What’s in store for this run of dates?
It’ll be a mixture of the most recent record and probably one or two [songs] from each of the records preceding it.
Will there be any new material in the mix? I remember the days when you exclusively played unreleased songs live.
Yeah, we just don’t work as quickly anymore because we’re so spread out and people have children. There’s a lot going on, so life got a little bit ahead of us as opposed to it being the other way around. Maybe if when we get together over the next few days, if someone has an idea for something to do that’s new, we’ll put it into the set, but there’s no plans for that right now.
I remember seeing you guys at the Middle East in Boston 10 years ago, you guys were playing with Q and Not U, and it was, at the time, your last show. Obviously plans changed.
Yeah. Wow. You have quite a sense of history [laughs]. That was my last show before moving to Arizona for a year for grad school. That was a long time ago. How were we that night? Were we all right?
Yeah. I remember it was great. That’s where I got hip to the band. As I recall, you were still going by Avey Tare and Panda Bear. I was there to see Q and Not U. But I’ve seen Animal Collective quite a few times since. I’ve noticed that, over time, as the band got bigger, I guess after Sung Tongs, when you started playing bigger venues there were some growing pains, where the dynamic of the audience was changing. Once you guys adapted, the live shows became more like raves.
Yeah, that happened a bit more around Merriweather [Post Pavilion], when we started using more electronic beats. But I definitely remember after Sung Tongs came out and we were already playing Feels and getting ready to record that, the shows definitely felt more like these wild rock shows. Like I remember the first or second time we played New York after that moment, with Black Dice, and they were just, like, "Wow, this is really different than when we played together in the past." I don’t think we really felt any growing pains then. At that point, Fat Cat, our label, started to say to us, "Maybe you should throw in something from Sung Tongs, it’s a really weird move that you guys are gonna come and [not]." That was the only weirdness we ever felt.
We’d meet people at the shows who were like, "I just came all the way here just to hear this one song and I can’t believe you wouldn’t play it." You know, like “Leaf House” or something. I remember we played a show in the winter one time — I think it was actually in Boston, at the Middle East — and there was this girl there on crutches and she was standing there, like, so depressed, like, she’d hobbled all the way there in the snow on crutches like, "How could you not play anything from the recent record?! I just wanted to hear this one song from Sung Tongs and you wouldn’t play it!" That was sort of a growing pain. And then it persisted. And then after Feels came out, that was when we started to not have the whole next record already kind of in our heads, because at that point we started touring more and we’d spend less time in the practice space and more time out on the road. After Feels came out we had about half of Strawberry Jam written, but not enough for a full set, so we were still playing things like “Purple Bottle” or “Banshee Beat.”
And then with Merriweather — Merriweather was written insanely fast — but we had most of that done, but at that point I think we’d just gotten used to it. All those moments that we resisted for so long — like playing a song that we’d already played for a couple years and not thinking we’d get anything out of it — I think we realized that some of standard sort of things that musicians say about being onstage and being able to connect with a crowd and there being this energy exchange and how psyched they get when you go into their favorite song; I think we started to realize that there’s something to that.
There was that whole period where the live show was so integral to the composition of the songs. With the new material, is it still like that when you’re performing unreleased songs?
Yeah, totally. Now we don’t tour as much as we used to, and the songs are a little bit more finished I guess. And I just think as we’ve gotten older, especially through Dave [Portner] and Noah [Lennox], who are the primary songwriters, they’re just more into structure, I think, whereas in the past, middle 2000s, it would just be like, "Oh, there’s this sort of loose idea I have and we’ve gotta play a show next week so let’s do it." Whereas now, their technique is a little more refined, and they're just interested in more fleshed-out ideas.
After Feels the band moved further and further away from acoustic instrumentation. Was that something that was considered? Was it organic? Why did you guys go more toward electronic music? And have you thought about reintroducing the acoustics?
Dave talks about doing some acoustic stuff sometimes. But in terms of Animal Collective, it just hasn’t come up. I think it was a more organic move away from it. We never really considered ourselves an [acoustic outfit]. At the time, I think that became part of our identity because [Sung Tongs] was the most popular thing we’d done at that point. You know, Here Comes the Indian and Danse Manatee and Hollinndagain, those were pretty fried, electric records. And even Sung Tongs was supposed more like that, too. I think Dave and Noah were just so sick of carrying so much shit around that they were like, "Let’s just see if we can do these songs on acoustic guitar and make them sound just as good." So that was sort of why that record was acoustic, just because they were traveling a lot.
It still definitely wasn’t acoustic in a traditional sense. It was more like the acoustics became a big part of the percussive identity of the band.
