Photo by Shervin Lainez
If you haven't heard anything from the Minus The Bear camp for a while, there's good reason. Since releasing Infinity Overhead in 2012, the Seattle band has undergone a lot of changes—both personal (i.e. fatherhood) and professional (the band's decision to change labels and management). Often the line before these two categories is blurry as is the case with original drummer Erin Tate who exited the band in 2015 and was subsequently replaced by Kiefer Matthias.
For that reason it should come as no surprise that VOIDS—the first Minus The Bear record in five years that's out on March 3—is a moody record that doesn't come off as particularly upbeat. However that dichotomy between dark imagery and danceable, inventive rock has always been a hallmark of Minus The Bear's sound, and producer Sam Bell helped channel those experiences into a record that served as a form of collective therapy for the members. But you can judge that for yourself as the album's first single "Invisible" is premiering below.
But as if an album announcement and song stream wasn't enough, we've got more for you. Minus The Bear are also going on tour and all of the dates are listed here. And if you're curious about the genesis of the album, we spoke with frontman Jake Snider and guitarist Dave Knudson about the inspiration behind VOIDS, what it's like being a band for 15—well, now 16—years and why they can't wait to perform these songs live.
Noisey: How different was making VOIDS than previous Minus The Bear albums?
Dave Knudson: It was totally different because this was the first time we've ever written with a new drummer which was kind of reinvigorating I think for everybody, especially it was for me. We had maybe six or seven songs written [with original drummer Erin Tate] and then threw those all away and started writing again and that's where this whole thing really started gaining momentum.
Jake Snider: We were on kind of—it wasn't a hiatus because we were working all the time and playing shows—but this whole record got a wrench thrown in it by the kind of a restart of the writing process once we got our new drummer Kiefer in the mix. It's been a long time since our last record came out and a lot of that has to do with this very big structural change in the band's form. It took a lot of months to figure out what we were going to do.
Knudson: We basically fired everybody: Not just writing process-wise but manager, business manager... almost every possible person who was working for us except for our booking agent is now different so there was a definite shift in how the band had operated and it operating now.
"Invisible" definitely has lots of hallmarks of early Minus The Bear. Does it feel that way to you?
Snider: I think it's less ornamental than a lot of the previous stuff we've done. In terms of Minus The Bear, it's really direct and I think the power of the music conveys a lot of the intent lyrically as well.
Knudson: It definitely has guitar-tapping and that kind of stuff but to Jake's point I think it encapsulates a general vibe in the album which is creating really memorable lyrics and moments with production and by focusing on writing the best parts we can. While it may be a little more straightforward for us it references the band's past but pushes it in a new direction.
What was it like working with Kiefer and Sam? Because historically Minus The Bear has always kept their circle of collaborators pretty small.
Snider: Kiefer had a very open-minded idea of what the drums could sound like; he didn't have an identity that he was trying to defend and bring over on the record, which was fantastic because he was malleable. Working with Sam was also incredibly revealing because he wasn't part of our crew—he is now, we've adopted him and made him move to Seattle. [ Laughs.] But back then it was refreshing to have his view of what the band's next record could be without a huge investment in terms of his contribution to the band's past. His vision of the band helped us create a different record that we might have done had it just been us in a room with our buddies.
Knudson: We had a lot of material, too. Before we went in the studio we had almost forty parts to work from and ended up tracking nineteen or twenty songs and widdled those down to the ten that are on the record. One of the hardest parts was figuring out what was going to make the cut because there were like 15 songs. The range of material was also really wide in scope so Sam was able to kind of find all the corners of where Minus The Bear operates from and then identify those so we could pick our best moments.
Is it crazy that you've been a band since 2001? I ask because I keep thinking of you guys as the "new band" from members of Botch and Sharks Keep Moving.
Snider: The weirdest part about being in a band for 15 years is that it feels like you're still trying to do it and we're working just as hard as we ever have to get this band off the ground. Fifteen years is a long fucking time but it doesn't feel like fifteen years to me and I don't think it feels that way to Dave. We're still the band that's trying to get the good shows. Minus The Bear still has an old-school mentality of how things work so it's funny that you bring that up because we're like, "Where has all the time gone?" I don't think we feel like we've been in a band for so long.
Knudson: There were moments over the past few years where it felt like everything was going to fall apart. I think everyone had those thoughts and we kind of reference that in the first song. I don't even know if that's what Jake meant but it certainly hits home to me when he sings, "Everybody wants to walk away," on "Last Kiss." There were moments like that where everyone was like, "This is done, let's not do this anymore." Part of the reason the album is branded at least to me not as a Minus The Bear record but as VOIDS the album is because it does seem like a new band in certain ways due to the change in the way everything has progressed and the new infusion of energy and excitement surrounding the band. Before it felt like we were almost on our deathbed and now it's one of those moments where there's a resurrection.
Still, VOIDS looks pretty dark on paper. What inspired you to not to just give it in during those moments of uncertainty?
Snider: I think "defiance" is kind of a good word for why we figured out we should keep doing it rather than give it up. There's a lot of reasons not to do this as a career option, especially after what happened internally. When you have voids in your life, it's things that are surrounding you and you have to keep going forward through that emptiness until you reach that next phase. We're old dudes and everything happened at once: Kids, membership disruption and other business-related situations that we're just remedying now. The name " VOIDS" does sound negative but I think if you talk to any member of the band we're living in the post-void world of Minus The Bear. But you have to write about the shit that you did go through and that's what this record is about.
Why did you decide to go back to Suicide Squeeze for this album?
Snider: You can't say no to an advance of 20 million dollars. [ Laughs.]
Knudson: Yeah, where did they get all that money from?
You're announcing a tour today, too. I'd imagine that after all you guys have been through over the four years you're especially excited to get back on the road.
Knudson: Yeah, the last couple tours where Kiefer was touring with us it was great to play "Invisible" as well as a couple of the other new songs that we had started playing live. You could tell that everybody onstage was truly having a great time because it was something fresh and there wasn't any baggage attached to it, so I can't wait to go bananas and play all of these songs. It's going to be awesome.
10 - Boise, ID @ Knitting Factory * (Sand supporting instead of Bayonne)
11 - Salt Lake City, UT @ The Depot * (Sand supporting instead of Bayonne)
12 - Denver, CO @ Summit Music Hall * (Sand supporting instead of Bayonne)
14 - Dallas, TX @ Granada Theater
18 - Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
20 - Orlando, FL @ Beacham Theater
21 - Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
22 - Charlotte, NC @ The Underground
23 - Richmond, VA @ The National
24 - Washington, DC @ Black Cat
25 - Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
26 - Boston, MA @ Royale
28 - New York, NY @ Webster Hall
29 - Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
30 - Buffalo, NY @ Town Ballroom
31 - Toronto, ON @ The Opera House
01 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Mr. Smalls
02 - Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews Hall
04 - Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line
05 - Omaha, NE @ Slowdown
06 - Chicago, IL @ House of Blues
07 - St. Louis, MO @ Delmar Hall
08 - San Antonio, TX @ Maverick Music Festival
10 - Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom
12 - Los Angeles, CA @ Belasco Theater
13 - San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
14 - Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom
15 - Seattle, WA @ Showbox
All dates with Beach Slang and Bayonne supporting unless otherwise noted.
Jonah Bayer The Writer is also a musician and goes by Jonah Bayer The Musician. Follow him on Twitter.