As they approach their 15th year of active duty next year, prog-rock quintet MINUS THE BEAR are taking a moment to look the past this fall. First up is the recent release of Lost Loves, a 10-song collection of B-sides and rarities recorded alongside 2007’s Planet Of Ice, 2010’s Omni and 2012’s Infinity Overhead. The band will be airing some of these obscure gems on their fall headlining tour, which also doubles as a celebration of the 10th anniversary of their fan-loved They Make Beer Commercials Like This EP. Scott Heisel caught up with guitarist DAVE KNUDSON at his Seattle home on an afternoon in early October to talk Lost Loves as well as his band’s future plans.
A lot of the times, when a band puts out a B-sides record, it feels like leftovers, but Lost Loves has a much stronger cohesion. How cognizant were you when you were sequencing the record that it felt like an actual album?
DAVE KNUDSON: Originally, we were going to have all the songs grouped together by album—“These are the tracks from Planet Of Ice, these are the tracks from Omni, these are the tracks from Infinity Overhead”—but listening to it, these songs are really strong. Some of these songs should’ve been on the last few records. Ultimately, the goal was to make a record that stands alone on its own, even though it’s jumping between various albums. There are ebbs and flows, and dynamics. We don’t even feel like it’s a throwaway record; we feel like it is an album. It was a challenge: three different recording sessions, two different producers, three different studios, all that stuff. But ultimately, it’s kind of funny how all these songs meshed with each other in a really cool way.
Are there any specific songs that you’re happy are getting a wider release?
I was really happy to see “Invented Memory,” because it has a ridiculous guitar solo that whenever I hear it, I kind of laugh and say, “That’s funny that I did that.” It’s fun, it’s a great song, “Electric Rainbow,” we all loved that song but it suffered because it was one of the first songs we played live before we recorded Planet Of Ice so we played it live so many times, we thought of it as an old thing we had surpassed. When we recorded Planet Of Ice, we were more interested in our new material, but looking back, that song is incredibly strong and has some really great moments in it.
Would those songs have been added to their respective records or swapped in for other songs?
If we could go back, I would’ve preferred to open Omni with “Broken China,” and then have the second song be “My Time.” That would’ve given Omni such a badass kick out of the gate. “Broken China” was another thing like “Electric Rainbow,” where it was one of the first songs written for Omni so we had already played it so many times, when we were making the record, we were focused on the newer stuff we had written. I guess it’s a learning moment for us. [Laughs.] Sometimes when you’re in the studio, it’s hard to see the outside scope and what’s best for the record. We’re all super-happy with how all three of those records turned out, though.
You could pull a George Lucas and tweak the records whenever you feel like it.
[Laughs.] That’s true! Maybe the Omni repress will be significantly different. We still love creating albums, which is why the sequencing is important to us. We’re older than a lot of the people reading this, but we all grew up loving classic albums and feeling the dynamics and the flow. That was a big part of it. Nowadays, it’s Spotify this, YouTube that, listen to this one song, “These are my three favorites and I’m not gonna even listen to the rest of the record.” But we come from a place where the album is still an art form. I don’t know if that makes us dinosaurs. We’ve talked about in the future, maybe doing something different for releasing our new material, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.
It’s kind of a split tour. A lot of the material for this tour will be the They Make Beer Commercials Like This EP, since it’s the 10th anniversary of that EP, but then we’ll play about three songs from Lost Loves, and as the tour goes on, maybe we’ll rotate some in or out. Going forward, we’re excited to have this other batch of material that we’ve never really played that we can go to. “South Side Life” is my wife’s favorite song, primarily because of the female vocals; Ely Guerra’s voice is so sweet, sensual and sexy. To play that song live, we would need a female vocalist, so I dunno if that’s gonna happen on this tour, but the other ones are up for grabs.
You don’t just need a female vocalist, you need someone who can sing in Spanish.
Exactly. And has that character in the voice. That song is full of character in the vocals, for sure.
Just have a casting call through Twitter. Show up at soundcheck, get one run-through and whoever does it best gets to perform it that night.
[Laughs.] Maybe we’ll save that idea for the next tour.
Is there anything from the Beer Commercials EP you haven’t played live on previous tours?
I think we’ve played everything except for “Houston, We Have UhOh,” which was a bonus track on the Suicide Squeeze reissue five years ago. We haven’t played “Hey! Is That A Ninja Up There?” in years; that’s one of the most challenging riffs I’ve written. It took me a while to re-learn it.
How often do you curse yourself and say, “Why the fuck did I make this so hard?”
It was awesome, actually—it was a nice challenge to get in that headspace from 10 years ago.
Given that you’ve already done a 10th anniversary tour for Highly Refined Pirates and now the Beer Commercials EP…
…is it safe to say there will be a 10th anniversary tour for Menos El Oso next year? What about Planet Of Ice in 2017?
We’ve definitely talked about an Oso 10-year tour. I think that and Planet Of Ice are probably our two favorite records we’ve done, so those will probably be happening.
Do you feel like you have to do it?
No, it’s fun to do. It’s fun to go back and listen to all the stuff and re-create it. It gives us great insight as to where the band was 10 years ago and even though we’re all moving forward as musicians and getting new inspiration, it’s fun to go back and revisit the earlier inspiration as well for writing new songs. When you’re in a band this long, you kind of get away from what people really loved in the beginning and you go off in different directions. That’s what artists are supposed to do. But it’s great to realize your past accomplishments and creativity and that you harness that for future inspiration as well.
Lost Loves is comprised of B-sides from the past three Minus The Bear records, but it doesn’t include any B-sides from the first two. Why is that? Are there no leftover tracks from that era? What’s still in the Minus The Bear vault?
I don’t know if there’s anything leftover from Pirates…Oso, there’s maybe one other song. When we started with Planet Of Ice, we made a conscious decision to record 12 to 14 songs instead of just 10, where for our first two records, it was, “These are the songs; this is the record; this is what we’re gonna do.” We had more studio time; we weren’t so cramped on budget; we had time to record songs and then pick which made the record. From Planet Of Ice on, there isn’t a whole lot of other stuff. There are some unfinished songs we could finish, but that’s still up in the air.
The first time I saw Minus The Bear was on Braid’s reunion tour in 2004, and even though Menos El Oso didn’t come out for another year, I vividly remember you playing early versions of “Hooray” and “Drilling” every night. That’s always stuck with me—that your band is a little bit fearless and will play new material whenever you feel like it, regardless of whether or not anyone knows it. That being said, though, this tour is heavy on the nostalgia angle—should fans expect anything brand new on this tour?
We have been writing. We have five, six, maybe seven songs we’ve been working on. But we won’t be playing any of that on this tour; there is so much stuff to play, and those songs haven’t been finished. Honestly, re-learning a lot of this stuff took quite a while to get to a good point.
What can Minus The Bear fans look forward to in 2015? Will there be a new record?
That’s still up in the air. We’re out of our record deal; we have no contracts. We are free agents. The goal of this tour is to promote Lost Loves and celebrate Beer Commercials’ 10th anniversary, then we’ll go home and begin working toward what will be the next record, which should be out next year.
What does the new material sound like?
There’s been some inspiration from earlier records. There are a couple songs that are really tappy-heavy, at least from my end. One of the things I’m known for is using a lot of delays; there’s parts of me that says, “Just throw all the delay pedals away and write some really raw, in-your-face shit.” I think there will be a mixture of some of the more classic sounds and some more aggressive, angular stuff that isn’t so washed out and reverbed. It will be more immediate and potentially more in-your-face, which might sound a little weird, but I think will be pretty awesome. alt