For bands of any stripe — let alone those working in the indie circuit — successfully maintaining a career over nearly two decades is an impressive feat. And that’s certainly true for Seattle mainstays Minus The Bear, who have built a steady and devoted following since the release of their 2001 debut EP This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic. Throughout the 2000s and well into the 2010s, their mix of the dusky sounds of Pacific Northwest indie rock and prog’s synth-y, tricky-time-signature approach took them to heights of popularity that many bands of their era only dreamed of, with their last four records charting solidly on the Billboard 200 (2012’s Infinity Overhead marking their peak, with a #32 chart debut).
For most of their career, Minus The Bear released albums through Seattle indie Suicide Squeeze, and they were far and away the label’s highest-selling act: label founder Dave Dickenson — whose kinship with the band is so strong that he has a tattoo of bassist Cory Murchy’s name on his arm — claims that Minus The Bear’s Suicide Squeeze discography has racked up over half a million records in catalog sales, with 2005’s Menos El Oso and the 2007 breakthrough Planet Of Ice each selling over 100,000 LPs a piece. “Those were the days when it was a one-person label,” he reminisces over a phone conversation when recalling the label’s early-days relationship with the band. “I’m proud of that fact, and that we were able to do the type of business that we have.”
But things change as people get older — and I’m not just talking about the band’s eventual ditching of their notoriously arch song titles (“Get Me Naked 2: Electric Boogaloo,” anyone?), which vocalist/guitarist Jake Snider half-jokingly claims was a result of “us maybe not being that funny anymore.” After nearly 18 years and six studio albums, Minus The Bear are finally calling it quits, with a final tour planned as well as a swan song EP Fair Enough, which is seeing release through Suicide Squeeze on October 19. The four-track EP features three songs that were in various stages of completion while the band worked on what is now their final LP, 2017’s VOIDS, as well as a remix of that record’s “Invisible” courtesy of Now, Now member Brad Hale’s Sombear project. (You can listen to the title track below.)
Just as VOIDS saw the band returning to the polymath sound of their early days following the more streamlined rock of 2010’s Omni and 2012’s Infinity Overhead (records that were released during the band’s short-lived run on the Dangerbird Records label), Fair Enough is something of a full-circle moment as the band prepares to pack it up — recalling again the sound that Minus The Bear built their fanbase on, but with the weight of years accrued as professional musicians and fully-grown adults. “I feel like we’ve accomplished what we’ve wanted to do,” guitarist Dave Knudson explains during a phone conversation with him and Snider. “Sometimes it feels like a natural time to step away, and that’s what we’re doing right now as opposed to continuing on and maybe not having the same drive or enthusiasm that we once did. For all the fans that have seen and supported us, we won’t diminish that legacy or experience for them.”
Read on for our conversation, along with thoughts shared by Dickenson, on why they’re calling it quits now, the band’s legacy, and navigating the sometimes-treacherous waters of the music industry over the last two decades.
STEREOGUM: Why is the group breaking up now?
SNIDER: It’s been a long time. We want to keep the band’s legacy intact and go out while we’re still doing well. There’s a bunch of reasons — wanting to try something new creatively, possibly. It’s difficult to be in a band with so many different attitudes and ways of thinking over 17 years. It’s an interesting time, and a tough decision to make, because it does mean a lot to people who aren’t in the band — the fans and whatnot. It’s not an easy decision, but it feels necessary at this point.
KNUDSON: There’s also a lot of regular life stuff that comes into it. When we started the band, we were 23 or 24 at the time — some of us maybe even younger. Things change, you get married, have kids. It’s not as easy to go on the road. And sometimes being on the road can be harder than you expect it to be. Everyone has this idealized version of, “Oh, you’re in a band, you get to be on tour and do whatever.”
SNIDER: Touring at 27 and touring at 42 is a totally different ball game. There’s so much stress on you. It’s hard to leave your family behind for weeks at a time — your wife with the kids.
