Grizzly Bear’s new album, Painted Ruins, is—like all Grizzly Bear albums—a gorgeous piece of work. Since debuting as a full band with 2006’s Yellow House, the group composed of Ed Droste, Daniel Rossen, Chris Taylor, and Chris Bear has developed a reputation for this remarkable consistency, for being unusually meticulous in its crafting of sound, for creating records of surprising depth and beauty. The latest is no exception: Despite a half-decade since last convening in a studio, and all of its members scattering across the country in the interim (Rossen in upstate New York, the others spread out around Los Angeles), Painted Ruins confirms the band’s uniquely interlocking chemistry remains intact, rendered here with even deeper, heavier textures and a sense of melancholy and loss coloring the lyrics. It is, typically, a great album. The question is, will anyone actually give a shit?
It’s an issue that the record itself seems to have on its mind: “Were you even listening? / Were you riding with me?” goes the refrain of opener “Wasted Acres,” and while it’s explicitly a song about Rossen riding around his farm, serenading his dog astride his Honda TRX-250, it’s hard not to interpret this as a winking question to the larger, music-consuming world. Even after just five years away, our attention spans have only gotten shorter and our Spotify playlists have only gotten more crowded; releasing an album in 2017 can be an incredibly frustrating experience, especially for a band that, more than most, actually requires you to listen. Especially when, these days, its diminished influence means the music press often depends on something—a gimmick, a good origin story, a shit-stirring quote—to break through all that noise.
Grizzly Bear singer Ed Droste is perhaps more acutely aware of this situation than anyone, having been the subject of a few shit-stirring stories himself during that time away—but more importantly having long been an avid consumer of music, and a particularly astute observer of the business required to produce it. Right before Painted Ruins’ release, Droste spoke to The A.V. Club for a wide-ranging, candid interview about the difficulties of releasing a record in this new kind of atmosphere, the general disrepair of the music industry, why he thinks calling Grizzly Bear “fussy” is ridiculous, and other topics in which he carefully avoids giving the kind of salacious material that might actually get anyone to read this.
The A.V. Club: It’s been five years since Shields. What have you guys been doing?
Ed Droste: Well, a year and a half of it was spent touring Shields, so you can throw that 18 months out. Then there was sort of just a big, six-to-12-month break where people moving, getting married, getting divorced—just life stuff. Chris Taylor did a lot of production stuff. I did a little travel writing and little surrogate work for Bernie Sanders. Chris Bear did the soundtrack for High Maintenance. Dan [Rossen] did a solo tour. There was not a huge emphasis or focus on the band. There was sort of an understanding that, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, to not rush it and not to feel stressed about it. Which is good, because in the past, we’ve sort of pushed things forward in a way that hasn’t always necessarily been the most fun. Especially the last album. It was definitely rammed through. This time, we allowed ourselves to slowly creep back into it. So yeah—couple people got married. There was a child born into this world. There were a whole lot of things. And then suddenly we were like, maybe we should do this again. Chris Taylor was sort of the one to start that.
AVC: Was there ever a feeling like you might not reconvene?
ED: I feel like ever since we became a foursome—which would be Yellow House—there’s always been this underlying, “Will we do this again?” Which isn’t necessarily a reflection on our career, or about much other than it’s got to be all four of us. If one person is in a different zone, it’s not going to work. If one person were to drop out, that’s just the end. So there’s always this understanding of, well, you never know. It’s kind of better not to just expect that it is going to happen, anyway, because there’s no guarantee. I think the only difference was the time break—and there’s actually a good dozen bands that took even more time off than we did that are coming back this year. [Laughs.] We’re not alone out there. It’s really quite a weird, remarkable thing this year. All these bands that one might group together suddenly reappearing from the woodwork.
It doesn’t feel that long to me, especially since we started working on it two years ago. Part of the approach of this album was that it wouldn’t be this deadline pressure. We were done with our [record] contract. We were free. We didn’t sign with anyone. We just wanted to have it be really fun and free and easygoing. I feel like that ended up making the whole process a thousand times more enjoyable. It ended up being definitely my favorite record we’ve ever made.
AVC: With all of you guys scattered, has the songwriting process been changed?
