Minus the Bear's Erin Tate talks about this weekend's Popsickle 2010

In the past decade, Minus the Bear has become akin to an indie-cult kool-aid; with the release of their fourth full-length album Omni, this under-the-radar band is now up in our faces, and apparently not going anywhere. They're no longer just holding down a subliminal group of fans, they've officially broken out into a scene entirely of their own with a sound unrecognizable to genre boundaries - let's call it experimental rock.

Though drummer Erin Tate admits that their previous albums had a bit of a Wizard of Oz sentiment behind them, Omni has conquered a completely different persuasion -- they took their sweet time with this album, and it paid off. Minus the Bear have really exposed vital amounts of energy throughout this album, bringing even the most depressive person somewhere in between the middle of a storm and it's calm. We're listening to Minus the Bear for the same reason we listen to Pinback: To ease our minds.

Aside from their flirtatious, get-up-and-move-around rhythms we have greater reasons to accept Minus the Bear: They're sincere, they're hard workers, they understand this industry pretty damn well, and one of their members has roots right here in Minnesota.

This Saturday, First Avenue will be hosting the best of the best of the Midwest's pop-punk scene. Presented by 89.3 The Current and titled Popsickle, the extremely long line-up will feature Minnesota's own Motion City Soundtrack along with Foxy Shazam, Gold Motel, A Great Big Pile of Leaves, Now Now Every Children, One for the Team, Gospel Gossip, Take Cover, the Chord and the Fawn, and of course Minus the Bear.  

Gimme Noise was delighted to speak with Erin Tate of Minus the Bear in an interview that turned out to be more of a conversation with a local than the drummer of one of this year's hottest bands.  

So you're from Minnesota, right? I thought the band was from (or in) Seattle?
The band is originally from Seattle, but I'm from Minnesota personally, I moved to Seattle when I was like 20.

To join a rock band?
Actually I moved with my rock band from Minneapolis to Seattle, and then we started the rock band.

So you're a traitor!
Hey, enjoy your weather lady! It's 30 degrees and with a little bit of rain right now; enjoy your -25 and 10 feet of snow. But, yeah I was born in Saint Paul.

Were you born behind the Turf Club?
Absolutely right, I was born behind the train tracks.

Is that how you know Motion City Soundtrack, because you guys are from here?
Justin and Jesse, I was actually in a band with Justin when I was like 14, and playing with Jesse's band we did house shows and coffee shops together. We've done festivals and things together but never actually done a proper tour together.

What do you guys have planned for the performance?
We're doing an acoustic set I guess in the Entry, which maybe is a surprise; maybe I shouldn't be talking about it. I don't know?

Is it going to be a whole acoustic set?
I'm not supposed to say who it is, but I think some bands will be doing acoustic sets throughout the day in the Entry. I shouldn't have said that because I guess it hasn't been 100% agreed on yet, but I guess they have this whole multi-band thing going on, and they want to make it as much fun for everyone. It's really cool; they're really planning on making it a big day. We actually got offered to go play at a different venue that day and we turned it down so that we could do this.

Awe, you're a good Minnesota pal.
Well instead of just a three band line-up ya know, there's a whole ton of us coming up, and we really love Motion City Soundtrack so...

Omni came out this past spring. What were you specifically trying to accomplish with this record?
Every record that we do we kind of get inspired by a different thing and then go for that thing. The last record we were really kind of focused on jammy, prog-rocky kind of stuff, the kind of stuff you listen to and then like eight minutes later you're like 'Oh I get it now!' With Omni I think we're trying to do something different,  where the song hits you in like the first 10 seconds.

A little less Radiohead...
Haha! Yes, a little less King Crimson, a little less Pink Floyd, that kind of stuff. There was kind of this undertone-line between us and the producer. Like sleek Blues, '60s and '70s soul music, and '70s folk; just kind of stuff that hits you a little harder and makes you want to dance right off the bat. As opposed to the last record where it was stuff that made you kind of want to join and watch the Wizard of Oz.

The reviews for Omni were mixed; some say that they think the album sounded a bit rushed. How do you feel?
We spent more time working on this record (time-line wise) than we've ever spent working on any other record. It was the first time we've ever had an outside producer with us, so I think people might have been weird about that. But we're proud of it, and we put our fucking heart and soul into it. I mean it sounds really good, and people tend to have problems with records that sound really good a lot of the time.

Yeah, nobody likes good music.
Yeah, ya know, they're like 'just record it in your garage, because you guys are DIY and that's what makes a band sound good.' Instead of putting hundreds and hundreds of hours into making awesome tones and stuff that sounds good.

Well that's just it -- now-a-days people are listening to mp3s and you can't hear all of the nuances.
No seriously, why even bother recording records anyway.

