Interview | Minus the Bear

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In March this year, Seattle-based band Minus the Bear released their sixth studio album, ‘VOIDS’ – breaking a five-year gap since 2012’s Infinity Overhead. With a new drummer in tow, ‘VOIDS’ retains many of the perceptible hallmarks of Minus the Bear’s music success, while offering a new direction for the band in ways of production and songwriting. Later this year, they will be touring Australia for the first time in 8 years – headlining shows in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane before performing at Chicago’s Riotfest. Despite being constantly on tour, Minus the Bear were kind enough to chat about the record and their upcoming tour of Australia.

Congratulations on the new album! How have you found its reception so far?
The reception has been great so far. It’s always a blast to play the new songs and see fans singing along right away. The US tour was arguably one of the best and most fun times we’ve had on tour. We’re playing really well and the set list is just jammin’.

It’s been five years since your last full-length album, Infinity Overhead. How have things changed for the band?
Lots of changes for sure. A couple of us started families which has been a massive but rewarding challenge. We parted ways with our original drummer and basically changed a lot of our business associates as well. We’re back on our original label Suicide Squeeze Records and have lots of positive vibes going on these days.

You guys have pretty much been on the road this entire time. What’s the secret to maintaining a healthy lifestyle over a long tour?
Well, we haven’t been on tour the whole time — we were in the studio and rehearsal space writing and recording the new LP for quite a while. Touring can be difficult, it’s nice to have FaceTime to chat with people at home. We’ve mellowed out quite a bit since some of our earlier tour. We’re older and wiser which helps with being healthy on tour.

In terms of production, process and direction, what makes this album stand out from Minus the Bear’s previous works?
We worked with a new producer and engineer for this record — a British fellow named Sam Bell. He was a great partner in the studio. He really understood what we were going for both musically and sonically. It was great to have him throw out ideas for drum sounds and vibes. He nailed the snare more than we have on any other record. I know with all of us he’d work to find the perfect tone so it would sit in the mix without either getting stomped on or stomping on another instrument’s ideal frequency range.

Your music is known for its sophisticated time signatures and use of samples. Sonically, what influences are behind these hallmarks of your music?
For me it’s just fun to mess with what’s considered the norm. I love using samples to make my guitar sound like it’s either an entirely different instrument or coming from another world. It’s a fun process to experiment with. Sometimes it turns out great and other times it can be a mess, but you’ve got to try and get all the ideas out. In terms of time signatures, I just like the different feels that the odd time signatures give. Especially being polyrhythmic between different instruments. Honestly, we don’t get too overly nuts with the timing but we certainly have some songs that rely on beats that aren’t in 4/4.

I get the feeling translating a Minus the Bear record to a live show can sometimes be interesting? (I’ve seen your Gig Rundown video. It’s delicious.)
Yeah that can be a challenge. It’s always interesting doing the first rehearsal after a new LP is done before leaving for tour. Which pedals should I use, what was I playing for this part, how did I make that sample? Lots of questions for everyone… I feel like this record actually translates better live than the last couple have. It wasn’t an overly conscious decision to make it more of a “live album.” We wrote so much material that all the songs that made the record were more realized and playable before going into the studio that have been on other recent records.

Since your last album, you guys had a sane man as President. How does it feel to be a creative in Donald Trump’s USA?
The election was a clusterfuck and our “president” is a joke. It’s incredibly sad to see how low we’ve sunk and that we’re losing the respect of all our allies. Making and performing art is a big part of resisting all the insane rhetoric and idiocy coming out of the White House. It’s great to know there are hundreds of millions of Americans fighting again what he stands for.

Minus the Bear’s first release was 2001 EP This is What I Know About Being Gigantic. How does it feel to be veritable veterans of the music industry?
Things have certainly changed since then. First it was file sharing, then the iTunes Store, now streaming and social media. Sometimes it feels like there is a new platform or distribution channel every day. Music will never go away, people love and need it. The way we consume it just changes quicker than in the past.

You guys will be playing Riot Fest in the US later this year, billed with the likes of Dinosaur Jr., Nine Inch Nails, New Order and Wu-Tang Clan. The lineup is a bit ridiculous?
Definitely going to be a great festival. I know everyone is incredibly excited to play the same day as Jawbreaker. We’ll be watching a lot of artists’ sets, that is for sure.

You’re also touring Australia in August – the first time since your last Soundwave performance! What are you looking forward to the most about making the trek?
It’s been way too long. We’ve had a great time the two previous times over. It’ll be our first Winter tour down under — curious to see how that’s different than being over in the summer. See you soon!