When you name your band after something like getting to third base - Minus The Bear’s singer-guitarist Jake Snider explained it to SPIN last year like this: "A friend of the band had gone on a date and one of us asked him afterward how the date went. Our friend said, 'You know that TV show from the '70s - B.J. and The Bear? It was like that minus the bear.' That’s the straight truth." – you’re either not very serious, or you make the kind of music that doesn’t easily fit into categorization.
The Seattle-based indie-rock quintet is a bit of both, but falls much more into the latter. A musician’s band, MTB’s penchant for genre-hopping and unique time signatures has insured that none of their four full-length albums sound anything like one another. And to celebrate hitting the decade mark together, the guys are embarking on a tour in which they’ll play their acclaimed debut, Highly Refined Pirates, in its entirety every night.
But if you’re headed to SOMA this evening to catch their show, don’t fret, they’re playing some songs from all of their other albums as well. I recently caught up with drummer Erin Tate, while he was messing around in Albuquerque before a show, to discuss the current tour and beyond.
Scott McDonald: How are things going?
Erin Tate: Good, good. So far, it’s been going very well. We’re playing a lot of old stuff, so it’s been fun.
SM: So, 10 years already?
ET: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. Sometimes it really feels like it’s been 10 years, and sometimes it really only feels like it’s been a few. But everything’s going really smoothly.
SM: How did you decide to do this kind of tour?
ET: It was pretty spur-of-the-moment. We didn’t spend a whole lot of time planning it out. It was an idea that came up pretty fast and we all kind of agreed that we’d go with it. As for the re-pressing of the vinyl, it was something that hadn’t been done in a long time, so it seemed like a cool thing to do.
SM: Biggest change in these 10 years?
ET: The decline in record sales. And that just means that bands need to tour more and work harder at building that kind of fan base. But the Internet helps you expand it, and people can get to the music more immediately. The biggest changes are both good and bad. But I try and not dwell on things like that too much. Our second full-length got leaked online a good month or two before it was released. And it made an immediate impact on our shows. The crowd doubled for us as a result of that, so it’s hard to tell how it’s going to be good or bad.
SM: You’re playing Highly Refined Pirates in its entirety, but other stuff as well?
ET: Yeah, it’s a career-spanning set. We’re playing something from every record. And we do Pirates straight through, with interludes and everything. It’s fun and makes for a really different show.
SM: You recently changed labels.
ET: We pretty much just needed to refresh things. We had been with Suicide Squeeze for our entire careers and it was time to try something different. We love David who runs Suicide Squeeze. He’s one of the very best people you could ever meet in your life and runs one hell of a great ship. It was great, but it was also time to switch things up.
SM: You guys really sound different on every record. But your latest, OMNI, really seems like a departure.
ET: That’s just us growing up. When I started in this band I was 21. Now that we’re in our 30s, it really makes a difference in the songwriting. And being around the same guys for 10 years makes a big difference as well. But with every record that we write, we’re trying to do something different than the last. We want to re-work ourselves each time. It was also the first time we worked with an outside producer.
SM: How was it working with Joe? (Chiccarelli – Grammy Award winner and My Morning Jacket/White Stripes producer)
ET: It was cool. It was very different than how we had done it before. He really pushed us. He was ball buster and very intimidating . We certainly had some good times and some bad times together. I’ll just leave it at that.
SM: It does sound like you’re having fun, though.
ET: To be honest, how a Minus The Bear record comes out has a lot to do with what we’re all listening to at the time. We had been listening to a lot of funk and soul music when we made OMNI. We get into these zones and it strangely has an impact on what we’re working on.
SM: What’s next?
ET: We actually have more than a new record written. We’ll start recording in January. Hopefully, we’ll have a late summer release.
SM: So, I guess I should ask what you’ve been listening to.
ET: You should. But if I told you, then it’d ruin the surprise.