Five albums in, and it seems like Minus the Bear hasn't lost their groove. With the release of OMNI stirring mixed reviews, it seems that most of their fans are more than pleased with the results of the album. With packed shows at this year's South by Southwest, Minus the Bear still are making a name. With a new producer and a new way of approaching the recording process, Jake Snider and Alex Rose sat down to discuss some of my responses to their new album.
Something I noticed, coming off of Planet of Ice, that this album is very "jammy," if that's even a word? It seems with every other Minus the Bear album, you're captured into it, where with this one, I found myself sliding into it. I'm wondering if that's a style you guys were going for?
Jake Snider: The way we wrote a lot of the material on this record was jamming.
Alex Rose: Yeah.
Snider: A lot of the arrangement ideas. A lot of the organic changes that happen, we did a lot of jamming to develop parts and what not, and that may be where that comes from. I feel like, by the time it's gotten to the record, it's been edited so many times, that it's hard to hear that jammy-ness, so it's kind of cool that it comes across to someone [like that].
Rose: There's definitely points where we left very musical sections that I can totally see where those first three songs can be sort of jammy.
So, maybe I'm picking that up from the songwriting itself?
Snider: Yeah. I think that the songs were written as jams, more so than any other record we've done. Even if, [guitarist] Dave [Knudson], for the most part, comes up with the genesis of the idea. His idea would evolve with the jamming over a period of time. It did kind of create a different kind of vibe. Hopefully, it comes across after all the rigorous editing we did to those [jams].
You say rigorous editing. Even though I say jammy, the album is still accessible. Something I feel Minus the Bear has always been, but more so with OMNI. So you say there was an amount of editing with this album? More so or less so with other records?
Rose: What do you mean?
Rose: We just went through a lot of arrangements, and part of that was Joe [Chicarelli], hiring him as a producer. We had these songs and we spent a week of pre-production with him and it was after we had already gotten to the point where we had already...
Snider: Over time, we were taking 20 minutes jams that we did and taking which parts were song worthy and kind of wedged those in. By the time we got with Joe, we whittled them down to songs. He kind of came in and suggested other changes, other arrangement ideas that might make the song hit harder. It was nice to have that outward perspective, because we have always been so inward with our recording.
Really? So this was a completely different approach with OMNI?
Snider: Yeah. Especially since we switched producers. Once we got into the studio, we were just open to what Joe wanted us to explore. That collaboration in recording, I just think his fingerprints are in the arrangements.
Do you think you were protective a bit more before, but you let go with him as your producer?
Rose: Yeah. There was a good amount of letting go.
Snider: That was the whole idea, because it was so insular. This time we were trusting him to give us perspective.
Rose: Almost everything [before] was with Matt [Bayles]. Even on Planet of Ice, where I didn't play on it, it was that same sort of dynamic.
Snider: The funny thing about Menos El Oso was the same recording team we used on Planet of Ice. Alex was there in a recording capacity, but not in a keyboard capacity.
Rose: Yeah. Everyone was there.
Snider: Everyone was there. Chris Common. Matt Bayles. That same production team was still there on Planet of Ice, so this is the first time every one of those personalities were taken out of the equation to allow Joe to, well, you can just listen to it. We just wanted to see what that other perspective was.
Do you feel like getting that other type of perspective, after doing two albums with the same team, them going, "Okay, this is what Minus the Bear is," as opposed to having a new guy come in and say, "Okay, this is Minus the Bear's potential can be," do you think that opened up the band to a new step, a new direction for Minus the Bear?
Snider: Yeah. I think that was kind of the ideas. We'd been seeing ourselves in a certain light for so long, to see someone else who's worked with all these amazing, classic artists since the 70's, it was an interesting exploration to see what someone with that background will do with our music. I think it worked out for the best. I think it's a good record. I think that every record we make is better than the last one.