How do you feel about the current state of music distribution? So many bands right now are actually just giving their albums away because people are going to steal them anyway...
Well I was actually just having this conversation with one of our touring managers last night; it's good and it's bad ya know. The good quality about it is it gets around to way more people. Instead of some 20 kids going to the record store, one kid downloads it and 50 people hear it. Which makes live shows, and ya know people come out and they know the music and that's great. But then there is the other sense, if we had this band like 15 years ago and Omni came out, we would have sold maybe a 100,000 copies of our record versus X amount. Unfortunately, record companies and labels are still looking at 'oh crap we sold X amount, they're not that good of a band and they're not worthy' or whatever. It's so crazy to me now that a band can show up at the Top 10 by selling like 10,000 copies of their record in the first week. It's fucking nuts. I'm a 32-year-old man, I've been around. I remember when a band had to sell 50,000 copies to get into the Top 10, and now it's crazy and it's only getting worse. This day and age, if a band sells 10,000 copies of their album in a cycle, it's considered a success.

That's because it wasn't just 10,000 records that were sold; it's how many were listened to. And what sucks is that nobody can keep track of that now.
We can go and tour and play in front of 1,000 people a night over the course of 60 nights and every kid knows every word to every song. But that's way more records than we sold. Obviously the times are changing. I mean it's not even worth being on a label anymore, the VIP of selling records and getting loyalties are worthless unless you're like Kanye West, or Taylor Swift. It's just almost not possible for an indie rock band; we've seen so many friends of ours get dropped off the record label, and then the industry has just folded in the past three years.

Half the time it's not even the band's fault, it's just the way the industry is going right now, and in some cases I feel bad for the record companies.
Of course, it has nothing to do with the band, it has to do with the industry. It literally has to do with that kid that goes "Oh I found a new Minus the Bear record a month before it came out!"  I was hanging with a friend's band about a month ago (I won't say their name), and they got signed to a major label about a year and a half ago. And their record leaked about a month before it came out, and it literally came down to them, instead of preparing to go on tour and supporting the record, the record flopped so bad that they all had to get day-jobs. And now they can't go on tour because their day jobs won't allow them to go on tour. So it's drastically changing people's lives.

I read recently that Trent Reznor has been telling young bands how to get their music out there, and he was saying that they might as well just give away their music, because you're indie and you're DIY-- just give it away.
Back to Radiohead, I think Radiohead really fucking set a tone when they said, "Here's our record pay for it if you want!" So yeah, holy hell the times are changing.

And as much as I love Radiohead, they kind of fucked it for some people. Now everybody is expected to put out free albums. And some of those people, they're not Radiohead they're not Trent Reznor...  You can't afford to put out a free album.
That's definitely something to consider, I mean Trent Reznor is giving you bad advice, that guy's rich. Take all that shit into consideration. And if you're a 15 year old kid, you're probably not going to take it into consideration. You're like "Oh My God I'm going to do what Trent Reznor says!" I'm in Minus the Bear and I'm not rich by any means; there is the good the bad and the ugly and it is so fucked up right now, and it's so impossible.

I honestly think now, in this day in age, it's about the live show. That's all bands have left to give.
Absolutely, I agree. Since this record has come out we've been on tour constantly. And ya know there's such a difference now as opposed to a year ago. Our last record from the previous one to the previous one, it's the internet leakage its nuts. It's literally killing bands; it's not killing major label clown artists, its killing bands.

Like I said earlier, the idea of giving away your record for free is just to get people to hear it and then touring your fucking ass off, to support what you're doing, to get it out there is totally fine -- If you're fucking Trent Reznor or if you're Radiohead. But in all reality unless you live with your parents, if you're a 22-25 year old kid, unless you live with your parents... You need to pay rent and you need to be able to eat, and you need to be able to do stuff. And when you go on tour, it costs a ton of money. Even if you're sleeping on peoples floors every night and eating Ramen, there is a certain financial thing where you need to exist as a human being. So giving away your music is totally fine and great if someone else is paying for it. It's harder to do anything because the market is super over saturated. It's almost impossible to keep up with the times because the times are moving so quickly.

The greatest example I have of it is when our second album came out, Menos el Oso - before it came out was the first time our record had ever leaked. We did a tour before the record and we played in front of like a couple hundred people. And then the record leaked right when we went on a headlining tour and the shows were fucking awesome! Something about that record hit. And the shows were packed, the clubs were full!

How do you feel your music meshes in with Motion City Soundtrack?
I don't think it does, haha. They're poppier than we are. But ya know we're all in the same gang in the sense that we're friends and all that kind of stuff. We've been talking about doing something together for years, so it's good that we finally get to do something with them. But musically I don't think we're on the same page at all. But at the same time I don't see why someone that likes Minus the Bear wouldn't like Motion City, or vice versa.

MINUS THE BEAR play Popsickle with Motion City Soundtrack, Foxy Shazam, Gold Motel, A Great Big Pile of Leaves, Now Now Every Children, One for the Team, Gospel Gossip, Take Cover and The Chord and the Fawn this SATURDAY, DECEMBER 18, at FIRST AVENUE. All ages. $22.50. 3 p.m.

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