When Seattle quintet Minus the Bear released their debut EP, This is What I Know About Being Gigantic, the adjective used most often to describe their sound was “math-rock.” After listening to the lyrics, reviewers also determined that several of the songs were about girls and drinking.
Which, of course, makes sense, figuring that vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider is co-proprietor of Frictionusa.com, an indie porn site. (Actually, “porn” is misleading-it's mostly just naked emo girls, proving that insular female hipsters have libidos, too.)
“Many of the songs mention drinking or have something to do with drinking,” Snider admits. “But I think you'll find that none of the songs are actually about drinking.”
Fair enough, though drinking is certainly one of the central themes on their full-length, Highly Refined Pirates, as heard in songs such as “Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister” (“we drank some/yeah we always do”), “Absinthe Party at the Fly Honey Warehouse” (“Red wine with every meal/and absinthe after dinner”) and “Women We Haven't Met Yet” (“We're drunk enough to dull the cold”).
“We're all really good friends,” Snider says. “After we finish up a tour and come home, we all end up at the bar a few hours later. We hang out all the time, and a lot of the time it's in bars.”
Though all members of Minus may be tight now, they previously came from separate musical backgrounds, if not necessarily stylistically different. Drummer Erin Tate and bassist Cory Murchy played in Sharks Keep Moving; guitarist Dave Knudson played in Botch; keyboardist Matt Bayles engineered records for Pearl Jam and Isis, and Snider played in Killsadie.
Snider says that while Botch was generally well-received, Sharks Keep Moving and Killsadie weren't quite accessible enough to win crowds over. In other words, those bands often pushed the envelope until it became an unrecognizable geometric shape. Which, of course, is the best training ground before entering more overt pop territory, as Minus the Bear has done.
The math-rock tag seems appropriate upon first listen to Highly Refined Pirates. The band incorporates a good amount of geeky technical aspects like fingertapping, the percussive guitar style first proliferated by Eddie Van Halen and Joe Satriani. Yet the description doesn't do justice to the band's catchier side. In a perfect world, songs like “Monkey!!!Knife!!!Fight!!!” would be mega-huge radio hits.
“We basically just wanna write songs that people can dance to,” Snider says. “When we play shows, we want people to have a good time and not just stand there and look confused, like they did with our other bands.”
And danceable those songs are. But without actually hearing any of the record, one would undoubtedly be intrigued by Minus the Bear's goofball song titles. Among the best are “Lemurs, Man, Lemurs” and “Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo.”
And regarding the name, Snider explains “There's this bear...
and his name is Minus.” Keeping with their theme, the band occasionally has a dancing bear onstage. It's a strange world when indie rock appropriates a furry mascot.
“Most of the songs just sort of develop out of inside jokes,” Snider says. “We'll go out drinking, and someone will say something funny, and someone else will say, ‘We should make that a song.'”
“Yeah,” Snider sighs. “We drink and goof off and come up with these stupid song titles.”
Stupid? Maybe. Hyper-literate? Perhaps. More fun than a monkey knife fight? Absolutely.