Minus the Bear hits the road to play Highly Refined Pirates in its entirety
Touring is an easy way to lose track of time. Case in point: when Submerge asked the lead singer of Minus the Bear when he had arrived with his band in Raleigh, N.C., he simply replied, “I don’t know.”
“When we’re in a bus we just kind of end up places,” said guitarist/singer Jake Snider.
To celebrate their past 10 years of success, the Seattle-based band–Snider, guitarist Dave Knudson, bassist Cory Murchy, keyboardist Alex Rose and drummer Erin Tate–has embarked on a 10-year anniversary tour across the States that began in early October, playing their 2002 debut full-length album Highly Refined Pirates in its entirety at each stop.
Simultaneously, MTB has released autographed vinyl copies of the album, pressed for the first time since its release, in addition to releasing This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic, the band’s debut EP, on vinyl for the first time.
When Submerge spoke with Snider over the phone, the band was pitched in Raleigh, preparing to play a show at the Lincoln Theatre that night.
Getting Snider to open up about the tour, the band and the albums was like pulling teeth. This is possibly due to the fact that up to that point, the band had already been on the road for two weeks, playing a show in a different city almost every night.
“It’s easy not to think of what [the songs] mean when you sing them every night,” he said with a laugh. “It’s almost like being a machine sometimes.”
Snider was referring to the songs on Highly Refined Pirates, which he classifies as a pop record in comparison to the others. Despite its deceivingly ridiculous song titles, like “Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo” or “Damn Bugs Whacked Him, Johnny,” the album has a strong indie pop feel. It is replete with noodling guitars layered over fleeting drum beats and altering time signatures, broken up by musical interludes; nonetheless, the accompaniment of soft synthesizers and Snider’s tepid vocals keep the album invariably pop.
“[I was] definitely more just writing about what people at that age do, what it’s kind of all about,” Snider said in reference to the lyrics. “Not the going to work from 9-to-5 and whatever other bullshit you have to deal with. There’s some fun to be had, and I think that the escapism aspect of life at that age is what I was focusing on then, as far as I can remember.”
Compared to its successors, Highly Refined Pirates is sonically more simplistic, he said, meaning that playing the album live has been smooth sailing.
“For me it’s a lot less complicated. The rig that I use for the pedal board and the effects is really pared down back to more what I used to have in the early ‘00s,” he explained. “This tour has been fun, because it’s a lot more direct and a little bit less reliant on those digital crutches, I guess you could say.”
Since its formation in 2001, the band has released four full-length albums in addition to four EPs, the most recent being Hold Me Down, released early this May.
After Highly Refined Pirates, the band has continued to release a full-length album every two to three years. Menos El Oso (meaning “Minus the Bear” in Spanish) followed in 2005, largely inspired by the band’s time spent on tour in Spain. Then they released Planet of Ice in 2007, which fostered the band’s prog-rock reputation and led to a tour across Europe, Australia and Japan.
MTB churned out its most recent work in May of last year. Up to that point, the band had released its albums on the label Suicide Squeeze.
OMNI was instead released on Dangerbird Records and produced by multi-Grammy winner Joe Chiccarelli, who has recently worked with the likes of The Shins, My Morning Jacket and The White Stripes.
Whereas Planet of Ice reflected the allure of its mystical title, boasting warbling riffs and scuttling progressions, OMNI expanded beyond the band’s prog-rock trademark to meld pop, funk and trance in creating what is at times an exceedingly erogenous album. Many of the band’s songs have alluded to bare skin and sheets in the past, but none quite so directly as the songs on OMNI.
Like most experimental works, the album drew a mixture of reactions from critics–some praiseful, others blistering.
Pitchfork dismissed it as an overproduced pop record with oversexed lyrics delivered in a lackluster manner, while Paste Magazine called it the band’s most “explosive record since its 2002 debut.”
Snider shrugged off the negative reviews. “So they’re not fans. Who cares?” he said. “Music is just so subjective and so personal, I think, that unfortunately the record gets into the wrong reviewer’s hands when the reviewer next to him, [it] might have been up his alley.”
“Pitchfork makes a whole business on record reviews and trying to tell everybody what’s cool, and sometimes it’s just a few peoples’ opinions,” he added.
Critics aside, the band has sustained a solid following. Look no further than the tour’s sold-out shows in New York, Los Angeles, Portland and San Francisco.
Fans seem equally as jazzed about hearing Highly Refined Pirates as they are about hearing OMNI, based on audience reactions.
“Judging by the time we get around to playing the two songs off the newest record that we’re playing, which is just really late in the set, it seems like some of the people have been waiting for something that they knew,” Snider said. “Some of the old fans don’t know the new stuff and some of the new fans don’t know the old stuff, and they’re all in the same room together. So it’s a weird tour, but it’s fun.”
With each album MTB has kept fans guessing. The only constant is that the band has every intention to consistently progress their sound.
“I think we’ve just kind of moved on from where we were nine years ago and I don’t think there’s any danger of us going back there wholeheartedly,” Snider said.
The band is continuing its tour throughout the States alongside longtime friends and indie rockers The Velvet Teen, in addition to indie rock band Lonely Forest.
The tour ends in November with a scheduled finale at Showbox at the Market in Seattle.
Early next year the band will return to the studio to write and record their next album.
Surely, diehard MTB fans will be happy to know that when Submerge asked if the band would consider playing other albums in their entirety in the future, Snider replied “sure.”
Minus the Bear will stroll through Sacramento on Nov. 7 when they play Ace of Spades. The show will get underway at 7 p.m. and tickets are $20. You can purchase said tickets through Aceofspadessac.com.