Animal Collective's Moment In Time

By: Andrew Bruss

Animal Collective by Takahiro Imamura
The role of a music journalist often requires using language to describe the sounds of artists who don't easily lend themselves to description, and few bands embody this challenge like Animal Collective. Oftentimes, they don't even sound like Animal Collective. Their albums can dislodge our sense of time and context, often seeming completely independent of earlier works. And any attempt to categorize them carries with it the understanding that no matter how close you come, you're still off the mark. Their fans' pseudo-religious intensity is unrivaled outside of the jam scene and their status as cult rockers is firmly in place.

But it appears that AC's cult status may be on the decline after their new release, Merriweather Post Pavilion (released January 20 on Domino Records, you can read our review here). Although critics called their last album, 2007's Strawberry Jam, their "pop album," it seems as though Merriweather has the fluidity, and more importantly, the accessibility to bring a whole new demographic of mainstream listeners into the Animal Collective universe.

While overseas, supporting Merriweather, Geologist, born Brian Weitz, got on the phone with JamBase to talk about their new release, their live show and what's slated for the future.

Even though Merriweather was just weeks away from its release at the time of our conversation, the first topic of discussion was the highly anticipated "visual album" that Animal Collective has been working on since before they recorded Strawberry Jam.

"We sort of work on it during our breaks on supporting Merriweather," says Weitz. "It's just a really learn-as-you-go process for us. There's no overseeing technical producer doing the technical work for us; we're doing it ourselves. The director doing the visuals knows what he's doing, but we're the ones scoring it. We're trying to work on the music and the visuals as simultaneously as possible. He also does stuff with the band Black Dice, so we try to work on it when we have time."

As blown away as Collective fans may eventually be by this project, you can count on some being disappointed by the fact that they probably won't have the opportunity to hear any of the music off the "visual album" in a live setting.

Animal Collective
"Now, we're in a unique situation where it's the first time we're working on a batch of material that's purely for a studio project and not intended to be performed live," Weitz says. "We don't see the visuals and music as being separate. A live performance of screening the film while we play live also wouldn't work because every scene has different instrumentation."

Weitz explained that they usually record an album and then when they perform live they start playing new material they're working on for the next album. It's an unconventional approach to developing material that has the potential to throw off fans expecting to find album tracks on a setlist. This production method underscores the band's emphasis on progression. With Animal Collective, it often seems as though anything in the present might as well be a thing of the past, an attitude that justifies the impression by many diehard fans that if you blink you might miss something.

However, at the moment, Animal Collective seems to enjoy living in the present. "Right now we're still playing a similar set, still enjoying playing the Merriweather songs and stuff like that. So, people won't get a taste of the next project until this thing is officially released on DVD, or if we do a screening tour where we just show it at different theatres and places," Weitz says.

As for the buzz about Animal Collective breaking into the mainstream, Weitz shrugs these suggestions off.

"Since Sung Tongs [2004], people have been saying, 'This is the pop record,' or whatever, and we totally understand why it comes across that way," offers Weitz. "[Merriweather is] definitely easier to swallow. To us, it sort of feels like a natural progression. It's hard for me to say how an outside listener would see them, but [the roots of today's sound] go way back to the early stuff, in the early 2000s that was more chaotic and maybe challenging to the average listener. It still has pop songs and structure within it, it's just buried beneath this production we were feeling at the time that was a lot more harsh and chaotic and maybe disjointed. It was a reflection of our lives and mental states at the time, and we always wanted our music to be really personal to that moment in time."

Continue reading for more on Animal Collective...

 
Even though we listen to a lot of music from 40 years ago like psychedelic stuff, The Beatles and The Grateful Dead - and we're very inspired by it - we've always been pretty conscious to not try and sound like a band that was looking backwards or being retro in any way. We've always wanted to sound very much like a moment [in time].

-Geologist

 
Photo by: Takahiro Imamura

On Merriweather Post Pavilion, songs like "Also Frightened" utilize homemade samples layered over vocals reminiscent of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, which build upon swelling rhythms that bring to mind The Beatles' "A Day In The Life" AND tribal exorcism chants. But, for Animal Collective sounding like anything from the past is far from the objective.

Animal Collective
"Even though we listen to a lot of music from 40 years ago like psychedelic stuff, The Beatles and the Grateful Dead - and we're very inspired by it - we've always been pretty conscious to not try and sound like a band that was looking backwards or being retro in any way," Weitz says. "We've always wanted to sound very much like a moment [in time]."

