Grizzly Bear
Photo: Tom Hines

The Oral History of Grizzly Bear’s Wild Remix Album

Two decades ago, the hushed indie-rock luminaries Grizzly Bear released a buzzy acoustic debut. A year later, it got a wild remix LP. This is its story.

Horn of Plenty (Remixes)
Grizzly Bear
9 November 2004

Prelude: In 2004, Grizzly Bear‘s debut record dropped, and it garnered a decent buzz based on Ed Droste and Christopher Bear’s hushed and dramatic songs. Droste’s quiet rasp of a voice was inviting and vulnerable, and when paired with his oblique yet compelling lyrics, it’s no wonder why Grizzly Bear started garnering buzz in the then-named blogosphere.

A year after its release, a remix album was dropped, with a wide variety of great indie artists of differing genres giving their own spin on the record’s originals. It was a bold move for a remix record to be commissioned for a band’s only full-length, but the gambit worked beautifully. The two-CD set featuring the original and the remix records was the one I remember purchasing in college, and it profoundly affected me.

Grizzly Bear’s Horn of Plenty has been re-released a few times, often tied in with specific Record Store Day small-print runs. With its formal 20th anniversary looming, the noted reissue company Bandbox was gearing up for a vinyl repressing that included the original record and some (but not all) of the tracks from the remix LP. This is where I got involved, pitching a few ideas but ultimately seeing my oral history of the remixes getting approval to be included on Bandbox’s signature zine that they include with every project. I immediately set out to track down and interview as many involved parties as possible.

Unfortunately, after turning in my essay, I discovered what several other staffers and freelancers were finding out for the first time: that Bandbox was filing for bankruptcy. That adversely affected many people on every side of the business, from fans to editors to pressing plants, and some undoubtedly great pieces of writing may never see the light of day.

However, after speaking with many of the artists involved, many of whom hadn’t told their stories for years, it only felt fitting to give it a proper home. While the remix record’s formal 20th anniversary is next year, it still felt like the entwining tales about the creation of this beloved cult favorite, as told by the producers and musicians involved, deserved their time in the limelight. Here is their story. Enjoy.

My college philosophy teacher once had us do an essay on what is gained or lost when a work is reinterpreted, translated, refurbished, and overall Ship of Theseus’d. Knowing the teacher was a music fan — having loaned me more than a few peak-era Scott Walker CDs — it was the only time I turned in a paper with a burned CD attached, as I took the prompt and ran it through a philosophical lens that focused on the band Grizzly Bear and the remixes of their song “Don’t Ask”.

I was a fan of Grizzly Bear’s hushed and mysterious 2004 debut record Horn of Plenty, but when I bought the CD in late 2005, it came with a bonus album full of remixes that covered the spectrum of electro-indie-rock. A favorite track of mine, the dreamy “Don’t Ask”, got a romantic electro makeover by Alpha and later a full string-and-woodwinds interpretation by Final Fantasy/Owen Pallett. While I was deeply in love with the record, I felt that in bringing it into the philosophical sphere, there weren’t enough connective tissues in my argument about how the remixes’ musical context altered the song’s emotional impact through these wild new renderings. I ended up getting an “A” on it regardless. Music fans recognize music fans.

In retrospect, having your hotly buzzed indie band receive a full-bore remix album one year after its release was a bold move, as most underground acts could hope for a remix EP at most (full-length remix records were reserved for the Top 40 pop types with aims set for the clubs). Yet even back in 2004, there was something special about the collaboration between Ed Droste and Christopher Bear, and the remix album only helped to signal how remarkable their hushed, haunting, lo-fi campfire dirges were.

“We released Horn of Plenty as a one-disc CD in November 2004, and the bonus remix CD was included with a re-release pretty much exactly one year later in November 2005,” recalls Kanine Records co-founder Kay Quartararo. “I don’t remember exactly whose idea it was, but this was the height of blog culture, so I’m sure the band and us discussed the idea of getting some remixes made in order to get more posts on blogs. But then Ed suddenly had a whole bonus album wort,h and we did a repackaging and re-release. I’m sure Ed reached out to friends in bands, but also Ed definitely connected many of the artists through MySpace messages.”

Even looking at it nearly two decades after its release, the musicians assembled are impressive. Efterklang, the Soft Pink Truth, Castanets, Ariel Pink, and a fresh-off-the-Postal-Service Dntel were just some of the artists involved in this massive 17-track effort, which featured tracks (like “Don’t Ask”) that covered two different ways.

The gently cooing “Merge” undergoes a fuzzier, propulsive translation under the watchful eye of Dntel’s Jimmy Tamborello, who recollects that he was approached about doing a remix before hearing the album proper, yet “I really loved it once I heard it.” He was drawn to “Merge” as it was “maybe one of the sparser songs on the record, also on the melancholic side which I like,” and notes that “Something in the vocals reminded me of a shoegaze band so I pushed [the remix] in that direction.” While Tamborello can’t recall the specific reaction to the remix, he beams about it: “I think it’s one of the best remixes I’ve done, though! One of the few I can still listen to without regret. I’m thankful to them for having me!”

Late in the Horn of Plenty setlist lies “Eavesdropping”, which features a haunting vocal take from Droste over sparse guitar lines and some gorgeous fiddle work from Jamie Reeder. Under the watchful ears of Leo Chadburn (who at the time was releasing music under his Simon Bookish moniker), the track takes on a skittering electro vibe with new vocals talking about London Calling and filesharing, giving the track a freshly modern perspective. “I’d gotten to know Ed online,” recalls Chadburn. “It might have been our mutual friend Owen Pallett who introduced us, or my American boyfriend of the time, Tyler, who also made a beautiful, eerie stop-motion video for the song ‘Deep Sea Diver’. We didn’t meet in person until a year after the remix album was released, at which point Grizzly Bear played a show in London with Owen and me on the same bill.

