Whatever you do, don't ask Minus the Bear about their song titles. It's hard to avoid the temptation—“Lemurs, Man, Lemurs” and “Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco® Twister” are just a couple of quirky examples. They even have an EP titled Bands Like it When You Yell “Yar!” at Them! But, seriously, they don't want to hear about it.
“Have you noticed the difference between the old titles and the new ones?” asks bassist Cory Murchy. “Not as wacky, huh?”
Nope, not even close. Lately they've been pretty run-of-the-mill. Like, “Throwin' Shapes” and “When We Escape.” Yawn.
“We just got so tired of talking about our wacky song titles. It was like, ‘Um, yeah, we also happened to put out a record with some actual music. I don't know if you've heard.'”
Murchy offers a simple explanation for the Seattle quintet's early trademark wackiness.
“Late night, too many things going on in the brain and someone said something stupid and it stuck. We're funny, sarcastic fuckers. But everyone got so fixated on how sarcastic and funny those song titles are that it was a point of contention. So we changed it.”
The plan backfired. “Now we talk about how the song titles are no longer wacky. If it isn't one thing—it's another, as the wonderful Gilda Radner once said.”
This journalist—fairly new to the band, which formed in 2001—was cut some slack for asking the obvious, especially after explaining that she'd avoided Minus the Bear for years after hearing them described as math rock.
“I started a band because I didn't like math!” laughs Murchy. “I mean, I can add two and two together. I'm not a total idiot.”
So, let's set the record straight. Minus the Bear used to have wacky song titles, yes, but it wasn't gimmickry—just offbeat humor (even the band's name is an inside joke alluding to '80s TV show B.J. and the Bear). Minus the Bear isn't math rock or emo, though the band does pack rhythmic complexity (finger-tapped guitar melodies, intricate drumbeats) and emotion (spitted vocals) into proggy, electronica-enhanced indie rock.
These days, it appears that Minus the Bear have finally evolved beyond their jokester status, at least according to a reigning bossy music blog. In a review of last year's full-length Planet of Ice, Pitchfork Media declared: “They're still likeable guys, but they've gone moody.”
“I think we've always been a bit moody,” clarifies Murchy. “Though it's definitely coming across on this record more. Not to say that everything's all doom and gloom. There's a lot of fun and wonderful and beautiful things, and that's portrayed, too.”
Actually, the Seattleites have plenty to be happy about. After eight years of toiling under the radar, they're getting some much-deserved props. In July, they made their late-night debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live. And in September, in a write-up of the band's set at Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival, Spin.com called them “a favorable alternative” to Death Cab for Cutie's headlining set (they “sliced and diced Death Cab's softy indie-pop to shreds”).
“I feel like it's finally happening,” says Murchy. “We've been touring for eight years and playing bigger and bigger shows. Some people will be like, ‘Where the fuck did you come from?' We've been here. We've been to your town 20 times!”
Six months ago, during a break from incessant touring, Minus the Bear decided to go unplugged with an album called Acoustics (yeah, we get it, your titles are no longer wacky). Usually addicted to their pedals, a handful of amp-free radio appearances convinced Minus the Bear that an acoustic recording was a worthwhile creative challenge. They're also playing a handful of acoustic selections at shows.
“We were able to approach the songs from a different angle,” Murchy says. “It forces you to think of everything in a different light.”
Maybe Minus the Bear should just adopt a new mantra: Excise the chaff and let the music shine through. But let's face it, the chaff is half the fun.
Minus the Bear performs with Annuals on Friday, Nov. 14, at SOMA. 619-226-7662. www.myspace.com/minusthebear.