Minus the Bear at the Marquis – Concert Review and Interview
Interview by Jackson Hindman AKA Captain Jack
Right from the name you get the impression that this is a band who strives to be different in an industry of radio-friendly pop sensations. Minus the Bear has been cutting against the grain of music trends for 13 years now, with five LP’s, eight EP’s, two acoustic albums, and now, Lost Loves – a full length LP of rare and unreleased tracks from previous albums. 16 album releases and 13 years of touring later, MTB has built a hugely dedicated following across the US and the World.
I arrived at the sold-out show at the Marquis Theater in Denver not sure what to expect, mentally preparing myself to meet some of the pioneers of indie-rock. I was soon introduced to guitarist and lead singer Jake Snider. Just like his vocals, Jake has an air of tranquility to his demeanor, with a grey-tufted beard and long brown hair that would make “The Dude” Lebowski himself jealous. In the dirty green room in the basement of the Marquis, we sat down to discuss Lost Loves, the band’s 13th year on the road, growing up in Seattle, and Steely Dan:
Jackson (JH)- Let’s get started with where you guys got started. You formed in Seattle?
Jake Snider (JS)- Yeah, we just all met via other bands and whatnot, around 2001. We just started messing around with some music together.
JH- Did you all grow up in Seattle, or did you just meet there?
JS- Um, our drummer is from Minneapolis, I’m from Seattle… our guitarist if from Tacoma, so pretty close. Our bass player and keyboard player are from New Mexico.
JH- Obviously Seattle has a deep music history. Do you think this influenced you growing up; helped you get into music?
JS- Yeah, it was a really rich place, you know, musically it was a rich place to grow up, so yeah, it had a really good influence I think. Lots of venues to play at, lot of venues to see shows, and a lot of bands. It was awesome, growing up there.
JH- So you formed in 2001, that means you guys are 13 years old. How does that feel?
JS- It’s interesting at this point, it’s just different. A lot of different responsibilities come into play as you get older and whatnot. It becomes difficult to balance the whole career thing with family life.
JH- Do you feel like you are still the same band as when you started, musically or personally, or has that changed over the years as well?
JS- I think that ultimately we are, yeah.
JH- We just talked about your musical influences growing up. What were some of those influences?
JS- Just a lot of punk rock, metal, just a lot of different stuff. It’s hard to pinpoint some specific things, like, I guess some of the relevant stuff would be like Tortoise… I was listening to a lot of Don Caballero, and A Minor Forest, just a lot of these kind of, I don’t know, jazzy slow-rock kind of bands, interesting stuff. But then also a lot of punk-rock growing up, like the Descendents, and 7 Seconds, all that stuff.
JH- Let’s talk about the new album. The title, Lost Loves, refers to the songs on the album? These are songs that you reclaimed that were left off of previous albums.
JS- Yeah, they were all recorded, we remixed a few of them and whatnot, but it was all from recordings since 2006 I believe. Each one of those [albums] ended up with extra material, so we were able to put it all together in that nice, tidy little package and sequence it kind of so it sounds like an actual record. It’s pretty cool I think, I think it’s a good record.
JH- So now you’re touring Lost Loves, and you’re also touring your EP They Make Beer Commercials Like This, which came out 10 years ago in 2004. You also released Acoustics II last year, which had acoustic reworks of a bunch of your old songs. Is Lost Loves continuing this sort of look back for the band?
JS- Yeah, I think so. We felt like we had to do something, three of us had kids, so things kind of slowed down for a bit, but we felt like we had to have material that was kind of cool and interesting, and not necessarily like a big, huge, full-length record release, but something for the fans, something for people who already know about us to enjoy. Sort of keep them interested, you know?
JH- Well, how is the tour going so far?
JS- Well, this is kind of a two-leg tour, so we’re at the end of the first leg, we did mostly East Coast, Midwest stuff, and now, tomorrow we fly back to Seattle from here, so that’s good. We pick up on the West Coast in mid-November, so a couple weeks off and then we’re back at it.
JH- Do you guys have any favorite places, like venues, restaurants or just places you’ve stopped on the tour?
JS- Yeah, this tour’s pretty fun because we did play a lot of smaller venues than we usually play, so it was nicely intimate. They were nice little packed rooms you know, and you did get to have a lot more communication with the fans on this tour, and a lot of them were really fun. I don’t know, it’s hard to pick a favorite this tour so far, I mean we haven’t even played Denver yet, you guys might win! But uh, I really do love the Showbox in Seattle, the Showbox is one of my favorite places to play.
JH- What advice would you give to someone just getting into music or trying to start a band?
JS- I think that the best thing to do; first thing first is to get enough material to go play somewhere, play live. I think it’s important to, like, just do your best in the basement or garage that you’re starting out in, but if you don’t play in front of people it’s kind of difficult… I would start as soon as possible playing in front of people, you know, friends basements for parties, anything like that. Best way to hone the craft.
JH- If you could be in any band past or present, besides Minus the Bear, what would it be and why?
JS- I think it would be Steely Dan, not that I’m good enough at music to play on a Steely Dan record or anything, but I just love their stuff. I think that would be an education in and of itself, just to be with that level of performer.
JH- Some people reading this might not have heard of Minus the Bear. What would be one thing you would like to tell them about the band, or how would you describe it to them?
JS- Well that’s a tough one, but I would say that the band has something for, if not everybody, then for a lot of different people with different tastes in music. When we go on tour and we play these shows, and I see the audience members, I think that they kind of reflect how kind of diverse or whatever the age range is that comes to the show, and different types of people. I think there’s something for a lot of different musical interests that we do.
JH- Great, well before we’re done, is there anything you’d like to talk about that’s on the horizon for the band that people should know about?
JS- Yeah, we’ll be writing, trying to put out a new record relatively soon, and that’s about it. We’ll probably try to get back on the road when we can too.
By the time I emerged from the basement of the Marquis, a crowd had already begun to form outside the doors. They were a diverse bunch, some old enough to be my grandparents, others even younger than me. Everyone had one thing in common however: the electric, pre-show excitement about seeing their favorite band. 2 hours, some slices of Marquis pizza, and one decent warm-up performance by Flashbulb Fires later, and Minus the Bear took the stage, and they took it with force.
What makes Minus the Bear an interesting live act is their stage dynamic, with the intricate and strange drum patterns from Kiefer Matthias (filling temporarily for Erin Tate), the chaotic head thrashing licks of guitarist Dave Knudson and bassist Cory Murchy, and the shimmering synth work of Alex Rose, all centered around Jake Snider’s smooth, calm vocals, anchoring the performance to the audience. Like their music, it’s a complicated formula that works well. MTB fans were not disappointed at this show, with favorites like the duel synth sing-along “My Time”, the stuttering, prog-rock infused “Knights”, or the classic “Absinthe Pary At The Fly Honey Warehouse”. The highlight of the show came towards the end, when the cry of “Pachuca Sunrise!” from a fan to my left became a rally call echoed throughout the tightly packed room. The band muttered between themselves momentarily, before the soft sweet chords of “Pachuca Sunrise” whipped the fans into a frenzy. I’ve seen a lot of live shows, but never have I seen a crowd with as much energy as I did in this moment, with the singing of the crowd so loud I lost track of Snider’s vocals.
Minus the Bear has found beauty in complexity, making strangely beautiful music that has earned them one of the most dedicated niche following of any band today. As long as they continue to release music “for the fans”, they will be able to turn a small, crowed room into a pit of pure excitement wherever they go.