Animal Collective first appeared on the New York City music scene in 2000 with members Aare and Panda Bears self-released Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished. Various incarnations of the loose-knit four member group have released four more full-length albums since then: 2001's Campfires Danse Manatee [Catsup plate], 2003's Campfire Songs [Catsup plate] and Here Comes The Indian [Paw Tracks] and 2004's critically acclaimed Sung Tongs [Fat Cat], which was named as one of that year's best records by Wire magazine, the BBC, pitchforkmedia.com and the Village Voice. The band has brought its unique brand of idiosyncratic experimental pop to stages all around the world, touring alongside such artists as Four Tet, Black Dice, and Mum. Dave portnervey Ts, a.k.a. Aare, is the group's lead vocalist and guitarist and is one of only two members to appear on every Animal Collective release so far
Rob Hatch-Miller: The Boston Ballet recently performed a piece set to Sung Tongs. Did they come to you with the idea?
Avey Tare: I actually don't know that much about it. They approached us. We didn't really know the idea actually. I guess normally when people come ask us to use music, it's kind of good to have an idea what they're thinking about in terms of what it's going to look like. But with that case, Noah [Lennox, a.k.a. panda Bear] and his family sort of have a past of going to the ballet a lot, and his mom had known the choreographer and it seemed like a really sweet thing, so we just decided to go ahead and do it without really knowing that much about what was going on. We just thought it would be a good way to have people be exposed to the music in a way they wouldn't normally. I guess that's always important for us. My sister and my mom said it was really dark, actually, but sort of kept them on the edge of their seat the whole time (maybe ʻcause they're family). They said this little boy right next to them, from the moment it began, was just like, “Oh my god, this is crazy.” But I guess in the end it turned out to be a little more dark than they expected. There were some suicides in it and maybe a touchstone like the World Trade Center bombing.
RHM: I wanted to ask about the more sinister elements in the music. I know you're really into horror movies and probably horror movie soundtracks. How has that influenced your music?
AT: In high school we just saw this kind of light in horror films and darker things. I guess by light I mean a more pretty or beautiful side to dark stuff, you know? We were into that stuff, like horror films, and I have been since I was really young, but I think we started having these feelings towards it and we kind of wanted to separate that from the typical Goth sort of outlook that a lot of people take on it. We didn't really focus on the gore and the sort of more macabre aspects of it, but more of the psychological aspects of it, and with horror films, just the ones from the 70s that we really liked, like B horror films, just how they looked, and I guess the fact that a lot of them were so low-budget and they had this quality… it was kind of really real, but it also made it so you couldn't tell what was happening sometimes on the screen. It wasn't just perfectly laid out for you, you know? With horror there's an anything goes sort of philosophy. It seems like once you get into horror and murder and that kind of thing, the topics are so absurd to begin with, or just something that's so unreal most of the time, that you can sort of do anything you want within that context once you get into it. You watch some types of horror movies where just the most absurd things will happen and I think that sort of started rubbing off on what we were doing with sound, ʻcause we weren't really visual people at all. It was like, “How can we take that attitude,” like this weird stuff just happening out of nowhere, kind of taking people by surprise, “and do it in music?”
RHM: What are some of your favorite horror films?
AT: I like so many of them, but Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of my favorite movies, period, just because of the way it looks. And I feel like it incorporates horror into the storyline better than any other horror movie does in a way, just ʻcause it sort of cuts out any of the unnecessary stuff that a lot of horror movies, today at least, try and deal with, and just goes right to the horror, which I think is what horror should be about. The Shiningwas really big for us back in high school – this movie Deranged, which is also based on Texas Chain Massacre the same serial killer or mass murderer that is, and possession, which some people might not consider a horror film but it kind of is.
RHM: Have you guys made any soundtrack music, or do you plan to?
AT: Not really. I mean, we would definitely like to and when we were younger I think the kind of music that we sort of experimented with had more of a soundtrack feel, or just like soundscape sort of stuff. We always imagined it going along with sort of visual things, but we've never really done anything. I've been a part of making music for my friend Danny's film with Eric [Copeland, of Black Dice, who records and performs with Dave as Terrestrial Tones], my roommate, but that's the most I've ever done for a film.
RHM: I heard that the animators who did Waking Life maybe wanted you guys to do music for something?
AT: It's this one guy Bob Sabiston, and some of the people that he works with—he works with a whole group to do that rotoscope sort of animation, I forget what their company is called—but a few of them are really into our music. His younger brother made this test film in his backyard, and he put our record Campfire Songsbehind it and they all thought it worked really well, so they've just been in touch saying if we ever want to do something beyond that, we can talk more and try and do something maybe a little bit longer or something more like a music video. We definitely want to, but there's nothing in the works right now ʻcause we're basically just trying to record new stuff. We wouldn't want to do anything with Sung Tongs at this point, I don't think.
RHM: You've been playing with some of the other guys in the band, like Brian [Weitz, a.k.a. Geologist], for a long time. What was the earliest incarnation of the band? How did you first start playing together?
