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Grizzly Bear meets the LSO

The breakout favourites of 2009 take on the London Symphony Orchestra in a special one-off performance at The Barbican

It may have been a year which has seen a return to DIY punk rock values, at times bordering on rudimentary musicianship; which is why it seems odd that a record as intricate and quietly considered as the third album from Grizzly Bear, 'Veckatimest' has come to dominate the year’s best album buzz. But from the unforgettably trippy visuals of exploding heads in the Patrick Daughters-directed video for ‘2 Weeks’ to debuting in the Top 10 of the US charts, 2009 has seen the Brooklyn-based band make the difficult crossover from cult act to the big time. Named after an uninhabited island off the coast of Cape Cod, the album was recorded in isolated locales off the beaten track and sees the band in full collaborative mode. As a result, there is a richer, fuller sound on display that manages to incorporate a string quartet and a choir (courtesy of classically trained Nico Muhly) seamlessly into the foursome’s spectral, sublime atmospherics. Far from the throwaway pop that usually fills the Top Ten, the album slowly unfurls its gossamer-light beauty at a glacial pace. From the ice cream pop of lead single, ‘2 Weeks’ to the soaring harmonies of ‘While You Wait For The Others’ and ending with wistful tearjerker  ‘Foreground’, the songs leave you feeling like swooning and sighing-- and everything in between. “Grizzly Bear sound like they come from a planet where everybody has codeine in their blood”, described The National’s Matt Berninger on the experience of hearing them for the first time. It’s that equal measure of heartbreak and aural Xanax that makes them such a compellingly different proposition. Prior to the release of a special edition of 'Veckatimest', they expand on the album’s orchestral flourishes with their biggest challenge yet – a date with The London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican on October 31st. Dazed Digital caught up with Chris Taylor.

Dazed Digital: You recorded this album in churches and a house off Cape Cod. How did that influence the sound of the record?
Chris Taylor: It’s something we’ve always done. Getting out of our element in the city really helped us get into a creative mindset. I like how the different spaces and even the different sizes of the rooms really affect the sound.

DD: Is it the isolation that’s important to you?
Chris Taylor: The isolation is important also, especially in terms of laying down the groundwork for a song. To have the idea constantly stewing between all of us in the same space. It’s nice to have that going without any interruption. And then at a certain point, it’s really important to take a break from it and listen to it on our own.

DD: I guess there’s this conception of Grizzly Bear endlessly working and refining their music.
Chris Taylor: A lot of the stuff we came up with on the fly and it stayed. The overall arrangement of the song, it takes a while for all the right pieces to be there, a point where we’re happy with what’s happening with the song. But so much is time just listening to it, not working on it. You have to learn how to take yourself outside of it and be an objective listener. We allow the time to let it gestate. It’s not really like a science project!

DD: How was the making different from Yellow House? More of a collaborative effort?
Chris Taylor: Yeah absolutely. With the last album, a lot of it was Ed (Droste) and Dan (Rossen). Dan came with a lot of really fleshed out ideas. He had all the vocal parts and arrangements in his head so it was hard for us to work out how do we do this as a foursome? On this album everyone was a lot more comfortable with letting people mess with the song. We had a lot more fun this time.

DD: The album is definitely a grower. You have to stick at it and it reaps rewards. Which is unusual in age of instant gratification.
Chris Taylor: That can be fun, and some stuff is really great like that. R Kelly has a really weird way of being instant gratification but I keep listening to it – it really holds. But it’s not in all four of us to really write songs like that. It doesn’t feel as interesting to us.

DD: How did you feel when the album was leaked just before its release?
Chris Taylor: Definitely an initial disappointment. It had been mastered for five days. It was really surprising. But after that, what can you do? But it seemed like there were a lot more people saying, “I’m going to buy this record when it comes out!” That was sweet.

DD: The record debuted in the Top Ten – did you see that coming?    
Chris Taylor: We’re still like, “Did that happen?” I don’t know. We were playing a show in Philadelphia when we heard the news. Our manager told us and we never ever expected it. I don’t know that we did a proper champagne toast but we did do a pretty epic meal in New Orleans.

DD: How did playing with Radiohead influence your live show?
Chris Taylor: It’s just incredible to see that every day. A band like that is so amazing to me because they always keep things fresh and change things up every night and still be engaging. It’s very impressive. It’s really intricate songs and arrangements and they’re able to capture the audience that big for so long. They have a complete package. For us when we play live, we sound different to on the record. We’ve had to come up with rearrangements, different ways of playing the song. But I like that element of it. It feels like there’s a part of the song that never has to be complete, it can always change.

DD: Tell us about your collaboration with Nico Muhly.
Chris Taylor: He’s a friend of Ed’s. Ed just wanted to try working with him. We ended up using five to ten per cent of what he submitted and he’s totally cool with that. While we were working on the record, we were preparing for a show at the Brooklyn Philharmonic. He was doing all the arrangements so it made sense to try those things out in smaller ensemble form to see how it would fit.

DD: How excited are you to be playing with the LSO in October? How will it be different from when you played with the Brooklyn Philharmonic?
Chris Taylor: Well with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, it was kinda rushed! I think we had a total of two hours with the orchestra. It was intense. It actually came off okay. We couldn’t really hear ourselves though. We’re excited about the LSO – it’s going to be a whole different experience. Now that we’ve done it before and familiar with it, it’s going to be really cool. I’m excited because we’re doing the whole show with them.

DD: How are you going to follow on from all of this?
Chris Taylor: I’m excited to make another record! I was ready to make a record once this finished. Things worked out really well but I felt there was a lot more to work through. It was a very encouraging experience but I’m excited to work on more music. It won’t be like the last time where we toured for three years!

Veckatimest Special Edition is released on November 2nd on Warp.