“Ed had heard some tracks from what became the second Simon Bookish album, Trainwreck / Raincheck, which is a combination of spoken dream transcription and electronic music, and asked if I’d contribute to the album. Bravely, perhaps, since my album was so strange, and he can’t have anticipated what I’d do. I’d only heard a few tracks by Grizzly Bear at that point, so he sent me Horn of Plenty in its entirety and the stems via Instant Messenger, and our discussions about the remix unfolded like that. That’s why my version of ‘Eavesdropping’ has the extra lyrics about ‘filesharing’ and listening to music from across the world. Our conversations fed directly in the material.”

For Elisabeth Esselink, who recorded under Solex at the time and dropped the “Foxy” remix of “Fix It”, there were no conversations to be had, as she recalls being emailed about contributing to the project despite not having heard the record prior. Recognizing that drummer-boy intro interplaying with that lithe bassline, Esselink was drawn in. “When I heard all the songs, I picked ‘Fix It’ because I thought it had some really nice elements I could play around with. The moment I received all the separate tracks of ‘Fix It’, I was happily surprised. Many of the tracks are kind of ‘hidden’ – very soft and quiet in the original Grizzly Bear mix. The song has a few hidden gems in it.”

Matt Bomarr was already familiar with Horn of Plenty‘s hidden gems when he was approached to contribute, having already been a fan of the full-length. Brooding opener “Deep Sea Diver” spoke most to him, leading him to do a heavy rock guitar remix of the song under his now-retired Bomarr Monk stage name. “It was sparse, and I knew I could take it in a very different direction,” Bomarr notes. “I remember reading an interview back in the 1990s with ‘trip-hop’ artist Tricky and how he approached a remix he did for Biggie. He said he got stoned and listened to the acapella over and over until he completely forgot how the original went and then started building music around it from there—a palate cleanser of sorts. I didn’t do that exactly, but I did make sure to just listen to the acapella constantly just to get used to the parts of the song. I had a lot of borrowed gear from musician friends (a Fender Rhodes keyboard, my roommate’s dulcimer, etc.), and just started messing around. It ended up working out well.”

Meanwhile, Philip Something heard the woozy chords and repeated synth sounds in “Showcase” and thought it “seemed like a potential rave classic, so I began devising it as such”. Amped up with beats and propulsion, the “Overflowing Trophy Case Remix” (credited to Phiiliip) takes on a whole new life, which was Philip’s intention. “My friend Michael told me he heard it played at a sushi restaurant, and I told that to Harry Styles from One Direction, and he made a song called ‘Music From a Sushi Restaurant’. on his album Harry’s House. I think that Harry got the Grammy for Album of the Year. So it was kind of congratulatory, in a roundabout way.” After emailing this statement, Philip followed up by noting that “I relistened, and the Harry song is called ‘Music For a Sushi Restaurant’. I’m kind of cavalier in my off-the-cuff.”

There was nothing off the cuff for Matthew Patterson Curry, who gave quietly shuffling “La Duchess Anne” a spritely “Safety Scissors Extra Towels Remix”. Curry recalls that Droste reached out to him to say he was a fan of his music in 2001, and when it came to returning the favor with a remix, he notes, “The original song appealed to me since the lyrics painted a nice picture. I really liked the lo-fi four-track nature of the album and loose singing, but I wanted to give it a bit more depth with some electronic production.

“I ended up singing the verses myself and adding some bass guitar, too. I can’t remember if that was weird to them that I resang the lyrics; I think it might have been to them, but I wanted to make it a bit more mine,” Curry continues. “I just relistened to the remix after not hearing it for years, and it’s pretty neat. There are lots of intricate details with the drum programming, little synth sprays, and tape echoes. Lots going on, but it still keeps some lo-fi simplicity and a sense of naivete that their original album has, too.” Curry dug up some emails where Ed notes how he liked the new vocals and even walked Curry through some of the chords during the remix soliciting process.

On a different end of the spectrum, the pounding pianos of “Campfire” were given a warped new vision via a beautifully strange new take by Hisham Bharoocha & Rusty Santos. To hear Santos tell it, not only was “Horn of Plenty was already on my radar”, but “Campfire” specifically “resonated with the folk vibe I was on then, and I wanted to reinterpret it in an abstract and electronic way.” Listening to it with modern ears, Santos recalls, “After all this time, I can hear how the SP303 I used to chop up the sounds in itself sounds suspended in an era, although then it felt so futuristic.”

Photo: Kanine Records

It’s truly remarkable how well the remix album has stood up over the years, with some of the remixers still working in the industry, some having retreated to private life, and others who have sadly passed on (like Castanets’ brilliant Raymond Raposa, who contributed his own spin on “Deep Sea Diver” and died in 2022). There’s still so much joy and magic to be found in this sonic melting pot, with so many different styles and visions colliding together, all to highlight just how magical the songs on Horn of Plenty remain.

For many artists involved, simply getting Droste’s enthusiastic thumbs-up was more than enough. When commenting on the reaction from both the band and the label, Matt Bomarr sums it up perfectly: “I remember both liked it quite a bit, which was great because I was super nervous turning it in. My self-confidence with music-making is usually quite low, and when you’re remixing a band you admire, you just cross your fingers and hope they don’t hate it. When it initially came out, I was telling lots of friends and fans about it, but at the time, Grizzly Bear was still just an underground indie band, so it wasn’t super eventful. Then those guys blew up, and my remix made its way to a lot more ears, so that’s cool. I like being able to say I did a remix for Grizzly Bear. Gives me some ‘indie street cred’. Haha. Is that a thing?”