Having just released the second single “Summertime Clothes” from their acclaimed eighth album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Chris Berkley from Static spoke to David Portner from Baltimore, Maryland’s favourite sons, Animal Collective and asked, among other things, what lurked behind the eye-catching artwork and whether or not they had been invited to play the venue they named the album after.
It was fantastic to read that Animal Collective had crashed into the American charts like that. It’s been a pretty exciting time releasing Merriweather Post Pavilion for you guys. Do you get excited by how much excitement that other people had for the record coming out?
Yeah, I try and just keep a clear head about it, not pay to much attention to it, but it’s definitely exciting.
You can kinda measure how many people are excited about it by how many pre-album leaks you guys had to quash. It was like you guys were putting out spot fires for a while there.
There was some weird situations arising waiting for the record to come out. I think that was the hardest part about it, the weird leak drama and all that stuff.
You were all working differently this time around. There were a few changed circumstances leading up to Merriweather Post Pavilion, I guess the main thing was Deakin didn’t tour Strawberry Jam and then didn’t work on this album. Now it’s not the first time there hasn’t been all of you on an Animal Collective record but how did his departure affect the songs?
Well it was definitely an incentive to have to write a lot of songs. Having the two tours set up, we kinda knew we wouldn’t be able play a lot of old songs. His guitar parts were so crucial to them. So we thought we should just write a bunch of new material that excited us more. We had it already anyway, a few of the songs, but it definitely pushed us to take 12 days and be like ‘we’re going to put together as many songs as we can‘ and add new songs to the set. I guess we were lucky that it went well for us. It also just kinda took away a lot of the guitar elements because he‘s a great guitar player and without him we wanted to do something a little bit different.
Do you worry then, or feel like an Animal Collective record would sound different without those guitar parts or is it just finding a different way to get to your destination?
It’s not something we worry about, just because we’re used to it at this point. We’ve made so many different records in so many different ways that‘s it’s, in a way, comfortable for us. It’s definitely emotional and a lot of emotion went into the record, where in part because he was such a constant thing in our lives, touring, everything. It was definitely weird, especially on stage, not having another presence there.
Did his absence open up the sound of Merriweather Post Pavilion? A song like “No More Runnin‘” is something less cluttered than Animal Collective have ever done.
Yeah, I think that and it just being a choice on our part to really think about it. There have been times with songs in the past where we just haven’t really thought about all the sounds taking up space, and space is always really important to us, but there’s a certain side, like a wall of sound that we can appreciate with a lot of our songs that have the confusing elements and the crazier elements, but I think since we have a bunch of songs like that, we’ve approached a bunch of records that way, this time we really wanted to think about emptiness a little bit more, and wide open spaces and having every sound play a very important role and to be allowed to shine on its own and not try and get too cluttered with everything.
Another thing that was a change in circumstance, this was Animal Collective‘s first album since Panda Bear completed and released his first solo album. Had his agenda changed with making records?
I think he, and all of us, over the last few years, have tried to get a lot more organised and settled in this way of life as we possibly can. We definitely had some rough times, not necessarily getting organised, but getting to a calmer place where we could accomplish musically what we want to do in an easier way, and it’s just happened and I think it’s definitely helped us a lot in making a record.
So does it feel like making records for Animal Collective is more a serene experience now?
It doesn’t mean it’s always going to be, no. It was just a very harmonious experience. I just feel lucky to be a part of it, and that everything went so smoothly the whole way. It’s really hard to predict that kind of thing.
You all decamped to Arizona to record parts of Strawberry Jam and this time around you went to Mississippi. Is taking yourselves to a different location and working with a producer like you‘ve done again also a help in formulating an album. Does that help you get into a working space?
Yeah, I think so. Even ten years ago we were recording a lot of our stuff in Maryland, kinda away from New York. We kinda grew up recording music and making music in an isolate atmosphere in our houses growing up. I think a certain element of that has carried over and stuck with us. Just kinda being off on our own and being in a work mind and not have so many distractions. We never really have that much time in the studio and we like to do as much as we possibly can in that amount of time.
Is it weird inviting a producer onto an Animal Collective record? Is it hard having that extra person who you haven’t worked with for so long having that input?
This time it definitely was a little freaky. I think that was just one of the serendipitous things about the experience that we worked. We just hit it off with Ben really well. He came in the night we took our stuff over and set up, and he was just like ‘play me some songs, let me see how this is going to work. I want to hear how you’ve been doing it’. He was a little confused at first as to why we chose to play everything with samples live, and not just lock everything into a grid onto the computer and do everything piece by piece, but he eventually warmed up to the idea and thought it was pretty cool. It was inspiring to him and for us working with him was really inspiring. We were just lucky that it went really well.
The other part I guess of putting the Animal Collective record together was deciding on the artwork. Is there a sailboat hidden in the magic eye artwork of Merriweather Post Pavilion that anyone has seen or had seizures to that you‘ve found out about yet?
(laughs). Nothing I know of. I think it made some people sick.
Have you had letters of complaint about people that passed out in record stores?
No, I think just people in our label and people that we know. We didn’t intend for it to cause any controversy or cause hysteria with it. We just liked it as a cover. The cover is a personal thing for the music that’s made and why not, you know?
Have you been invited to play at the Maryland venue that the album’s named after yet?
No, not yet. It’s a large venue.
Do you have to work your way up to that one? Is it for people like Mariah Carey?
Yeah. Summer concert series with Elton John. (laughs)
I think it should be like getting a key to the city. Naming your album after it should definitely be a shoe-in. Maybe you can support Elton John at some point?
(laughs). Maybe. You never know.
First broadcast on Static on 19/02/09. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).