Chris Taylor is a multi-instrumentalist member of Brooklyn-based band Grizzly Bear. His recently founded record label, Terrible Records, anticipates several releases this year. Grizzly Bear's third album, Veckatimest, will be released May 26 on Warp Records.

Epilogue: How was SXSW? You guys played a show in a church?
Chris Taylor: It went really well. Playing in a church is always a little bit strange for a rock band. It really ends up getting sort of muddy. Quiet stuff is always really nice. It was fun.

How did you guys start working together?
CT: Chris Bear, Dan {Rossen} and I had been friends for a while. I lived across the hall from Dan, and Dan was roommates with Fred {Nicolaus} so that’s the whole Department of Eagles crew right there, so that’s how that happened. I met Chris in the jazz department, and he and I played in a bunch of different groups, like an electro-acoustic free jazz ensemble, a no-wave band, a post-punk band, and a lot of money-making dinner party jazz combo gigs.

We lived together down the street for a while and Ed had been working on this album by himself and met Chris Bear, and Chris was like “Yeah, I mix a little bit”…Chris was in the audio engineering school at that point, we had both transferred out of the jazz department to study audio engineering. Chris said he could help Ed mix his Horn of Plenty album so then Chris started playing on the record. Then they needed to make a live band and I was living with Chris, so Chris said “well you know my roommate Chris Taylor can sing and play a bunch of different instruments, and he might be able to cover our bases,” so I became part of the live band. We played like, four or five shows and three months later Dan joined the band. Then we were complete. That’s just how it happened. I knew that Dan would be the last perfect addition because of where his talents lie, writing songs and engineering, vocal harmonies, all that…he’s always been very good at it.

What themes or ideas keep cropping up in Grizzly Bear’s music?
CT: I don’t think it’s like a unified thing we’re going for. It ends up being unified but initially all four of us are wanting something different out of the music. We’re all into something different at the time, we’re trying to somehow inject that into the recording or the song. We eventually come to a point where we all agree and that’s where the song ends.

What do you look for in a song?
CT: It’s really relative. I guess things that are important to me…I like songs that retain a focus, there’s the foreground of what’s most important and then there’s some supporting elements, another layer behind that…a crude breakdown, maybe, like three layers, the main focus is usually the vocals or some part that goes with it melodically, then there’s the band and all the peripheral stuff that makes it sound textured, in a way. I just like to think on those levels.

The focus of the song being strong and interesting, and the core being really powerful…I like succinctness. I also like blending real intentionally succinct things and intentionally loose things, I like creating that sort of friction. So really finished-sounding things, unfinished sounding things. I do the same thing when I’m recording, I like to get a broader spectrum of sonic quality, hi-quality to sort of degraded quality and everything in between the gradient permutations of those things. When you use what is all a case-by-case basis, obviously. Different music, different performers, etc.

What do you listen to or play growing up?
CT: Jazz was educational for me in that it informed me of certain things I wanted to avoid. Also, at the same time, knowing how to construct a really beautiful, maybe more complex melody—jazz melodies tend to be a little more complex, harmonically speaking. Making that sound beautiful and not complex is sort of a virtue and something to look up to. There’s a lot of filler/fluff that happens in jazz, where I couldn’t find the meaning for improvisational notes or melodies, where I wanted to search out a more intentional placement of melodic ideas within a song.

There’s definitely an instrumental palette that people always have to stick to and can’t break outside of that without sounding really forced. It’s like classic jazz instruments—if you add anything electronic or electric it sounds very unnatural.

What are you working on now?
CT: This band called the Morning Benders, they’re from San Francisco. It’s really a great rock record. It’s just so well done. Great melodies, great harmonies, really great playing. They recorded the whole thing in ten days which I think is awesome. They’re very young, 22,21…the bass player just turned 21. I saw them play a show in New York at Mercury Lounge and the bass player’s 21st birthday was that day. I had the opportunity to buy a 21-year-old a shot which doesn’t really happen all that much (laughs). But they’re really sweet kids. Chris Chu, the singer and songwriter, is in town, and we’re just mixing every day trying to get it done. We’re both really excited about how it’s going and I think it’s going to be a great record. I’m excited.

How do you feel about this current internet landscape? Very recently Grizzly Bear’s music was a victim of an early leak. Do you feel that the leak was in any way positive, in terms of spreading your music around?
CT: I was bummed at first. It leaked so fast. It was literally mastered for less than a week. I knew it was going to leak, because that happens to everything, but I was hoping like, a month, not three months out. A bit of a bummer. I don’t know that I recognize a lot of positives. It’s kind of weird. People have told me they’ve heard it and they like it a lot…that’s really nice to hear but it’s a bit strange. I wish you could hear the real copy, not a bad download. We spent so many months just poring into the sonics, the production details, all the production stuff I was talking about, and all that’s just totally lost. I guess the worst case scenario would be that people wouldn’t be into it because it sounds garbled. It’s pretty dense music, there’s a lot of shit happening, and when it’s not really presented in the clearest way, I don’t know how it sounds.

I was really bummed the first night. When I got that text from Ed that was like, “It leaked,” I was like, “No way!” I had a bunch of beers after that, I was kind of bummed, you know? After that, it was like, “whatever.” What happened happened and I’m not trying to go back.

