The more distant you get in our solar system, the more the planets tend to be covered with ice; from the lunar South Pole to the rings of Saturn, the substance seems to coat the outer reaches of our universe like a snowy blanket. Alternately, for the past six years, Seattle's Minus the Bear have orbited the music world like a distant meteor, fine-tuning their unique brand of indie rock and discovering how technology can help enhance the band's unique pop vision - all of which is about to culminate with their latest full-length Planet of Ice, an album showing the band not so much transforming their sound as transcending it.
Formed in Seattle, Washington in 2001, Minus the Bear was initially formed by guitarist David Knudson, bassist Cory Murchy, and drummer Erin Tate who eventually recruited keyboardist/sequencer, Matt Bayles and vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider. Once in the same room they realized they were on to something special - and the band quickly earned a rabid and rapidly growing fan base ranging from teenagers to middle-aged parents. "I know every band says they can't explain their music, but I really can't say that we sound like one specific thing," Murchy explains. "We don't follow a particular scene or genre and hopefully that shows."
Although the band has released a handful of EPs and two full-lengths in their prolific career (most recently 2005's Menos El Oso and the sister remix CD Interpretaciones Del Oso), with Planet of Ice, the band - which now features new keyboardist Alex Rose - have taken their brand of idiosyncratic indie rock to new heights. "I feel like this is the most cohesive record we've done," Murchy says. "I hate the term 'organic,' but that's kind of the one term I can think of when comparing this to our other records because there's a lot of weird electronic stuff going on there, but there's some really raw riffage as well."
Recorded at Robert Lang Studios and Red Room with former keyboardist Matt Bayles - who has produced albums by Mastodon, Fall of Troy and The Blood Brothers - and Chris Common (These Arms Are Snakes, Mouth Of The Architect), Planet of Ice shows the band allowing negative space and an airy openness to permeate their music; from the distinctively danceable opener "Burying Luck" to the syncopated sample-driven "Knights" to the album's epic 9 minute closer "Lotus," which evokes acts like Yes and Pink Floyd, minus the self-indulgent tendencies. Although all the musicians in Minus the Bear are technically talented - as anyone who's seen Knudson's unique approach to the guitar which features two-handed tapping and live looping already knows - Planet of Ice shows the band focusing on songwriting instead of showiness.
This was really the first album where we were all writing together as a team and Alex was definitely instrumental in that," Murchy explains. "Alex is an amazing keyboard player and it was great to have another musical force in the band." With former keyboardist Bayles behind the boards, the entire extended Minus the Bear family was present in the creation of the record - and all these distinctive musical personalities make for an album that could never be fully realized by one or two songwriters.
Lyrically, the album focuses on human interactions, but in a detached way that Snider explains as more like a one-night stand than a long-term relationship. "The songs are different in terms of theme, but the ones that do connect to relationships are of the fleeting kind," he explains. However, despite the occasional personal references on the album, the central theme of Planet of Ice involves nightmarish, nearly apocalyptic imagery. A perfect example is the aforementioned "Lotus," a song Snider describes as being "about the influence religion has on our secular government and how the combination of God and guns leads to wars of false righteousness." While this may sound like pretty heavy content, the lack of preaching or posturing prevents Planet of Ice's lyrical content from weighing down the group's music.
Minus the Bear's globally conscious outlook has in no doubt been influenced by the amount of time the band spend on the road, seamlessly pulling off their song's sonic intricacies live on festivals like Coachella and Bamboozle, as well as alongside seemingly disparate acts such as Cursive, Russian Circles, Criteria, P.O.S. and The Velvet Teen. "It's an interesting contrast," Snider explains, about the dichotomy between the band's dark lyricism and upbeat music, which is ever more prevalent on Planet of Ice. "I think that duality often makes for a better song because it gives it so much tension," he continues. "Subconsciously, that was even more exaggerated on this record due to being on the road so much and seeing the reality of this country firsthand."
In true Minus the Bear fashion, the band plan to stay on the road for the next year-and-a-half promoting Planet of Ice and continuing to write and push the limits of their sound. "There's kind of a joke that if there was a part that we would play and it made you laugh, it must be good," Murchy explains about the band's well-known sense of humor. "As far as the music goes, we do take it seriously but we also like to have a good time - and hopefully the attention to detail, especially at our live performances, shows through to people," he adds. "We want it to sound right, but on the same token we do like to have a laugh and fuck around," he summarizes. "It's a nice balance."