ED: The only thing is that it’s a tad slower. But even when we all lived in New York and were actual, literal neighbors, we would go on three-to-six-day writing retreats in pairs or sometimes with three people, come back, then email the results. So it’s almost exactly the same process, we’re just not living right next to each other. And by the end of writing this one, actually, three of us were, because now three of us are in L.A… We’ve never been a band to just be, like, “Meet up at the rehearsal space! Let’s jam out a tune!” There’s no one riffing on a bass, like, “Whoa, cool! That’s dope!” It’s usually someone, one or two people, starting with an idea that’s been brewing slowly. Every once in a while, a song will come out of nowhere. But it’s usually just baby ideas that get built upon, and if someone else in the band isn’t really feeling it, they just fall to the wayside. We actually have more demos for this album than any other—I don’t know, a couple dozen extra songs that never got finished? [Laughs.] That was kind of fun—and frustrating—but in the end, we ended up with the best selection. It’s the first album where I feel like there’s not a filler song. Usually in retrospect, I’m always like, “Hmm. Could have not included that song.”
AVC: Did you guys go in with a concept, or thinking “We want to take the music in this direction?”
ED: We’ve never been like a “theme” band, you know? I’m not going to name names, but there’s definitely bands that are out right now with a whole campaign and theme behind it, and that’s just not what we’ve ever been about. Our only objective when we’re writing new music is “let’s not tread water.” That’s definitely something we’re conscious of. We’ve been doing it for so long that people just, by habit, sometimes come up with a melody or a chord progression that sounds vaguely familiar to something from the past, and someone in the band will have to be like, “Umm, that’s kind of a throwback to this track.” Sometimes that’s kind of fun and nostalgic, but generally speaking, we’ll be like, all right, let’s try to keep it fresh. Let’s try using different instruments. Let’s try using different production methods. Let’s try different beats. I think the drums are really forward in this album, which is a really nice change. We’re just trying to make it new and exciting for us. We’re all so incredibly different that just getting an album where everyone is excited about all of the songs is a feat, you know? That’s like an accomplishment in itself.
AVC: This album does seem to have a lot more “groove” to it, for lack of a better word.
ED: For sure, the first two songs definitely fall into a groove. There’s other tracks that go all over the place, but yeah. I haven’t really thought of it that way. But I’m not arguing with you. Sure, yeah. Let’s call it groovier. It’s a groovier record.
AVC: The other most noticeable thing is there seems to be a lot more synthesizer tones.
ED: There are definitely a lot more synths, but the funny thing is a lot of what people are perceiving as synth is actually guitar with an effect on it. It’s a 20 percent synth up-step. But a lot of it is just Dan playing with guitar tones. For sure, there’s sort of new textural tones with that kind of palette, which I think was exciting, too, because it was a different flavor, and something that we hadn’t explored that much in the past. To us, the album feels like a warmer, sunnier album than Shields , which we all agree was sort of a cold, dense, dark place. It’s deceptively not as synth-y as one would think, but yeah, when we’re doing the live show, we are using a lot of synths now.
AVC: It’s a thicker record, if that makes any sense. You used to have a lot of cavernous space. This feels very thick.
ED: That’s interesting, because certain journalists we’ve spoken to have said the total opposite. They’re like, “ Shields was really dense and heavy like a stone, and this feels the sun is coming through.” It’s how you listen to it or something. You’re not the only one who’s said that, but generally speaking, people have said it feels lighter and sunnier. The lyrical matter certainly isn’t.
AVC: What sort of stuff was going through your head while you were writing?
ED: There was a lot of personal things that we sort of shy away from completely dissecting in interviews. And then this was one of the most tumultuous environments, in terms of the political climate of the country, that we’ve ever recorded in. You know, we all went through it, even in the primaries. It was every day, and it continued on. And the sense of anger and insanity didn’t permeate—at the same time, we were so vocal on social media that we were, like, we don’t really need to make a protest song, per se—but there’s for sure references to what we’ve all been experiencing the past year or two. So that’s floating around, as well as… I mean, there’s elements of my divorce in there, there’s mental health and other personal things. And then there’s really mundane lyrics, which Dan would point out. The first song is actually just about doing a mundane chore in upstate New York.
AVC: About Dan riding his ATV, right?