Is it the creative side of Minus the Bear forever moving, constantly critiquing yourselves to try something different? Every Minus the Bear record, to me, is completely different. There are bands like RX Bandits or Portugal. The Man, you look at those records, and you know that that is the band. You get that with Minus the Bear albums. How far can you push your boundaries with what this band actually is?
Snider: It's like we're trying to figure out a way to write pop songs that are appealing, yet interesting to us as musicians that had been in bands that disregard arrangements in a way. Being in a somewhat pop band, it's a challenge to keep it interesting in a way. What we're doing now is making pop songs out of ideas that may not be pop-oriented.
Rose: We want to get weird, but we wanted to keep it weird too.
Snider: Yeah. [Laughs] Definitely. A record doesn't have staying time if there isn't other things you can pick up on as you listen. Sometimes you hear a record for the first time, and you're like, "Wow, this is amazing!" the first time. Often times that record doesn't stay with you as long as something you have to work a little bit harder at. We're trying to do whatever we can to [pause] We're very selfish musicians. We just want to make songs we want to play live and not get bored of. If we get bored of a song, crowds, even if they love it, are never going to hear it again. Now, we're trying to write stuff we love playing live. It's kind of the bass line. I think this whole record is easily played live.
Rose: I hope people like it...[Laughs]
Snider: Because they're going to be hearing a lot it. [Laughs]
Alex, I'm glad you're here. With this record, it seems like instead of being little parts, the keys are very pulled forward in this record. Is that something that came natural in the studio, or something you guys wanted to do this time around?
Rose: A lot of the overdub sessions, after we had played all together, I would just sit in there with Joe and kind of be like, "This part needs something." So a lot of those parts ended up being whatever sounds we could come up with. We tried multiple things in every case. The first song ["My Time"], Dave's on the omnichord synth on the first song. There's still a lot of synth on that song too.
I just find it kind of interesting because I feel like a lot of keyboards have been sort of the background to Minus the Bear. I felt the keys were very prevalent on this one.
Rose: I don't think it was ever discussed or anything. I think Joe just focuses on whatever he wants to whenever he is tracking or mixing.
Snider: I also think, style-wise, Matt Bayles was a little bit more conservative with his playing. I think he felt his job was to add texture and support. Now, we're like...
Rose: I've had the complete opposite philosophy. To focus on a part that's [in the] background is really hard for me, which maybe I need to do more of that. [Laughs]
Snider: There's nothing catchier than a really sweet synth line.
Rose: I think what I'm always thinking is...
Rose: Melody. Texture is super important, and I try to think about that too. It's not as primary as melody.
One more thing I wanted to touch on is that I feel it is the shortest album to date for you guys.
Rose: It's actually our longest record.
Is it? I felt like I just got through it.
Rose: That's awesome. I think it's a bit longer than Planet of Ice.
Snider: When you think a song or record is shorter than it is, that means as a music listener, that means that it went by fast because I was engaged with it. The experience of time is relative to what you're enjoying. If there is something you're not enjoying, it takes longer to go through. I think that you're enjoying it, that's what it is. It's also paced differently than other records. It's an interesting comment. I'm glad that you feel that way.
Rose: We spent some time on the sequencing of the record.
What do you guys think of Minus the Bear's legacy thus far?
Snider: It's really a miracle that there are still fans coming to something like their tenth Minus the Bear show. We have amazing fans. Fans that you meet when you're first starting out, shows that are super tiny and you can pretty much meet everyone that comes to the show, and there's that level of friendship. Those people that came to those shows still come to the show now. It's pretty cool to not worry about if people are going to come to the show or not anymore.
Menos El Oso is their best record to date -- it's quite technical, catchy, and urgent.
Ice is lacking the catchiness and urgency.
Omni is lacking the urgency.
As someone raised on punk and old hard rock, I just need the urgency in music sometimes. Minus the Bear lured me in with that urgency on their older material and mastered it on Menos -- everything else seems too laid back. Not to slight those albums in the least, but when you do something so well (ie, Menos), it's hard to not want more of that quality.