Minus the Bear's Alex Rose talks Tampa memories, why the band broke up and more

The band plays The Ritz in Ybor City on Nov. 27.

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click to enlarge Minus the Bear, which plays The Ritz in Ybor City, Florida on November 27, 2018. - Chona Kasinger
Chona Kasinger
Minus the Bear, which plays The Ritz in Ybor City, Florida on November 27, 2018.

"Yeah, we have a ton of material that would've been nice to finish."

Minus the Bear's Alex Rose is frank about the end of the Seattle band's run as one of indie-rock's most innovative outfits, but he's mostly focusing on what's good.

"I have to stay in the appreciative mindset that we — especially them — put out a lot of music," he told CL. "Even me coming in five years in, together, we put out a lot of music."

The run is most definitely over (so stop asking him about it in the meet and greets, fam), and Rose doesn't know what's exactly going to happen with the band's Dropbox of unfinished stems and demos, but it'll all shake out.

"I think all of us want to keep making music on some level," he said. "I wouldn't doubt that pretty soon there's gonna new music from members of Minus The Bear in some other form."

Read our full Q&A below and get more information on the show below.

Minus The Bear. Tues. Nov. 27, 7 p.m. $25 & up. The Ritz, 1503 E. 7th Ave., Ybor City. theritzybor.com.

Saw you playing with some Korgs old Roland Juno-60s — what are you up to over there?

Well, I lived here for half of the couple years. I followed my now wife over here. Living in West London. Lots of nice parks.

You’re a University of Miami alum. There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not college makes sense anymore, but none of that talk really talks about music schools — how essential was being at UM, being a WVUM DJ, etc. to your development and eventual landing of a job as a musician?

That's a good question. Strangely, I am using a lot of the stuff I learned at UM. I had piano class, which is one of the only times I learned piano. I was trained on saxophone and guitar, other instruments, but I got some piano, computer, MIDI and recording training — all of which I use in the band. I don't know if it was essential, but it was certainly helpful and lined up well with what was needed. I also did live sound for the band, which is how I got into the fold. All that stuff happened in Miami. It may not have happened the same way had I not gone there.

We have Sam Beam in town tonight.

Nice.

You joined the band five years after it’s inception thanks to Heather Duby’s job opening for Minus The Bear. Could you talk about this 12-year ride you’ve had with the band?

On that tour I was also doing sound for them. So Cory [Murchy], our bass player, and I went to the same high school. That's the main connection. I didn't move to Seattle to necessarily join with him. I had heard the band, and I was a huge fan. When I moved up, I wrote him on Friendster. My old metal band opened for Minus the Bear in Albuquerque, too.

What was that band called?

It was a band called Mistletoe. I saw them when we were playing South By Southwest in 2002. I was definitely following the band from the begining and really into Minus The Bear. I moved to Seattle ready to move on. I grew up in New Mexico, and after Miami I moved back to Albuquerque for three years. I moved to Seattle and wrote Cory. He invited me to the studio. They were recording the Beer Commercials EP, and it turned out that they needed a live sound guy, so I jumped in the van soon after that. That was 2004. The next year I was playing with Heather Duby. They were already familiar with me as the sound guy, but they heard me play some music, and that was around the time that Matt [Bayles] was gonna leave. Matt approached me to say he was gonna be leaving. They approached me, and it worked out because I was around, and they knew they could tolerate me — kind of, assuming...

You weren't an asshole.

Yeah, they could survive a 10-week van ride with me.

And forgive if I am wrong here, but how much of a hand did you have in Menos because I was under the impression that Planet Of Ice was the first Minus The Bear album you were involved in from in from inception to release.

Yeah. That's the first one I played and wrote on. Menos, I was around assisting Matt and Chris on the production. There were days when I went to Jake [Snider]'s house to record his guitar parts. I did some editing, some assistant engineering on Menos.

What was it like to revisit Planet of Ice and put that album back together?

Well that was the last tour, and it was incredible to dive back into it 10 years later. To be honest, there were large chunks of time where I didn't listen to it. I might've listened to it to refresh my memory on a couple of songs to play on tour. It's something I'm really proud of, and with some distance I'm able to listen to it with fresh ears and appreciate the work we put into it and separate it from some of the baggage or anxiety that I had when we were first doing it.

You started to get into ‘60s and ‘70s prog rock for Voids, which sounds like a rebirth — it’s fresh and so different for Minus the Bear. You’re a studio monster, so what’s gonna happen to that energy, that more direct, less proggy songwriting process moving forward?

Good question. I have a lot of ideas that I would like to finish and start working on. I'd love to write with other people. I've been doing remixes for other people, so I think I may need some distance and time after we stop playing. I'm always working on music, and I hope to always be able to express myself that way.

For you personally, when did the feeling that the end might be near start? When did the group’s collective feeling of finality finally get manifested in a conversation?

Without getting too specific about the conversations that we had, I think it was important to us that we put a proper exclamation point on it. It's been floating around for a year or so. The idea of doing Planet Of Ice was something we really wanted to do, and we also wanted to properly say goodbye to our fans and the people. I mean, we do meet at greets at 20 or 30 shows. We wanted to do a deep dive into our catalog and play a two-hour set, give ourselves the proper send-off that the band deserved. So it feels good to do it proper.

