ome might consider it the kiss of death to release a naked and vulnerable acoustic album. Most Pro-Tooled, Auto-tuned bands, in fact, wouldn’t even think of casting aside the security blanket of live and sampled guitars, effects, and electronic grooves, but on Acoustics (Tigre Blanco, 2008), Seattle’s Minus The Bear did exactly that.

    Fortunately, what might have seemed a risky proposition was quickly applauded by critics, fans, and new converts. The sensitive drum work helps reveal a softer side to singer Jake Snider’s voice, and the band’s typically tumultuous guitar sound is replaced by gentle strumming and beautiful melodic touches. The seven-song compilation features both newer and older material that spans their seven-album career as well as a new song, “Guns and Ammo.”                             

    Fresh off a year of nonstop touring and their departure from longtime label Suicide Squeeze, MTB is already writing new material, and you can be sure that the band, who recently received their first taste of MTV and mainstream radio notoriety, will be taking their sound in new directions. Guitarist Dave Knudson gave us with some explanation and insight on the band’s next phase.

 

You guys just finished a hectic and very successful North American tour. Have you started writing for the next album, or are you taking a moment to breathe?

We took a very brief moment, but honestly, we came off the road and got right into it. With everything that’s been going on, we really didn’t want to waste any time, and we’re also just in a very good mindset to be writing.


What does the new material sound like?

To be honest, we’ve only completed one track so far, but we have a ton of ideas to hash out. Sometimes the songs come fully assembled and sometimes they come in bits and pieces. The music has lots of prog drumming and lots of groove, too. I might say it’s a bit more poppy, but I’ve also been listening to a lot of Eighties music, and that’s probably influencing it quite a bit. It’s not so much “mainstream poppy” as much as progressive. I don’t want to scare anyone, but at the moment I’m going through a big    funk phase, so in the end you’ll probably hear some washy guitar and some grinding bass here and there. I don’t know, maybe a little of everything on this record.


Any idea when the new album will be released?

Well, we’re planning on an April/springtime studio stint, and there’s really no telling how long that will take. I would say it would most likely be out next winter, but maybe before then. You can never tell how long these things take.


So what prompted you guys to put out Acoustics?

On our last tour, we did a lot of acoustic in-studio shows on radio and TV stations, so it became a lot of fun to rework these songs to fit that format. It’s very different to strip these down, not use effects, and play them without tapping and electric tone. We did a few radio spots that turned out really well, so we were like, Fuck it—let’s do this for real. We had also just ended our contract with Suicide Squeeze Records, so we decided to release something on our own. That seems to be the big craze right now anyways. Regardless of the reasons, it just gives our fans a chance to hear these songs stripped down, and that was our whole intention.

What was the studio process like for Acoustics?

It was pretty quick and painless really. We spent a few weeks in the studio just brainstorming. A few of the songs didn’t lend themselves so well to the acoustic format, so we had to be very selective about what we were including on the album. We ended up tracking the whole record in four days and really left the tracks pretty raw. A lot changed about the songs before tracking, but once the songs were on tape, we kinda let them be.


Did you feel like it was risky to record such a stripped-down acoustic album?

The only thing at risk was our fans’ reactions. Anytime you change a song that someone loves or has a connection with, they could say, “What the fuck!?” or they could say, “That’s brilliant.” We really didn’t feel any risks, though—it’s not like this is our new material, and it’s not like this is our new album. It’s just something we did for our fans and for ourselves.


It’s very obvious you’re a strong force in your band’s writing process. How do you go about writing material?

I pretty much tote my guitar around everywhere and just kinda fiddle around until I hear something I like. A lot of the time ideas will come while I’m sitting alone at my house or watching football, just subconsciously playing my guitar. I mean, you get a lot of stupid ideas that way, but a lot of good ones come through eventually. I write in terms of either riffs or whole songs. Sometimes I just come up with a nice melody and sometimes a song writes itself from front to back in a session. When we first started this band, I did a lot of demoing myself and that really helped me filter and refine my ideas. We work more as a band nowadays with writing, though.


Planet of Ice showcased a different side of your playing while exhibiting less of your famed tapping. Was this a conscious decision?

Definitely. When you’ve been doing something for so long, you start looking for something new or a new technique. I was never afraid that I was pigeonholing myself as a player; I just wanted to try new things. At the time, Jake (Snider) and I were listening to a lot of sweet Seventies music, so we were really inspired by the guitar playing of that time. It was nice to take a break from so much tapping and sampling and it made us put more of an emphasis on our playing together. It let the guitar parts speak for themselves. There will definitely be a plenty of tapping and sampling on the new material.


How did your approach to songwriting change when you added another guitarist?

It was a pretty easy transition. It is a lot easier to write songs together than separately, and it’s nice to do a lot of dueling and harmonizing. Jake writes off my guitar parts really well, and we’ve even started writing together more. In the end it’s just nice to have another guitarist to bounce ideas off.


