photos by Jeff Campbell
The Animal Collective discuss Vashti Bunyan, drugs, Black Dice, George Bush, and their upcoming “love” record
[Don’t miss them live in NY Feb. 24,25]
Following the release of their hugely popular Sung Tongs in 2004, The Animal
Collective have been described in countless ways. Hallucinogenic campfire music.
Cut-and-paste pop. Avante Folk. And don’t forget the obligatory Brian Wilson comparisons.
Animal Collective are a difficult band to categorize. Their sound is constantly
evolving. Their sound is consistently unique.
The foursome met in Baltimore, where they attended high school together and have
been good friends ever since. Like the Elephant Six collective, they record in
various incarnations and sometimes even release solo records under the Animal
Collective umbrella. The communal approach they take to their music seems in harmony
with their humble personalities and their otherworldly aesthetic.
Adding to their mystique, they often wear animal masks on stage, but “only when [they] feel like it” to avoid being reduced to a gimmick.
Most of the members of the Animal Collective have aliases. David Portner goes
by Avey Tare. Noah Lennox is Panda Bear. Brian Weitz is Geologist.
And Conrad Deaken simply goes by Deaken. Though Noah is often credited
as the primary songwriter (his solo release as Panda Bear last year was warmly
received by critics) they insist the Collective has no leader. They have their
own label, Paw Tracks, though their most recent releases have been with Fatcat.
We met with Avey Tare (above left) and Geologist (above right) at Union Square on an unseasonably warm day in early February. Avey lives
in Brooklyn and went to NYU. Geologist was visiting from D.C. He received his
undergrad at Columbia.
Avey Tare was wearing a shark tooth necklace. He had mysterious scratches on
his hand which had to be the work of a cat or perhaps some more mysterious
creature conjured from the netherworlds of their music. They were friendly and articulate, if somewhat aloof, and their comfort with one another made it obvious that they were old and dear friends.
Don’t miss their shows this week:
February 24th – SOLD OUT
Storsveit Nix Noltes
@ THE LLANO ESTACADO
NE Corner of Metropolitan Ave and River St. (in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) 8pm
Storsveit Nix Noltes
Bowery Ballroom (Manhattan) 8pm
People always describe your sound as being psychedelic. Are drugs a part of your
AVEY TARE: We record sober, mostly. It’s important for us to get things to
sound exactly the way we want and recording comes down to really concentrating
on what we’re doing.
GEOLOGIST: It’s work.
How long has the band been playing together as The
AVEY TARE: Well, as the Animal Collective we’ve been playing for about
three or four years. We used to just call ourselves by our individual aliases, but as we began to play together more on the records it became easier to just go by The Animal Collective.
How did you come up with all of your aliases?
AVEY TARE: Mine is just Davey without the D. And then “Tare”
is, like, tearing the name apart, only with a different spelling. A lot of people
think it has something to do with “avatar” but I didn’t even know what that word
meant when I came up with Avey Tare. Noah’s always used Panda Bear…. I don’t
GEOLOGIST: We all used to make 4 track tapes and the first tape he made
he drew a panda bear on the cover.
How about Geologist?
GEOLOGIST: I studied science in college. Somebody thought I studied Geology
even though I never did. Anyway it just kind of stuck after that.
Do you have any plans to work with Black Dice again?
AVEY TARE: We haven’t talked about anything. We’re both sort of on our own
Are you tight with them?
AVEY TARE: Yeah.
GEOLOGIST: Yeah, we’re all really good friends.
AVEY TARE: I used to work with this guy who was gonna put out one of their
records and he knew I recorded music. He asked me to record a bunch of their songs.
It’s called Cold Hands. After that, we started hanging out a lot. They
were the first people in New York we felt like we were on the same wavelength
with. It was cool just to hang out with them. I’ve lived with Eric [Copeland of
Black Dice] for four years now.
What do your live shows involve? I’ve heard there’s a lot of
improv and you play one continuous song.
GEOLOGIST: It’s not improv.
AVEY TARE: I think it comes off sounding like improv. We bleed the edges together.
It’s hard to tell where one song ends and another begins.
How have your live shows been received? I’ve read there were some conflicts with
unreceptive crowds at some of your early shows.
AVEY TARE: Yeah, on one of our first tours, we were actually with Black
Dice and there were a bunch of kids [in the audience] who thought they were 1977
Sex Pistols punks. I guess they were looking for a band that had more melodies
and vocals. Whereas our focus was more about sounds, space, and environments.
GEOLOGIST: We cleared the room a bunch of times. The second band wouldn’t
have anyone there watching them.
AVEY TARE: But we play for ourselves when it comes down to it.
Did anyone ever get hostile?
AVEY TARE: We’ve had stuff thrown at us and we’ve heard comments like “who
the fuck do they think they are, what is this?” But we came to terms with the
fact early on that we may not be everyone’s favorite band.
