Vol. 2, Issue #17 September 14th - September 27th, 2007

Animal Collective
Interview By: Graham Lee Brewer

Whether you try to classify Animal Collective’s music as experimental rock, psychedelia, freak folk or indie rock, one thing is abundantly clear: their music is unclassifiable. Constantly redefining their sound, the northeast group always works hard to mature their music and never retrace their steps. Consequently, every album is different than the ones that preceded it and their music will never find the security of a category or genre. They just released their newest record, “Strawberry Jam,” which many critics are hailing as their most accessible work to date, something that slightly perplexes its members. Animal Collective will be bringing their unconventional genius to the Bricktown Ballroom Sept. 23. I chatted with member Geologist (a.k.a. Brian Weitz) about the evolution of Animal Collective’s style, their lack of classification and strange ambience.

Brewer: How do you approach the song writing process?

Geologist: We’re all sort of spread out now; we all live in different places. Except for Josh and Dave, who live in New York. Usually a couple of times a year, before tour, we get together for a couple of weeks to focus on song writing. But we have to do a lot of individual work in our off time. Usually Dave and Noah are the main writers of the melodies. In the off time they each come up with a couple melodies, just vocal melodies basically and their part on their instrument. And then, I collect a bunch of sounds. I try and show up within between 50 and 100 different sounds and samples that I’ve made. Then we just sort of play for each other everything we have made and see of we’ve all been on the same page, which usually we are since we’ve been playing together for so long. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, then we figure out what sort of environment and color we want the songs to have—a sort of visual description of the songs. Then we work on producing it, adding different arts from everybody together. We’re starting now to send stuff to each other over the Internet, which we’ve really only done twice.

Brewer: You mentioned the noises you bring. One of my questions was about that use of unconventional noise and ambience in your songs. What is that stuff we’re hearing and where do you find it?

Geologist: Some of it is field recordings that I make on my own and use a bunch of effects pedals to get it to sound weirder. Sometimes I take samples from other field recordings that other people have done. I’m playing with a bunch of scientists just because I used to work in that field. I get a lot of ambient recordings of animals and stuff like that. And then other things are stuff around my house, like I’ll find a toy or something in my kitchen that makes a cool sound, then I just sample that.

Brewer: Your albums are often extremely different than each other. Do you set out to make something distinctive from the last album?

Geologist: Yeah, definitely. When we start making a record there’s a few general things we talk about, like this time let’s make it more electronic or this or that, but the biggest rule we have is to not repeat ourselves. We sort of use that as a guideline. We can start jamming after the record. We just work really hard on making sure it doesn’t sound like anything we’ve done before.

Brewer: Do you feel like that is something that you see more and more with other bands, that sort of pushing the boundaries, or do you fell like it’s going in the opposite direction?

Geologist: I think at least with the musicians that we’re friends with and the crowd we have matured with in New York, bands like Black Dice. A lot of us are just sort of restless people and I think one of the reasons why our crowd of friends enjoyed spending time around one another is because we like to push our own boundaries. It’s not like we have some lofty musical goal to push boundaries for everyone else but for ourselves, which is really like playing music and always searching for something new, but I see it as definitely pushing boundaries, but it’s kind of hard to pinpoint it. There might be a band I’ll hear that I don’t think they’re pushing their boundaries, maybe it sounds just like their last record. But it’s not really for me to judge because I don’t know their process.

Brewer: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?

Geologist: It would depend on how quickly I wanted to get out of the conversation (laughs), and if I thought there was any chance of the person being interested. If it was one of our parent’s friends or like an aunt or an uncle I would just say “a rock band.” That’s all they would really need to know, even if it’s not necessarily true. They’re not really going to listen to us or care anyway.

Brewer: What about someone who is interested?

Geologist: What I usually say to people is we make pop songs but also kind of electronic and psychedelic and a little more strange than normal. Maybe rock-pop kind of stuff. I don’t really have a well thought out definition.

Brewer: From the reviews and descriptions I’ve read of “Strawberry Jam,” a lot of people equate it as your most accessible work. Do you agree with that?

Geologist: I think we’ve kind of lost perspective and it’s hard for us to say. Like we didn’t really think it was going to be received that way because we decided to move away from stuff like on “Feels and Sung Tongs,” which are definitely our most popular albums prior to “Strawberry Jam.” There are some very sort of hallmarks of those records, like vocal harmonies and layered guitars. For this record we chose not to do those things. The guitars don’t really sound like guitars. They’re not layered a million times, and we also didn’t layer the vocals a million times or do tons of harmonies, so we thought that some of the things that people had been attaching themselves to over the last three or four years, since they were absent, a lot of our fans maybe wouldn’t be into it as much. But, obviously, we were completely wrong. I guess it’s pointless to even try to predict how things will be perceived. It doesn’t bother me that people say it’s our most accessible record. I think part of that is because we didn’t do any layering. The vocals sound a little more clear and sound a little more up front. The vocals are what most people immediately latch onto when they’re listening to songs, so maybe that’s the result of us not doing those traditional Animal Collective things, kind of made it a little easier for people to get into.

Brewer: There is one thing you guys do in your live set that I’ve really come to appreciate that bands like Man Man do as well, which is that you guys make it continuous.

Geologist: These days since we play for an hour and a half, that’s a little long for it to be continuous. We usually stop like twice or something in the middle.

Brewer: Are those slots in between songs still improvised?

Geologist: We usually do. These days we change the set every night. We used to sort of compose the set and leave a little room for improvising, but we sort of knew what songs were going back to back and we got kind of used to it. So, it wasn’t really improvising after a while. But this tour we’ve been changing up the set so far, which gives us a little more of a challenge on how we’re going to get to the next song, like who is going to keep the sound going. It’s not so much about jamming, like in a Grateful Dead way, we think of it more of like a DJ’s cross-fade and keep the sound going and trying to keep the energy up, even if the energy drops because it gets more ambient. We are the kind of people that appreciate more ambient weird sounds in live shows. It’s fun for us, too. A lot of our songs before we get to the studio don’t really have ways of starting or finishing, we have to make those decisions in the studio. We sort of like leaving it open ended.

Brewer: What kind of nonmusical influences play a role on your songwriting?

Geologist: We’re influenced by a lot of things outside of music. We’re all very into movies and film, a lot of visual things. During the recording of “Strawberry Jam,” we got really into watching “Blue Planet,” the documentary series, and also watching a lot of old B-movie science-fiction stuff. The guy we were recording with bought this budget pack of like 50 sci-fi movies from the ‘50s and we got into those visually and tried to think about how we could create those images in the music as well when we were recording “Strawberry Jam.”

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