by Casey Rea
Here's my complete interview with Avey Tare of Animal Collective, which appeared in part in the Wed. Nov. 29 issue of Seven Days. What made the print edition was edited for space, and in some instances, clarity! But now you can enjoy the unexpurgated version.
Listen to a live performance from Avey & Kria here.
ME: To my ears, your music has grown increasingly rhapsodic. Is beauty a part of your overall aesthetic?
AVEY: I'd say all the things I like are aesthetically beautiful. Really, that means they achieve something very individualistic, and enhance senses and feelings that maybe wouldn't normally be on the surface. There are a lot of different kinds of beauty and that’s definitely translated into my music. Take for instance the film Texas Chainsaw Massacre. To me, its very beautiful; visually, stylistically, etc.. I think chicken bones, human skulls and bloodshed can be beautiful when viewed in a certain light. But I’m not really a dark, macabre person or into violence at all. Those things don't linger in my day to day life. Kristin [Kria] doesn't understand why I like films like that. But to me its about separating them from reality. I just feel like life would be boring if there was only flowers and love. I realize this doesnt really translate into a stable reality, but music is part non-reality to me.
ME: How does working as a duo compare with creating with a band?
AVEY: In a duo it’s important to not let things get too complicated, and let the music come from the two people that are playing rather than trying to overdo things. It’s sometimes hard for me to keep things minimal, so I really like the challenge. I really like minimal music, so I try and embrace it as much as I can when playing with fewer people. 'Cause it's harder when you are playing with three other people.
ME: How did you begin writing/performing with Kria?
AVEY: Initially AC asked Kria to play piano with us while we were recording Feels, 'cause we had been talking about including more piano on an album for awhile, and she is real sweet at the keys. I think we all had a really great time. But beyond that, we started playing lazily in an apartment I had in Paris last summer. I had been living and recording with my friend Eric Copeland there, 'cause we needed a break from New York summers, as they can be brutally hot and disgusting. I was taking time off from the Animal Collective bros, 'cause Noah [Lennox] was about to have his baby, Nadjia. For awhile, Kristin and I were really only able to see each other in between other things — she was still playing in mum at the time — so we made plans to hang for a month. It seemed really easy and laid back to spend time in our flat just playing acoustic guitar, smoking hash and that kind of thing. Earlier this year she decided to move to NYC, so we started recording a bunch of the songs we wrote in Paris. In April, we were asked to play a small show by our friend Eyvind at this great place in NYC called The Stone, which I don't think many people know about. We did a similar thing this summer in Reykjavik. Since we really like to travel together it made sense to do a small tour and try to play some shows in other places. So here we are. I've always liked Vermont, by the way.
ME: I’ve had the pleasure to hear a live set from you two, and I love how intimate it sounds. Could this be a reflection of your personal relationship?
AVEY: There's that, and also just the process of making our music, which usually happens in an apartment. Perhaps on record it might come to be a bit more produced, but I think the intimate quality will always be important. I will always like transportive music, so that remains an element, too.
ME: Your earliest work was less centered on song form than some of your more current output. Do you feel you’re gravitating toward a new melodic center?
AVEY: This gets said about AC alot, and though I do know what you are talking about, I think our early recorded output really reflects a time where we were focused on learning to play live together. When you're playing with other people I think you really have to let everyone shine, otherwise it usually seems forced or controlled. I think Spirit They're Gone is one of our more melodic releases, personally. But that's just me writing those tunes and not a group playing. After releasing that, we wanted to experiment with sounds and forms and feel how it was to really play together and work more with iprov. Just to see what would happen if no one took the reigns but the melodies were still there. Melodies have always been somthing that Noah and I love writing, 'cause at least for me personally, I'm not a virtuoso on any instrument. So I've spent alot of time on writing melodies and translating them in interesting ways. I guess with AC records like Sung Tongs or Feels, Noah and I have gotten a little more confident about structuring our songs with each other or the other dudes and letting the melodies provide structure to the song. Whereas as for awhile, we'd just let the structure make itself.
ME: Animal Collective has garnered a great deal of acclaim in the last few years. Has this affected you or your bandmates creative process?