AT: I feel like I learned how to play guitar playing with Brian ʻcause before I met him I never played guitar that much – I played piano. But I guess we just had similar taste in music; like pavement was a band that we were really into when we were in high school. I guess it was the first time I had ever heard music that sort of inspired me – “Oh, maybe we can make music,” you know, we just started writing songs that weren't really like that. I had gotten a four-track around that time and so I started doing stuff on my own as well and just getting as weird as I possibly could with it or just being really straightforward. And then there were just some other guys that we were really close friends with, so we started playing together in a band. They used to have these “cabarets”, at our high school and you could go and perform a couple of songs, so we always just did cover songs. We covered “Seasons In The Sun” once, we covered pavement songs sometimes, Cars songs, Bel Biv De-Voe, and I think the Cure. We were kind of separated from what was going on in Baltimore ʻcause we all lived in the country. We didn't really have any ties to the music scene that was there for a while. But then we just decided to record a 7” and try and see if we could put it in music stores. We wanted to send it out to labels, and I guess somehow some kids that were playing in other bands around the city started hearing about us and hearing,“Oh, there are these kids that are doing stuff that's a little weirder, darker;” everybody else was sort of a little more rock-oriented and we were kinda laid back, not rockin' at all. So I think people around there wanted us to start playing shows just ʻcause we were like a little bit of variety. When we wanted to start doing a little bit more with our songs, Josh [Dibb, a.k.a. Deaken], who plays with us now… He went to high school with Brian and I; he'd been checking out some of our music, and was into stuff I was doing on my own, so we asked him to play keyboards for us. So we became a five-piece band. I guess cause Brian and I were super into Syd Barrett, pink Floyd, and the horror soundtracks and stuff, we wanted to start incorporating that into just playing regular songs and having more parts of our shows. We thought having Josh doing more weird Moog sounds and stuff like that would be cool. And we had this show in our high school cafeteria where we actually played original songs.
Josh had a band as well, with Noah, and they wanted other people to help them play some of the songs, so they asked me to play keyboard, and that was the first time I met or played with Noah. And I guess that's how we all started playing together. It all sort of came together eventually in college, you know?
RHM: Last year Noah got married and moved out of New York. He's the only other guy who's been on all five Animal Collective records. How has that changed the way that you write songs and prepare for tours?
AT: I think it just means we have to be more organized and more prepared, I guess. Which is good in a way because for so long we just worked off the cuff, maybe sometimes burned ourselves out, or just didn't plan very well what we were going to do. And I guess in a way it's good to not, you know, plan out, and just sort of take it as it comes, especially when music is concerned. We've always been that type of group at least. We never really want to force ourselves into a situation unless we feel like we're really prepared musically to get into it. We would never just put out a record because there's a deadline to put out a record if we felt like we didn't have a record that we really believed in. We put a lot of work into it. And I think having things set up this way—like Noah living in portugal, and us dealing with a label that's in England, and with another label that's here – it just makes us take the time to look at everything now. I think for a while in New York we were all sort of so squashed together doing stuff… like Noah and I worked at Other Music, we lived together, and then we would get off work and we would go to practice together, and after a while, we weren't really even talking to each other as friends ʻcause we were around each other so much. As much as it kinda stinks to have Noah be so far away, I think it's worked out better ʻcause it makes us more enthusiastic about getting together and playing, and I feel like our bond is just stronger when we get together in that way. It does mean we have less time to work out stuff, practice before a tour, but I guess it also just means we have to think about putting more work into it on our own before we actually meet up together. And I think it kinda works too just because we've always wanted to be really relaxed about our commitments to each other. Noah's always been panda Bear on his own, even before we decided to do the Animal Collective. I think it just makes the most sense because it gives him or any of us the opportunity to do stuff by themselves, which is really important. I think we've always sort of written stuff on our own and then brought it to the rest of the group and been like, “Here I have this. What can we do to this to make it more of our own?” It becomes more of a group thing when we all start playing it, and if it's gonna be a collaboration, it's important that we all have our input. But then if it's something that just one of us does on our own, then it's important that that person has space to be able to do it, you know, on their own.
RHM: You made some recordings with Vashti Bunyan last year. How did you guys get in touch with her? Did you write the songs with her or did you write them for her and then bring them to the sessions? How did that work?
AT: We met her through a mutual friend. We were on tour with Four Tet [in the UK], and Kieran [Hebden] was a big fan of hers and [agreed to] back her up, since she doesn't really know that many musicians she feels comfortable playing with in Scotland. We had talked to him about being big fans of her record and he was like “Oh, well you know she's a good friend of mine” And so we met her that way and casually just started talking about maybe someday getting together and recording some stuff or somehow collaborating with her, whether or not it was her stuff or our stuff, we just wanted to do something. Then Fat Cat sort of pushed it more and on tour last April [in Europe], they were like, “why don't we just set up some studio time and you can do this?” We had these songs left over from Sung Tongs that we liked a lot and that we thought maybe at the time we would have recorded; we thought any song that might be too similar to another song, we would just keep off to keep everything on Sung Tongs sort of diverse. We had some songs left over that we never ended up getting to record, and so we thought, “Well, we should just do that.” Then Noah and Josh had one song that they wrote for a Japan tour. We basically didn't plan much, which kinda made us nervous in the beginning. We had sent her our lyrics cause Noah and I wrote all the lyrics a long time before, when we were doing the Sung Tongs stuff, and we were like, “Anything you want to add to this, is cool.” I guess we didn't really know what she was into doing musically at the time, but then when we got to the studio, it turned out that she was just really into singing; she doesn't really feel comfortable right now playing guitar. She was really shy about doing the stuff but we just keep being like, “No, your voice is amazing, … we're really behind you, just try doing this and try doing that.” I guess we just tried to work out all the harmonies and it just worked out really well. Originally we even tried singing some of the other parts, so it would be more like us singing with her, and it just didn't sound that good to us, and we couldn't sing the parts very well, so we decided to have her sing most of the stuff on the record. It was kinda short, so Josh and I did an additional instrumental, to have it be more of an Ep.
RHM: Do you know when it's going to come out?
AT: I don't think there's a definite release date, but I think we hope to have it on our Spring tour, which is in April. I can't say when it's gonna be released in stores. My guess is May.
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