But you were a lot of people’s favorite band after releasing Sung
Tongs. Did the attention surprise you?
AVEY TARE: I think it’s always a surprise because every record we do is different
from the last one.
Do you enjoy touring?
We’re all just the type of people who don’t like that lifestyle. Being at home
is really important to us. Noah and I toured in 2003 for like three months straight.
By the end, we had just had it with each other. The tours we do now are shorter.
We won’t do a tour that’s more than two weeks.
Do you have other jobs?
AVEY TARE: I don’t
GEOLOGIST: I’m doing other stuff right now. We could probably afford to live
off the band now, but poorly.
Will all four members of the Collective be on the next release?
GEOLOGIST: Yeah. But I’m not on the EP [out on Fat Cat – May 31]. They did it in Europe and I had to work.
AVEY TARE: We met this folk singer, well she’s not really a folk singer, she’s
more of a cult psychedelic singer, Vashti
Bunyan. She put out this record that’s been one of my favorites for like six
years now ever since it got reissued. And we happened to go on tour with this
guy who had played with her before. So when we were in Scotland he was like do
you want to go out to eat an meet her and we were totally psyched. We started
a small friendship and asked her if she wanted to record some songs with us. We
had some songs left over from Sung Tongs that we didn’t get to record
and thought they’d be great with her singing. Fat Cat got some studio time for
us and we went in for a weekend and recorded three songs with her. The EP will
be similar to Sung Tongs.
GEOLOGIST: It’s mellower
AVEY TARE: Yeah, its mellower. And its got Vashti on the vocals.
Was Vashti really into it?
AVEY TARE: She’s really shy as a singer so we had to push her. We just kept
telling her that her voice is really amazing.
Does the Collective still hang out together or do you see too much
of each other professionally?
GEOLOGIST: We’re all close friends
AVEY TARE: Yeah, we try not to worry about the band so much and to just be
Are you nervous about your upcoming releases given the amazing press
you got on Sung Tongs? Your fans definitely
have high expectations.
AVEY TARE: From the bands we like, we always expect something different with
each new release. We would always want to do the same and just hope our fans will
follow us. It’s great that Sung Tongs got us some new fans because now
we can bring those people with us and maybe they’ll be more open too stuff they
wouldn’t have normally listened to.
GEOLOGIST: Yeah, and we normally do stuff backwards. We play songs live for
a long time and then we release them. As opposed to bands who record a record
and then go on tour to support it. Sung Tongs brought out a lot of new
fans and some of them were surprised when they didn’t see us playing with acoustic
guitars on stage, but they were still stoked. Some people will be turned off by
the new record if it doesn’t sound like Sung Tongs but what can you do?
Some people will always be turned off, no matter what you do.
So will you next full length release from The Animal Collective be something totally different?
GEOLOGIST: Yeah, it’s gonna be the stuff we’re playing live now. It’s going
to be mostly electric.
AVEY TARE: It’s still song and melody oriented but maybe a bit more textured.
It’s our love record. It’s all love songs.
So you’re doing some slow jams?
AVEY TARE: Yeah, lots of slow jams. It will be the make-out record of the
Here’s a question we always ask. What was your first concert?
AVEY TARE: Jackson Five
GEOLOGIST: Beach Boys
Would you ever let your music be played on the O.C. or in a Volkswagen
GEOLOGIST: I’m not sure about the O.C. My girlfriend watches that but I think
its pretty bad.
So you’d be reluctant?
GEOLOGIST: I think I would be.
AVEY TARE: I don’t even know the show you’re talking about….
It’s like 90210 for the next generation
AVEY TARE: …but I suppose if someone approached us it would
come down to what the company was about. The best thing about those opportunities,
besides the money which I don’t think it would be about for us, is the opportunity
for people who wouldn’t normally hear your music to be exposed to it.
Is there any public figure you have a lot of respect for?
AVEY TARE: Tom Cruise does everything right. (laughter)
On the flip, is there anyone you want to give a big fuck you to?
AVEY TARE: George Bush
I think we’re unanimous there. Would The
Collective ever do a political record?
GEOLOGIST: No. Some of us are political and others aren’t. There’s enough
bands already doing political records. We got asked to do a show in support of
John Kerry but couldn’t do it. It was out in LA.
AVEY TARE: If it was a show to help the environment, we’d get involved. I
guess that’s our biggest issue.
So I can’t resist a Barbara Walters-esque question. If you could be
any animal what would it be?
AVEY TARE: Crocodile for sure.
GEOLOGIST: Shark, I guess. Or maybe something more playful and smart.
So why did you decide to name yourselves the Animal Collective anyway?
AVEY TARE: We’ve been asking ourselves that all along. It was the only name
that encompassed what we wanted to do. And we used to run our own label called
Animal. I don’t know why, the name just seemed to fit.
–Interview by Robert Lanham