When asked what contributes to the polarized response the band often receives, Weitz says, "I don't know if I could name one thing. I often say something like, 'Well, we're not a rock band,' but I don't think that really explains it. Plus, I like rock music and I like us, so those things aren't mutually exclusive. We even polarize our own fans because we change our styles so much. Some of our fans love some of our records and hate others. I think every record of ours is one Animal Collective fan's favorite and another fan's least favorite or most hated. It doesn't bother me though. I think it's cool to offer different things to different people as opposed to offering one thing to one steady group of people. It also doesn't bother me to be polarizing on a large scale. It's kind of like cilantro or something. That's a really polarizing herb, and the people who love it can't really say why anymore than the people who hate it. It's just something in the taste. Personally, I love it, so I don't mind being musical cilantro."

During their performance at last summer's All Points West Festival, Animal Collective fans were overheard saying that the group deserves to be appreciated like Phish, where every performance is bootlegged and listened to like the Zapruder footage. With this kind of fanbase, it could be easy to feel as though you've got a safety net that allows some wiggle room with experimentation. On the other hand, disappointing fans can carry a high price. However, Weitz feels that neither of these scenarios is accurate.

Animal Collective
"There is definitely no safety net," Weitz says. "If anything, I think our hardcore fans are the most critical of us. But at the same time, we're not concerned with blowing them away each time. We hope we do but we can't anticipate it and would probably fail if we tried. It's like that sports quote about the coach who listens to the fans will wind up sitting next to them. You have to trust your own instincts, and the only pressure we feel in terms of creating something mind-blowing is put on us by us."

"Coming out of our early twenties, we were living in New York in dive apartments, not living the healthiest lifestyle [and] that's reflected in that music," recalls Weitz. "Now, we're all hovering around 30, either just below 30, or just over 30. A few of us are married. I'm engaged; now I have a kid. We all have pretty stable, healthy lives that are a lot less cluttered, so it just feels more natural to produce the music in a way that's less cluttered."

The fact remains that on a national-scale Animal Collective remains yet-to-be discovered by the mainstream. With that in mind, Weitz offered some advice to anyone who might be thinking of investing energy into exploring the group: "These days, you don't have to pay to listen to music. So why go in with ANY expectations?" As for the live show Weitz cautions, "If you're going to stand near the front bring sunglasses."

Animal Collective is on tour now; dates available here.

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Comments

solace_in_diesel Thu 1/22/2009 05:54PM
Show -15 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
jz Thu 1/22/2009 07:42PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

jz

Oh jeez, listen to yourself, guy: "Eh, I don't listen to them" and then you pass judgment. How foolish and small-minded do you have to dis a band that you never listened to?

You have every right to not listen to Animal Collective (it's actually awesome that you don't, keep it up), but you sound like a fool for trying to define what they are when you admit you have no idea.

I can only hope you're being sarcastic, in which case you didn't really put that across well, either.

PickinKind Thu 1/22/2009 08:03PM
+6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

PickinKind

man i tried giving these guys a run for a couple days but i found it really hard to listen to them without some in the room saying "turn that shit off!" it really is weird and abstract stuff which doesnt mean bad. however, not my style. -2ยข

woodyguthrie starstarstarstar Thu 1/22/2009 08:18PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I dig 'em. As AC said in this article, their albums aren't consistent stylistically. If you're on this website, there's a fairly good chance you'll be able to find an album of theirs that you can connect with. The other AC albums will make a little more sense once you have context.

RE: "Animal Collective fans were overheard saying that the group deserves to be appreciated like Phish, where every performance is bootlegged and listened to like the Zapruder footage. "

Tell the fans to go buy their own gear and do it themselves.

1048 Thu 1/22/2009 09:23PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

1048

AC is the best/most innovative band of the decade. A lot of people don't understand them and it's their loss.

I find it funny that they only got Geologist to interview. Dude is such a hippy

Roswellznutsack Thu 1/22/2009 09:44PM
Show -3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
slowry05 Thu 1/22/2009 10:29PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

slowry05

if you don't like Animal Collective at least check out Panda Bear's Person Pitch

Lakai starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/23/2009 06:01AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Lakai

LOL at "it" band of the moment, actually if u knew anything you would know they have been blowing up since early 2003 and each one of their 9 albums has gotten very high praise from most people. I just saw them the other night for the first time since 03 and it was amazing, they really are a great live band and a great studio band which is a rare thing in these days its wonderful to see a band progress so much and stay true to themselves.

jmstuber87 Fri 1/23/2009 06:36AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Why must everyone bash a band if they dont like em Animal collective is a great badn each album is different an unique. if u dont like them just do what pikinkid does, he gave em a shot and just said not my style. big ups pikinkid

tourfan Fri 1/23/2009 08:33AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Well, as I said in my comment on the CD review from a few days earlier, .... " I just don't get it ..." I also gotta agree with some of the comments here ... The "It" band ... This CD does seem to be getting press everywhere, and it does seem as though journalists are tripping over themselves to call them the hot new thing because they are so different and abstract. But these are the same critics who say that jambands all sound the same. I listened to the tracks of this CD, and you know what? I kept hitting the skip button because each consecutive track sounded exactly the same. I try hard not to come hear and bash, and I don't mean to bash this band. But I just don't get what is so hip about this music? I too, agree with PickinKind. Weird and abstract, turn that shit off. Again, we're all entitled to our own opinion. But why is this CD getting all the fuss?

