Chris Taylor: "Instead of trying to become an indie overnight success, why don't you just try to make good music?"

Besides producing and playing the bass among several other instruments for the critically acclaimed band Grizzly Bear, Chris Taylor has also produced acts like Dirty Projectors, Neon Indian, Jamie Lidell, Morning Benders and, more recently, Twin Shadow. Sophisticated arrangements, a refined aesthetics and a detail-oriented approach have made Taylor one of the most remarkable and sought-after producers in Brooklyn's indie scene.

In Grizzly Bear you play the bass among other instruments, but you are also its producer. Could you explain how you ended up having this role in the band?
I was recording other people before joining the band, so I had the equipment and I also knew how to do it. We didn't have a label or any money to pay for a recording studio and, since I was already doing it, I could do it for free. Like you said, I play a lot of instruments in the band: clarinet, flute, sax, percussion, bass, guitar and I also do some vocals and keyboard parts, so all of that led me to become the producer of the band.

You have also produced other acts like Dirty Projectors, Morning Benders, Neon Indian, Jamie Lidell and, more recently, Twin Shadow.
Do these collaborations influence your work with Grizzly Bear?I don't know if it really influences me, but I definitely learn a whole lot with every record I do -which is what keeps me doing it. I really like learning new stuff and in the way that you work, you learn, so I guess working with other people just helps me to improve my abilities for the next time that I get to work on a new Grizzly Bear album, because then I'll have more to offer. I love working with the guys in my band because it's a very special kind of relationship, in a way that is very natural to make music together. I mean, it's always really fun to go and work with other people and then come back and work with my band, and then feel how easy is to work with them. When I'm producing other people I'm working on someone else's music, and when I'm working with Grizzly Bear I'm working on our music, so it's a totally different approach.

Grizzly Bear's songs have been featured on TV shows, commercials, and soundtracks. Do you consider licensing songs a good resource for bands to obtain the lost income from illegal downloads?

That's what you have to do to make a living at it, and to keep on being able to do it. If you think of how many records are downloaded for free... it's just crazy, so you have to subsidize your living. I want to have a house and raise a kid someday so I can't be just making a little money from shows here and there. Besides, you don't really make a lot of money from record sales anymore and I don't want to be making just a little bit of money from shows, I mean, there's no way I could support a family with that.

Since you've already mentioned the music business and considering you founded your own record label, what is your opinion on the current state of the music industry?
Our ambition isn't really to make a lot of money with our record label. We just want to put out good records and try to find a way for the label to sustain itself. As with any business, my partner and I invested some initial money to get it going. The motivation isn't to make a lot of money with it, we just want everyone in the label to be really happy. I kind of try to stay out of that lame part of the record label industry and just try to be in the good side by being really artist-friendly. The people that I'm working with are friends of mine and I don't have any ambition or reason to hurt them in any way.

What would be that "lame part of the record label industry"?

Well, labels just being misleading to artists, which happens quite often. Labels trying to just take money from the artists whenever possible -I've just seen that happen and I just don't ever want to be that. I just want to put out cool music. We're doing our first fully involved effort like a proper record label with the Twin Shadow record. And we just want to do a really good job on it and make sure that as many people as possible hear it. I'm very good friends with George (Twin Shadow) and he is working with me on my solo stuff too -we're going to Guatemala soon to write. I have no desire to screw them over and I'm just really excited to see what happens.

When listening to Veckatimest one can sense a remarkable effort in crafting complex and detail-oriented songs -the arrangements and the vocal harmonies are quite sophisticated. Were you self-conscious about this when you made the album or was it something that came out naturally when you were writing the songs?
It came out naturally, I mean, that's just the way to do it. I feel like it takes us some time to do our records. As a producer, I have to be patient because it's sort of an ideal situation when the band shows up at the studio and then all of the sudden record its part right. Everyone in the band has to have their head in the right place to get the best thing out of them, and I have to wait around for that to happen, so it really took time because we waited for when it felt good to play that part or to record it. One could look at six months like being a long time to make a record, but it really wasn't for us -we just took our time and waited for a good moment to do so. There was a lot more downtime than there was actual time recording, so that just naturally came about. We discussed the songs and talked about how we felt about them and find out if they were working or if they sounded good, and then we worked on them until we all felt excited about them.

