Over the last decade, veteran Seattle quintet Minus The Bear avoided the pitfalls that would remove a lesser band from the game before their time, continuing to recreate and reinvent themselves without straying too far from their guitar-centric indie roots. The band, who is recognized for their bristling guitar acrobatics and technically focused pop songcraft, have delivered five celebrated rock albums, showcasing the band doing what they do best – creating and performing memorable music.
Their mix of confidence, determination and technical expertise has paid significant dividends – they’ve released albums and EPs on varying labels such as Suicide Squeeze, Arena Rock and Polyvinyl, and their 2010 Dangerbird debut, Omni, hit the Billboard Top 50. The band has also played countless sold out venues throughout the world and toured the globe over including North America, Europe, U.K., Japan and Australia. It is no doubt testament to the band’s D.I.Y. beginnings, impressive relationship with their fans and inventive music that they remain a beloved group with an unyielding fan base that continues to grow with each album.
They have done this all on their own terms and with the release of their latest album Infinity Overhead, they are at the height of their powers. Ghettoblaster caught up with Minus The Bear lead vocalist and guitarist Jake Snider to discuss the band’s career and new record.
You’ve done some work with a former Daytonian. What was it like working with Chris Common?
Awesome. He’s a good buddy from way back when. We’ve done a few things with Matt Bayles and Chris and it is always good to work with him.
Minus the Bear have managed to stay together for 12 or 13 years. What is it about your personal dynamic that makes the band work?
There is a common goal between the five of us, and we work hard to make this thing work for everybody. That’s the way we’ve always done it. We’re friends and we see each other off the road all the time too. It makes it easier to stay together than if we hated each other.
Last year you guys toured with Cursive, who may date back further than Minus The Bear. Do you prefer to be on the road with the old guard or newbees?
Both are fun. Usually we have a newer band open and then have one of our closer friend’s bands play as the main support. One of our very first support tours was supporting Cursive quite a few years ago, and we also toured with several of the other projects Tim Kasher has done over the years. It is always fun to be on the road with old friends.
How do you keep from becoming disenchanted with releasing records in the digital age when pirating and downloading records for free is so prevalent?
I don’t know if you can avoid that. It is just a fact of life. I don’t know. It is hard to figure out what things are most important to worry about or figure out. We just try to stay on the road and keep being a band even though “the record” isn’t as important as it used to be.
Now that there is a little distance between you and the release of Infinity Overhead do you believe it is the band’s best work or do you prefer another record?
I think it is totally up there, but I like most of them. I think my favorite is probably Menos El Oso or Planet of Ice. I’m a little nostalgic still for those records.
This record is quite a bit different than Omni, was it a conscious decision to move in another direction?
I think we just wanted to keep moving on and we had some new, kind of aggressive, guitar-focused parts that we all liked. So we followed that direction. Every time it is a little different. We never quite know at the time what the sound is going to be. A lot of it depends on how many songs we’ve written and which ones make the record. That can change how the record would turn out otherwise. That can sway the vibe.
When you get all those recorded, some speak to you better than others?
Yeah, or they just fit in sequence better.
Have you had any b-sides that you just loved, but couldn’t reconcile with putting on the associated record?
Yeah, most of them. Definitely. There have been a few that were really tough to give up.
Is it difficult with such an extensive back catalogue to decide how to prepare material for a tour?
Yeah, normally figuring out what you are going to play is the most difficult part of preparing for tour. You have to balance the new stuff with the old, and add some stuff that you haven’t played in a while. There is a delicate balance between promoting something that you’ve just recently done and making sure that everyone at the show is happy.
Do you ever butt heads with the other guys over the setlist?
Oh yeah, all the time.
Who usually prevails?
I usually just back off and throw my hands up and say, “We’ll just play whatever. Who cares?”
What was it like to work with Matt Bayles again?
He was in the band and we’ve worked with him several times in the past so it was great. It was like stepping back into familiar territory. We didn’t really have to modify…he knows us so well. It is so easy to step into the studio with him because you don’t have to get over the initial introduction stage and figuring out who each other are. It is a far more efficient set up.
With him having been in the band, does he have any significant input into the writing process, or any other untraditional role for an engineer or producer?
No. He steps out of the band member role. Working with him is always an experience that lends itself to the efficiency of being creative. When you’re on the clock and spending money you don’t want to follow someone’s agenda that’s not your own.
The concept behind “Heaven is a Ghost Town” from the recent record is interesting. Are you religious at all?
Seattle is best recognized as the birthplace of grunge and Nirvana and Hendrix are widely celebrated there. But, though they are the predominant exports, you guys and bands like you have had long careers and have had a tremendous influence on the indie rock lexicon. Do you ever feel like someone has to die in order to get that kind of recognition?
I don’t know. That is difficult to answer. Someone like Kurt Cobain was about as big as a person could get by the time he killed himself. I don’t know. The suicides and early death usually happens as a response to the success, but we’ve never attained that level of success.
Will having a long, bright career ever put you on equal footing with that kind of mystique?
I hope so. I think that it is such a different world in terms of access to music and bands can be successful on a certain level and have their crowd without relying on the traditional distribution structure or radio. It’s a different market. There is more of a middle to it these days. I think there are rewards for being in it for the long haul. We’d choose longevity every time over any kind of fast track.
One of the things I’ve noticed about Minus The Bear is that people who are proficient as musicians themselves appreciate you. Do you have a fanbase that is drawn to you for that reason?
I hope so. People say that we are a musician’s band. People that play music tend to dig it. I don’t know…
Do you find that your fanbase is broader than the traditional indie audience?
Yes, I feel like we have a diverse audience. We see indie kids and kids that are into Incubus and Deftones, and we have an older crowd too who are more of the ‘70s rocker who are into prog. And the kids who followed us when we started out are 10+ years older. There is a lot of diversity in age and taste. It is a cool crowd and that’s what makes it so fun to go out. There are lots of different people at our shows?
Do you find that people bring their parents and kids to your shows?
Parents bring kids to our shows and vice versa. It is very cool.