Talking With: Avey Tare Discusses Animal Collective’s New Album & More

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Words by: Andrew Bruss

You’d be hard pressed to find a band this millennium more synonymous with sonic exploration and experimentation than Animal Collective. Their most dedicated fans are of the Grateful Dead mentality that believes every note they play deserves recording. But with the vast soundscapes covered throughout their discography, even a diehard Collected Animal is likely to have one album he or she isn’t a fan of.

The latest link in their audiological evolution, Painting With, is easily the most accessible record they’ve ever made and has just as much likelihood of bringing in new fans as alienating old. Gone are the long drawn out passages of instrumental droning and in are a dozen tracks with clear, catchy vocal harmonies that all clock in under five minutes.

Josh “Deakin” Dibb, didn’t participate in the recording of this record and won’t be touring with the Collective this winter. Just like 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, Painting With was written and recorded by Brian “Geologist” Weitz, Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox and Dave “Avey Tare” Portner. Where the 2012’s Centipede Hz featured Portner on guitar, Weitz on keys and Lennox behind the drum kit, this album’s instrumental arrangements don’t easily lend themselves to traditional credits.

Prior to the release of the new record this Friday on Domino Records, JamBase spoke with Avey Tare to discuss studio process behind Painting With, how they plan to tour the material, their goals for releasing live music, and what JamBase Nation can expect from the Collective in 2016 and beyond …

JamBase: So JamBase is the largest concert database on the Internet and our mantra is “Go See Live Music.” What was your favorite concert in 2015?

Avey Tare: It’s always hard for me to pick favorites [laughs].

JamBase: Feel free to name a few.

AT: I really enjoyed Kendrick Lamar at the Wiltern (in Los Angeles). That kind of blew me away. [To Pimp A Butterfly] was one of my favorite records last year and he played with a band and it was just amazing and awesome. I liked Shamir at The Echo. That was really cool. I also liked Panda Bear at the Bowery [Ballroom in New York City]. I might be a little biased on that, but I’ve loved his music for a long time.

JamBase: When Animal Collective performs live, you use loops stations, Kaoss Pads, samplers and all kinds of MIDI devices. Does that leave you guys with any room to switch things up on the fly or is the window to improvise on the narrow side?

AT: Like most things, I think it’s been a work in progress. Certainly, when you have more live instrumentation like guitars and keyboards, it’s much, much easier to improvise and with our last record [2012’s Centipede Hz] when we played live, we didn’t use any samples, or at least very few.

On this record we haven’t really used a lot of samples but we’ve used a lot more electronic sequencers. With the instruments we’re using modular [synthesizers], oscillators and drum-based sequencers, and they’re open to making a connection. We use stuff that we’ve gotten better at manipulating live, so there can be a big improv element in our playing.

We’ve never done a live show [where I] felt like it was all programmed and we were going through the motions. The live experience isn’t necessarily supposed to be very different, but a different thing for the fans to experience than just listening to the record because otherwise why not just stay home and listen to the record?

JamBase: When The Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, they’d retired from performing and were in the studio recording songs they never had any intention of performing live. They didn’t care if they could be recreated on stage. When you guys write or record, do you pay mind to the ability to recreate the song in a live setting?

AT: There are two sides to it. On one hand, yes, we want to be able to play the songs in a way that … This is the first time we’ve gone into the studio without performing any of the songs live. It’s been a challenge for us, but we wanted the challenge. We do hope to convey these songs in a way people know these are the ones they know from the record. We just went into the studio and recorded [this album] before playing it live, so you’ll be hearing the songs from the record with the same instrumentation. I think the openness and the free form aspect will begin to manipulate and stretch itself out.

JamBase: Is the definitive Animal Collective experience heard live or through headphones?

AT: I think it’s everything. Those are two different things we fortunately grew up enjoying both sides of, so working on a record and trying to make it great is something we all have fun doing. We put a lot of time into and think a lot about it. We love the Sgt. Pepper’s and Piper At The Gates of Dawn’s and all these classic records that influenced us to want to make cool records.

But we also loved going to see concerts that made big impacts on us. Pavement in the 90s and the Grateful Dead when we were young, Daft Punk at Coachella [in 2006], these were all shows that blew us away and we put effort into making the live show great too. I think it’s something spontaneous that can all happen right there and everyone’s experience is subjective.

JamBase: What kind of material can fans expect to hear from you on the road in 2016?

