A menagerie of energy
Animal Collective shuns the familiar.
The trio’s always looking for different ways of working ideas into a pastiche of sounds, bringing forth images of vibrant colors and obtuse forms. The psychedelic, experimental thrust behind the band's sample-heavy creations has gotten gentler over the years. No longer intent on challenging the ears, Animal Collective plays nice and lets in melody from time to time. But the thirst for innovation is still strong.
The band's latest endeavor is a DVD with a vague release date of sometime this year.
Brian Weitz (aka Geologist) won’t say much about the film until it's completed, but he did gab about Animal Collective's not-so-grandiose goals, keeping songs fresh and worrying about a creativity blackout.
How did Animal Collective start forming a musical identity?
We definitely have our influences and sources of inspiration and things that we copied when we started playing music like anybody does. But we sort of found different ways of combining those influences and synthesizing them differently into something that we did think sounded unique. That became the most fulfilling way for us to play with each other.
Describe Animal Collective's songwriting process.
Sometimes things come out of improvisation, but since we all live in different cities, that happens less than it used to. Now everyone kind of does their own individual work and makes their own sounds or figures out what they want to do instrumentally on their own. It doesn't really start getting put together into a song until Dave [Portner] or Noah [Lennox] comes up with a vocal melody, and that's usually what we start with as the foundation of the song. They'll come up with a vocal melody and then we'll sort of decide as a band how we want to produce it.
Your system seems to work well—you've put out 10 albums, three EPs and a bunch of solo stuff in 10 years. Do you ever worry your inspiration will run aground?
Sure. It's not something that I wake up every day thinking; but definitely after you finish a record, there's like a bit of, Oh my god, what are we going to do next? When is the inspiration gonna come to do something new? That fear is always there. It's something that most musicians deal with and think about; especially after the completion of a project. There's no way to really prepare for it. You just gotta keep going.
You’ve done a good amount of old songs with new beats when playing live. Why?
The reason we change stuff now is because all of our records sound so different from each other, but we don't want our live set to feel all over the place sonically. We want there to be some continuity, so we change old songs so they all sound like the most recent group.
“It's not ever supposed to be performed live. So, for the first time, we're sort of in this weird position of not being able to play our new material.”
So do you think an album is dead once you've recorded it?
We used to. We kind of felt like that's over and done with. But the process of going back to the older songs has sort of been more fun and more fulfilling than we thought. It sort of taught us that there isn't just one version of a song. A song can kind of have different looks and a lot of different sounds to it. It's sort of fun to go find the other ways that the song can exist.
Is that why Animal Collective seems to avoid playing songs off its most recent album?
It's usually because we've already started writing the new stuff and we're just most excited about playing new material. But we're not going to do that this time because the new stuff we've written is for a film project. It's not ever supposed to be performed live. So, for the first time, we're sort of in this weird position of not being able to play our new material.
Is that weird? Exciting? Scary?
It's all those things. But it's cool. We're usually the most excited about being in unfamiliar situations.
Does Animal Collective ever try to make accessible songs?
It's not a huge priority. But it's also not a priority to make music that's not accessible. We don't try and be challenging and standoffish, especially not these days. We just do what feels good to us and sometimes that sounds accessible and sometimes it doesn't. That's what drives it, but it's not the extreme in either way.
What about being consciously abrasive?
I think on some of the earlier records there was a bit more of a shock factor. We still wanted people to enjoy it. We didn't want people to hate it or walk away from it. But we felt like maybe independent music had gotten a little stale and a little polite. It was all sounding very adult contemporary. It seemed like there was a lot of energy missing. So we wanted to do something that was really energetic. We felt that maybe there had to be some kind of extreme qualities to the music. I think that resulted in maybe being a bit confrontational and difficult. That wasn't the plan to drive people away. It was just to shake people up and hope that they would come along with us.