Animal Collective: Life After Merriweather

By: Mike Bookey

Animal Collective
David Portner, perhaps better known as Avey Tare, the name he goes by when playing with his band, Animal Collective, finally has a little bit of down time. He's had a busy 2009 that started with the release of his band's record Merriweather Post Pavilion, which has shaped up to top many Best of Year lists (JamBase review), and is being capped off with the unveiling of another disc, the five-song EP Fall Be Kind (out December 8 on Domino). In between releases, Animal Collective hit the road hard, becoming a mainstay on American music festival stages while adding new faces to their already strong fan base.

During a week at home before Thanksgiving, Portner took some time out from working on new music to talk with JamBase about Animal Collective's new EP, their first legal use of a Grateful Dead sample, the band's Australian tour and what's next for the surging act.

JamBase: Is this Fall Be Kind material from the Merriweather sessions?

David Portner: Three of the songs are. A lot of it is from that era, but we never really worked on it until after we started touring for the record. It feels like it comes from that time. "Bleed" is from a little bit later, but most of the stuff is from that time period.

With the past two records we've done, we've kind of felt out the material and then halfway through the recording process we had to decide if we were going to put this song or that song on the record. Because it was only three songs [leftover] we weren't really sure what we were going to do with them. We definitely thought they were all strong songs, so it was more like we knew they weren't going to go on Merriweather, so we put them aside until we had time to make them all work together.

JamBase: Even though some of these are spare tracks from the last record, the Fall Be Kind EP has a very cohesive feel to it. What is your idea of the EP, is it a snack to hold people over?

Animal Collective
David Portner: Not really. I think it's like the 7-inch, which I guess people don't do so much anymore. We've spent so much time working on the record that it's cool to just think about an EP. There's something to say about four songs that just pack a punch and work well together but couldn't have gone anywhere else. And it seems like it's just not that popular of a thing. It's definitely not something that makes record label people happy.

"What Would I Want? Sky" features a sample of the Grateful Dead's "Unbroken Chain." Is that, in fact, the first legal sample of a Dead song?

I guess so. Maybe there's been some live thing that's been used before, I'm not really sure, but in terms of being used for a studio recording, it is the first. I can definitely say that.

How did you come about using it?

I was interested in the rhythm of it at first so I just wanted to grab a little bit of it, but it was hard for me to grab a piece of the rhythm without grabbing the rest of the song. I just picked this one out as the best one that I could use to write a song. It has this weird bell part to it and it turns into a really weird time signature, which made it a little odd, but you can still bob your head to it.

Have you always been someone who listens to a lot of Grateful Dead?

Animal Collective
Oh yeah, probably since I was 9 or 10. I was really close to my cousins growing up and they were really into the Dead, so from there one of my best friends and I got really into them. This was the early '90s, toward the end, but I was still able to see them probably 10 times or so. My brother would take me to go see them at RFK in the summer. I never really lost my taste for them. It's always a standby for me, you know, I love 'em.

That's funny, it seems that every Dead fan from a younger generation has some sort of story about an older cousin or brother like you do.

Yeah totally, it's always passed down somehow. In high school there was this guy who worked the cash register in the cafeteria and he would always come out of the line and talk to us about the Dead. He started lending us - Brian [Weitz, known as "Geologist" in Animal Collective] and I - all these bootlegs, so we amassed a pretty big collection back then.

You've played plenty of festivals this year and have another in Australia. Do you like the festival scene?

Animal Collective
Some of them. I think the best thing about them is that the festivals themselves have a personality and we can kind of pick and choose based on that. We played a lot more this year than we'd played in the past. I think we get so used to playing in clubs and in our own world and having our lights set up a certain way that when we have to play in the middle of the day at a festival it feels really weird. We do our best, but they aren't always our favorite shows. But they can still be awesome.

It seems that the jam band community - which appears to be shrinking, or maybe just changing state - has really jumped on with you guys. Why do you think that is?

With our more recent stuff I think maybe it has to do with the groove and the positivity - the upbeat nature that we try to convey - I think that all kind of fits into that scene. We approach things in a more electronic manner than a typical jam band would do, but we do it in a way that is jammy, if that makes any sense. There are elements of improvisation.

With the new EP out and the non-stop touring you've been doing, what's next for Animal Collective? It seems you're always changing from album to album.

I'm sure the next [album] will be somewhat different. I think we'll move away from the electronic for a little bit and find a more organic way of playing. I mean, it's still pretty organic what we've been doing, but it's been very sample heavy, so maybe in the future we'll take a different turn.

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[Published on: 12/8/09]

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