DICKENSON: It’s sad, because bands end, and they don’t always end the way that we want them to, but I’m at peace now that they’re going to go out on their own terms.
STEREOGUM: The idea of “breaking up” as a band doesn’t really stick as much anymore.
KNUDSON: We’re already booking our reunion tour. [Laughs] That’s a huge joke, obviously.
STEREOGUM: Is there something in your guys’ heads thinking that maybe you’d do this again in five or 10 years, or is that way too far out to even think of right now?
KNUDSON: We still have an amazing tour to play. I honestly haven’t thought about Minus The Bear past our last show in Seattle. That’s what’s happening, and I think all of us have other stuff that we want to get through. Once the last show in Seattle is played, we’ll all go on to those things and be friends. I don’t think anyone is thinking about a reunion already.
SNIDER: There’s so many reunions happening these days, and I’m not really a huge fan of the concept. I’ve seen a few, and most of the time I’ve been like, “Those dudes should’ve left it in the past.”
STEREOGUM: Any specific plans after the final bout of touring?
KNUDSON: I’m sure [synth player/vocalist Alex Rose] is working on something — he’s a studio monster. I have a bunch of ideas that have never got used and other stuff I’ve written, so I’m sure I’ll write and release a solo album. I’m guessing Jake’s gonna do a similar kind of thing.
SNIDER: I’m dabbling without trying to have any expectations. Dave and I talked about it a couple of days ago — the future’s pretty wide open, and it could go in any number of directions for me. It’s scary, but it’s also exciting at the same time. [Laughs] Music’s a tough business, and it’s hard to start over.
KNUDSON: Sometimes being tied to something for so long means that you get blinders on, in a certain way. You can’t see anything but what’s right in front of you, so having that peripheral vision and potentially experimenting or appreciating other opportunities or inspirations is frightening — but, hopefully, fulfilling and rewarding too.
SNIDER: We were totally all-in as a band, so it’s hard to think of what’s next.
STEREOGUM: The EP is a nice way to go out. The title of it is funny, to me. It kind of sounds like an admission of defeat — a little self-deprecating, maybe.
KNUDSON: “Fair Enough” itself was one of the first songs that was written for VOIDS — just an off-handed comment.
SNIDER: Since it didn’t make the record and we didn’t work on it in the studio [at the time], we didn’t put too much thought into the title of it. It was a working title that didn’t really get replaced. There’s no real point to changing it now, but we didn’t intend it to be commentary on being the last EP.
KNUDSON: I hadn’t totally thought about that in this context until you brought this up. [Laughs]
STEREOGUM: After Planet Of Ice, the band received more attention commercially. Were there label offers from that period of time that you remember having to turn down?
SNIDER: Yeah, it was around the time labels were losing money from physical media, so the 360 deal — where they take a cut of all the band’s income, from touring to merchandise and record sales, publishing, everything — was how they did business. I’m pretty sure they still do. We were in the office of Warner Bros. and we had this big meeting with all the executives. One of them said, “It’s not really a 360 deal — it’s more of a 365 deal. We support you guys 365 days of the year.”
KNUDSON: “We’re working for you every day of the year.”
SNIDER: We were kind of like, what were you guys doing before? Were you not supporting bands 365 days a year when you were selling records? That didn’t work for us. The band was making money mostly on tour, there’s a lot of expenses involved, and we were just kind of making it work. We didn’t see the upside of giving up revenue and rolling the dice on a major-label deal where we could get shelved or not get the promotion we need.
KNUDSON: It also goes back to growing up in [Seattle] — the whole punk and DIY aspect. We built this thing all by ourselves, along with [David Dickenson] and Suicide Squeeze. Why should we do some sketchy deal where you’re taking a part of what we done without providing any sort of huge benefit? We could just continue working and doing this our own way — having power, being our own boss, not having to go through a ton of people to get an answer on some question. That’s how we started the band. Why not continue?
