DEPARTMENT OF EAGLES: Labor of Love

For those who came to know Daniel Rossen through his orchestral post-folk with Brooklyn quartet Grizzly Bear, a quick listen to early Department of Eagles-his first band with college-mate Fred Nicolaus several years prior-can easily catch you off guard.

For those who came to know Daniel Rossen through his orchestral post-folk with Brooklyn quartet Grizzly Bear, a quick listen to early Department of Eagles-his first band with college-mate Fred Nicolaus several years prior-can easily catch you off guard. Full of sample-heavy, playful laptop sketches recorded on pirated software, the duo’s 2003 debut, The Cold Nose, bears little resemblance to their recent follow-up, In Ear Park, which mines more familiar territory and displays a level of maturity made by leaps and bounds.

Backed by Grizzly compatriots Chris Taylor and Chris Bear, In Ear Park is Department of Eagles’ long-coming labor of love, crafted from years worth of revisions as the two developed their abilities as songwriters. American Songwriter caught Rossen on break from a tour with Grizzly Bear-and in between studio sessions for the band’s next release slated for early 2009-to discuss the album and his collaboration with Nicolaus, juggling two bands at once and D.O.E.’s uncertain future.

Compared to The Cold Nose, it’s obvious In Ear Park is taking a very different direction. How did your sound progress?
Cold Nose is really like a weird pre-history thing. Some of it was written when I was 15 or 16 in high school. I kind of wish that record was not even released…because it’s a little embarrassing, like a very teenage record. It just doesn’t have any relationship to what we’re doing now. By the time I was about 21, like just about anybody does, your tastes change and your influences completely change, and you progress as a human and as a songwriter. By that time, I was doing things more like what ended up on Yellow House. Everything that I contributed to Yellow House…were actually all things that I was thinking would actually be Department of Eagles. So it was a very natural progression of just growing up.

Where did the band name and album title come from?
Department of Eagles-that was a nerdy college name taken from a piece of art by Marcel Broodthaers. It was sort of a fake exhibit [museum] of eagle paraphernalia from World War I and II, from different European countries all from the first half of the 20th century. It’s not that we felt any affinity for the work, but we decided it would make a good band name. It’s kind of arbitrary. But Ear Park is just a nickname for Veterans Park in L.A. I used to go to with my dad as a kid. There’s an interactive statue there that looks like a gigantic ear.

With three Grizzly Bear members on In Ear Park, it’s not always easy to tell who contributes what. What exactly is Fred Nicolaus’ role?
Fred really is the key songwriter. He wrote like half the record. It’s a little more interactive, actually, in a weird way, ‘cause it’s just the two of us. Half the time you can’t tell I’m singing songs that he wrote, and I always put my own spin on it. Sometimes it’s frustrating with Grizzly Bear because it’s like, “Here’s the Ed songs and here’s the Dan songs.” It can be so obvious. [But] Fred and I have never really played shows together. We have always traded back and forth song ideas in demos, so we have a very nerdy songwriter relationship.

Speaking of, how do you decide which songs become Department of Eagles tracks and which go toward the new Grizzly album?
There’s two [song] themes with this record. There are songs Fred and I have been working on together for years…and then there’s a few I wrote on my own that have to do with memories of childhood and my father. Those songs I just didn’t feel comfortable doing with Grizzly Bear because they just felt too personal. We had actually tried to do a second record in January of 2006, just after the Yellow House [sessions]… and we decided we really didn’t like some of it that much and trashed them. For the new Grizzly Bear [album], everything everyone has been contributing is really fresh and new. It’s a nice contrast to the D.O.E. record that were these little pieces floating around for years and years between Fred and I, and one day they just clicked into something. I don’t think a song like “Herringbone” would ever happen on a Grizzly Bear record. It’s very concise and the lyrics are definitely a centerpiece of the song. I don’t think there are any Grizzly Bear songs like that. Grizzly Bear’s always atmospheric: the feeling of the song is what’s central.

Given the difference between the two bands, what prompted you to bring in Chris Taylor and Chris Bear?
I’ve been recording with Chris Taylor for so long now that we have an intuitive relationship. We’re so used to doing things together that it’s really hard for me to conceive of doing anything without him half the time. And Chris Bear, he’s always very capable of coming in and banging out some very beautiful parts.

Do you see a future for Department of Eagles?
I don’t really know if we’re going to do another D.O.E. record. There’s this mounting pressure to make Department of Eagles as successful as it can be, and obviously there’s a lot of pressure to tour and put a band together. I want to do some shows, but I’m reluctant to make it into a full project, because Grizzly Bear really does take up so much time. In the end, it is my main career and I have to devote the majority of my time to it, and I’m happy to. So D.O.E. will probably morph into something slightly different. I would like to keep writing songs with Fred. It might be just some other project that involves him, and who knows what it will be a couple years from now?



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