Minus The Bear first roared onto the Billboard charts in September 2005, landing at No. 20 on Top Heatseekers and No. 41 on Top Independent Albums with their third album,"Menos El Oso."
Minus The Bear first roared onto the Billboard charts in September 2005, landing at No. 20 on Top Heatseekers and No. 41 on Top Independent Albums with their third album,"Menos El Oso." Just four years earlier, the rock band had been formed in Seattle by guitarist David Knudson, bassist Cory Murchy, drummer Erin Tate keyboardist/sequencer Matt Bayles and vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider.
The fivesome have now reappeared on a number of charts with their fourth studio set, "Planet of Ice," released Aug. 21 via Suicide Squeeze. Produced by Bayles and Chris Common, the album is a continuation of the band's psychedelic guitar soundscapes, punctuated by tense dissonances and Snider's husky voice reporting dreamlike lyrics like "The man in the hole/has carried away the moonlight/cupped in his hands/a dime on the water" (from "Burying Luck").
Minus The Bear has already plunged into a hefty 50+ date tour this fall, which includes 14 European dates in December. Snider and Knudson checked in with Billboard.com to describe their new songs, their record label home and the joys of the clapping session.
How do you feel "Planet of Ice" sonically distinguishes itself from your previous releases? What did you do differently to promote it?
Snider: "Planet of Ice" is a more ambient record -- we wanted it to have more space. The guitar riffage is turned up a notch from past releases and the tapping is toned down. Overall it feels more aggressive to me.
Knudson: Promotion-wise, we really worked with the label and distributor to find the most cost effective way to get records into fans' hands. Suicide Squeeze focused on a lot of retail marketing ensuring that records were in stores, featured, and available nationwide at a variety of stores. We had a laser show at Seattle's Laser Dome the night of release, a listening party with intense choreographed lasers -- we thought it would be a fun, unusual way to raise interest.
What was your favorite moment in the studio?
Snider: The moment my guitar parts were finished! The relief of that is hard to beat. Mixing as well... the first day at mixing, finally hearing the music find it's tone and color, was a little slice of magic.
Knudson: The last minute hand clap session during mixing was a pretty welcome relief, not sure if it's my favorite moment though. We had all been in the studio for hours doing different things. Jake was probably in his booth finishing some vocals, Alex was in his keyboard compound fixing MIDI and finalizing parts for the song to be mixed next while I was in the office designing the layout. Matt had been mixing the song for hours and the breakdown at the end wasn't sounding right. We were all feeling a wee bit stressed out. Breaking away from our respective duties for a few moments was nice, even though our rhythm was way off the first few takes.
Why do you continue to remain with Suicide Squeeze?
Snider: Suicide Squeeze has always done an amazing job marketing and selling our records, but the main reason we stay is because we trust [owner] David Dickenson. Suicide Squeeze is the only label that any of us have released music with that pays royalties honestly, accurately and regularly... he doesn't steal money from us to pay for his other releases or otherwise. He often pays us ahead of time if he happens to have the money. And the label is doing very well... funny that... paying your bands and still having the ability to put out great music. I'm not sure we'd ever find a deal that's as mutually beneficial as this. David also gives the best hugs in the world.
Planet of Ice, streamed in full on mtvU one week before the album's official release. How do you personally feel about streaming your music online? Does music piracy concern you as an artist?
Snider: It had been our plan as a band to stream the record in it's entirety since the beginning. mtvU was kind enough to offer their servers to stream from so it worked out fabulously. It allows fans to preview the record and possibly satiate the need to download it prematurely... who knows if that's just wishful thinking. Piracy is a concern, and we'd love it if everyone still bought CDs and records, but that just doesn't seem to be a reasonable expectation. It grows the fanbase... the "pirates" come to the shows and buy our merch, and maybe some do end up buying the CD or purchasing a downloadable version. Indie labels like ours lose the most to pirating...if everyone who had a copy of the music bought it, the label would recoup its incredible upfront expense quicker. However, we may not sell as many CDs as we do without the filetraders creating more buzz. Maybe it's the new FM radio.
In this age of MySpace and YouTube and all things Internet, it's a tough balance for an artists between showing all your cards and hiding them. Bands have video updates, tour diaries, endless photos from backstage, blogs talking about their feelings... how do you balance your personal lives with your professional lives? How will you know you've gone too far (or is there such a thing)?
Snider: I'm not sure. When I was growing up, I didn't know much about my favorite artists' private lives. I'm not sure it would have improved their music at all. We've been incredibly open to our fans. People want the record, they want to see what you do in your free time, they want to read what you did last night, they want to consume more than just a bands' songs these days. I can see reining it in a bit in the future... or at least not allowing much more access.
You're pretty used to extensive touring schedules. At this point, how do these stints affect the band, physically or psychologically? Have you ever gotten into a fist fight due to strains on the road?
Snider: We've never had a fist fight between band members... almost, but thankfully if a punch is thrown, it finds not a face but the side of our van or something else injurious. I've never been in a fist fight, but I've broken a few up. We're a bunch of peaceniks. Matt, our old keyboard player was the slugger.
Knudson: The repetitive nature of tour can be a drag. Even though you're in a different city everyday, you're basically doing the same thing day in and day out. Touring foreign countries can be hard as well. Communication is harder—both with folks at home and since we don't speak all the languages of the world unfortunately... All in all, it's about settling into the tour zone and living in it for a while. After a couple days on the road we all normally settle in pretty well.
When I first heard the title "Planet of Ice," I thought of Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle," which has a lot of political and cultural commentary. Ends up, your record has a little bit of that too. Which songs address specific issues you feel ought to be addressed on a larger scale?
Snider: The only song that I would call specifically political lyrically is "Lotus". It touches on religion's infection of the Federal Government (the Executive Branch especially) with it's Apocalyptic dogma. I wonder in the song how it's possible that the wives of these warmongers to lay in bed with them at night, to be affectionate to someone who would authorize the killing of over one million Iraqis for financial gain.