Bill Cummings 10/09/2007
With the release of their new album "Strawberry Jam" GIITTV's Bill Cummings caught up with Avey Tare of colourful, experimental Baltimore four-piece Animal Collective, for a telephonic conversation concerning their music, their history their wide ranging collaborations, and how their new record shows an interesting electronic direction.
How many people are actually in the Animal collective right now? And does it constantly change?
At the moment there's four of us(Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin, Geologist), it does change depending on what everybody's got going on, we keep it really open but right now live it's just the four of us on stage.
Where does the name Animal Collective name come from?
When we were young we wanted to start releasing our own records, so we started a label and I can just remember walking around with Josh and Noah (Panda Bear) trying to come up with a sweet name for the label, names are always really difficult for us, the label ended up being called Animal. Then when it came to naming the band later on it was the only word we could think of that represented something about the music and the ideas we wanted to convey…Its just the fact that we are all Animals anyway and it just seemed to fit.
You've got your own label now called Paw tracks?
Yeah and now its become Paw tracks and we do it with Scot Todd..
How did you meet?
Brian came to my high school (In Baltimore), we just started off a really close friendship from the first moment we met just a lot of similar taste and music and stuff, we just started playing together a lot we just started playing music a lot, back then we really liked the band Pavement a lot and Horror films and their weird soundtracks. So we just started making this weird mixture writing songs, I started teaching myself how to write music on a four track and guitars. Then Josh came to our high school too and found out we had a band, then when we recorded stuff he expressed how much he liked what we were doing, he joined our band then through him we met Noah who was just at the time this amazing drummer who Josh recorded with. We just started becoming each other's biggest fans and from there progressed more and more over the years, I guess.
What was the first Animal collective record proper?
I guess the first thing we released was on our label Noah's first record in 1998(Panda Bear's debut LP), then in 1999 we released "Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished." which was Noah and I, we started playing in 1995 ...But I'd say that Animal Collective really took shape more in 2000/2001 when we were able to start playing live in New York. That was very important to us, I think there was a summer when Brian and I lived Prince Street, and Noah come and visit us. We used to just play all day long and we were really focused on improvising, and not having anyone control on what was going on and we would just take it to a new place, so we'd play for one or two hours and recording what we did. I guess that really informed how we wanted to approach our live sets after that, we wanted to be experimental but then we wanted to combine the fact that Noah and I liked to write melodies alot, so it was about finding the best of both worlds we like melodies but we also like this kind of free atmosphere.
Which AC record would you say you're most happy with so far?
Personally I like them all, I've had good memories from “Sun Tungs” and “Feels,” but at the same time there's something about Danse Manatee, as it seems to be the one that not many like, I find really appealing its kind of like a child you want to better, and “Spirit…” because it was kind of like the first triumph for me completing our first full length record, its kind of hard to chose one.
When your playing together do you have any set idea before hand?
Well when we play live there's a set list, but there's always looseness to it, we wanted the energy to be the most important thing and not our technical ability to play the songs. We never thought we were going to like be this hit band with hit songs, we just wanted to build up the energy, rhythm and sounds, and have it all mesh together in a whirlwind of sonic things happening, I think we've taken it from there.
Would you say that's what you're trying to get across on your new record "Strawberry Jam"?
A little bit. Song to Song we're trying to get across on your a live feeling of ecstatic joy and energy that we have when we play live, I think so.
Of the tracks I've heard, it sounds like more of an electronic direction?
Yeah we were really focused on the sounds being a little bit more electronic, we felt our records "Sung Tongs" and "Feels," were very guitar orientated records and we kind of wanted to get away from that, and to go somewhere else, its always a goal of ours to go somewhere different.
Would you say where you recorded your new record influenced the sound?
Its hard to say, We do so much of the production or the writing beforehand, but I'm sure somehow subconsciously, like being in the desert and the nights hanging out, and just being in the back yard. At the same time when we record the studio had a lot of influence on us; it had a lot of synthesizers and pianos it definitely helped shift the sound away from being guitary.
So would you say the way you write songs have changed then?
I think its always different especially now, now we've been trying to get away from guitars, I've been using more sounds and samples recently, but we did some on guitar on a piano some on loops just so every song feels like its coming from a different place.Then when we finally get together and start producing how the songs are going to sound then they change even more.
Who did the artwork?
I did it.
It's very striking….
I can't really gather whether people are into it or not, its kind of a drastic departure from the older artwork, I think you have to see everything together, there's going to be alot of panels on this one. It kind of represents what the music is about this weird alien landscape thing, there's a lot of beauty in something that might at first look disgusting, and I've always liked that contrast.
A lot of bands going for more minimal cover art these days….
I think the more you look at it the more you see….
Where does the album name come from?
It comes from the artwork the "Strawberry Jam" its a lot like the music that looks almost alien but at the same time its something more organic.
Why did you choose “Peacebone” as the first single?
