Today's presentation concerns a group that began as the solo effort of just one man, Ed Droste, in the early 00s. This man happens to be gay.
Droste was born in Massachusetts, on October 22, 1978. Through his mother's Forbes line, he is related to singer China Forbes (Pink Martini). He attended Hampshire College for one year in 1999 before transferring to and graduating from New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study in 2003.
He has always been very open about being gay. In a recent interview for Esquire, he said:
"I remember the moment I realized I was gay. I was watching Growing Pains when Leonardo DiCaprio was on, and I was attracted to him. I'm roughly his age, so I was probably thirteen. I had a pang of attraction, and my next reaction was Oh, shit. It wasn't fear. I was just like, Fuck. I've got to deal with this now. Goddammit. But I decided to put it on the back burner. Literally, I made a conscious decision: I'm ignoring this. Chill. I'll deal with it later, once I get through high school."
"I came out late - I was twenty-one. I don't fully know why I wasn't comfortable with it. I was holding on to some perceived notion of normalcy. I guess that meant kids and a wife. There's this impulse: I'm just going to do it like you see everyone do it. Plus, there was just a general discomfort in my own skin and body, which is a common denominator for a lot of people."
"I started Grizzly Bear, my band, at twenty-four, and I never tried to hide my sexuality. The interesting thing about being constantly out is that it was never an issue. It never came up in interviews. I still think to this day a majority the band's fans have no idea."
In 2004, Droste released Grizzly Bear's debut album, Horn of Plenty. Predominantly a solo album, Horn of Plenty featured contributions from future drummer Christopher Bear. Rolling Stone magazine wrote of the first album, "the pure atmospheric power of the songs is more than enough to hypnotize."
Here's Don't Ask:
I fell into your arms that night
It's the time we had apart to sort things out
Just don't ask
It's the work you saying you're doing
But baby, I don't even ask
It's the love that came undone between us
and nobody ever asks
There's a place and time for everything I know
You made a campfire, I put it out
Let the long johns, fall down
Around your ankles and your toes
I know what I want to see
Lay there by the fire
Droste and Bear were subsequently joined by bass guitarist and producer Chris Taylor, and performed four shows together as a three-piece. Regarding these shows, Droste noted, "We've never played without the four of us, really. The first couple shows we did before we knew Dan [Rossen], we did with three of us and they kind of sucked. From the get-go, when we were trying to put together a live show, that's when we discovered our sound and that's why I think that was the beginning of the band."
Guitarist and vocalist Daniel Rossen, a friend of Bear's from jazz-camp, joined the band soon after. Rossen stated, "For a long time, I only played my songs to close friends; and it just happened that I lived with Chris Taylor during my second year of college, so he heard them. He was my entrance into Grizzly Bear. He joined the band first, then after a while he suggested I come in with these songs. [...] When I joined, I did about two rehearsals with them, worked out one of my songs to put into the set, then a week later we were out on the road for a two-month tour. It was a real trial-by-fire thing. I was close with Chris and Chris [Bear], but I didn’t know Ed [Droste] at all; it was weird getting to know a stranger by spending all day in the same car."
Their first album as a proper band, Yellow House, was released in 2006. On this album, Grizzly Bear takes a dramatic leap forward, delivering a collection of songs that sound awe-inspiringly huge and intimate at the same time. While the album is overall more polished and focused than their debut, nowhere is this (literally) clearer than in the production. No longer lo-fi, the album's warmth, clarity, and symphonic depth gives the band's widescreen Psychedelic Folk-Rock a timelessness that makes it seem even more dreamlike and unique.
Easier opens the album with a gently exciting buildup of woodwinds, banjo, and acoustic guitar that could soundtrack the dawn of a late summer morning.
Knife was released as the album's first single on May 21, 2007. It was ranked #109 on Pitchfork Media's list of the top 500 tracks of the 2000s. Describing the song, reviewer Brian Howe wrote: "There are just a few words, inscribed in a lavish script on the harmonies; a handful of chords. But a whole host of sensations pour through them, and not just emotional ones: The guitars prickle and clutch; the refrains scale ear-popping altitudes. You can, it turns out, feel the knife."
Central and Remote moves seamlessly from fragile marimba melodies to acoustic guitar-driven verses and towering choruses.
Plans feels like a more brooding take on the High Llamas' intricate, Symphonic/Electronic Pop. It's also gay themed:
Juan from Argentina
Such a strange predicament we find ourselves in
Baby, it's a long way to South America
Every option I have costs more than I've got
If you trust in me, if I could I would be there
Concerning gay-themed lyrics, in a 2007 interview in AfterElton, Ed said: "I kind of like vague lyrics. Sometimes they are gay, but they’re not overt. (...) Reprise (My Love’s Another Kind) could be interpreted that way, and I think (lyrics writer Rossen) is very open to that interpretation, too, even though he was thinking of it as something else. That’s why I relate to it when I sing those lyrics, because I’ll sing those parts with him on the song. I think we all are into the vague nature of it."
The album received critical acclaim from several major publications, and ranked #8 in Pitchfork Media's best albums of 2006 list, as well as a similarly high placement in the same list of the New York Times. The music webzine Tiny Mix Tapes ranked Yellow House #7 on the Top 25 Albums of 2006.
