By Sam Campbell & Anna Browne
I’d heard stories about these three. Mothers fearing for children listening to an Animal Collective album or, even worse, entering the lair of the beast-- an actual gathering of the Collective. At these functions, where people reportedly wear masks, paint faces, and gather in a cult-like fashion to flail and chant cryptic lyrics to hypnotic rhythms, children are emerging changed and the mainstream skeptical. Animal Collective has released 9 albums, toured the world to sold out crowds, and are becoming more widely recognized as experimental musical zeitgeists by the record. Is this cause for alarm? Are these three guys from Maryland actually evil spirits creating subliminally manipulative messages disguised as feel-good dance music? After sitting down for a brief interrogation and bearing witness to a gathering first-hand, I feel it is my journalistic responsibility to tell you that, yes—these men are witches.
The assembly took place one spring evening (on a Sunday no less!), at the temple-like venue of La Trastendia in San Telmo. The crowd, more like zealots, packed in and cheered exuberantly as the group took stage above their assembly disguised in normal clothing. As they began their procession, they were physically contained but audibly encapsulating, obviously to rope in their helpless devotees, and conduct the crowd from their preacher-like podiums of electro-pagan samplers, demon-mixers, spirit-powered effect pedals, and hypno-percussion sets. It is at this point that the congregation lost all control and the procession began. What may be mistaken for jovial dancing may actually be another sect under the control of the carefully construed compositions drafted by the Collective.
Over the table, they are quiet and reserved… a sort of sheep’s clothing from their recorded personas of banshee yelps and drum thrashing. They delude their critics by feigning timidity and polite conversation; I my self almost succumb to their seemingly transparent desires to discuss family, music, upcoming album, and of course, spirits. They engage all of their fans, luring them in with autographs, exchanging drawings (pictograms), “friendly” conversation, and even invitations to further meetings. “We’d like to be seen as approachable,” Noah (Panda Bear) mentions. And of course they would…
As if this account were not evidence enough, Brian and Dave, or as they are more commonly known “Geologist” and “Avey Tare”, expose the under workings of their carefully planned mass brainwashing of global youth through an exclusive interview with Whats Up Buenos Aires. Pay special attention to the unveiling of the shroud of innocence as the Collective admits to concocting their devices from three different command stations around the world via a suspect medium they deem “inter-net”. As you will see below in the actual recorded and documented evidence, these are no ordinary men with no ordinary music. Or perhaps they are, read and decide for yourself!
Whats Up Buenos Aires: You guys are recording this new album, what’s your approach? Did you guys do anything differently than when you recorded Strawberry Jam?
Avey Tare: It’s kind of similar in terms of the pre-production, a little bit, because for strawberry jam and this one we were all living in different places. This one, recording’s the tracking is very different, Strawberry Jam is mostly live with very few overdubs and this one was a lot of in the studio with a composition lot of overdubs, with processing and a lot of separation and isolation. Because it’s more electronic, you know? Whereas Strawberry Jam was more electro and guitar.
WUBA: Do you think that’s out of necessity?
AT: No, that’s what we wanted it to be like- change it up, you know? This record we wanted to do more kind of electronic composition. It doesn’t sound electronica or anything, but it’s just that the process was more like that. It’s also just three of us this time, on Strawberry Jam there were four us. And Josh, who’s the absent member on this record, is a really amazing guitar player, so without that element in the band it was sort of a challenge for us to come up with ways to fill that space.
WUBA: And when you’re creating an album do you think of it like you’re thinking about the way you’re going to play it live? What’s the mode that you kind of think of people experiencing your music? More live or more listening to the album?
Geologist: Both, more or less. I think it’s kind of easier for this new group of songs to think about more how it would sound- make it more precise in terms of how it would sound on record, because it’s more sample-oriented, more electronics than guitars. When we’ve done stuff live it’s a little more wild and would often sound different than recordings. We usually write to go on tour or just before a tour we work on stuff so we can play it on the tour; we make sure that it sounds good live.