SNIDER: David pays royalties on time, and consistently. He doesn’t make excuses. We went with the angel we knew.
DICKENSON: I care about the music and the personal relationships with my artists as much or more than the business side of things. I’ve been fortunate to work with some incredible people, and Minus The Bear are right up there at the top. There’s a lot of pride and satisfaction in that.
STEREOGUM: You signed to Dangerbird for two albums later in your career. What led you to make that jump, and what did that mean for the band?
KNUDSON: How do we touch on this sensitively? [Laughs]
SNIDER: We had a bunch of different options in that point and time. Our management was interested in seeing what else was out there, and I guess we were too. It seemed like a pretty cool label — they were doing pretty well with some of the bands they picked up. It seemed like they had some good support financially.
KNUDSON: When we signed with them, they were at the height of their powers. They did a really good job working [2010’s Omni] — there was a lot of radio love and promotion. The week before [2012’s Infinity Overhead] came out, everyone we knew at the label left. That was a huge bummer: spending all of this time writing and recording and trying to get the label involved, but everyone was leaving. That’s one of the lessons we learned when it came to —
SNIDER: Trusting people.
KNUDSON: Yeah, trusting people, and working with people who are behind you 100% and passionate about friendship and music. The Infinity Overhead release was definitely a bit of a bummer. It didn’t meet expectations.
SNIDER: There were a lot of promises made that didn’t get backed up by action.
KNUDSON: We completed the deal.
SNIDER: It was a two-record contract.
KNUDSON: [2014’s Lost Loves] was just some extra tracks recorded around that time and from our Suicide Squeeze days.
STEREOGUM: You returned to Suicide Squeeze after leaving Dangerbird. What was that like?
SNIDER: It was the best possible move we could make at that time.
KNUDSON: It was a huge relief. [Laughs]
SNIDER: We knew that we wouldn’t get the shaft, or the rug pulled out from under us. We knew David was legit and had always backed the band. It was a natural move. We were happy that he was so interested in putting out our record.
KNUDSON: Over the entirety of the band’s career, he’s shown nothing but love and support. Just knowing you’re going back into that same environment and you don’t have to worry about, “Is this promise going to be fulfilled? Is this budget going to be slashed?” Those things, at least for me, took a load off. It was easy to complete [2017’s VOIDS] and know that what [Dickenson] said was going to happen.
DICKENSON: For us, it was a no-brainer. The band and us sat down for lunch, and they were feeling out [what was next]. The fact of the matter is that we’ve always had a great relationship. There’s been ups and downs, but we’re family. Sometimes you butt heads, but at the end of the day, it’s love. Even when they left to go to Dangerbird — it would be stupid of me to say it wasn’t tough, because our flagship band was leaving at the high point in their career, but we were certainly happy to have them back. They’re so dedicated and professional in what they do, and they make everyone’s jobs easier with the work ethic they have.
STEREOGUM: What was a moment from the band’s history that you guys take away with sentimental value?
KNUDSON: The first tour, where we came up with the album title of Menos El Oso. We were in Spain, sitting on the beach and eating paella — that’s where the cover photo for that album was taken. That tour kind of solidified a lot of things. We all came together and united, it was a jumping-off point. “Holy shit, we’re in Spain — we’re eating great food and doing what we want. Let’s go.”
STEREOGUM: What do you see your legacy as?
SNIDER: We’re from Seattle, so there’s that aspect — but we’re also a touring band, and there’s other bands where our tours draw better and our records sell better. We love Seattle, but I’ve always felt we’re just a U.S. touring band.
STEREOGUM: You’ve been around for nearly two decades now. What have you seen change in the industry, and did the shifting nature of the industry affect the band’s trajectory at all?