On November 5, 2007 they released the EP called Friend. It included a cover version of The Crystals' He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss):
Their next album, Veckatimest, released on May 26, 2009, was their first one to become a mainstream commercial hit. Produced by bassist and multi-instrumentalist Chris Taylor, the album entered the US Billboard 200 at #8. By September 2012, the album had sold around 220,000 copies in the US. It also went silver in the UK. The album is named after Veckatimest Island, a small island in Dukes County, Massachusetts.
The band hints at the just how big the album's scope is with its first two tracks: Southern Point's Psychedelic Folk-Jazz throws listeners into its bustling acoustic guitars, piles of vocal harmonies, swishy drums, and various sparkling sounds, making it a disorienting and dazzling opening salvo.
The gorgeous Two Weeks, by contrast, is the album's most immediate moment, its "Would you always? Maybe sometimes? Make it easy? Take your time" chorus teetering elegantly between pleading and reassuring as it's buoyed by backing vocals courtesy of Beach House's Victoria LeGrand.
The elaborate, quicksilver suite I Live with You builds from the Brooklyn Youth Choir's vocals into skyward-climbing Chamber Pop.
The final track of the album is Foreground which, with its plaintive vocals and simple piano melody, is one of the band's most beautiful ballads yet.
Grizzly Bear were gone for a few years after Veckatimest, but the amount of extracurricular projects they tackled during that time - Chris Taylor's work with CANT, Daniel Rossen's solo EP Silent Hour/Golden Mile, and the band's reconfiguring of their own songs into the Blue Valentine soundtrack - means they never really went away. Their next (and so far their latest) album was Shields, released on September 18, 2012. The album received acclaim upon release. Shields reached #7 on the Billboard 200 and #17 on the UK Albums Chart.
At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album has received an average score of 86, based on 36 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". Pitchfork Media's Lindsay Zoladz gave the album a Best New Music designation, writing "While there's no question that Grizzly Bear's last two records have sounded gorgeous, critics of the band have wondered if that's enough. Shields, the band's fourth and most compositionally adventurous record, should put those concerns to bed. Though full of baroque, detail-rich production and latticework melodies, Shields also offers an emotionally resonant core."
Sleeping Ute is the opening track, as well as the first single from Shields. Acoustic guitars that sound more like they're being scrubbed than strummed tumble into bubbling synths, which then give way to rhythms that conjure leaves twirling in the breeze.
This is the Nicolas Jaar Remix:
Speak in Rounds may be the most rocking song they've done yet, even if it climaxes with rustling brass and flutes instead of a shredding guitar solo. This is a live version from End Of The Road Festival 2012:
The album's second single was Yet Again. Upon the single's release Pitchfork Media awarded the song "Best New Track", stating "With the Droste-led Yet Again, [Grizzly Bear] suggest an arena-sized side of their ever-expanding sonic arsenal. Droste's vocal, soft and intimate as ever, suggests an affinity with the broad emotional palette of former touring partner Thom Yorke."
Gun-Shy is yet another jewel of a song:
Half-Gate is a song of pure melodic beauty:
The album's closing number is the exquisitely serene Sun in Your Eyes:
On September 17, 2013, the track Will Calls (Marfa Demo) was debuted, together with the announcement of two expanded Shields re-releases, followed by the song Listen and Wait (Bonus Track) on October 30. The re-releases, Shields: Expanded and Shields: B-sides, were released on November 11, 2013 and include eight B-side remixes, five unreleased songs, and three remixes.
Following the completion of the Shields tour, Daniel Rossen embarked upon a solo tour performing tracks from his debut EP, and his other band, Department of Eagles. During the tour, Rossen commented on the future of Grizzly Bear, stating: "We don't have a clear plan. We tend to like to let the records come together naturally. I think everyone wants a little bit of a break and everyone's scattered around the globe. I think towards the end of the year, if it feels natural, we'll start again." In a more recent interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, singer Ed Droste explains that a new album is in the works. Unlike the recording process for Shields, where Grizzly Bear ensconced themselves at studios in Marfa, Texas and Cape Cod, Massachusetts to construct a truly collaborative album, Droste says the creative process now will be "more fractured." While two members still live in New York, the other half, including Droste, have traded coasts and now reside in Los Angeles. As of June 2016, Droste has been working on the next album with the rest of Grizzly Bear.
As far as his personal life is concerned, In September 2011, Droste married his long-time boyfriend, interior designer Chad McPhail. On August 4, 2014, Droste announced his divorce from McPhail via Twitter, stating that he's "amicably and lovingly divorcing [his] husband".
He also said: "I was married and divorced, so I've gone through the full cycle of marriage equality. It was not the best move for me, but I don't think that necessarily has to do with me being gay. I just think relationships work and then they don't. That's a universal thing."
"I've noticed a lot of gay men now saying, "We don't even need marriage." The new trending thing is to just say, "Oh, God, you're getting married? Please. You're just trying to conform to society." What was the point of fighting for it, then? Why don't you be supportive and shut up? If you don't want to get married, don't get married."
Needless to say, since Grizzly Bear are getting better with each album, I can't wait for their next album to drop. Hopefully, it will be soon.