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Tracing Influences

Grizzly Bear and David Vandervelde harken back while moving forward

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After everyone from record store clerks to The New York Times fawned over their 2006 orchestral folk masterpiece Yellow House, Brooklyn quartet Grizzly Bear—once little more than an East Coast phenomenon, shopped hand-to-hand among the underground's unsung elite—quickly turned heads nationwide. But just three years ago, when the band was touring behind their debut Horn of Plenty and made a last-minute Nashville appearance at The 5 Spot, the gig attracted only a few stray walk-ins.

"We had booked it ourselves, a very small show with all, basically, random people that chanced upon it," says Edward Droste, one of Grizzly Bear's co-founders. "It was in the early days of MySpace where we told a few people in the Nashville area to come, but it was very haphazard. I don't know that there's any documentation online of the fact that we even played there."

While no traces of that show are left on the web, plenty has been said about last year's Friend EP, which served as a "stop-gap" between Yellow House and their attempt to forge a fresh sound for their proper follow-up. Though primarily a showcase for a few cherry-picked Grizzly covers from the likes of Band of Horses and Atlas Sound, the EP hints at things to come on two of the band's own renditions. Their keyed-down version of doo-wop girl group The Crystals' "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)"—a deceptive pop gem that could have been destined for radio infamy in the early '60s, were it not for its disturbing lyrics about a physically abusive relationship—brings the song's malevolent underpinnings to the surface through moody instrumentation and drowsy vocal harmonies. Set that against guitarist Daniel Rossen's homespun interpretation of the traditional American folk tune "Deep Blue Sea," and you have a blurry signpost for what Droste says will inform their upcoming full-length. Though the album isn't due until early 2009, the foursome have taken the last few weeks to hole up in a countryside home and work through some new material. "I think we're going to be, perhaps, a touch more upbeat, a little more melodious," says Droste.

The band premiered their latest song, "Two Weeks," co-penned by Droste and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Christopher Bear, on The Late Show With David Letterman last week. And earlier this year, a guest appearance on KCRW's esteemed Morning Becomes Eclectic show featured "While You Wait for the Others." A bleak, wandering tune that belies its pop rudiments, the latter song could have easily been an Elvis Costello stage-romp, but in Grizzly Bear's hands becomes a slouching mood-setter, bathed in loosely echoed guitar, warbly keys and sugar-coated vocals.

Setting the tone for this Nashville appearance, though, will be opener David Vandervelde, who recently settled into a permanent home here. Having teamed up with members of local hick rockers Ghostfinger for a handful of shows in the past, Vandervelde, whose second album, Waiting for the Sunrise, hits shelves in early August, says Nashville provided a natural locale for him and his fiancée. "Both of us have family in the Midwest, and I've got bandmates scattered across the country, so it's good to be central," he explains.

Steeped in '70s rock and drawing comparisons to everyone from Marc Bolan and Bowie to ELO or even the Bee Gees, Waiting for the Sunrise relishes in sweet-natured vocals, feathery keys and, behind the nostalgic gleam, meandering passages that may conjure certain classic rock icons. But it is hardly derivative. "I think [the Marc Bolan comparison] is completely overblown and it's bullshit, because I don't even own a T.Rex record," Vandervelde tells the Scene, citing Fleetwood Mac and The Band as more apt influences.

Perhaps the most defining voice behind Vandervelde's two records, though, is Jay Bennett, Wilco's former behind-the-curtains mastermind, who housed a 19-year-old Vandervelde for the recording of last year's debut, The Moonstation House Band, at Pieholden Studios in Chicago. Sessions for Bennett's recent solo albums resulted in the song "California Breezes," which couples a signature alt-country riff against Vandervelde's modulated vocals—always pitched slightly higher toward a limber falsetto—and light organs that soften the song's steady cadence.

Though that track was written five years ago, the album serves as a fresh affirmation of Vandervelde's growth as a songwriter. Turning from the isolation of his first album (on which he played most of the instruments and even taught himself a few to round out the edges) to more of a "live feel," where most of the songs were recorded with a full band, Sunrise gives those classic rock influences an in-the-moment spin. "The first record is more of a pop experiment...but I really wanted this record to sound as live as possible," says Vandervelde. "That's more what it's about to me than trying to sound like a certain era."

Whether revamping from-the-vault oldies like Grizzly Bear or updating vintage touchstones for original material like Vandervelde, both are sure to leave their own distinct thumbprint come curtain call.

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