ED: Yeah, and just hauling firewood, and his dog howling. But the way that he sings it, and the way that it’s phrased, a lot of other people have felt like it was referencing other things—which I really like, because I’m a fan of when the lyrics can go different directions. But yeah, again, we’ve never done a “theme” album. I doubt we ever will. There’s usually an element of love in the lyrics, but this time, I would say it’s a bit more of a variety of topics being addressed.
AVC: You mentioned that you got pretty political on your social channels, and you got a bit of a backlash from that. Was that surprising that so many of your fans apparently felt completely opposite of the way you do?
ED: You know, I don’t even care. I really don’t. I’m just, like, I have the right to speak up. If you don’t want to listen, just unfollow. If you’re so upset about it you can’t even listen to our music, because you’re upset that we’re not supporting Trump or whatever, then fine. Don’t. Don’t listen. Moving on. End of story. I’m more disappointed in fellow artists that stay mum for fear of losing a handful of fans. When you speak about “backlash,” we’re talking about 50 to 75 Facebook comments. That’s not really that big of a deal. If you’re looking at the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter at all. I’d much rather speak up and stand behind something I believe in than worry about pissing off a couple hundred people. And if they’re more pissed off than if I never said anything, well, sorry but not sorry.
AVC: During those five years, it seemed like that was the only kind of stuff I was ever reading about Grizzly Bear—the political backlash, or your “feud” with Taylor Swift.
ED: I mean, I wish more people had been vocal, and I think it’s important to speak up in these times and take a stance if you have a public platform. I don’t necessarily feel you need to do it in the middle of a concert and stop the show—which we won’t be doing. But we’re going to set up voter registry booths and stuff like that at our shows this fall. If we’d had an album out, and we were speaking out about it, I think there still would have been coverage about it.
As for the other thing… I stand by what I said, and I have nothing else to add. I guess I was one of the first to actually say something, and so it really got people excited. And then Kim Kardashian came in and took over and took that load off my hands.
AVC: Can I just say it was weird to read about you “feuding” with Taylor Swift? It’s like hearing that you’re feuding with a department store.
ED: I know! I didn’t really mean to. I don’t like to talk about it, but I didn’t actually expect anyone to pay attention, because my Twitter had, what, like 25,000 followers? I’m a nothing name in the grand scheme of things. It goes to show how hungry people were for a dissenting point of view, I guess. Because, boy, did they run with it.
AVC: Well, we all need clicks.
ED: I guess so. It’s a content machine out there. That’s my new revelation: It’s all about the content. It’s not about the actual content of the music. It’s just the content you throw forward. The clicks. The stories get more and more ludicrous day by day. It’s like, “Check out X musician’s mom’s peanut butter and sandwich recipe!” And you’re like, “What the fuck?” This is so random. It’s this new desperation to stay alive—which I understand. I mean, you know. You work in it. Reviews don’t matter as much anymore. People are just going to listen to it if they want to, or if they hear about it from friends. And I guess the only pieces that people are reading are, like, peanut butter and jelly recipes or, I don’t know, a look inside someone’s bedroom closet. That’s doing better, so people are just going to what’s doing better rather than the actual interesting long-reads. That’s my perception. You probably have a much different idea of what it’s like, but it’s confusing to me. I’m a little bit, like, what is going on over here? Is this working?
AVC: It is, but I know way more people would read it if it had a headline like, “Grizzly Bear’s Ed talks more shit about Taylor Swift.” Or “Grizzly Bear has released the anti-Trump album you’ve been waiting for!”
ED: Right. There there was a bit of that back with Shields. I’ll never forget when we did that New York Magazine interview, and the whole time it was presented to us as a history of us as a band. And then it came out and the headline was “We’re broke and can’t afford health insurance”— which was not actually true. People only read the headline, and then it was just framed under this context of us complaining. Which, actually, if you had read the article—which, of course, most people don’t—you would realize that it had barely anything to do with that, but it’s clickbait, you know? That’s what it is. I hope you don’t throw me under a clickbait thing.
AVC: Well, so far you haven’t given me anything to work with.
ED: Yeah, I don’t think I’ve given you anything yet. I’m pretty cautious.
AVC: We’ll keep digging.
ED: I mean, every once in awhile, I’m impressed at someone’s ability to get something out of me, and I’m like, “Kudos to you.” Like, you did that in a roundabout way that you figured out how to get your clickbait title.