WUBA: When I always hear your guys’ music it seems like it’s meant to be experienced
G: It’s all kind of an environment to us. We’re very conscious of rooms and how sounds sound in rooms. So we get used to how it sounds live. We want it first and foremost to be a sonic environment to be experienced on record or live, so. As long as the sounds work together on both, its ok. When we record you definitely fix things, switch things around a little bit more because you’re listening back to things on tape, on the computer, so it doesn’t always work the way you thought it would, or you need to re-amp it or something to make it sound a bit more live.
AT: I think we’re very open, too, to the live experience and the recorded thing being two separate things. We don’t feel the need to reproduce things exactly on stage and we don’t feel the need to for our records capture our live shows exactly, you know? Like we said, the environments are different that you experience them in.
WUBA: So in terms of living in different parts of the planet, do you guys get together so you can go on tour and then get back together and you start thinking about a new album or do you sit in a room or do you go out into the woods—
AT: Uh, it’s kind of the inspiration comes when it does. For this record, the new one, we were kind of inspired to start working as soon as we were done with Strawberry Jam, that was a little rougher darker of a time for us, and the ideas just started flowing a little more freely at the end of the that song cycle or whatever . We kind of throw ideas around since we’re far away on the internet- like themes, or words, like we talked about ballet a little bit, or dance, definitely very heavy dance sound, whatever that means… or ballet or tribal dancing or techno dancing, all that kind of stuff that we like. We’ve talked about seasons a lot, and then we start making sounds, each individually kind of fit in with that world that we feel makes sense. And of course, to someone else that might not sound like a ballet or any of the concepts we’ve built our songs around, but that’s how we start. We generate sounds through ideas and then weave them together.
WUBA: In terms of American musical traditions do you feel like you are better represented with one kind of a tradition or anything, or do you feel like your music is influenced by traditions or cultures that are from outside of the US.
G: It kind of all comes together for us like in a kind of melting pot. In terms of influences, we definitely go all over the place. India and South America, you know, but at the same time we’re like urban, it’s kind of more American music- hip-hop combined minimal techno and house music, and I think all of that together gets filtered through our ability with each other and work with each other.
AT: I think one thing, we tend to be a little more conscious of not trying to sound like one thing than trying to sound like one thing. If something sounds too much like one kind of influence than it just loses its appeal. Even if it’s a good song, you can’t really lose yourself in it if you’re thinking this song sounds like [insert comparison here].
WUBA: I just wanted to know, you guys have put out what like- six albums now?
WUBA: Nine, okay.
AT: That’s a straight quote from a Mitch Hedberg interview. Someone asked him how many times he had done Letterman, someone was like “6?” he was like “9.”
WUBA: I set you guys up for that one.
AT: Thank you. Always when you can quote Mitch.
WUBA: How do you guys keep your inspiration going? As far as your personal lives, being together being apart. You guys always come up with something fresh, once you think the Animal Collective sound has been pigeon-holed you come out with a new album—
AT: I think we just enjoy it, you know, first and foremost, we like playing music. Of course playing music affords us the time to be together which we aren’t really, so it’s kind of special time for us, making music, we work really hard when we’re together- it’s the only time that we have. I don’t know, I just think we’re not afraid to just explore different things or different sounds, and the ideas sort of have just kept coming and it’s hard to say how long it’ll happen, I feel like we’re lucky. We’ve been playing together for a long time, with Noah and Josh, separately, Dave (Geologist) and I, separately, and then like all together since we were 15, you know, we’re not even 30 yet. We’ve been playing together almost half our lives and only half of that time have been putting out Animal Collective records, so we’re already kind of in the habit of doing it for fun and not worrying about being pigeon-holed. We were lucky in that way, I think, in that we had these habits already formed where we don’t really think about how someone from the outside would perceive it.
WUBA: You can sense that in all of your interviews and your music, too. So what do you guys do, when you’re not together making music? What do you enjoy in your free time?