To stay on that before moving back to the music, Jake has said, “It’s difficult to be in a band with so many different attitudes and ways of thinking over 17 years. It’s not an easy decision, but it feels necessary at this point.” — is it appropriate to ask you what he thinks about that?

Good question. I'm being diplomatic, and that's been my role as I try to understand where everyone is coming from. I'm sure that I, maybe unintentionally, pushed for certain things that not everyone is down for. I would imagine it could be how aggressively we tour. Maybe how hard we push to achieve certain things in the studio. I, for one, am pretty meticulous when it comes to getting something that's in my mind. I often butt heads with producers we we work with. I don't mind in the long run, but sometimes it can cause some friction in that immediate time that we're working on something. I don't exactly know what he meant, but that would be my takeaway from that kind of thing. There's also families. You want to have a personal life as well.

Yeah, I would imagine that it's tough as a parent to be on a tour that doesn't let you get home at least once every couple weeks.

Yeah, it's tough. I don't have kids, but I can only imagine what it's like for everyone who has one.

A lot of times saying farewell is kind of a good thing because you realize that — as important as a band and music is — relationships with people are important. Do you guys have that feeling? You know, the band is over, but we're still friends.

Yeah. That's another big reason why it's important to do it now. For me, and I think I can speak for everyone, the tour is going well. We're having fun, and we're playing well. It's fun. The show has been incredible, and we can confidently say that this has been a great tour. We just back from the first half, and we're looking forward to starting the second half in Tampa.

Yeah, we appreciate that. Fleet Foxes did the same thing for its world tour, and it's just nice because a lot of bands never make it down to the penis of America. I'm sure you get to fly in and drive out, which is way better than driving and then out.

Yes, and I know from being in Miami. There are a lot of shows I would miss because I was down there.

Yeah, but then being insular lends itself to a strong scene. Miami has a great thing going on. The title track for Fair Enough was one of the first songs written for Voids. Why didn’t it make it and does the EP feel like a love letter at all? One last homage to a fan base that has seen Minus the Bear through many creative modes?

We were sort of seeing what we could finish. We had this big Dropbox folder of all our ideas, mixes, demos and things. That one kind of jumped out at people. I recorded that in our practice space, and we tried to re-do it during the Voids sessions. There are other partially-done versions of it. I didn't necessarily push for it, but I think it jumped out at some people. Then I gave it some polishing, and I sent it out to them. I think it was in D.C. during the Planet of Ice tour — either the spring or late last year. I sent it to everybody, and they all listened to it on the bus without me. They had a moment, and the song, I think, had kind of taken on new meaning now that we knew that it was gonna be the end. That sort of played into it. That song, and the initial version of it being this raw, practice space recording — it goes along with the idea of a proper send off. The sentiment goes well with what we're doing.

When this tour was first announced, there was no way to think about getting back together 10 years later — as those last two dates in Seattle approach, how are you feeling? Or have you just been focused on playing well and then seeing what happens?

Yeah, that's been my attitude. We've been doing meet and greets, and without fail someone will ask, so it's impossible to not think about it, but that's definitely not the plan. It's impossible to know if any of the other band members are going to be in a space that would allow that. We're gonna let life happen and know that we can be proud about closing this chapter the way that we have. There's nothing that we're secretly planning or anything. This is it in our minds.

You hit on this earlier when we talked about ideas in the studio, but do you have any regrets or things you wished you could’ve done, sounds you would have explored with this band and lineup?

Yeah, we have a ton of material that would've been nice to finish. There's gonna be some lost material, but I have to stay in the appreciative mindset that we — especially them — put out a lot of music. Even me coming in five years in, together, we put out a lot of music.

Is that the kind of thing where that music stays in that Dropbox so that you can mine it for Minus The Bear stuff in the future? Are you allowed to take stems and work on music?

Yeah, I don't know — that's a good question. I think all of us want to keep making music on some level. If anyone ever has things that they want to pursue, then I'm sure that can all be worked out, but I've got stuff. I know Dave [Knudson] always writes music. Jake plays solo shows. I wouldn't doubt that pretty soon there's gonna new music from members of Minus The Bear in some other form. But that folder specifically, who knows.

As long as somebody pays the Dropbox bill so that it doesn't go away.

Yeah, gotta remember to pay that.

Did you vote absentee? I saw that you retweeted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Fox News meme about radical Democratic ideas. I wanted to know how that works for you since you're anywhere on the globe at any given time.

Strangely my flight was on the day before voting, but my county lets me vote online, and I am registered as an overseas voter. I'm registered right out of Seattle, and it's a pretty small voting community.

I didn't know if there was anything you wanted to add, I know we're at 20 minutes, so thanks for you time.

I have time if you have anything else. We're excited to come to Florida.

Do you do anything in particular in Florida? It's always cool to see which mutual Twitter friends we have, and there is a bartender from an old club called Czar that follows you, so I didn't know if you had any deep memories of Ybor City.

Yeah. Jen. Ybor is always fun. When we first went there we were definitely in our heavier party days. The fact that you could order shots in shot glasses made of ice and then smash them into the wall was something we always remember about Ybor. Definitely some cemented memories of that bar. Florida is always trouble.

I don't know if you can talk about it on record, but are you gonna practice locally before the show?

We're about 20 shows in, so we're doing good. I think we'll try to have a long soundcheck. We're pretty good about picking up where we left off.

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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