AVC: I mean, there are a thousand of us websites all competing for that attention, but there’s also a bajillion bands now. I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten press releases for a dozen new Oh Sees records while we’ve been talking here. So I think a lot of the time bands now also have to play into that narrative too, just to get noticed.
ED: I know. What’s our new narrative? Because we haven’t really had a collective powwow about it. [Laughs.]
AVC. I think you might have hit upon it earlier: 2017 has been a big “comeback” year for ’00s indie rock. You guys, Dirty Projectors, The National, Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Fleet Foxes, Spoon—all releasing new albums this year, and I think there’s been a sort of preemptive nostalgia for and a reevaluation of the bands of that era.
ED: Wow, yeah. I guess that’s the narrative. We’re not into jumping into a narrative, but I guess we’re getting it. I mean, I feel lucky that we came around as a band when we did. Say we were new and were just releasing Yellow House right now. One, it appears to be a very big time for radio pop. I don’t really know why, but it is. It seems to be really trendy to get excited about a random-ass radio song. Which, I like radio songs, don’t get me wrong. But I’m just confused at which ones seem to be heralded as some sort of genius-like concoction. It doesn’t totally make sense to me.
I also just feel like, as you said, there’s so many new bands struggling to get attention, and it really, really sucks. It’s this double-edged sword, the whole streaming world, where it’s amazing that it reaches so many people, but at the same time, people have no attention span. They literally check out things often for just a couple minutes before they make a quick decision to turn it off. Which is why I’ve taken to, as much as I can—on my Instagram story, or I just did a playlist for Entertainment Weekly— I try to shout out really, really small bands that only have like a thousand listens on Spotify that I like. Because it’s just so hard to have any sort of wave cracking through without some sort of stupid gimmick. And then, you know, the gimmick can bite you in the ass.
Or, you know, not everyone wants to do a gimmick. I don’t want to do a gimmick. If I were starting right now, I wouldn’t want to. It’s a bummer that that’s how it is. I would say, personally speaking, consuming music now is harder than it was before. It’s like being stuck in a slot machine. There’s just so much noise. It’s just constant noise. It’s harder to clear your head and give the time to music that a lot of it really deserves. It’s really crazy how different your relationship to an album or music becomes, even if it’s digital, if you spend the $7 to $10 on it. It forms this relationship where you’re not just going to throw it away. When I spend the money on it, I’m going to listen to this. It creates this sense of, not responsibility, but this feeling of “I want to sit with this.” It was definitely so much more pronounced when you didn’t have the option of streaming, and you were just sitting with the CD waiting for your next piece of allowance to come in. And you were just, “Well, I’m going to listen to this again, because I don’t have a ton of options.” You’d end up growing to love it—or maybe it never grew on you. But I still find there to be some relationship that’s strengthened when there’s some sort of transaction going on. That’s my hot take.
AVC: Speaking of hot takes, there was that minor kerfuffle earlier this year when Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth and Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold were discussing whether indie rock “peaked” in 2009.
ED: That’s bullshit. This is people having a conversation over Instagram. I don’t actually think, gun to the head, they actually believe that. I don’t think that music of that ilk peaked then. In fact, there’s tons of people making equally if not more interesting stuff now. I think it’s more the media’s love for that type of music maybe peaked then. I feel like the new Fleet Foxes record is fantastic, and it really pushes them into a lot of different genres and it’s very exciting. So I’m just like, no, that wasn’t the peak. I feel like we’re just getting started.
The Lizzy Goodman book [Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth And Rock And Roll In New York City 2001-2011] is a way of creating some sort of beginning and death to the Brooklyn scene and New York scene. New York may not be churning out the bands that people are touting right now, but I don’t really see it as a death of a genre. I just see it as waves and trends. And we’re in a weird trend right now where Selena Gomez songs are just really cool. I’m sure there was a burnout in terms of exposure and attention towards, again, a created narrative of this Brooklyn scene that didn’t necessarily truly exist. The book makes the argument that it did—I don’t know. Maybe more for the early ’00s than the late ’00s people.What do you think? Do you think indie rock is dead? The term “indie rock” is silly.
AVC: The term “indie rock” has been silly for decades.
ED: Someone recently referred to Lana Del Rey as indie rock. I was just like, “What are you talking about?”
AVC: For me, personally, I haven’t been as excited about new, guitar-driven indie rock bands for a while. I like Algiers a lot. Car Seat Headrest. The last one I got really excited about was Deerhunter. To me, there’s just a lot of bands plying redundant versions of stuff I already heard 10, 20 years ago.