KNUDSON: It’s definitely a different musical landscape than it was in 2001. Back then, you could sell millions of CDs, but from file-sharing to streaming on Spotify now, it’s just harder for bands to maintain viability. Back when you could sell records, you wouldn’t necessarily have to rely on touring if you decided to be in a band full-time. Nowadays, it’s not like Spotify’s paying you any money.
That’s also something that I’ve talked to our booking agent about a few times. There aren’t nearly as many stadium bands these days. There’s so much music coming out that everyone’s fighting for the same venues, because there’s so many bands playing for fewer people now. So booking a tour in advance or getting the right venues is a little difficult sometimes. It’s awesome though, because people can make a great record in their bedroom, whereas in 2001, you were looking at a nice studio to go record it. Now, you don’t necessarily need a studio for anything.
SNIDER: A lot of bands have been able to take the means of production back into their own hands. It’s been a pretty wild ride, going from pay phones and phone cards to cell phones and wireless everywhere. We used to bring our own WiFi router around on tour.
KNUDSON: Back in the day we’d print out Mapquest [directions]. On the tour [behind 2005’s Menos El Oso], we were like, “Screw this, let’s go buy a $300 GPS system from Best Buy.” We got to the show in Boston with no wrong turns! As opposed to pulling over, calling the promoter, pulling over again — technology has changed everything from writing music to touring and engaging with fans. It’s been quite the change for, obviously, society in general, but for being a live touring band too. It’s been huge.
STEREOGUM: How do you feel about the critical reception you received from the music press over the years?
SNIDER: I tried not to let any of the press we got — whether it was super good or super bad — change my expectations of the band. The venues we were able to fill speak for themselves, in terms of the music itself. Critics have their own biases and preferences and all that. It’s a small pool of peoples’ opinions, relative to the audience of fans we had access to. A lot of [the press] was really encouraging, though — really positive and good to hear. And usually it comes out before the record is released, or during the first few months. I’ve always had high hopes but reasonable expectations. I try not to let it affect me too much either way.
KNUDSON: Sometimes it’s funny being on tour when a record comes out, and we see a piece where I’m like, “I put in so much time on this, and it’s not being received how I would’ve wanted it to.” Then you get on stage, and you see fans singing along and loving the show. For me, it’s more about interacting with the people that you know are with you. It’s not as much of an intimate connection when someone is just reviewing a record or writing a little piece from a city that is thousands of miles from you. The way fans have interacted with and appreciated us has been way more payoff than a nice album review.
Minus The Bear tour dates:
10/09 Nashville, TN @ 3rd & Lindsley
10/10 Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
10/11 Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade
10/12 St. Louis, MO @ Ready Room
10/13 Kansas City, MO @ The Truman
10/14 Omaha, NE @ The Waiting Room
10/15 Minneapolis, MN @ Varsity Theatre
10/17 Chicago, IL @ House of Blues
10/18 Columbus, OH @ Newport Music Hall
10/19 Cleveland, OH @ Agora Theatre
10/20 Detroit, MI @ St. Andrews Hall
10/21 Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Concert Theatre
10/23 Pittsburgh, PA @ Mr. Smalls Theatre
10/24 Silver Springs, MD @ The Fillmore
10/25 Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
10/26 Asbury Park, NJ @ The Stone Pony
10/27 Philadelphia, PA @ Electric Factory
10/28 New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
11/27 Tampa, FL @ The Ritz Ybor
11/29 New Orleans, LA @ House of Blues
11/30 Dallas, TX @ Granada Theatre
12/01 Austin, TX @ Emo’s
12/03 Albuquerque, NM @ El Rey Theatre
12/04 Denver, CO @ Ogden Theatre
12/05 Salt Lake City, UT @ The Complex Grand
12/07 Tempe, AZ @ The Marquee
12/08 Pomona, CA @ The Glass House
12/09 Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda Theatre
12/11 San Francisco, CA @ Regency Ballroom
12/12 Sacramento, CA @ Ace of Spades
12/13 Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre
12/14 Seattle, WA @ The Showbox