I think at that time everybody was listening to a lot of electronic music and trance stuff. And even when it wasn’t acoustic, just with [electric] guitars we would talk about, "I wonder if we can make stuff that sounds like compact records or have these trance-y, electronic elements, but do it with acoustic instruments, and I think Dave and Noah did a great job around that — not, like, inventing a sound, but they were doing something with acoustic guitars that was not in the zeitgeist at the time, and I think quickly became it afterward.
You guys always have been a step ahead. In going toward electronic music, a year or so behind you pop music went that way as well with the EDM boom and things like that. And I’m not saying you necessarily sound like that, but you do share an audience with some of those artists — your crowds have gotten younger and younger …
Yeah. Totally! Especially during the Merriweather years. I don’t know about now. The girl that works for, like, the Bowery Ballroom or something actually just noticed that the other day, she was like, "All those kids who were there for Merriweather, they don’t seem to be so psyched on the new record, so now these feel more like older Animal Collective shows again, with more adults." I don’t know, I can’t really look out into the crowd anymore and discern that.
Is it easier to relate to a crowd that’s in your age group?
I feel like the younger kids usually bring the best energy to the shows. So, in that sense I like it there a lot. I mean, our peer group, everyone’s in their mid-30s. We’ve all been going to shows since we were teenagers. You know, especially in New York, I feel like everyone’s heard it all, so it’s easy to be jaded. The only band that we all still go see and, like, worship every second of music they make is Black Dice pretty much.
You guys are also Dead heads, right?
Yeah, I mean, we’re not obsessive. But yeah, I listened to the [Grateful] Dead in high school a fair amount.
Is it something that made you relate to that band, in terms of your crowd?
It did for a while. Especially when the crowds started getting younger and we were meeting kids that were traveling from show to show. And we even sort of encouraged it when we noticed it happening. Around 2004 we were like, "Anyone can tape our shows." There’s an Animal Collective message board that we don’t go on, but we talked to the kids that set it up and [told them], "Why don’t you just make a tape trading forum, or a live MP3 trading forum?" Because that culture seems to be springing up around us.
We’re gonna play the Camp Disco thing, it’s like a Disco Biscuits festival. We’ve been invited a couple times and we were always just like, "Something’s not computing, I don’t get why we’re being invited to this." But the more that we’ve met younger fans, and even some of our crew members that have worked for us are like, "Oh yeah, I love you guys, but I also love The Disco Biscuits and every band that’s on that festival lineup." I guess there is this overlap that we weren’t fully aware of. We’ll happily go play for whoever is psyched.
When you play festivals like that, does it feel more like being a “drug band”?
Yeah. Totally. It does. But that doesn’t bother us. There was a time when we were like, "[We] don’t really wanna be a drug band," but I think that was a sensitivity we had to, just — it could be used in a dismissive way, especially by the press. … There were certain [writers] that, like, every time we come through their town they’re just like, "What the fuck is the deal with this band and why are people still paying attention?" And we felt like the drug thing was an easy way for them to dismiss what we were doing. So I think that we were a little sensitive about being called a "drug band" for a while, and I used to be really freaked out about it, because of my job at the time, but we don’t really care about it anymore. If that’s how people want to enjoy the music, it’s fine by me.
I don’t think Animal Collective is an inaccessible band, but I don’t think it’s a pop band either. When you’re in a band like that, that gets a large following — or is in the pop-culture consciousness to any listener with an ear to the ground but who isn’t in the group of people who are going to get it — does it affect you having to deal with those people wondering what the BFD is?
It just depends on our mood. I feel like it’s really easy, especially when we were in our 20s, to affect this bravado of "We don’t give a shit!" And we mostly don’t, to be honest, but sometimes you can be like, "What is this dude’s problem? I get it, he doesn’t like us, and that’s fine." It really just depends what’s going on and how sensitive you are. Because I think we were very comfortable with the idea that we were not for everybody. For a long time, pretty much up until Merriweather, we were just in a constant state of shock, like, "I can’t believe this many people are into us; we feel like we’re kind of a weird band, and this is amazing that this many people like us." And the few people that didn’t, we kinda got why they didn’t like us. It was really easy for us to say — and maybe even we were being a little dismissive — "Well they like rock music; we’re not rock music, and we actually try very hard to not sound like just a guitar-bass-and-drums band."
A moment like now — where, coming off of Merriweather, it was just like we could do no wrong it seemed at that point — we were just following our instincts the same as we usually were, and a lot of people around us were just like, ‘All right, you guys, it seems like you just proved this point that you have a cult following that is game. Their minds are open, they’ll follow you wherever you go, and it’s like this weird mixture of pop kids and experimental music kids." And Centipede Hz came out and that turned out to just not be true at all [laughs]. It alienated a lot of people and it was like we almost had to remind ourselves, "Wait a minute, this is normal, remember? This is what we assumed was gonna happen all along." Every time we put out a record prior to Merriweather, we alienated some people.
