ Bear says. ´There´s inherent strength in that.´
Droste initially recorded most of 2004´s Horn of Plenty by himself, and Bear stepped in to help mix it. The band formed soon after that, and has been expanding since. Following some relentless touring, the group is taking time off to sort through some ´really messy´¯ orchestration and write. But despite this whirlwind schedule, a back-to-basics ethos is still at the heart of Grizzly Bear´s sound´”even if the band itself can´t seem to define it.
´I guess, at the heart of it, we still like a good pop song,´¯ Bear says. ´I don´t know what the name for that is.´¯