Life After Brooklyn
Grizzly Bear becomes a West Coast band.
Four years ago, Grizzly Bear had just finished touring their fourth album, 2012’s Shields, with a bit of a question mark. Though they never explicitly split, all four members had voiced uncertainty as to when, if ever, they’d make another record. Other quintessential bands of the late-’00s hipster indie-rock era were taking similar breaks. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV on the Radio, and Fleet Foxes announced indefinite hiatuses — code for “we’re done, probably.” Fellow New Yorkers LCD Soundsystem had sold out a string of farewell shows, including one at Madison Square Garden. So it seemed that Grizzly Bear, along with the indie scene itself, was fading away. “People are looking for narratives, and that’s an easy one,” Ed Droste, one of the band’s two singer-guitarists, told me.
Now, gathered at the production studio in bassist Chris Taylor’s Echo Park backyard, he and the rest of the band explain their absence in far simpler terms: They needed a break. From touring (which felt relentless), from their songwriting process (which felt rushed), from Brooklyn (which friends had left behind), and from their lives as they were. “It’s a pretty unnatural state of being,” says Taylor. “[We wanted] to have the chance to just be normal and domestic and at home.”
In 2013, Droste headed to L.A. with his then-husband, followed a couple of years later by Taylor, who’d been producing L.A. artists since he started his label Terrible Records in 2009, and finally, last September, after a Long Island stopover, by Chris Bear, the band’s drummer. Singer-guitarist Daniel Rossen started splitting his time between upstate New York and his wife’s hometown of Santa Fe. In the calmer comfort of their new surroundings, the band “took a year to focus on life,” Droste says. Taylor surfed, went camping, and even wrote a cookbook. Droste got divorced, did some travel writing, explored Mexico’s Valle de Guadalupe wine country, and volunteered with Bernie Sanders’s primary campaign. Bear had a baby and did some television scoring. Rossen, visiting L.A. often, set off on a solo tour, “turned the compost pile,” “sharpened [his] chainsaw,” and occasionally entertained an “extended life crisis” in rural New York.
Eventually, in 2015, they started swapping song ideas again, and Painted Ruins, which comes out August 18 (on RCA, their first major-label release), is the result of a decidedly different, more relaxed writing process. The album feels limber, with lyrics that reflect their growth (“Move too fast, here we are, can’t let go/Take the past, own your scars, let it show”).
Many of their Brooklyn compatriots have also returned with refreshed identities and reinvigorated creativity. LCD Soundsystem decided to un–break up and have been playing festivals. “Should we call this The Farewell Tour and then just be like, Psyyyych?” jokes Taylor. “Everyone: This is our last record.”