AVEY: It hasn’t, really. It’s always been really important for us to focus on the current music we’re making and not let it be affected by anything other than what’s going on in our lives. I don’t even read what people say about us anymore, ’cause usually I don’t agree with it anyway. I’ve enjoyed making all of our records and am proud of all of them, although I can see why a group of people may prefer some to others. In a perfect world, a large amount of people could find waysto appreciate records by Family Fodder and Folk Rabe. Or even something moreconcrete like Luc Ferrari or Black Dice. But in truth, most people wouldrather hear the Beatles, and I know it. But none of us have been disillusioned by any hype we’ve gotten. I think we’ve always wanted to make new and interesting music, music that we would want to listen to, and explore new territory, ’cause that’s what keeps it fun and interesting. We always hoped to have as many people as possible appreciate something about what we are doing, but it was never a goal to have lots and lots of people into us. We would change what we want to do to win more people’s attention.
ME: Did you ever expect that kind of attention for your work?
AVEY: I personally try not to expect anything and just hope for the best. I think as long as a person enjoys and believes in the music they are making, or anything they do, then they will be happy. At least as far as personal achievements goes.
ME: The first time I heard your music I honestly felt like it was playing inside my head. Is it that way for you?
AVEY: A friend of Kristin and mine were just talking about how original ideas like melodies, etc. are things that are just floating about in the ether around us and they get picked up by people who are sensitive to them. I guess if you believe in things like Jung's concept of universal consciousness — which I do — [Casey's note: me too] then perhaps what you're saying holds some truth. I don't know where the melodies I write come from — they just pop into my head. I think [Yamataka] Eye from the Boredoms said that music is something that's always happening around us and that musicians just tune into it and bring it into the physical realm. Any musician that's had the experience of playing with others and found something magical happening knows what I'm talking about. There are a lot of ways to look at it; we could spend an entire interview on this topic alone. If anything it makes our world seem to have more possibilities, and makes you think that creativity and the imagination is a lot more important then people give credit to in their day-to-day lives.
ME: One thing that I enjoy most about both yours and Kria’s music is that it sounds very organic, even when there are production accoutrements. How do you achieve a balance between raw feel and arrangement?
AVEY: I think it's just a matter of letting the music stay human. Some bands practice and practice 'til all the notes are perfect and they never miss a beat. There are groups I like that do this, but it really doesn't interest me as far as playing goes. It can be equally as fun or interesting to let the music run wild and not have so much control. It's the same even when we have added ear candy; we try and let it flow with us and not be stuck in some program where it always has to start at the same time or do the same things.
ME: For one reason or another, I've been asking a lot of artists about spirituality in music. I hear it in your stuff, but I can't seem quantify it. That's not a bad thing. It's kind of like waves lapping, or something. How do you feel about it?
AVEY: In a lot of ways, I'm a spiritual person, and I do believe in the spirituality of music. But for me, it stays on a very personal level. I think a lot of times people use words like "shaman" and "spirituality" and "mystical" to describe our music, and, while I for one am interested in all of those things, most of the group isn't really. Well I mean, it's not that they aren't, but we don't sit around trying to come up with new shamanistic techniques or discuss spirituality. We're really just four guys interested in making some special sonic music. I think some of us are still trying to figure out where spirituality fits in our lives. I think that music can just be very spiritual on its own, without speaking about it in any way. There's something about starting to play and losing all sense of everything physical around you besides the sounds.
ME: Plenty of music journalists have lumped your work into catchall categories. Does that ever annoy you?
AVEY: Sure it does, but that's just the way it is. I don't think that process will ever be changed, and if it helps anyone out there locate us or find a way into our world, then I ultimately don't mind. Honestly, the "freak-folk" thing is a big joke to us and all of our friends at this point. It's funny that journalists are still using that term, but what can you do?
ME: Is there anything that you've heard, seen or experienced lately that has inspired you artistically?
AVEY: It sounds cheesy to say, but I really try and let everything be some sort of an inspiration. Otherwise, I'd probably start getting very angry or jaded, or maybe even bored. Off the top of my head? I just saw Black Dice and they are always an inspiration to me. Also, I recently went snorkeling in Australia. You sometimes forget how powerful the current of the ocean is.
ME: What would you like to do musically that you’ve yet to attempt?
AVEY: I'd definitely like to make a record without guitars. Other then that, I think it's just about searching out what I haven't found yet.