Broesau Fri 1/23/2009 08:36AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Cool "song". It kinda sounds like what would happen if you blasted techno music in the monkey room of a zoo at 2:00 a.m.

AintNoFreedom starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/23/2009 08:43AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

AintNoFreedom

This band is good shit. This band is the new shit.

Love 'em and the new album is just amazing.

phunkyjedi08 starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/23/2009 09:48AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

phunkyjedi08

"Eh, I don't listen to them, they're just getting popular among kids who never saw Phish but want their 'own' scene. It's like a 'freshmen only' party to them. Phish is and was the only scene."

First of all, like jz said, looking down on a band you don't really listen to is kind of pathetic. What's even more pathetic, and what no one's really mentioned yet, is that the people who came to Phish FOR the "scene" are one of the least favorite parts of Phish concerts for people who simply care about the MUSIC. In fact (and no disrespect to any fellow fans intended), the "scene" is one of my least favorite parts about seeing ANY music - I hate all the silly assholes spinning into me, spilling beer on me (I'm short), and smoking cigarettes all up into my lungs.

I'm a lifelong Phish phan, but I also love Animal Collective, and it's got nothing to do with being displaced - their shows are like nothing else on Earth, and so are their albums - for very different reasons than you might say the same about Phish.

Long Live The Collective! PEOPLEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!

Grupp starstarstarstar Fri 1/23/2009 10:03AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Grupp

Why do we continue to argue and flame each other about TASTE in music? I guess people are passionate about cilantro too. The first guy to post here states, "Phish is the ONLY scene" ? ? Wow. Nice open minded dude. And I bet UNDERMIND is the best record ever in your book?

For $20, AC is worth checking out live. I saw them at the Fillmore in 2006 - it was nuts. There are so many influences and experiments going on within the music that they produce - they may not "jam" but they improvise and change it up - it's not uninteresting. I don't put them on my iTunes and press repeat, and I understand Pickinkind's statement that it's not for everyone - but for those who have the patience to listen, it is really incredible. They are influencing the music we hear. As was mentioned in the article, one album to the next is very different, and hardcore fans are polarized about favorite albums. So you can't write them off on a single listen - you just got to poke around...

mojofolk Fri 1/23/2009 10:53AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

mojofolk

Animal Collective is great... innovative... like the happy wash of psychadellics just before things get too intense. If you like Animal Collective check out Blackout Beach... a bit darker... like AC's and Bowies love child

whodoyoudo Fri 1/23/2009 11:22AM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

whodoyoudo

best

wish theyd spend more time touring in US

and less time in europe

whodoyoudo Fri 1/23/2009 11:24AM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

whodoyoudo

listen to sung tongs

whodoyoudo Fri 1/23/2009 11:25AM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

whodoyoudo

oh and why no festy late nights?

imagine that....

Ter Fri 1/23/2009 11:58AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Ter

not really diggin the song at the Melkweg at all and i agree with an above statement - I was listening to them last night and my wife told me to turn the noise off... can anyone give me a couple tunes to check out... would like to give them a chance at least.

rhythmking starstarstarstar Fri 1/23/2009 11:59AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

rhythmking

I would love any of their albums after a bottle of robo and a hit of deems. too bad i dont do that shit anymore, merriweather would have blown my mind under those conditions. Other than that the only chops these guys have is vocal chops. Great harmonies but nothing you can nod your head to thats for sure. but i guess thats not the point. the point is to be as weird as possible, and to me that just comes off as being pretentiously different.

Hotchkiss starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/23/2009 01:09PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Hotchkiss

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnlMxPXoRoI

copy and paste this, awesome song!

Hotchkiss starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/23/2009 01:15PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Hotchkiss

or just click the link.

All the "it" band comments just shows how out of touch you people are with music. Like lakai said, these guys have been very well known in the music scene for a while.

