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Animal Collective // The 405 Interview

Animal Collective // The 405 Interview

by James Canham, 10 May 2011

“You can't stop a gig and say "No that wasn't right”. I mean you could and it might be kind of arty but most people would be annoyed.”

It’s not often that you can truly say you’ve got an interview with one of the foremost important bands in modern music, but today we can. Animal Collective need no introduction – their brand of music is diverse enough to be one of the bands that actually does transverse genre and it’s one of the reasons they are as big as they are today.

We have been able to catch up with none other than Avey Tare from the band to talk about, amongst other things, the effect of their solo careers, their live shows and their headlining of the upcoming ATP festival.

Each album is completely unique from one another - is this a deliberate process, or is it simply the albums being a snap point in time?

It's pretty deliberate yes but it also just happens kind of naturally. It feels more or less boring for us to work with sounds and structures that we've worked with before and so whenever we start working on something new, we're always trying to go somewhere different.

But I feel like enough time goes by in between each project that we all seem to find ourselves naturally in a different place when we start to write new stuff. When you allow the present and your present surroundings to influence the music or art you are making then it tends to be different from where it was before.

When do you think was your climax in sound, or are you still reaching it?

I don't really think of our band as progressing on a linear course like that. I think that's how people experience things they aren't apart of because they can approach what's happening more objectively. But I don't think I’ll be able to say for myself till we call it a day and i see everything we were able to do (if i can even do it then). I can't really compare something like ODDSAC to Campfire Songs you know? To me the musical process is like a tree that spreads out with all this different branches and leaves and roots. Maybe they're each growing from the same trunk but each branch has its own quality and feel and look. I don't look at one branch and say, that's the pinnacle branch right there.

Are there any projects, albums or songs that you dislike now?

I guess I haven't really thought about it enough to answer honestly. That's not to say i think they are all amazing. I just don't really go back and examine it all too much.

How long and what is your recording process, if you have one?

Well we record a lot of sounds while we are writing. A writing period for an album goes for as long as it needs to. This one that we are in now will probably take a bit longer than albums from the past. We've never had more than a month and a half in the studio to actually record a record. Two months if you count mixing I guess (maybe a tad more). It's good to perfect something and take awhile on it but I think we all feel it's good to push through and not linger too much with anything.

What effect, if any, do you think all the solo affairs have on your sound?

I think they are really just a good outlet that allows us to do stuff we wouldn't do with the band. Even if none of us put out solo records (Brian (Weitz – “Geologist”) doesn’t at all for example) we'd still work on music and sound on our own and that's just as important. I just think this allows our own musical personalities to grow and not feel contained by the band.

If you had a dream collaborator, who would it be, or do you think it would dilute your sound?

For us I think it's best to just do our own thing. I think we have such a personal language and way of playing that it can get hard for us to collaborate with other people.

A lot of people are lauding Merriweather Post Pavilion as being not only your peak, but the peak of modern alternative pop music. Do you agree with this? Is there anything you'd change in any of the tracks?

I haven't really thought about it. I really do like the record and am very proud of it. But I always (I think we all do) get really excited about what's next. That's more important to me than looking back and being dissatisfied with things or even patting myself on the back and thinking "that is amazing". I tend to think things happen and are done for a reason and leave it at that.

What do you think playing live adds to your sound, and how limiting can it be?

In a perfect world playing live gives us the freedom to mould and take certain songs in different places from night to night or from venue to venue. It can show us the possibilities that certain songs have...or if they have no possibility at all hehe. But there are so many variables that can control the situation - anything from the sound of the venue, the onstage sound, the mood of the crowd, our mood etc.

It doesn't end up always being as productive (from a personal stand point) as we would like it to be. The problem with playing live is that it's a one take show. You can't stop and say "No that wasn't right” or “It shouldn't sound that way, let’s start again". I mean you could and it might be kind of arty but most people would be kind of annoyed. So in that sense I feel like it isn't as productive because if the vocals aren't right you can't stop and fix them, you might have to wait for the next song and just be content with how things are.

This is good on the one hand because it can show you how strong songs are and what aspects of them are absolutely necessary in the context of an audience hearing them. But it also is hard sometimes in terms of us presenting songs exactly how we think they should be presented. At the end of the day I don't think we will ever be a band that wants to play a song exactly how it is on the record so it's cool that playing live allows things to be different from night to night even if it might not always seem that way.

Being chosen by ATP to curate their festival in May is quite an honour - could you talk us through the selection of your headliners/major acts?

I think it's amazing cause all the music that we chose spans from so many different times in our lives. Stuff from when we were in high school and stoned in our bedrooms like The Frogs, Thinking Fellars Union Local 282 and the Bishop Brothers. That’s the stuff that made us want to make music in the first place and to be able to play with those bands and be able to watch them play is certainly an honour. But there are also all the current bands that we've been getting into like the stuff we put out on paw tracks or groups like teen girl fantasy and beach house. Or musicians like Terry Riley and Lee Perry. I never would have thought to be able to see all this music at one event. It’s really cool to be able to bring all this together and not to feel limited to any one kind of music or music from a certain time. I'm glad everyone at ATP is as open as we are to doing this kind of thing.

What small bands there do you think will be bigger/worth getting up with a hangover to catch?

Honestly, all of them.

Who couldn't you get/ who would be in your perfect festival?

  • The list would go on and on, but for a start
  • Syd Barret era Pink Floyd
  • Can
  • Stockhausen
  • Skip Spence
  • Hangman's era Incredible String Band
  • KLF
  • The Orb
  • White Noise

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