Its the first song on the record, I think it jumps out to most people when they hear it, its catchy and unique, it kind of encompasses everything that's on the record, the sounds and the kind of ecstatic nature.
You did a record with your wife(Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir former member of the Icelandic band múm), how did that work out?
Well we met when Animal collective played with her band múm on tour, and we kept in touch after that so it was kind of like a long distance relationship at first. The whole process was very relaxed really.
Also I read that you did a collaboration with Vashti Bunyan, how was that?
Yeah it was awesome We met her through four Tet's Kieron Hebdan and we just kept in touch, the dudes at fat cat I guess we really big fans and we were really big fans of her solo record. We were all really keen on getting together to record.
Would you say that being able to collaborate with others gives you a certain kind of freedom?
It makes me a little bit nervous, it was more like "oh man like how is this going to happen" I would like to do it more, but at the same time a relationship is very important to us in those terms, I think it'd be very difficult for us to go into the studio with someone unless we felt like we were connected on some kind of similar level we're very insular in that way.
When you come back together after doing solo work, do you find your perspective on the band has changed?
I think it definite keeps music seem not so professional and keeps your outlook really positive, there could be the fear of AC becoming really business like, but we're lucky that it keeps it really refreshing for us, and the loose set up the ability for us to go off and do our own thing Even though it is work in some ways coz it is our job but it keeps our outlook really fresh.
How would you describe the AC live experience?
I'd say its like a continuous sonic experience with song forms tucked in side, a lot of people approach our live show for the first time an think we're just making everything up on the spot and can get a little confused. I think it takes seeing us a couple of times for people to try and process what we're trying to do, we try to say that the live experience to be something new for us and new for the audience, so that we're kind of on a similar level you know. So that we don't feel like we're up there just playing the hits.
Almost like a punk ethic then, no barriers between audience and band..
How do you feel about your record being leaked?
Its kind of a bummer, you just hope that people don't forget about it by the time its actually released. We are record people we like people to get it as we kind of plan on it, and the artwork and release date is really important, especially as our record is released in segments three songs at a time, so when people download it that's not how we would want people to hear it, so that part of it is negative. But on the plus side it does get people psyched for the release so there are ups to it as well.
When things are leaked there does tend to be an emphasis on single tracks, which can get away from the album as well…
I think the Internet and this new generation of music listeners definitely is going to be different in that way. Downloading stuff from Itunes takes away from the record but what can you do you can't avoid it.
I read that you might be releasing a vinyl box set?
Yeah we're trying to do that, its been a long time coming, it's a personal collaboration with this guy who makes stuff out of his bedroom, its a side of releasing records that we're really into this handmade style of releasing records, its going to be a three LP box set which is already sequenced and mastered and everything we're just waiting on the artwork, its from our early records up until “Sun Tungs” it won't include anything
What kind of things do you listen to on your tour bus?
Lately the Panther De Prince record, Mad Lips stuff, we listen to the classics too, like Nirvana..
Yeah, that was my era as well…
But generally just stuff all over the place techno, and old psychedelic music we get into alot, we listen to alot of Thin Lizzy too..
Yeah some things about your aesthetic remind me of 70s English psychedelia…
What about new bands, have you got any one supporting you?
We're all fans of black dice, one of the members Eric Copeland is going to open up for us on one of our American tours. And this girl Annie she's called tickly feather I like alot of the finish psychedelic music so we're thinking of releasing something like that on our label Paw Tracks, Gang Gang dance I think they're a good band too...
What's the difference between playing in the US and Europe?
There's a lot of places in Europe you know, people still aren't aware of what we're doing over here and stuff, we just played a small town festival in Venice Italy, there was about 300 people there all drinking in the beer tent wondering who we were: then we played at Benicassim to 3000 people who seemed to be all going with us which made us happy.
How do you find playing in the UK?
We did four or five UK dates last time, and they were all pretty sold out and the crowd seemed to know who we were. London always seems really sweet to play. I'd like to play in Scotland and Ireland a bit more coz that's something we haven't done before.
So would you say that the work of the Animal Collective is constantly evolving then?
We let our current state of mind guide our way, we love what we do but we let it go really easy and don't really let it guide what we're going to do in the future.
Yeah many bands seem to get hung up on just making another hit record....
I don't really get down on other bands for that, I just think for us it's just not what we like to do. We're just really enthusiastic about trying new things and new sounds and we like so many different things to.
You don't want to stand still for too long.
The next Animal Collective single is entitled “Fireworks” and its out on the 5th of November.
Alongside this are the live dates too.
28th Oct Berkshire Nr Reading - Wilde Theatre
29th Oct Brighton - St George's Church Tuesday
30th Oct Bristol - Trinity
1st Nov London - Astoria
3rd Nov Manchester - New Century Hall
4th Nov Dublin - Tripod
5th Nov Leeds - Irish Centre
6th Nov Glasgow - Ora Mor
Strawberry Jam is out now on Domino Records.