Animal Collective have been a huge band for over a decade now, brightening the musical landscape with technicolour psychedelic pop that combines childlike imagination with virtuoso song-smithery.
The project buzzes around the hive mind of four individuals who go by the monikers Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Deakin and Geologist. All highly prolific solo artists in their own right, July sees the former, the band’s primary songwriter Avey Tare, release new solo album 'Eucalyptus'.
Arriving last week, 'Eucalyptus' is a woozy collection of compositions birthed in long acoustic guitar jams, which then warped into lusciously textured, sample-heavy songs.
To Avey Tare it’s a very personal record, an hour long opus on which the psychedelic troubadour reflects deeply on not only himself, but the world around him.
To get a bit more perspective on 'Eucalyptus', I spoke to Avey from across the Atlantic.
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It’s been 18 months since 'Painting With' came out. How have you kept yourself busy since then?
I mean we’ve toured a lot, and the touring’s winding down. We did a one off Josh (Deakin), Brian (Geologist) and I did a one off show in Miami, I think it was in February, with our friends doing this thing called Coral Morphologic. Colin Foord, who runs it, is actually part of the speech on Eucalyptus, he does the speech on one of the songs - says a little bit about coral…
There was a video project, and it was a sort of art film festival. Down in Miami, there’s a company called Borscht that puts it together, and they wanted us to do a collaboration with them, so we came up with an hour long piece that was partly improvised, and they make all these cool visuals of coral, and focus on the visual aspects of coral.
As well as that, I’ve been preparing for the album to come out, y’know, 'Eucalyptus', so I’ve just been hanging around, relaxing, and not touring so much.
Where did the title of the album come from?
It’s around Southern California, and the scent is very prominent. Sense memory is very important to me, an inspiration, bringing up a lot of things. In the time period of this record I’m going do a lot of hiking, and go around a lot in Southern California. The initial inspiration for the sounds for the album started coming from that feeling and that atmosphere. And I also think it’s a really nice word.
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Sense memory is very important to me, an inspiration, bringing up a lot of things.
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This album is certainly very much a record inspired by California, how important is the sense of place to you?
Place and environment are very important, and when you connect to an environment. I feel like I can connect to an environment like I can connect to a person. As much as the people around me are important, I think they’re only as important as the place itself; the flora, the fauna, and the architecture, all that kind of stuff. I see it all the time, and it inspires me. I’ve moved around a lot, and had the opportunities to not only live in different places, but see the world touring.
Seeing the world a lot, getting to travel a lot. Although I feel like it’s harder to connect to your environment if you’ve got a touring lifestyle, because you’re constantly moving. It’s hard to let it soak in, you know?
So it was nice to find California, and to connect to it, and have it as a place to really soak in. Growing up in Baltimore, Baltimore County really, affected me a lot, and inspired me a lot when I was younger. And I connect my early musical listening experiences to that. But the West Coast is totally different to the East Coast, so yeah, it’s just that different things are happening.
So how long has 'Eucalyptus' been in the works?
I wrote most of the songs in 2014. As I was going, it was a sort of mixture of writing lots of songs on my acoustic guitar, but also making a habit of using the studio spot in my house. Also going into my workspace and getting more technical with the samples and the samplers, trying to orchestrate all the parts of all the sounds so they could be one unifying thing.
I wanted to record all the basic parts so it sounded live in a room, and I wanted it to have an immediately intimate feeling when it was recorded. I wanted to keep that, and take my time with it, it’s more of a personal project than something that would make me immediately go to my manager, or Domino, and say “I’ve got these songs and I want to record them here” like I would with an Animal Collective record.
I guess I’ve just been taking my time. But I also got in my head a little bit too much with it, just getting it right and figure out the way I wanted to record. So around the time, in 2014, the band were talking about writing the stuff for 'Painting With', so I put it aside for a little bit, which was perfect timing because I was beginning to get a little too frustrated. Then after 2015, the year I devoted completely to the Animal Collective record, I started to revisit.
There’s a lot of cross pollination when I’m working with the band, so I’ll have like sounds that I’ve used on Eucalyptus on the same sampler I’ll be using with the band for 'Painting With'. So I got back into it, and was talking to Josh on the phone, in 2016, so last year, and I was just talking about what I was up to, and it somehow came out that I had a whole group of songs ready to go that I didn’t know what to do with, and he just like “you know I love working with you, I think it would be cool to do this album together.”
Josh is recording a lot, just trying to get better and better and better. He’s at the studio full time, and while we’re all interested in making records, it’s something that he can really focus on a lot more easily than songwriting.
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It’s maybe me being a bit hard on myself, wondering if I’m doing my part to help out.
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The track 'Coral Lords' really stood out to me as a centrepiece listening to the record. Could you tell me a bit about it?
'Coral Lords' started by being about the ocean and my attachment to the Earth, my emotional attachment to it. Loosely it’s maybe me being a bit hard on myself, wondering if I’m doing my part to help out. I spend a lot of time with people that study the ocean a lot, so it’s a big topic for me. I think we’re reaching a time where the Earth in general is in danger, and we’re in a very interesting point in history right now. It comes out a lot around me in terms of the ocean, as I’ve spent a lot of time with it, growing up going to the beach a lot and swimming.
I’ve had some intense experiences with it that all came out in Coral Lords. I wrote the last part first, where there’s backwards piano looping and a voice that keeps repeating; that’s all one sample I got from YouTube. I just liked the chord progression I’d created so I used it as the basis for the song. There’s like a crow sound, like a texture in there, a crow call. They do this weird clicking sound kinda thing, and it happened a lot with the crows round my house, so I recorded it and put it in there.
