COURTESY SUICIDE SQUEEZE RECORDS
Seattle band refines its neo-retro sound
With bands like the Plain White T's, Incubus and Ween all scheduled to visit over the next two months, you might think local promoters BAMP Project would spend the early part of 2008 resting up and getting ready for the big names coming to town.
That hasn't happened, and BAMP wouldn't want it any other way. Motion City Soundtrack performed at Pipeline Cafe earlier this month, followed by the Starting Line and All Time Low on Tuesday. Cartel, Saosin and the Kottonmouth Kings are all scheduled to play Pipeline in March.
After mentioning the bands above, however, it was a relatively unknown Seattle rock quintet that made BAMP's Matty Hazelgrove sit up in his chair during a recent interview.
"I'm really excited about Minus the Bear," Hazelgrove said last month. "Every once in a while we'll take a show for the educational value.
"The idea is for people to say, 'Oh wow, BAMP brought out so-and-so eight months ago? Maybe the next time it's a band I've never heard about, I should go check them out.'"
Formed in 2001, Minus the Bear consists of five members; lead vocalist Jake Snider shares guitar duties with Dave Knudson, with Cory Murchy playing bass and Erin Tate on the drums. Original keyboardist Matt Bayles departed in 2006 and was replaced by Alex Rose.
What's up with the name? Snider isn't telling, although it's rumored to be a reference to a TV show from the 1980s.
"We've been asked that question about a million times," he wrote via e-mail in response to questions submitted by the Star-Bulletin. "It's just a stupid joke."
Based in Seattle, the band has four full-length albums to their credit via hometown indie label Suicide Squeeze. Their latest, "Planet of Ice," was released last summer and peaked at number 74 on the Billboard Hot 200, despite a significant promotional push on the air by MTV.
By comparison, Minus the Bear's 2002 debut, "Highly Refined Pirates," oozes with immaturity. Songs like "Thanks for the Killer Game of Twister," "Get Me Naked 2: The Electric Boogaloo" and "Hey, Wanna Throw Up?" cause listeners to do a double-take when perusing track listings, but reel them in with an intriguing blend of rock guitar and electronica.
"Dave and I do a lot of sampling of guitar parts, looping and chopping them up with our pedals," Snider said. "It's more Dave's forte actually ... at times it is hard to tell what is being played by whom."
Bayles' departure after 2005's "Menos el Oso" is most evident once you've listened to Minus the Bear's newest material. While earlier albums have more of a frenetic sound, "Planet of Ice" is decidedly more mellow.
Citing Daft Punk, Pink Floyd and King Crimson as the biggest influences on their overall sound, Snider's picks provide ample insight into the band's natural progression from sarcastic scenesters to competent musicians with a uniquely neo-retro sound.
"We do love the '60s/'70s music," said Snider. "The music was alive and is far more complex and engaging than today's typical bands."
While songs like "White Mystery" and "Double Vision Quest" sound like they would be appreciated most by someone dropping acid in their basement, "Burying Luck" and "Throwing Shapes" are more along the lines of Minus the Bear's earlier material. In addition, Snider stretches himself creatively on "Lotus," an eight minute-long opus with political undertones.
After an extensive mainland tour last fall, Minus the Bear continued to Europe earlier this year and played shows in Australia and Japan before coming to Hawaii. While it's been a long haul, Snider remains confident Hawaii fans will get their money's worth this weekend.
"People generally say we're better live than on record," he said. "The live show is more raw and aggressive ... our goal is to bring as much of the content of the record to the stage, and possibly find a truer version of what the song wants to be."
Minus the Bear
8 p.m. Saturday
Pipeline Cafe, 805 Pohukaina St.
$22 and $50; all ages (with accompanying adult)