But does it ever get frustrating or feel like you’re alienating people for reasons that don’t have that much to do with the music? Like, did it ever freak you out when you’d get a 10 on Pitchfork or something and there would just be this knee-jerk backlash?
No. When I notice us alienating people, it usually is because of the music, and that’s what makes it tolerable. Sometimes you can feel sensitive on a certain morning and be like, "Oh this is kind of a bummer," but if people are truly like, "You know what, I don’t like the way this record sounds," that’s fine for me to take. Any backlash about just how popular we were and if we were a band of the moment, I just don’t pay attention to it that much. It’s just beyond something I can answer to. Like, I can answer to "This record sounds like shit." … I guess you can say to somebody, "I don’t understand how we’re a flash in the pan; this is, like, our 10th record. We’ve been around for a decade." I don’t feel like there’s any point to being in that discussion or that argument. I think once you’re dealing with, like, commenters and blogs and you’re talking about where you fit in in the context, I don’t know, it seems like people’s opinions are pretty fixed anyway.
Well that’s kind of the thing: As someone who considers himself a critical listener, it’s always frustrating to me when people talk about a band and they’re not really going into it an open mind, they’re going into it not wanting to like it because it’s so acclaimed.
Yeah. Totally. It’s also easy to be dismissive of it when people are still coming to the shows and clearly seem excited. There was definitely a backlash around Merriweather, and we were definitely aware of the chatter that was going on around it. Things got pretty hectic at that time, in terms of weird, like, privacy invasion and people trying to trick people into leaking our record, so we were totally aware of it, and that was probably also the time where people were wanting to push back against it, but everybody was coming to the shows, and we were playing to festival crowds of tens of thousands of people, most of whom seemed psyched, so it was like, maybe these aren’t the people online.
With Centipede Hz, it isn’t like it’s a dubstep record, but it does have some similar sonic qualities to contemporary electronic music — the shape-shifting sonic chaos, some of the dynamics, the jagged structure and textures of it. In that sense, do you feel like Animal Collective has a distinct connection to contemporary music?
It’s funny that you say that, because what we were actually trying for with Centipede Hz, that actually was a time when we wanted to feel like a rock band. We were listening to a lot of garage rock, a lot ’70s progressive acid rock, and we were like, "We wanna do something like this, but we don’t want it to sound dated or like some retro thing, we want it to sound very current." So I think maybe some of things that you’re identifying with that electronic sound are, like, our synthesizers that a lot of the bass lines are played on. I don’t listen to Skrillex. I actually have never heard a Skrillex song, so I don’t know how close we are. But when you say dubstep, we think of people like Burial or more like Hyperdub label releases, and those records are really influential on us, and those are mellower than what I think the EDM stuff is, but those share I think some sonic qualities, so it’s possible that that link is there in the low end.
When you guys write new material, is the sound of the previous record a consideration? To try and build on a thread of ideas from record to record?
Yeah, it is. Usually in an anti kind of way. Like, with Merriweather, it was more about how it felt to perform that material. It got really simple after a couple years, like, ‘all right, I’ve pushed this sample to the limit, I know every way I can tweak out this thing, and because we were working with a limited palate of samples that we had onstage, the three of us knew we’ve figured out the best way to improvise with these samples. And it just become like pushing buttons in the last three or four months of playing it live. We’d come off stage never sweating, so it was like, "This is too easy, we want to make a really physical record next time." You know, even for someone like me who still plays samplers, I also have two keyboards now, one of which I play with my feet. It’s intended to be a workout.
Merriweather was like that because it was sample-based, and also because it was kind of ambient. Even with the driving electronic rhythms, it still had a lot of ambient record qualities to it. So for this one, we just wanted to feel like a balls-to-the-wall garage band, we wanted to feel what it feels like to be a rock band, and that was pretty in response to the Merriweather sound feeling pretty played out to us.
Are Dave and Noah competitive with each other as songwriters?
No. Dave was always the one that was pushing Noah to write more. In the early days, before Person Pitch really, Noah was keeping his solo stuff and it was always the rest of us who were like, "You have to release this." The first one, Josh was like, you’re putting this out! And with Young Prayer, I didn’t know if he was gonna finish it. He played the demos for his dad and then his dad passed away and the rest of us mixed that record to get it out there. And then after that I think was when Dave started telling Noah, for Sung Tongs especially, "Bring more of your songs to the band; we all think you’re a great songwriter." So I’d say it’s been the opposite of competitive.