AT: A lot of new material. Since we haven’t ever played it live it’s what we’re most excited about. Also some old favorites, surprises and things we may be tinkering around with.

JamBase: There was this natural progression from [2007’s] Strawberry Jam to [2009’s] Merriweather Post Pavilion but with [2012’s] Centipede Hz, you took a different approach. You went back to doing traditional instrumentation. This album feels more like the natural sequel to Merriweather than Hz was. I’m curious what you think of that assessment and where you think this record stands in your discography.

AT: It’s our 10th record and it seems like a lot of people are coming to it by comparing it to other records, and placing it somewhere in our canon which makes sense, but isn’t something we necessarily think about a lot.

We’re thinking more about what we can do differently with this space and collection [of] new sounds. At the end of the Merriweather era, especially for Brian, Noah and I, because we were the ones on tour with that, using a lot of samples and sequencing live, it got kind of old for us and there wasn’t a lot of a challenge. Experiencing the live show for us, we want to feel like we’re sweating and working it out. That’s a big reason for setting up Hz in that way and played instruments [to] challenge us with more complex song structures. [We wanted] playing live [to be] more of a challenge. We got that out of our system and I think there were other challenges we want to conquer with this record.

Because [Painting With] is more of a studio record, we went in thinking about what we wanted to come across in the studio with how the vocals sound. The vocal arrangements are very important and there’s a lot of singing on it, so a lot of people are comparing it to Merriweather or [2004’s] Sung Tongs because Noah and I are singing together on harmony. But the goal with this record was to make it different somehow. I feel like the vocals are a lot different. They’re cleaner and don’t have many vocal effects on them. They’re intimate and close up and not as washy and blending together as say Merriweather or Strawberry Jam even.

JamBase: I’ve been listening to 2015’s Live at 9:30 a lot as well as Painting With and this new record is tight and cohesive. There are conventional song structures and not a lot of spacey interludes. With you guys working on vocal driven tunes more recently, why did you decide to put out a live album that’s so jammy and spaced out?

AT: I feel like the live record came out at a weird time in terms of it’s release but it’s actually something that we’ve been working on for a while. Live at 9:30 is about making our live experience more accessible with regards to the recordings. We’ve always supported our fans recording shows if they want. There’s a large community of fans that trade our shows and get into what’s out there. Releasing Live at 9:30 was sort of a way to tip our hats to that community and saying, “We’re cool with this.”

We have a big database of shows that we recorded on our last round of tours. It is a way for us to start sharing the live stuff. It came kind of late because it was tough to mix. We wanted it to come out earlier so the planning of its release near this record is kind of random. But it’s cool for us because it’s fun to be releasing things that aren’t very current.

[It’s like] a document of a time.

JamBase: Would you ever do anything like Phish does where the soundboard is for sale online the day after the show?

AT: We want to get to a point with our website where we’re putting out more shows for free and not having to rely on releasing shows as mastered records. It’s cool to release nice quality vinyl-type versions of live shows, but yeah, we’d like to have our own database where fans can add their shows to our recordings and it becomes a cohesive library.

JamBase: Anything on the Animal Collective bucket list you are hoping to cross off? You’ve made albums, done a movie, even museum installations. What’s left that you’re itching to do?

AT: [Laughs] Yeah man, it’s hard to say. I mean there are plenty of places in the world I’d still love to play. We haven’t hit much of Asia before, or Africa. These are dream places to go play among. There are places in the U.S. we’re hitting this tour we’ve never played. It’s hard to say in terms of projects because the things like the performance we did at the Guggenheim Museum, yeah, it was different for us, but it just came up. We were never like, “Oh! We really want to do a movie!” or “Oh! We really want to do an installation at the Guggenheim!” I feel like those things fell into our lap and became things we really cared about and worked hard at. Hopefully some other stuff comes up and the art can stay new and fresh because that’s what keeps us going and pushes us forward.

JamBase: If I’m a conduit between you and your fans, what do you want them to know about Animal Collective in 2016?

AT: We’re still really excited about music and appreciate all of our fans openness to what we’re doing and it’s very special. Our fanbase is really special and they’re half the reason we look forward to sharing new music because we know they’re open to it and I feel like there are more people out there that can be opened up to us.

Painting With is due out on Domino Records this Friday, February 19. The same night Animal Collective will begin a tour in support of the album at Union Transfer in Philadelphia. The band teamed with HeadCount who will be registering voters at shows during the upcoming tour.

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