ED: I feel like there’s not as many bands anymore. It’s more like there’s a front-person and a band supporting them. It’s more solo-type spirits that have a look and a vibe and a message and a voice and a style. I was talking about it with a journalist in Europe; he was like, “You’re a democracy; everyone in the band does stuff.” There’s not a lot of bands I can think of that still have it so every member of the band has an equal say. I was like, dude, you’re right. I can’t really think of any right now. There might be one or two leaders in them, but there are not a lot of bands like that anymore.
AVC: Why do you think that is?
ED: I don’t know. It’s really hard to maintain a band as a democracy. Again, I think there’s been a shift. There’s a lot of emphasis put on style and a singular personality, as opposed to a more anonymous group of people playing music. It’s more about can I dress this person up? Are they going to look pretty? A lot of the bands we were just discussing, the trend was people liked the music, and it was less about who made the band and what their personalities are like. I feel like the cult of personality is back, for sure.
AVC: Doesn’t Meet Me In The Bathroom kind of position The Strokes and Interpol as those sorts of cult-of-personality bands? And then it makes it seem like the next wave—you guys, Vampire Weekend, Dirty Projectors—were the answer to that. The more focused, serious musician, careerist bands.
ED: We were more just anonymous. We weren’t trying to take ourselves too seriously. We were just trying to make something that we really liked. We just didn’t want to posture. That’s always been a thing about us: No one wants to fake it. I’m not saying The Strokes or Interpol are faking it. I don’t know… Maybe they were. I don’t know who came up with the concept behind their look and vibe, but we just felt like there was no need to dress up in all black. There’s bands that are doing it right now that are doing great. They dress in all black and whisper. It’s great.
AVC: But you guys did have this kind of reputation that you were really into the craft—of making your music as meticulously as possible.
ED: It’s weird that we would be faulted for valuing songcraft. That’s a strange concept. Caring about songcraft is a really good thing to care about! I see no fault in caring about crafting a good song and caring about how it’s presented and how it’s made and trying to do something new. I do remember people being like, “They’re too fussy!” And I’m just, like, is that code for we did a weird chord progression that doesn’t work for you? What are you talking about? Just because we wanted to put some extra horns in the end of the song? Why on Earth would musicians flexing their musicianship be something that would be poo-pooed on? It doesn’t make any sense to me.
AVC: Yeah, I don’t get it either. I’ve been writing about you guys for, what, 11 years now—
ED: I know!
AVC: And Grizzly Bear always seems to be met, by some people, with this stance that being meticulous or “fussy” translates to being uncool or boring. They remain unconvinced that you “rock,” I guess.
ED: That’s so stupid, though. That’s just basically someone being like, I have a short attention span and I’m interested in a three-minute pop song only. Okay, fine. But to be, like, that’s really annoying that this is a six-minute song that goes different places—that’s lame. What?! It’s like being “classical music is lame.” It’s dumb. I’m not saying our music is comparable to the greats of classical music. I’m just saying it’s a lazy argument that makes no sense, in my opinion. It irritates people because it seems “scholarly,” because three members of the band went to jazz school. Maybe they just want someone to puke out three chords and scream over it, or have 10 producers come along and produce a pop hit and have the actual person have nothing to do with it, just sing over it. Okay, fine. If you like that, you like that. There’s nothing wrong with that. There are great songs that are made that way. But I’m also like, why on earth would you be snooty to people that have worked their whole life making music and are really invested in the craft of making songs? If anything, I’m the one in the band that’s the most “puke out some lyrics and some chords,” because I didn’t go to school for it. But that’s weird that you’re faced with people saying that. Also, what does that say about them? If that’s your argument, do you read books? Hello?
And it’s literally not that hard of music. There’s so much more avant-garde music that I’m like, if this is super challenging to you, then it’s cool. We don’t need to be on a path together. We’re not making the craziest, most complex music in the world. You heard a weird chord that the band made up. That’s the only reason you’re saying that.
AVC: As we were talking about earlier, your music also actually requires people to sit and listen to it—so that’s another disadvantage.