You seem to be using your trademark gold PRS guitar a bit less in recent concerts and more of your new black PRS DGT.

I got the DGT pretty recently and just wanted to play it more. My gold PRS has so much wear and tear; I just figured I’d give it a break. It definitely still feels like home to me though. The DGT just has such great coil tap; it gets out all of the sound without coming off too bright or too dull.


How do you feel about your previous band Botch’s profound influence on hardcore music?

It’s flattering, you know. It was a fantastic period of my life and I feel really lucky to have had that experience. It’s a totally different scene now, though. Metalcore and noisecore have been adopted by a lot of really shitty bands, so those genres aren’t as strong as they once were. It always feels good to hear that we influenced bands and people, but really, there were so many bands that paved the way and were doing it before us. At the time, it was just fun making some brutal shit and trying to wreck it on stage.



What compelled you to switch from metalcore to alternative-indie?

I was into prog music and indie music even when I was in Botch, so it was just a natural attraction. At the end of our run, we just weren’t excited by metal anymore. We all wanted something new. We all had a lot of influences that we couldn’t get out in Botch, so when we disbanded, it was all about experimenting. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing more amazing than a guy screaming his face off on stage, but we were just all ready to move on. I had the music for Minus the Bear in my head for a while before it came out.


How did you first get into music and playing guitar?

Like so many other musicians, I heard Metallica and it was just over after that. I was I was in sixth grade and I got my first guitar and just went at it. I took a few lessons, but I really learned the most by figuring things out on my own. I bought a few tapping books and just kinda geeked out on them for a while.


Were you always interested in tapping?

I wasn’t really interested in tapping for the first few years of my playing. I was really all about rhythm guitar and coming up with cool rhythmic patterns and lines. After I got so far with that stuff, I eventually got turned on to tapping and just ran with it.

What music have you been listening to lately?

Like I said, a whole lot of funk, a bit of Young Widows, My Morning Jacket, DJ Flying Lotus, and a lot of Nineties hardcore music.


What would you say your ultimate goal for Minus The Bear is?

To continue writing music that inspires others and us. That’s really our main goal when we write. We’ve been a band for seven years and I can’t see any reason for us to stop anytime soon. We just like making enjoyable music that anyone can listen to. Touring is just like an added bonus on top of it all.


How did it feel to have MTV and mainstream support for Planet of Ice? Was it welcomed or weird?

It was mainly like, “Holy shit!” (laughing). We don’t really buy into the whole concept of selling out, so that wasn’t a factor at all. If you take all of the bands on TRL or bands who get MTV airplay in general, not many of them can justify getting that kind of attention. I’m not even trying to talk shit, but come on—the bar isn’t raised so high for mainstream music. And because of that, we just found it funny to be in that light.


Describe the band dynamic of MTB on and off stage.

We’ve all been close friends for a really long time, way longer then we’ve been a band. It really helps that we’re all really chill dudes. There’s never any of the drama or bullshit that usually comes along with being bandmates. We play videogames, we watch sports, and we really just enjoy what we do. Cory is kinda the “earth mother” of the group. As you can see in the pictures, he’s toting around a few plants that he’s nurturing on the tour bus (laughing).


What would you say is your most memorable show to date?

All of our recent shows in New York have been pretty crazy. We played at Webster Hall this year and there was a girl in the front row going crazy just bawling her eyes out as if we were The Beatles. It was unreal. I was like, “This is fucking amazing—I’m loving this, the band is going nuts, and this girl is fucking weeping in the front row.” Shit like that makes everything very worthwhile.


What inspires you to pick up your guitar everyday and make music?

Just wanting to learn more. I’ve always been a pretty inquisitive guy, so to delve deep into something you’re passionate about makes learning that much easier. At this point in my life, music is not just a hobby anymore, it’s my life, it’s everything. I’m not waking up in the morning and going to a 9-to-5 job, so I have to be pretty fucking happy about that. It’s also great to create something and see how far you can take it. It’s that rush of energy on stage or in the studio writing something and saying, “Oh shit, we’ve stumbled on something!”


What do you do with your time away from music?

What time away from music? We’re always writing and touring, so there’s not much downtime. In the little time we do have, I usually hang out with my wife and my niece. Lately I’ve been getting my ass kicked in fantasy football. My wife is even kicking the shit out of me in it. It’s embarrassing.


You probably put too many chips on the Seattle Seahawks this year, huh?

We don’t talk about the Seahawks.


Understandable. What’s next for you guys?

We’re just going to keep writing and testing the waters until we have an album of material, and then we’ll hit the studio and do it all over again. We’ll probably hit some shows in-between and most likely tour a bit. We never stay off the road for too long. It’s a lot better that way.    -GX-

Minus The Bear- “Burying Luck” (live)

Minus The Bear- “Double Vision Quest”  (live)

Minus The Bear- “Throwin’ Shapes”

Minus The Bear- “Knights”

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