Speaking with BW from the green room at Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Minus the Bear vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider negated any nervousness before taping.
This wasn't the first time the band had performed on Kimmel and it sure wasn't the first time they'd performed the single "My Time" off of their May 4 release, OMNI (Dangerbird Records). The Seattle-based quintet love the laid-back vibe of the Kimmel green room and though the performance would prove to be an energetic one, Snider felt pretty laid-back himself prior to it.
"We have been so busy lately, and the song that we're playing--"My Time" from the record--is like permanently ingrained in my mind and in my fingers," Snider said. "It shouldn't be too tough. If I can't play this song today, I should be fired."
Though Snider isn't going anywhere, MTB did lay off their label, Suicide Squeeze Records, with whom they'd recorded their previous three full-lengths.
"We were out of contract with Suicide Squeeze and pretty much done every release we've done with them," Snider explained. "We kind of just wanted to see what else was out there. We recorded the record ourselves, with our money, and shopped it afterwards to see what was going on in the music world these days."
The band also tapped a new producer, Joe Chiccarelli (The Shins, The White Stripes, Frank Zappa), for OMNI, a move that took them in yet another direction.
"Our former keyboard player [Matt Bayles] was a great producer, and we had worked with him forever. I think that's why we just wanted to try something different for this record," Snider said. "We just wanted to find someone who didn't know what our personal limitations were. Matt knew everything about us, so it was easy for him to say, 'That's as good as you can do,'" Snider said.
"Not that he did that," he added, laughing.
A lot has changed for MTB since their 2002 debut full-length, Highly Refined Pirates.
In 2008, a trip to the Daytrotter studios in Rock Island, Ill., garnered them a session of lovely, pared-down acoustic recordings from 2007's Planet of Ice and a violet-colored review by Daytrotter's Sean Moeller:
"[Minus the Bear] remind us of flowerbeds right around November and December, when they've already been mommies and sped forward to become empty nests in a short matter of months. They've felt the powerful surge of blooming birth and then had the pain of losing their children and themselves in that same piece of lifetime. Though if those flowers and plants are perennials, they're coming back, and all of it is just the accepted nature of flora. It's a beautiful circle of life and yet, there those slightly dulled brown plots of fertile land sit, patiently waiting when they can get another chance to get green again and feel the dirty rain water soaking up through their root systems."
MTB's sound has always been difficult--sticking with Moeller's metaphor--to unbury. Ridiculous track names such as "Absinthe Party At the Fly Honey Warehouse," "Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister" and "Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo" were misleading at best.
They weren't novelty songs, and some new-band lyrical angst poked its head through the tunes. What also pushed through the adolescent titles was music reminiscent of the guitar sensibilities of Toad The Wet Sprocket at their peak and Mutemath's mad keyboard/synthesizer skills. Progressive indie rock certainly wasn't a new thing, but something about Snider's almost-gravelly vocals and emotionally laden delivery made it feel fresh.
The band grew from Pirates to 2005's Menos el Oso and matured further with Planet of Ice--arguably their best release. Pitchfork.com gave it a 7.2 while OMNI received only 3.5.
OMNI may be an evolutionary step forward for the band musically, but the songs reach back in time, conjuring up posh '70s pool parties in the Hollywood Hills. Thick guitar and randy time signatures give guts to sexually charged, key-party apropos lyrics.
Fellow Seattleite Rachel Flotard (Visqueen) benches her rock chick for a few bars and channels sultry vocals to help with the metaphorical and not-so metaphorical "Into the Mirror," in which Snider sings, "They got a mirror for the 'caine in the bathroom / because nobody here knows when to stop / ... Fixes her lipstick / Fixes his belt."
In MTB's recent press bio, there's a line that reads "sonic lasciviousness is mirrored in the album's raw take on human sexuality." Snider laughed at the description but didn't argue it.
"Once I started writing the songs, they were kind of funky and inspired me to write that way," he said. "Once I went down that path, I didn't really fight it. Yeah, I think it's a little bit more up front sexually than our past records, but I don't think it's over the top. You know. It's fine."
The question of how MTB took their name often comes up in interviews. No one seems to believe the story, which is always the same: A friend was telling them about an encounter with a girl. Pressed for details, the friend said something along the lines of, "It was like that TV show BJ and the Bear ... minus the bear." For a band who took their moniker from that juvenile quip, OMNI's overt sexuality wouldn't be over the top.