When Seattle-based prog-pop-rock heroes Minus the Bear started out, they weren't so serious. The guys became friends in the Seattle scene around 2001, but they all played in different bands. Guitarist Dave Knudson played in metalcore band Botch, while drummer Erin Tate and bassist Cory Murchy were in another post-metal band called Kill Sadie. Singer Jake Snider came from a softer background, leading the breezy rockers Sharks Keep Moving.
"It was really just a side project," Murchy says of the early days. "It was an extra outlet for other ideas musically. We would go to the bar together and drink, and that's where we started talking."
The excitement of new musical frontiers quickly took hold. All four listened to plenty of hip-hop, dance music, and R&B together. New ideas kept popping up.
"Our bands were mostly harder, in the post-hardcore scene, and we knew we didn't want to have any limits with this project," Murchy says. "We didn't feel we needed to be held back by a genre, or play this or that style."
Before long, the side project eclipsed the more hardcore sound most of them were used to. "The first year it was real laid-back," Murchy remembers. "We just wrote, then recorded an EP [the debut release This is What I Know About Being Gigantic]. I think that's been the key from the get-go: Everything has happened organically. After we played our first show, it just snowballed from there. The other bands quickly disintegrated and we didn't."
Ten years and four full-length albums later, Minus the Bear has earned commercial and critical success, finding fans through extensive touring and word of mouth. Murchy reminisced about the band's beginnings last week as they took a break from recording their as-yet-untitled follow-up to 2010's Omni in their hometown studio.
"It's been a real slow build," he says, gratefully. "We've watched a lot of bands where all the sudden they're the next big shit. And nine times out of 10, they don't make it past the next year, or the next record. And then it's, 'Wait, where did they go?'"
Having to dig deep and work hard for their success has made them who they are: a dedicated, blue-collar band.
"We're not out digging ditches, and there's definitely harder jobs out there," Murchy says. "But we're not flying around in Lear jets, and it's a lot of work. We're a working-class band, and our work ethic is there because we have to. To see that hard work come back to us from fans is just amazing."
While the guys are serious about their music, the story of their name reveals a goofy side. A friend of the band had a date, and when they asked him how it went, he replied, "Remember that '70s TV show, B.J. and the Bear? It's like that, minus the bear." Now that the guys are in their 30s, they're over their youthful joke.
"It really only comes up anymore because journalists keep on making it a talking point," chuckles Murchy. "It's kind of old at this point. It's just a band name. It's as dumb as the Foo Fighters or anything else."
His choice of band name-comparison is interesting considering that he credits Foo's frontman Dave Grohl's original band, Nirvana, with his early involvement in music.
"When Nirvana came out, it rocked my world and changed my relationship with music," Murchy recalls. "It made me want to fuck around with music. Nirvana and punk rock showed me that music was accessible to anybody. They were giving a pass to a fan and saying, 'You can do this. Go do it.'"
The influence of the classic early-'90s grunge period is constant. Since their beginnings, the only major lineup change has been the exit of keyboardist Matt Bayles, who left in 2006 to focus on producing music. The band came back full-circle: Bayles is producing their upcoming album. While Alex Rose has adequately replaced him, going back to work with Bayles highlights the family atmosphere they've created.
"There really isn't any getting away from each other at this point," Murchy says. "We're family, we're brothers, and this is our livelihood. We're invested in this because of our common desire to see this band go as far as we can make it go."
Fans can register online for free at the Jack Daniel's Studio No. 7 website (jdstudiono7.com) to get on the guest list for the Music Farm show. Attendees to the club must be 21 or older.