Another track that stood out for me was the opener 'Season High'… Season High? It was one of the last songs I wrote, but the first that Josh and I recorded. We listened back to it like “sweet, that’s going to work, we’re off to a good start”. It just seemed immediately like a good album starter, so I moulded the lyrics around that; around waking up.
In some ways I see the record as a succession from daytime, morning, into night-time. I feel like 'Season High' is definitely the morning time. The lyrics are to do with the thoughts, the emotional thoughts, that happen when I’m waking up. Again, like 'Eucalyptus' with plants and trees, there’s a lot of growth, and plants and trees, and death. Like seasonal transition, and 'Season High' just really started that off.
Following that idea through, do you see 'When You Left Me', the album closer, as a particularly night-time inspired end-piece?
I go down to the Echo Park area a lot, it’s this big lake near my house, and I just walk around a lot and sit there a lot. There’s a really good view of the skyline of downtown L.A. from the lake. I just saw this one bird - there’s a lot of birds and ducks that hang out there - and this bird took off, and I just watched it start as this full on bird in my perspective become this black dot as it flew away before just disappearing.
It made me want to write that song, about something being there for a moment, just a moment before it’s gone. I felt like, as the song progressed, I was having a conversation with someone that was like “if I could only go into the future and see what my life would be like as an old person and maybe get some advice”, something that’d be interesting and maybe make things a lot easier.
So I combined those two experiences for the song. I think a lot of people will hear that song - because I recently went through a breakup - and find it easier to think that that song’s about breaking up with somebody. That’s definitely in there, at the start of the song, with lingering emotions, and learning to cope on your own, but it’s also just about loss in general, death, things changing, and getting older. So it felt like the right way to close the album, it’s a very positive song, I wanted the album to be on the whole positive despite it’s darker scenes.
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In some ways I see the record as a succession from daytime, morning, into night-time.
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You released the album without singles, so the listener's first experience of it is as a singular piece. Was this always your intention?
Yeah, definitely, that was my intention from the beginning. When I finished it, I had a record that felt like a really personal statement to me. When I had it finished, I showed it to my manager and said “look, I’ve got this album. I don’t know what I want to do with it, if I want to tour it, all I know is that Domino’s going to put it out and I want to find a way of getting it out there without hyping it up a lot”.
The thing with singles is that firstly there’s a side of it that’s obviously a label tool, definitely a way to promote yourself. But also to me, the term ‘single’ also has a heavy weight to it. It didn’t feel like there was a definite single on the album, that kind of track. It felt more like a record that’s a full statement, an open ended conversation. It didn’t feel right to break it up.When you put out a single you make the statement of what the record will be like, and I didn’t feel like there was one track that did that.
It’s often a thing to put out a catchy song, or the most upbeat song as a single - and there are a couple of those on the record - but I felt like it would be kind of misleading.
I felt like that happened with the Slasher Flicks record, because we put out 'Little Fang' as a single, but I really don’t feel there’s any tracks on that album that are like that track. As good as it is to get people psyched, it’s misleading in terms of building people’s expectations. Listening to albums as a whole is a way I really like to experience records, to just put them on, listen to the whole thing and get lost in it. I guess that’s kind of what making music is about.
The album cover seems to me like a warped reference to lots of 60s compilations, could you tell me a bit about the artwork?
I’m glad people seem to be picking up on that, it’s a nod to old albums like that. The first people I played it to were Brian and Noah, and a few other people that we were on tour with at the end of last year. Just talking to Brian, he said a lot reminded him of old classical and jazz, and island music, and it brings to mind those old nonsuch Explorer series records, or Contemporary Classical records, so we talked about it being cool to do an album cover like that.
One thing I like about those records is that they’re very informational as well as cool looking. I thought it would be cool to do a cover that had the players’ names on the front, because they’re an important part to it. It’s a cooler way to give them credit, but maybe it’s messed up and out there, but I love optical art and visual art.
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When I finished it, I had a record that felt like a really personal statement to me.
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You’re coming to tour this in November, do you plan to play 'Eucalyptus' solo or with a full band?
I’ve definitely thought about it a lot, and a lot of the songs are hard to do solo, but when I wrote it all and made it all I didn’t have touring it a lot. I think I’ll just tour by myself. I’ve only done one tour on my own but it was more electronic stuff.
I’m interested to see if I can do a weird combination of a much more minimal presentation of things, combined with some other new songs. I’ve been writing a lot lately. This year, I did another one off with my sister, and wrote a whole set, with lots of songs I now really like.
So it’ll be a mixture of those songs, old songs, and 'Eucalyptus', trying to add some of the textures and rhythms in there, but also having some time to just be a lot more minimal.
What next for Animal Collective?
We’re always hoping to continue working on things. Right now, we’re into specialised events here and there. Just touring for the record, 'Painting With', has been winding down, but it’s been really great and we’ve had a great time playing together - we’ve been playing some of the best shows we’ve ever played, our most consistent run of touring. It’s winding down now, so it’s time perhaps to take a little bit of a break.
I think this break will be shorter than some of ours in the past, I think we’re just able to make music and create a lot faster now, so we’re just going to have some time off so Brian and Noah can get adjusted to having new families, and raising their kids. We’re of an age where it’s getting just a bit more relaxed, and we focus more on our own. We’re just going to try and keep putting stuff out there, hopefully in diverse ways.
It’s good to keep it interesting and not feel like we’ve just got to do: “Album! Album! Album!” It’s nice to do one offs, specialised events are kinda cool, and we’re going to try and do more things like that for a little bit, before hopefully thinking about another record.
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'Eucalyptus' is out now.
Words: Cal Cashin