NAME: Ed Droste
BORN IN: Cambridge, Massachusetts
RESIDES IN: Los Angeles, California
JOB DESCRIPTION: Singer, songwriter, and founder of the U.S. indie rock band Grizzly Bear
TIME SPENT ON THE ROAD: 6 to 7 months per year while on tour
PLACES VISITED IN THE LAST YEAR: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Burma, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, Singapore, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, and 18 states in the U.S.
Q. When you’re not touring with your band, Grizzly Bear, you still like to travel. How do you fit it in?
A. It’s easiest to do bookend trips, connected to a first or last tour stop. I was able to extend my time in Australia and do some exploring there and in the New Zealand countryside. I also took a trip to Burma; it was just something I planned with my husband and some friends. We thought we had to go to Burma before it has high-rise hotels everywhere. And it was amazing. Often times, when you’re just in and out, you only see the venues and the four or five blocks surrounding the venues. But we do often get days off in the far-off places, and we’ve been able to take great day trips.
The band has been around the world several times since releasing its fourth album, Shields, last September. Do you have a favorite memory from the tour so far?
There are certain audiences that stand out. We recently toured South America and Mexico for the first time, and the crowds were so excited. There’s a unique Latin spirit where people break out into song between songs, like they’re cheering you on at a soccer game. The energy that the Brazilians gave in São Paulo was through the roof, maybe unprecedented. There was this wild buzz in the room that doesn’t exist in most places.
What has been your impression of other cultures from up on stage?
Each country has a different vibe. Culturally speaking, Scandinavia isn’t a place where people hoot and holler all the time. In Germany, our audience is predominantly male and slightly older. That’s a different energy than the U.S., which skews a lot younger than our European audiences. We always want to play in Italy, but there isn’t a huge demand there. Yet for some reason, the Portuguese know all about us. There’s a lot of that in Europe: You cross a border and you’re like, huh? Denmark, for example, is much bigger for us than Sweden.
What kinds of experiences do you look for when you’re traveling on your own?
I’m most interested in experiencing the local culture and food. Hands down, Japan is my favorite food destination, followed by Thailand and Mexico. There are so many regional cuisines in those countries, and they have incredible street food as well as the option to go high-end. Japan continually astounds me. You go to a town that specializes in one type of tofu that’s only produced there and not exported, and every restaurant dish is centered around it. Or you go to a specialized udon eatery, where the noodles are all made in-house. In Japan, the presentation is out of control, so you’re not only getting the freshest, most delicious food, but you’re also getting a visual overload.
How would you describe your travel style?
I’m not a major solo traveler, but I love traveling with people. Sometimes I’ll put that energy out there where I’m like ‘I am available to meet people right now,’ and then it just happens. Of course, you can use the Internet. But I’ve also been somewhere and just struck up a conversation, and someone offered to show me a beach. And I was like ‘Cool, I’ll go with you.’
How does being in a band give you unique access to a place?
In Burma, a guy who lived in Yangon got in touch through Instagram. He managed a local Burmese indie band and wanted to show us around and have us meet the group. So we met these guys and listened to their music. They took us to their favorite restaurants and showed us a side of Yangon that most visitors would never be able to see. It was a case of music totally giving us access to the people.
You are very active on Instagram when you travel—you have posted more than 1,300 photographs and have over 380,000 followers. Is that public relations or personal?
For me, it’s a road diary, with geotags and snapshots that help me remember moments from my sometimes insane travels. That’s not to mention the people I’ve met all over the world by interacting with them through the app. When I’m traveling, I’ll hang out with people I wouldn’t necessarily be socializing with at home. I end up having the best time, and it’s eye-opening.
When you’re not performing, how does music play into your travels?
I don’t bring music with me to listen to while I’m traveling. Why would I want to listen to the music that I can listen to at home? Also, I don’t often listen to music passively, so it requires some attention from me. When I’m on the road, my attention is focused on the street life and culture—the food, the people, and maybe the local music. The last thing I want to do is shut all that out. I don’t need to put on my headphones and play my most recent favorite indie rock album.
How does travel influence your songwriting or recording process?
I find that I work better when I’m not in the giant city where I live. Writing or recording usually involves domestic travel, where we try to get closer to nature. [When Grizzly Bear was based in Brooklyn], we’d go to Long Island or Cape Cod. Our drummer, Christopher Bear, and I once spent a month in Todos Santos, Mexico, working on music. We got to know the town’s laid-back vibe and the three taco stands near our place. We didn’t feel like we were missing out on something when we spent all day working, but the breaks were really fun. We ate awesome shrimp tacos.
See Ed Droste’s favorite music venues around the world. Photo by Tom Hines. This appeared in the August/September 2013 issue.