ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: THAT’S A MAGNIFICENT WILDERNESS

November 17th, 2005 | Interviews

The Animal Collective grew up in the woods outside of Baltimore, where the Wal-Mart parking lot ends and then wilderness begins, and then they spread out to New York City and Europe. Their most recent record was Feels and they also shared a few songs left over from sessions for their previous album Sung Tongs with singer Vashti Bunyan. Collectivist Avery Tare speaks from outside an old theater in Sweden.

Is Swedish wilderness as good as American wilderness?
It’s pretty amazing–but for me, it’s hard to top the Maryland wilderness, which is a little underrated in the US. People think of the west coast as the most special in terms of forests and stuff, but I think the woods of Maryland are pretty spectacular. There are a lot of sweet streams where I grew up–like the streams my cousins lived on–and it’s really varied in terms of farmlands and dense woods. But Sweden’s cool–it’s very pretty. Kind of reminds me of Vermont.
What makes a really good wilderness?
Isolation, quiet places–it depends on what you like. There are equally special things about desert and the forest. It’s kind of the experience that makes it special, I think. It’s hard to just look at some place from a distance and think, ‘That’s a magnificent wilderness.’
How did you adjust when you moved to New York City?
It was pretty intense–being there I sort of lost touch that I grew up being really into pretty environments and woods and landscapes and New York doesn’t ultimately provide that for me. And only now I’m like, ‘You know what? In some ways, this bums me out,’ like standing in front some bar–in some ways I wanna get back to how I grew up. But the city is a landscape in itself. I’ve definitely had moments walking down 5th Avenue at six in the morning when nothing is open–there’s sweet architecture, things you can discover in New York walking around in the middle of the night. The same way as walking in the woods–there are surprises that make it special. But to me, it’s not as peaceful–it doesn’t have that fresh-air quality. There’s something a little more inspiring about woods or nice meadows.
Who’s your favorite landscape painter?
. . .
In case someone would like to get you a present?
Actually, we talk a lot on tour–we have a hard time with landscape paintings and landscape photography. You can only really experience it by being there–it’s kind of baffling, in away. But I appreciate it. In terms of visual art, any landscape is an artificial landscape. Maybe Renoir–something a little abstract is kind of nice.
What are the new songs like?
I guess kind of an extension from the Feels stuff only in that we’re kind of using the same set up–the guitar and all, though one of the main ones is very heavily sample oriented. You can hear one of them on the Fat Cat website, in a link to a BBC broadcast of our London show. And we also have a fan site–I think they have a lot of new songs.
They’re tracking your every move.
They like to figure out what we’re doing next.
What are you doing next?
I think just what seems comfortable–a lot of it these days has to do with that we do in our alone time. Not the ideas we come up with together since we’re not together so much. If we have a lot of time to think about things and work on stuff, it takes like a week and a half to come up with new ideas. Right now we want it to be a really slow process. Like just how long we worked on Feels–how it expanded in our brains and how we’re still playing some of it live–I think it takes a little while to move to a new place. We want it to be slow so it feels like the inspiration is actually there.
Are you really more of a back porch band than a city band?
I think we’re influenced by both, depending on the record and the time. The way we grew up, we weren’t like big partiers. We had a small group of friends–usually on the weekends, we’d hope somebody’s parents would go out of town, and if they did, it was kind of a big event for us. We’d hang around and get a boom box and sit on the back porch and listen to one CD after another. But at the same time, New York shaped our sound a lot. When you’re a band in New York starting off or a young person in New York starting off, you realize that right away trying to support yourself becomes really difficult. Living with people you play with gets pretty insane after a while–and the amount of space you have becomes really cramped.
Have you heard Ian Svenonious’ theory that rising interests rates and a real estate crunch are responsible for the new folk music and electroclash because bands can’t afford the space to set up a drum set?
I haven’t heard it but I can believe it. For us, in terms of the folk scene that happened, it was similar to that. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, let’s make a folk record.’ We’d gone through a time period where we’d been carrying a lot of equipment around and it was getting really stressful and the equipment was breaking a lot and it was resulting in us not being friends anymore.
How do you keep from becoming depressed and distracted?
I think for us–or for anybody that’s living a normal life–we’re just trying to live a happy life, trying to find a balance between what you actually really wanna do and what you have to do to get by to survive. Everybody reaches a point where they realize, ‘I have to support myself, life is hard, life sucks,’ but at the same time, there are alternatives to working in an office and being bummed out all the time. In terms of music, it’s never been something we needed to rely on. Then the stress comes in.
Because then it’s your job?
It’s kind of nice to push yourself forward and say, ‘It’s only fun if it remains fresh.’ Even if it goes slowly now, it’s better as long as we find a new place we wanna go, rather than feeling like we do this now because we have to. It’s just about it only really being fun if we’re trying out fun things, and it may reach the point where people might be like, ‘Yeah, you guys made records like Feels or Sung Tongs but now you’re sort of doing bullshit,’ but as long as it’s fun for us, we’d just be like, ‘Well, yeah.’ We’ve been doing it for ourselves since we were fifteen or fourteen–Brian and I would go down to the basement, turn on a strobe light and scream into microphones. We didn’t think it was what anyone would like or what anybody was doing–it was just stuff we did. But now that it’s sort of in the public eye, it’s really important to not get carried away. We’re not trying to please anybody but ourselves.
Is that a polka band tuning up in the background?
They’re opening for us–they’re called Storsveit Nix Noltes, basically a joke that means ‘Nick Noltes’ Big Band.’ There’s like ten people. It’s such a cool way to start the show–they just go out playing ripping Bulgarian folk music. It’s a nice contrast to us. We like to try and decide every band that opens for us now.
Anyone in particular?
There’s a lot of techno producers we like, a lot of Kompakt people. Madlib we really like. RZA we like a lot–but that’s a pipe dream!