G: We spend a lot of our free time on music, we kind of have to because we have such a limited time together. I like to SCUBA dive if I can, it’s an expensive hobby, I only do one big trip a year, maybe two.
WUBA: What other liberties has the success that you guys have been having granted you? Besides SCUBA diving.
G: Travel is the biggest one. Seen a lot of sweet places, met a lot of people… and just the ability to do personal travel. Also, the ability to do what we do musically and kind of plan out things better, we really like recording our own stuff, collect a lot of recordings here and there… it helps out.
WUBA: What kind of things are you guys listening to right now?
G: Uh, I just got this record, it’s an old record, like 20-something years old. It’s a new age record by this woman Clare Hamill, she uses a lot of voice samples. It’s kind of cheesy, so it’s really awesome. It’s still sinking in. I haven’t listened to it through a stereo, yet, it’s what I’ve been listening to to go to bed on my computer every night. I haven’t actually made it all the way through the whole record yet.
WUBA: What about you?
AT: Uh, I like this Grouper record from Portland, it’s really good. And a lot of Dub, I listen to a lot of dub.
WUBA: What is your favorite part about playing music? It seems like you guys have touched upon you guys get to hang out, you guys get to play music with each other. Do you guys like to play live? Do you like to hunker down and record?
G: I think there are enjoyable elements to all of it. I think when we’re all together working stuff, working on music, that’s the most jovial, kind of jokey time for all of us- hanging out and just working on stuff, it’s kind of easy-going, if it is easy-going, hopefully it will be
AT: And we live together usually for most of those times, we rent a place together.
G: I mean, we’ve kind of gotten into making music and writing songs and stuff because of recording, so I think for all of us it’s kind of like our first love in terms of music. There’s something really satisfying about being able to capture something on a record. We all love albums so much, it just goes hand in hand for our love of making records and listening to records… it’s cool listening back to something you’ve made over the years.
WUBA: And in terms of your lyrics, some of the lines seem like playful imagery while others are direct messages. How do you go about creating your lyrics and what role to they serve in the musical whole?
AT: I think it depends on the music, you know, or the time and place. But something like Strawberry Jam it seems to be it was a little bit more, or at least what I wanted to do, was something more surreal that kind of touched on images and didn’t give clear-cut stories or anything like that, that it would kind of be like lyrical guides, we see our music being pretty visual anyway, so you just have ** images here and there. I don’t know, there was a lot of visual art that was inspiring me to do that, I guess.
WUBA: Like what kind of artists. Anyone in particular?
AT: Uh, well for some reason that style- there was a movement called the fauves- with Matisse- taking out a lot of stuff—
WUBA: --expressive color
AT: Yeah yeah, and not having a lot of lines very clear. I just read about that stuff at that time. We have a song from that time it’s on our EP called Sweet Breath and Matisse has a painting it’s called The Red Room, and it’s just a flat red surface and only some parts of the room are there, and I thought it would be sweet to do a song where there’s not a lot of the song there, where the rhythm is kind of absent, kind of free-floating. I think our new record is kind of a little more honest, or like lyrically a little more personal, it’s all personal, but kind of to the point- or more obvious what it’s about.
G: Real- lifey, I’d say. Because there’s a lot of personal lyrics in our music, but a lot of them are more head feelings, not in a druggy way, but internal sort of, where this one is about relating to things outside your head: responsibilities, other people.
WUBA: Do you feel like that comes from getting older, settling down.
AT: It’s definitely, our new stuff, is more mature we always say, in terms of where we are in our lives. It focuses a lot on having to tour a lot, which definitely puts a strain on our relationships…travel.
WUBA: Ladies back home?
AT: Families…but also just what we’re striving for, what our goals are, what our relationship with music is. It all touches on these things.
WUBA: Do you have anything you want to add?
AT: We’re syked to be here!
… I’m sure they are.
More photos here