Interview with Minus The Bear: Omnivorous

Minus The Bear is a breed of band that exhausts music journalism’s hyphen-crazy classifications. Prog-indie-experimental-math-pop? What does that mean, anyway?

And now, with Omni, their fourth full-length which streets next week, they can tack on R&B and soul to that list. Oh, don’t freak out or anything, Seattle’s quirky, loveable quintet hasn’t changed their polyrhythmic style or tightly integrated harmonies too drastically. In fact, in an era of electronics and programming gradually conquering all genres, Minus didn’t program anything on their latest.

That’s straight from the mouth of Alex Rose, the man who replaced longtime producer/electronics dude/cohort Matt Bayles on keyboards starting with Planet Of Ice. Bayles is notably absent as the producer of Omni, as the band enlisted veteran Joe Chiccarelli to lend a fresh ear.

Rose fills us in on the decision to reach outside their circle with Chiccarelli, the overall sound of the record and some inspirations for its sexier direction.

Have you been rehearsing for the upcoming tour? How has everything been going?

Good. We’ve been super busy. We went down to L.A. to do some promo and record some acoustic versions and shooting a video. It’s been busy, and I was a little worried, but it clicked and sounded great yesterday. We’re doing seven songs from the new album.

Seven? Most bands are more than content to do three.

(laughs) We’ve been itching to debut some of these. The album’s been done since September.

Omni has seemed to be a long time in the making, or at least making it to print. Do these feel like old songs to you already?

No, because we haven’t really played them live. I don’t necessarily want to listen to the record, but playing it live will be really fun. We’ve heard the record enough times, and I’m a little bit sick of it, but I think it’s totally different in the practice space. It’s fun.

Is it tough for you listening to your own material, can you ever break away from that analysis?

I think it just takes some time away from it, which we haven’t really had. We went back and listened to Planet Of Ice recently, just to hear some of the songs we were playing, and it’s nice to come back to it after a year or so of playing the record. I personally am the overanalyzing type but at a certain point you’ve got to let go and give in to reality.

I wanted to ask about the video for ‘My Time,’ I saw a few photos of it online from the shoot. It looks like there are people breakdancing around you guys as you just stand there. Am I getting it right?

There’s probably going to be a scene or two of that. It’s going to be a super fast editing thing. We all have different color outfits and it’s going to quickly edit back and forth I believe. There are going to be dancers, but for us, it’s going to be more about our clothes doing the performing. The juxtaposition of deadpan band guys around these really expressive dancers seemed interesting.

You started writing for Omni around this time last year, correct?

No. That was the last push. We were finishing up writing the previous year, and actually the release date is almost exactly a year from when we started recording. We had gotten all the material together, and then did pre-production with Joe Chiccarelli.

This is the first record without Matt Bayles involved in one way or another. How was that feeling? He had basically produced everything.

He produced everything except for Highly Refined Pirates, and he played keys on that. It’s different, and even my first record on keys, he produced, so I kind of think of it as we all had this collective. I wasn’t in the band, but I had helped record Menos El Oso, so I’ve been around for a while. I think we wanted to get someone who understood a little less about the inner workings of the band. It was different. We wanted to be pushed out of our comfort zone and to have a different experience.

I’m assuming it’s the first time in a while where you had someone listening to your tracks that was not within your circle.

Yeah, and that was good. It was good getting someone else’s view of, ‘Okay, this is kind of the appealing things about your band, and this is what personally excites me about it.’ It was good to have someone outside of that circle because it has been—I don’t know if insular is the right word—a close-knit circle for a while.

The whole album, particularly ‘My Time,’ is kind of erotic or sexy, it has a very ‘70s carnal feel to me. Is that just the way things happened?

Yeah. I could see that. We didn’t set out to do that, but the music, we were kind of going for more of an R&B, danceable, sexy feel to the music and I think that lyrical approach worked for these songs. And I think you’re right. (laughs).

Were you listening to a lot of R&B and soul when you were getting this together?

We were all kind of listening to a lot of different stuff. Erin [Tate] and I were listening to a lot of R&B. Anything from modern R&B to kind of classic stuff. We used to have a lot of time in the van to listen to the same kind of records on tour—you’d kind of be forced to listened to the same records as everyone—but this time we were all in headphone land and came into the mix with tons of different inspirations and influences. I know Jake [Snider] was listening to Van Morrison and Steely Dan. I was listening to Steely Dan as well.

But you mentioned ‘70s, we wanted to make a record that is a record, five people playing. As much as there is a lot going on, we kept almost all of the live takes where we were all playing together. We wanted to go for that live vibe and get more of that feel from classic records. That probably fits into that vibe you’re talking about.

At the same time, I hear the beginning of ‘Animal Backwards’ for instance, and I’m like, ‘This is a house song.’

It’s almost less electronic in a way. There was no MIDI. That’s kind of what we were going for. We didn’t program anything. Even those electronic drums, Erin played them, on ‘Animal Backwards,’ which was really important to Joe. I was kind of trying to go against it, like, ‘Oh, we should sequence it,’ because he wanted Erin to buy this drum brain for just for a couple of extra sounds.

We were kind of freaking out but I think the results were worth it. But yeah, we played it all. There were maybe a few guitar loops that were adjusted here and there.

You did the acoustic EP but you’ve already started doing acoustic version of material from this album. Have you taken to that idea?

Yeah, I think we’re interested in the how the songs translate when they’re stripped down, and I think that with this record we were trying to get more to the heart of a song, in whatever form. You want that to be there, whether it’s one acoustic guitar and one voice or five guys with loop pedals and things like that. It’s a good thing if a radio station wants us to come play, it’s an easier way to do some of those things. So we kind of warmed up to it for that reason but it’s also just a great songwriting tool.

I’m assuming this is a tour year for you, since you guys basically spent the last year recording and trying to get the album out.

Yeah. We finished the album and then we shopped it, so that was part of the reason. It’s been awhile since our last album. We’re going out to Lollapalooza in August. Probably going through Canada. Nothing’s confirmed yet, but we’re probably going to hit UK and Europe this year. Probably going to do some more U.S. touring later in the year if it calls for it. May is the end of this tour but I doubt we’ll have more than a week or two off until something else happens.

Omni is out May 4 through Dangerbird Records. Minus The Bear performs at the Bamboozle Festival on Sunday, May 2, at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in E. Rutherford, NJ.