Into the wild
Minus the Bear: Cool enough to hang with Eddie Vedder
In a music-themed twist on the old saying, “You are what you eat,” bands can sometimes be summed up by the nature of their influences and their listening diet. So when Minus the Bear, a Seattle outfit with both feet firmly rooted in the melodically experimental indie-rock scene, played this year’s Coachella Music Festival, it seemed easy to speculate who the members might have checked out during their downtime.
The event was teeming with likeminded counterparts, but Minus the Bear bassist Cory Murchy proved that old pigeonholing tactics die hard.
“Our trailer is really close to the main stage, so I rolled out of bed this morning to listen to Roger Waters’ sound check and it sounds bitchin',” Murchy said of the band’s collective excitement at seeing the former Pink Floyd frontman perform Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. “Oh and Prince last night was incredible … he really played the shit out of that guitar.”
This may seem strange for a band with a large percentage of fans who weren’t even alive when either of the aforementioned artists were in their heyday. But if you listen closely to Planet of Ice, released on Suicide Squeeze Records in August of last year, you can hear evidence of these older influences bubbling up through all the emotional melodies, guitar and electronics freak-outs and time-signature trickery.
Take, for example, the psychedelic and almost-proggy tones of “Ice Monster,” which bleed into the jittery “Knights,” full of manipulated guitar loops and solos courtesy of guitarists Dave Knudson and Jake Snider.
Planet of Ice sees Minus the Bear existing within the boundaries of the post-rock groundwork laid out by the likes of Jawbox and Fugazi, while adding a dancier, spacier and likely Hot Topic-approved polish to the whole thing. The result seems to capture a band that, nearly 10 years into its career, is just starting to hit its stride. Minus the Bear is a more refined, mature version of its former self—the same band that filled earlier albums with song like “Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister” and “Hey, Wanna Throw Up?”
The new album was recorded by Matt Bayles, the group’s former keyboardist, who left the band last year to focus full-time on his production work and has since recorded bands like Isis, Mastodon and The Fall of Troy.
“It was really comfortable,” Murchy said of recording with Bayles. “Obviously, Matt sat back a little bit more than he did when he was in the band and instead just tried to influence the sound from a producer’s standpoint rather than as a band member.”
Alex Rose, a high school friend of Murchy’s in New Mexico and a former sound guy for the band, has since taken over on keys.
“We pretty much just threw a keyboard in his hand and said, ‘Here, learn the songs. Do you mind?’ “ Murchy said. “But it’s worked out great.”
The new lineup and album have resulted in a crazy year full of firsts for the band, including getting the chance to tour Australia—an experience that, according to Murchy, was well worth the wait.
“Australians like to have fun and they like to show you that they’re having fun,” he said. “They’re not afraid to dance.”
Minus the Bear also took part in the Seattle chapter of a new DVD series called Burn to Shine. Created by ex-Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty and filmmaker Cristoph Green, the series compiles live, non-overdubbed performances from bands in various music communities playing in abandoned, soon-to-be demolished houses. The performances are then book-ended with the history of each house and the visual capture of its destruction.
Participating in the event afforded them the unlikely experience of playing alongside Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.
“We kind of all just played our songs and left, but he hung out to watch us play and was rocking out,” Murchy said. “He’s a nice fellow.”