ED: I know. There’s not much we can do about how people’s listening habits other than say, “Hey, please listen to this all the way through.” It’s funny, we were in Europe doing a press tour, and we were doing a photo shoot that was really uncomfortable where the photographer wanted us to be quasi-naked with each other. And we were kind of battling it, like, no, we don’t really want to do this. We compromised and did a weird shot that they didn’t even up using. I was sweating because it was super hot, and I was like, this is really uncomfortable and weird. And it dawned on me that literally what we were doing is being, like, please listen to our album for free on a streaming service. Hopefully this picture is exciting enough that you’ll actually be like, “Hmm, I’m going to stream this for free.” That is literally what we’re doing right now. We’re in these ridiculous poses in the hope we can grab someone’s short attention and be like, “Listen to this, for free, maybe just once.’” I mean, it’s kind of weird, right? I guess that’s also why it’s frustrating that you say you hear that from people.
AVC: Well, there will always be people who regard anything that isn’t “three chords and the truth” as boring or soulless or whatever.
ED: And there’s a particular trend towards the empty pop song right now. Where people are like, “This. Is. Brilliant. She’s singing about a crush on somebody. Wowww.” You know what I mean? There’s a weird, I don’t know… It’s called “poptimism.”
AVC: I run into that quite a bit with my coworkers now.
ED: It’s fine. I’m a huge Ariana Grande fan. There’s some really great pop songs. But there’s so many of them as well. It’s not just indie or guitar bands. There’s a shit-ton of pop songs. And lately, there’s been so many that have champions—like, “This is fucking game-changing.” And I’m like, no, it’s not! This is not changing any game at all. We are really, literally going nowhere with this one. At most, it sounds like a Regina Spektor B-side.
I don’t want to name any names, because I really don’t like shit-talking musicians—especially in this day and age, when it’s harder than ever to make money from music—but there’s a lot of personality-driven music out there. Within the indie world, within the pop world, within the electronic, indie world—whatever you want to call it, I mean, if we want to have an off-the-record conversation, I can name you a dozen right now where their profiles are bigger than their actual listenership. It’s like, they’re famous, but I don’t actually know how many people listen to them. Do you know what I mean? And the weirdest thing is seeing people from our era trying to adapt to the times, and getting stylists, and reinventing themselves as some sort of new, glossy figure. You’re just like, “What the fuck? Okay, I mean, good luck. I hope it works.”
But it’s not where any of us want to go. It just feels insanely inauthentic. And I feel like a lot of the stuff coming out right now just feels really inauthentic to me. But apparently, people don’t seem to see through it. And this makes me sound bitter, but it’s just my perspective. I’m not bitter. I just feel like there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t feel like it’s coming from a place of any sort of integrity. It just doesn’t feel like it’s coming from the heart, basically. It just feels like it’s being produced because people know it’s a formula that will work, or it’s easily digestible and fun to look at.
But maybe that’s what we need? We’re living in a really stressful time. Maybe that’s why there’s this emphasis on this kind of music and style right now, because people literally don’t even have the capacity to deal with some dark-ass, weird, six-minute song.
AVC: Yeah, you guys are really more of an Obama-era band.
ED: Maybe! I still feel like people are stoked on the new material, and I’m feeling really optimistic about that. I feel like it still makes sense in this day and age. I have no idea. I think it’s going to be really fun to tour, and I still think there’s a lot of people that appreciate us. I don’t even know whether the interviews that we do, or the places that we get press, even reach people under the age of 22 anymore. I don’t know how many 18-year-olds are going to read this interview.
AVC: Very few.
ED: Let’s hope a couple.
AVC: It’s a little depressing on my end, too. I don’t know when I got to be the old “nostalgia” guy.
ED: I know. The gatekeepers have changed, I really feel like. What I remember as being the things that would break new bands don’t have the ability to break new bands anymore. They might still have a really popular name and be really well-known, but they just can’t break things like they used to anymore. And so, here we go, back to Grandma’s PB&J recipe. The influence of said ’00s gatekeepers is no longer there. It’s more in the hands of streaming services and playlists and… I’m not even sure, Tumblr? Popular Tumblr figures?
AVC: I’m sure there’s a “Fuck Yeah Ed Droste” Tumblr or something.
ED: Oh, I’m sure some people have one. I don’t even know how to look for it, because you need to make an account. Tumblr’s literally one of those places that I’ve probably checked out a maximum five times.
