by Rob van Alstyne
Minus the Bear have come a long way in their six years together—from an outfit that started off singing about drinking heavily on yachts and penning tunes with sophomoric titles like, “Hey, Wanna Throw Up? Get Me Naked,” to a band poised as the next in a long line of Pacific Northwestern acts to grab the brass ring of indie-music stardom. It’s been a long, slow climb for the quintet, with a fan base built on the kind of road warrior work exploits typically associated with hacky sack-friendly jam bands rather than forward thinking post-rock mathematics.
With the amount of time Minus the Bear have spent living out of backpacks and sleeping on floors, one would expect they’ve come up with a solid go-to-strategy for life on the road … or not. “I still haven’t really found a good pattern yet,” admits bassist Cory Murchy the day before the band he plays in (alongside vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider, guitarist David Knudson, drummer Erin Tate and new keyboardist Alex Rose) head out on a massive 38-date-tour. “We’ve gone out so much you think I would have all my stuff together and ready to go but I’m always packing the last night and rushing in the morning. I’ve been home for like a week between tours this time, which is really nice. There’s no real way to prepare for the road except eating good meals at home in advance of the horrible food you know you’re going to have on the road.”
I’ll admit that the dietary concerns of most bands on the road aren’t
of primary interest to me, but the boys of Minus the Bear are the kind of well-oiled
rock machine who I would imagine need to ingest a lot of premium fuel to keep
running. From Knudson’s virtuosic finger-tapped guitar melodies to the
hyperactive and ever shifting beats courtesy of Twin Cities native Tate, Minus
the Bear’s frenetic rock is so relentless that even the listener can feel
exhausted—in a good “just finished exercising and am high on endorphins
kind of way.” I can only imagine how taxing it is on the players involved.
Menos el Oso, the latest longplayer from MTB, tones down the attack somewhat,
and in the process reveals a wealth of pristine melodies formerly hinted at
amidst the sharp angles and thunderous crunch of previous recordings. Coming
off like a cross pollination of the Police (in their way with stealthy white
boy ska mini-moments), Braid (pummeling time changes and cathartic choruses)
and Pinback (general ethereal weirdness and snatches of airy keyboard), MTB,
like all exceptional bands, ultimately sound only like themselves.
Bear are that rarest of bands, one in which every piece feels equally vital.
Rarely has a drummer put so strong an imprimatur on a rock group as in Tate’s
galloping percussive showcases throughout and it would be hard to envision any
of these songs without the unique textures supplied by Knudson’s ax, whether
aggressively screeching or pulling off a gentle tremolo-heavy solo. “I
think definitely at this point the band is Jake, Dave, Erin and I,” says
Murchy. “If one of us were to leave at this point it wouldn’t be
the band anymore. It helps that we all are such good friends. We’ll be
stuck in a van together for three months and the next day we’re usually
hanging out again—I doubt that’s the case for a lot of bands. I
feel pretty fortunate to have that. We all respect each other enough that everyone’s
opinion does count in the writing process. People are willing to listen to each
other, criticize one another, it’s a pretty important process and one
we get better at each time.”
grind of touring, however, has come with its share of casualties. Founding member
and longtime keyboardist/producer Matt Bayles gracefully exited from the band
in January to fully concentrate on his studio work (including big name clients
like Pearl Jam). For a band as democratically operated and group-centered as
MTB, the departure of Bayles was a tough pill to swallow initially. “When
Matt decided to leave it was definitely a scary time,” offers Murchy.
“We were all worried and wondering what it was going to be like to have
a new guy in, because it has always been just the five of us from day one. It
was a situation we knew we were going to have to face sooner or later though,
because Matt’s career was taking off and so was the band. Luckily our
friend Alex, who is playing keyboards now, has made the transition pretty smooth.
I actually went to high school with him in Santa Fe and have been friends with
him for years. He’s familiar with the music already because he helped
engineer the last record and has gone out on the road with us before doing sound—he
also happens to be a great musician and can sing back-up.”
With a newly reconfigured MTB raring to go out for another round of touring
to their largest crowds yet, Murchy continues to focus on the future, enjoying
current successes while being sure not to dwell on them. “The progression
of the band is something that’s been nice to see,” says Murchy as
our conversation winds down. “We don’t dwell on it—but with
going out more and selling out shows, playing bigger shows, it’s hard
not to notice. It’s exciting and we all feel fortunate to be able to play
this music and have it be what we do full time. When I moved up to Seattle in
the fall of ’99, I basically gave myself two years to play in bands, start
recording, start touring and if that didn’t happen I was going to pack
it up and figure out what I would do with the rest of my life. Fortunately I
met the rest of the guys shortly after moving here and it’s been an amazing
ride. We just want to continue growing. We’re not too worried about accomplishing
specific things. We just want to make records that we’ll love, write some
songs that we’ll love, and then take it from there.” ||
Minus the Bear perform on Thu., Apr. 20 at The Triple Rock Social Club
with Chin Up Chin Up, the Crystal Skulls and Russian Circles. 9 p.m. $12. 18+.
629 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls. 612-333-7399.
For more information on Minus the Bear check out their official website