At the end of 2009 when music magazines published their lists of the best music of the year, many of them agreed on considering Animal Collective's Merriweather post pavillion as the best album of that year. In those lists were also included records made by other Brooklyn-based bands like Veckatimest, Dirty Projectors' Bitte Orca and St. Vincent's Actor. How do you explain the great moment Brooklyn's music scene is having right now?

I can't speak for them, but for some reason I'm pretty sure that Animal Collective claims to be from Baltimore (Maryland), where they started playing in a band. I know Annie (St. Vincent) got her thing started here but she grew up in Texas, and Dave Longstreth (Dirty Projectors) came from Connecticut after graduating from Yale for basically continuing making more music, so I think that a lot of people just moved out from other places to live here. New York has always been a cultural hub, I mean, going back to the 20's with people like Duke Ellington, Cat Calloway and the whole big band scene, Bob Dylan and The Beat thing to all the way through to disco in the 70's. In the 90's there wasn't pretty much anything going on in New York because all of the musical focus went to Seattle for a decade, but other than that there has always been a lot of great stuff coming from here, and I think that's the best way to answer that question -New York has always been doing that. That flavor of last year that a lot of good stuff seemed to come from New York is just a trend that I can't really explain, but I think all the amount of stuff coming out of here it's simply because people can move to New York. This is a really supportive community, it's not competitive, people aren't fighting for gigs because there's plenty of places to play a show and everybody goes out to each other's shows and supports each other. Sometimes there's even collaboration and I think this supportive community probably helps pushing people to make good things. There's a lot of good music too, so if someone hears good music they'll want to do music like that. You can see a great show on any day of the week and that could inspire you to do something else -this a pretty fruitful place to be living at. I've lived here ten years for a reason -I just really like it.

One of Grizzly Bear's latest highlights is being part of Twilight's New Moon soundtrack, an album that made it to the top of the Billboard charts. In that record you shared credits with other artists like Thom Yorke, Beach House, Lykke Li and St. Vincent. Isn't it ironic that such a mainstream movie includes so many indie artists?

I feel like the Internet has allowed the bands to spread their music much faster than before, whereas you had to be paid for by really large corporate accounts and big record labels. Now people can just spread it around the Internet and then it sort of passes from hand to hand on kind of a civilian level, from friend to friend or whatever, instead of huge posters and TV ads, so I think generally indie music is becoming more widely known. Since that movie was for young kids, I think that the person that took care of programming the music was trying to include what she thought might be kind of a newer, more cutting edge music than the rock that 's been playing on the radio. Besides, on their level of paying it is probably cheaper to use indie people too (laughs). I'm sure that was a consideration.

Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead considers Grizzly Bear one of his favorite bands and more recently, when Jay-Z watched you perform at the Jelly Pool Parties, he said: "they were destroying it, this is it, this is what's going to happen". How do you feel about all that praise towards your band?

It's overwhelmingly flattering. I don't know what to say because all of us are fans of both of those guys' music for sure, I mean, we still actively listen to their stuff so I don't know, it can freak you out a little bit too, but you just have to keep doing what you're doing, you take the compliment and try to move on. It's really cool to hear that, though.

What are Grizzly Bear's plans for the future?
We're on tour right now and then when we're done, we're taking a little break and within the next two months we should start getting together and making the music and recording probably during the fall, so I don't know, our new album should probably be out early next year (2011).

Can you tell us a little bit more about your solo project CANT?
I don't know, I can't really say what it is about. I kind of write just by starting off something and wait for something to come about. I don't really sit there with a guitar and come up with songs like Neil Young, I don't write songs like that so I don't really know how it's going to turn out but I'm excited to do it. I feel like I've been working on everyone else's music for six years now and it's exhausting in a way. It'd be fun just to make my own thing for a little bit and then get into the Grizzly Bear thing. I've just been working hard with a lot of people, with the label and some remixes along the way. It's just been like a lot of work on other people's stuff and it's been an amazing educational and a really cool experience. I'm excited to do something of my own so let's see how that comes out. It's not meant to be the next huge thing, it definitely won't and I don't care, I'm not trying to become like an indie breakthrough success band, I feel like there are so many bands that are focused on just that, they're focused on like getting "Best new music" on Pitchfork, they need that and I'm just like "come on, instead of trying to become an indie overnight success, why don't you just try to make good music?"

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