AVC: Look, I just found a Tumblr with a picture of you with Jonsi of Sigur Ros, backstage at Coachella.
ED: That was a long time ago. That’s an old tumble! That’s a Tumblr-weed! That’s not a fresh tumble.
AVC: Do music reviews matter to you at this point? Do reviews matter to anyone?
ED: No! I mean, I don’t care. I’m going to check out what I want to check out, and I’ll decide for myself. Actually, when an album gets a really terrible review, I’m more compelled to listen to it than I am anything else, because I’m just like, why? Why take the energy to shit on this so hard? And then I’ll listen and be like, “That was an exaggerated review for the sake of clickbait.” Or, “They did not just do that to said legacy band!” I can’t even remember when a review negatively affected my perception of an album. It’s only ever been positive reviews that steered me toward things.
I think that’s generally how it goes. I don’t think people these days are like, “Oh shit, some 35-year-old white dude doesn’t like this album. I’m not going to listen to it!” Usually people only look at the score, and eventually it pops up on a playlist and they’re like, I do like this. And they’ll have completely forgotten about the review. You know, there’s the diehards on the message boards, reading all the old-schools, and debating them in a way that’s humorous to me. But even when I’ve peeked on there, it’s like, where’d everyone go? It’s a different vibe. It’s sort of freeing, in a way. You don’t feel like you have to live in fear of a couple websites. But at the same time, I don’t really know how anything rises to the top without sort of a collective scream.
AVC: Well, how do we fix this, Ed? How do we make people sit and listen, and to read this interview?
ED: Well, you’re going to look for the most salacious quote that you can and put that at the top. And I’ll probably tweet it, and maybe put it in my Instagram story with a little swipe up. That’s about all we can do. That’s about all the options we’ve got.
AVC: Cool. I think you said something about The Strokes being fake.
ED: I didn’t.
AVC: Yeah, you kind of danced around everything.
ED: I did dance around everything. Very carefully.
AVC: So I got nothing.
ED: I don’t want to get in trouble with anyone. I’m in no mood to take down anyone. There’s no point. Why shit on other bands? I can have my own opinion about them, but in this day and age, the last thing I need to be doing is spreading negativity. I can have a nice little griping conversation with you about the state of things—which essentially is what this interview is, and it makes me feel like an old fogey. And depending on how much you include your own quotes, it makes you sound like an old fogey, too.
AVC: Oh, don’t worry. I’ll be in there too.
ED: I really hope you include all that you said, so it really shows that I’m not just spewing off by myself. What if you were like, “And how do you feel…?” and I just go off. No! This is a conversation.
AVC: Don’t worry. We are both here—two old fogey refugees from a different era, having a cranky discussion about how everything’s changed.
ED: I do enjoy talking about it and I’m fascinated by it, and I can spend my time worrying, like, “Are we going to appeal to teens?” But then, if I were to try to make a record for teens, I’d be doing exactly what I said I didn’t want to do. That’d be posturing. And I’m watching other people trying to do that, and they all look stupid. But for some of them, it’s working, so cash in. Go for it. It’s not even a sell-out move. It’s just not ever going to be a situation that our band is in—as the four of us. Call me in five years, maybe I’ll, like, flat-iron my hair and try to be a weird emo star. I’ll have a real mid-40s crisis, where I’ll be like, “Oh, what do I do? Maybe if I channel some late-’90s Blink-182, that’ll be back in the trend cycle.”
It’d be cool if the music industry-slash-journalism world was a little nicer, but it’s always been this way. It’s interesting: The ones that were really mean back when we were starting—say, in the U.K.—they don’t even really exist anymore. They’re, like, free on the subway. I was asking people there, does anyone take this magazine seriously anymore? They were like, “Absolutely not. People pay to get on the cover, and it’s left on the side of the entrance to the tube.” And I was like, holy shit. In 2006, we would have shat ourselves to have a six-page feature in there.
AVC: Who knows? In five years, I’m probably going to have to call you and ask if you want to do a video where you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
ED: I know. And I’ll probably do it. [Laughs.] I’ll be, like, this mortgage is still hovering over my head. All right! What twist can I put on this sandwich? Hey, remember when I spoke with you years ago, and I said someone’s music was like a random sandwich?
AVC: Yeah. It all comes full circle.
ED: Yeah. We always come back to sandwiches, don’t we?