by Shae Moseley
It's always interesting to compare an artist's critique of his own work with critical evaluations. Minus the Bear's latest, Omni, has been put through the wringer for all of the most predictable reasons: It's an album of poppier songs by an experimental prog-rock band, it abandons a previously lauded formula and it's full of songs that are (gasp!) very openly concerned with all of the messy ins and outs of sexual relationships.
But here's another way to look at it: If you can get over the band's past (and take the proverbial stick out of your rear-end), it becomes clear that Omni should be given a little more respect and not be so quickly dismissed as just another attempt by an indie band to go big-time. Sure, the production from Joe Chiccarelli is slicker, and the songs are more streamlined, but should this always be looked at as a bruise? Could it be possible that Omni retains MTB's best traits -- sonic experimentation and intricate pedal-stomping goodness -- while showcasing a band approaching a new level of songwriting focus? Yes. And all you have to do is give yourself permission to enjoy the ride.
The RFT caught up with MTB drummer Erin Tate between rehearsals for the band's recent Jimmy Kimmel Live appearance. The band's playing at the Firebird tonight with Everest. Tickets are $18 and are still available.
Shae Moseley: You guys are very used to working internally even on recordings. How was bringing in Joe Chiccarelli and having an outside producer? Erin Tate: It was really different. Working with Matt Bayles, who was in the band, was always great. But it was kind of the same thing with the label change -- it was just time. We had kind of always been doing the same thing as long as we've been a band and it was really different having a sixth set of ears that had never been in the band and had fresh sonic ideas and structure ideas. Sometimes it's easier to have someone you don't know come up with new directions. Joe kind of kicked our ass more than we've ever had our ass kicked before.
Did that also mean more arranging ahead of time that you were used to? Yeah, we had never really done pre-production to this extent before. So that was definitely different for us.
Do you see OMNI as a transitional record for you guys? Like a direction you're heading? I don't know. I kind of feel like we always change from record to record. You can still tell it's the same five guys writing the songs but we definitely tried to change the vibe up a bit.
What were the things you were trying to change up this time around? I think we were trying to make it less lanky and drawn-out than Planet of Ice was. There were some of the dancier elements of our earlier stuff that we wanted to try to get back to and just steer away from the prog-rock vibe.
Was that a product of working with Joe as well? Songs being more streamlined? I guess to some extent. The songs were pretty-well written before Joe came in but he did help us do some structuring. I don't think the album would have been drastically different structure-wise if we would have worked with another producer. But he definitely did help with some arrangements and there were probably things that he helped make poppier.
I see Omni as the kind of record that a band is prone to attempt as it gets older. It's more to the point and song-centric. I think the fact that we're all older now definitely has something to do with the way the writing went. We've been in this band for almost ten years now -- and there's a big difference between being a 21-year-old kid writing songs and being a 31-year-old man writing songs. You get your inspiration from different things.
The album is arguably less experimental than some of your past work, and it seems like some people have a knee-jerk reaction to criticize that. But were you trying to simplify things and just write better songs? Yeah, you picked up on that one pretty well. When we did the acoustic EP there was definitely an idea of taking some of our older songs and transforming them into these simpler, more to-the-point song structures, and that definitely affected the writing of this record. We were trying to write structures of songs without relying on pedals and effects as much. Just writing the core of a song and then going back from there and seeing what else we could do with it.