It’s March 2015, and Ed Droste is back in New York. He’s here visiting the city he called home for 14 years, the city where Grizzly Bear was born in his Greenpoint bedroom, and from which the band rose to prominence.
Ed and I have known each other since 2005, when I was assigned to write about Grizzly Bear for Fader. At the time, the band was releasing Yellow House, its first LP as a fully fleshed out four-piece group. The music was gorgeous, carefully wrought, haunting, but I didn’t anticipate that they would go much bigger. We met at a dark bar on a sunny spring afternoon. Ed struck me as smart, funny, gregarious - he's one of the most outgoing people you’ll meet. I also had the sense back then that he was one of the savviest people I’d ever met.
It was an interesting moment for music in New York City. The Strokes had gone huge, bringing with them a wave of NYC rock bands — Interpol, TV on the Radio, Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. And now, a second wave was coming in (Vampire Weekend, Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Sufjan Stevens) bringing with it an entirely different set of sounds and influences—gentler, more technically proficient, less traditionally ‘rock.’
Over the ensuing years, I watched as Grizzly Bear made a steady, 3½ record climb to becoming one of the most critically-respected bands of the last decade. With each record, the band jumped another rung, both musically and commercially. Shields saw them playing Radio City Music Hall — a fairly shocking prospect (and not a bad one) for a little Brooklyn band. Grizzly Bear had gone about as far as a band like theirs could go: near the top of festival lineups, playing the big stages, rising into the top 10 on the billboard charts.
By that time, Ed was also in a long-term relationship, and in 2012, newly married, he left New York City for Los Angeles. He was tired of the winters. He saw less and less of his career-oriented friends. And he’d grown disenchanted with the hassles of the city. "I didn’t find it inspiring anymore," he says. "I would come up with some plan — dinner here, this movie, this opening — and 20,000 people had the exact same idea. It became exhausted waiting for the L train for 5 cycles. I think emotionally I detached a couple years before leaving.”
The band was between records. In LA, Droste took to the more relaxed West Coast lifestyle — less drinking, more hiking. As he puts it, “I’ll go buck wild every once in a while, but generally I’m more like, ‘Wanna come over and watch TV and maybe get a little bit stoned,’ rather than let’s like, rage. Also, I don’t know why everyone there has more time, but they do. People are like, ‘Sure I’ll go on a 3 hour hike.’”
During his off time, Droste also traveled a great deal, writing about trips to India, Brazil, and across the US for Vogue, all the while maintaining a visible and affable social media presence. One could argue he has become a little bit “internet famous.”
But when I meet up with Droste at The Standard, High Line in March, things have changed. The previous year his marriage came apart, and he has spent the ensuing months “trying to separate two lives” — a messy and exhausting process that left him with little desire to write songs.
Sitting at the table in his room overlooking a Manhattan under construction, eyes droopier than usual, he explained. “Anyone who has gone through it can tell you. It’s intense as fuck. I thought maybe it would be fodder for songwriting, but it ends up consuming everything. It was so gruelingly intense. Every logistical thing comes with so much emotional baggage. You don’t want to go home and be like, [sings] “lala-baba-doo.” It’s like, “I need to go to bed now.”
And now, the band is meant to come together to start a new record. Previously, when Grizzly Bear recorded they would sequester themselves in inspiring, isolated places. But this time, no one wants to do it that way. The band is spread out on two coasts: Droste, and now Taylor in LA, and Bear and Rossen hours apart in New York. This is particularly challenging for Droste whose songwriting relies on collaboration.
When asked how they will go about coming back together, he says, “That’s a huge question mark. I would be lying if I said it didn’t cause great anxiety. When I’m stressed about it, I have to remember that every time we try to do a new album I have huge anxiety. Every time it’s like, ‘Woah, that was a crazy process, we have to do something different.’”
The basic plan at the moment is to work bi-coastal, an approach Droste describes as “more fractured.” At the same time, he seems genuinely excited by the prospect of getting back into making music. “We’re feeling more adventurous with the sonic directions, changing it up a little bit — not like, a techno dance album...it’s in the beginning stages. Only a couple songs have started to take shape and it’s gotta be like, a good dozen or so before we get the picture.”
Still gregarious, funny as hell, outspoken, Ed is the same person, but perhaps a touch more restrained than in the past – by the divorce, by the bumps and bruises of social media, by a New York magazine cover story that focused on Grizzly Bear’s financial situation in a way that opened them up to a backlash.
When asked what it’s like to be back in New York now, Droste is low-key, “It’s surreal. It’s constantly changing. It’s like, ‘This is a place that I lived, got a lot out of, and love. I spent 14 years of my life — great, amazing memories — but I’m OK with that chapter being over. It’s like an ex who you’re cordial with. It’s like, “I’m cool with you. I don’t need to see you that much. We spent a lot of time together.”
Composer Nico Muhly arrives for drinks. Muhly did strings and arrangements for songs on Veckatimest, and they’ve been close friends ever since. We take the elevator up to Top of the Standard. The sun is setting, slanting into the room, bathing the city in an orange glow. Droste and Muhly converse mischievously and laugh. For a little while very little has changed — except perhaps the room.
Images by Balarama Heller.