I'll admit, they are an aquired taste.

jz Fri 1/23/2009 04:06PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

jz

more than any band in recent memory, animal collective forces total reconsideration of what music can be. listening to them is an experience in shifting your expectations. a lot of people cant handle that--theres no drum kit, theres no guitars, wtf??? which is fine--stick to what you like. some people like having their expectations blown and AC is really good at that.

that said, "my girls" and "summer clothes" from the new album are the jam. theres traditional song structure in both tunes thats revealed only under very deep listening. this is not music for immediate gratification, which, for me, makes it that much more rewarding.

and holmes up top, its awesome that you dont listen to AC bc you dont have to. dont do anything you dont wanna do. nobody here should be trying to convince anyone else of a bands merits. its easy enough to hear the music for yourself and make a decision. if you like it, great, if not, move on. the ignorant bashing, though, has got to go.

HoodooVoodoo Fri 1/23/2009 04:11PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

HoodooVoodoo

I saw an interview with these guys. They are actually deadheads.

Jazzzzz starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/23/2009 04:33PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Jazzzzz

Just recently got turned on to these guys and bought their new CD. Interesting. Gee I wish they would of added the lyrics. Any way to get them?????

Hope to catch them at the Fox in Oakland when they come through. How are they live?

1048 starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/23/2009 04:49PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

1048

I just saw em last night live and it was one of the best shows I've ever seen.

For Lyrics and a few tabs and videos: http://lyricalcollective.wikispaces.com/

Jazzzzz starstarstarstarstar Fri 1/23/2009 09:54PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Jazzzzz

thanks eric. nice site!

schofizzl Sat 1/24/2009 02:19AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

schofizzl

yeah i gave that song a go and checked out some videos on youtube and i have to say this isn't my style. HOWEVER, don't thumbs me down just yet, because i wanna say that some of their stuff reminds me of some of John Frusciante's weirder electronic stuff, which i love! so see, it's not all bad, you can learn something from anything, even if it does sound like techno in the monkey house.

jessemiller Sat 1/24/2009 10:33AM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

A fantastic album, their best in my opinion. Feels and Sung Tongs are also great and as mentioned quite different. Animal Collective has potential to pick up jamband fans because of their unique sound. Their albums tend to grow on listeners over time, so don't write them off after one listen because they sound "weird"

alw7 Sat 1/24/2009 11:14AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Really,Phish was the ONLY scene,I guess all tohse Grateful Dead shows I went to had no scene. hahahah

Jazzzzz starstarstarstarstar Sat 1/24/2009 07:16PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Jazzzzz

what other albums could you recommend a new comer? I have Merriweather.

WharfRat Sun 1/25/2009 10:50AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

WharfRat

PANIC confirmed Orange Beach!!!!!!!??????!?!?!??!?! Holy Shit!!!! There is some actual NEWS for you JamBase!!!!!!

slowry05 Sun 1/25/2009 01:30PM
-2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

slowry05

panic is for frat boys

1048 starstarstarstarstar Sun 1/25/2009 02:47PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

1048

Sung Tongs>Feels>Spirit>Strawberry Jam>MPP

whodoyoudo Sun 1/25/2009 05:41PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

whodoyoudo

animal collective>panic

weird is right

listen to the live shows on archive

jan 20 n 21

Lakai starstarstarstarstar Mon 1/26/2009 06:21AM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Lakai

people still care about panic?

The1AndOnlyDJCT Mon 1/26/2009 07:05AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I live with a bunch of hipsters who love this band. Honestly, I've listened to them a lot, with an open mind, and trust me, I love weird, experimental music, I WANTED to like this band, but for the life of me, I just can't figure out what's so appealing about them. But I mean hey, all the internet blogs love them so let's hop on their dick too!

Everytime I ask someone to put a different song on, and I pretty much NEVER do that, I'm always told we were listening to an Animal Collective song. Whoever called it pretentious couldn't have been more correct in my opinion.

mickrod420 Tue 1/27/2009 08:35AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I don't think these guys are even close to the same category as phish (not in a bad way or good way). They have a style all their own. While some grooves may be hard on the ears, some are magical. So anyone who is trying to make connections to phish with animal collective are WAY OFF. WTF people? Deathtonoobs sounds like the amature (noob) imo. Or just PT scum.

ScIFreak Wed 1/28/2009 08:23AM
Show -4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
Caution498 starstarstarstar Wed 1/28/2009 12:33PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Caution498

I've given these guys a couple chances, and they haven't reached out & grabbed me. I'd rather listen to Undermind. Oh, & WSP was good in their day, but my interest in them doesn't extend beyond the Houser years (& I'm not a fucking frat boy).

rhythmking Wed 1/28/2009 02:11PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

rhythmking

Oh and don't forget the floor tom! lol Why do all these new Indie pop "dance" bands feel the need to have a fucking floor tom by itself on stage? to me thats just screaming we have no chops so we beat on drum instead!