Well, I pre-ordered it from your website…I was thinking about bringing the receipt but I realized that was probably the tackiest thing ever.
CT: (laughs) that’s really sweet of you.

I personally think the right thing to do is to buy it, because that’s what I do. I’ve gotten albums from my friends, but if I like it I always buy it, and I buy it on vinyl, and if there’s a band I really like and the CD comes out a month early…this is kind of stupid, but I buy the CD when it comes out and then I buy the vinyl. I guess I probably err on the minority side, but I like knowing that in some way that I’m contributing to supporting the artist and keeping them happy.

Funny enough, I started my own record label (Terrible Records). I had thought of that a number of times, like, “Why did I start a record label?”

I started a record label to be able to release good music and remove it from the record label machine. I guess in an almost sort of subversive way, I wanted to change the flow of income generated on records and make it more wholesome for everyone involved.

So right now I’m doing this Morning Benders thing and I’m also recording an EP with Acrylics. The whole thing is starting of with a whole series of split 7” singles, I’m not trying to really support bands on tour or anything, I’m trying to be strictly a boutique record label. Maybe it’s like the worst idea in the current climate, or maybe it’s the best idea because it’s literally just about really good music. It’s a careful presentation, a series, set up in a nice way. I’m excited about it. Acrylics, doing a Morning Benders track, Yeasayer is booked, I’m going to be putting out an Arthur Russell single and hopefully, if I can get my shit together, debuting my solo stuff.

I think that sounds smart. What’s the start up cost for a record label these days anyway? It has to be pretty low.
CT: It doesn’t cost anything! You’ve got the Internet so you don’t need all of that stuff. It’s amazing, you can put tracks on iTunes, sell them, and have it go to the label’s bank account FROM YOUR HOUSE. You don’t need anybody to do that. I didn’t know that. I was like, “Whoa.” That’s like 85% of the digital market. You can do it from your computer at home. It’s awesome!

Me and my partner Ethan, he and I are doing it. It should be fun. We’re trying to record everything now so that things can come out maybe in a seasonal release of 7”s, EPs dispersed in there…

So what’s your dream collaboration?
CT: Honestly, I know some people aren’t a fan of the Beatles and some people really really are, I happen to be a big fan. I think that, as corny as it may sound, it still feels really exciting and cool to think about maybe working with them. In nine years, they didn’t go on tour, they just made music. Their way of constantly pushing themselves, constantly writing stuff, and constantly changing it around is a really big turn-on to me. I feel like that group is an ideal setup. I wish I was in a situation where we were outputting more, it’s tough to get us to all make a record and it takes a long time. And we’ve got to do all the touring, that’s the only way you make money these days. So, gotta do that. And that’s fun, and I love that. The Beatles didn’t have to tour. They did one tour. That seems like it would’ve been really cool. As cheesy as an answer as that is…there are a lot of other people that are relevant that I would like to work with as well.

Favorite Beatles record?
CT: My favorite album…I think Abbey Road is truly flawless. Truly flawless. Aside from like, “Octupus’s Garden,” which is a little cheese…Abbey Road was the first album I started out with, with the Beatles, it was like when I heard the Beatles for the first time when my dad showed it to me. It pretty much changed the way I saw rock ‘n’ roll, because I didn’t really get it before then.

How about Bob Dylan? We’re working on a visual piece with these answers.
CT: Blonde on Blonde or Nashville Skyline…it’s hard to say.

What does your solo stuff sound like?
CT: I feel like the solo stuff is really an opportunity to branch out from what I usually do. What I want to happen, happens enough in Grizzly Bear. And there’s still things that don’t happen and won’t happen ever, and I know that. So that’s where the solo stuff comes in; to satisfy the desire to do other types of things.

I’m really into 80s and 90s soul, dance music. Anything from Prince to Mary J. Blige, on to D’Angelo, and there’s also noisier stuff. One of my favorite records is Liars’ Drum’s Not Dead, something about the noisiness but also just how sparse it is, it’s so brilliant to me that I can’t even get over it. I like noisier stuff too and I don’t really get to get that out, or the dancier stuff. Noisy, dancy, maybe more on the groove-oriented level…

What are your goals for the future?
CT: There’ll be some stuff with Grizzly Bear for sure. I would love to make music with other people, I would really love to be able to do that, when the time arrives. I definitely plan on continuing to record records. But if I can keep doing the band thing, have a lot of fun with it, and continue making music that feels exciting and relevant, then I’d think I’d probably prefer to keep playing.

I’m trying to keep my options open. Because I don’t know what will happen.

So I’m going to run the headline “Grizzly Bear Breaking up?”
CT: That would be the spin. I don’t know, man. We’re doing our thing but it’s not like it’s a day in the park. It works. That’s all it needs to do. But at the same time, in a lot of ways, it is a day in the park…it’s great. It’s a total dream come true.

So, I have to ask. Are you guys going to do a “Bear-off,” a cage-match between Grizzly Bear and Panda Bear, at any point?
CT: (laughs) That doesn’t make any sense!

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Grizzly Bear Interview

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