I spoke with Brian “Geologist” Wietz of Animal Collective ahead of their return to New Zealand this month – having released the long awaited follow up to their ‘breakthrough’ album Merriweather Post Pavilion – the much denser, and less accessible Centipede Hz.
Merriweather explored family and domesticity – but between that album and this Brian has become a father for the first time and Noah has had another child too – so I wondered how those events affected the new album.
“Logistically it made a big difference in terms of the time spent writing the record and recording – having to take children and family into account – I think it pushed us a little bit harder; I just felt like that my limits of exhaustion and hard work were beyond what they used to be before I had a child – I felt like I was able to work harder on Centipede Hz than maybe I was before. I also felt more confident of what my boundaries were than before.”
But the record doesn’t explore those themes any further; Merriweather already covered that ground – and Brian tells me, even Feels did to an extent even though no children were in the equation yet at the time of making that record. But this record is, Brian explains “less linked to family life and a transition into adulthood because maybe we were already comfortable there.”
The handy byte-size snippets of info that music journalists are sometimes fed by record companies are, often, not quite totally true. For instance the narrative that the last few albums that Animal Collective made were recorded ‘remotely over the internet’ were probably designed by some hipster record company intern, exaggerating the truth that song sketches were shared via eMail, to create the fable that Animal Collective are somehow so freakish that they can’t even be in the same room as each other / so nerdy that they have to do everything via broadband connections. And now; post internet, where such concepts aren’t so ‘c-raazy’ the aforementioned imagined intern’s replacement has issued the sound-byte that Centipede Hz is the first record in ages that they recorded together in the same room – like,”wow, it’s like these guys are like a ‘real’ band or something”
Brian clarifies : “it’s just that the initial steps (of making Strawberry Jam and Merriweather Post Pavilion) were taken remotely – whereas with this one, we decided to make sure that the initial steps were done in person – and then, going into the studio and making the record, and working out how to play this songs live on the road – that was all done just like how we make all our records – that is, together, in the same physical space.”
He goes on to explain the reason for this, seemingly ever-so-slight change in tact – “one of the reasons we did that was because we wanted this record to have a more live energy – we wanted to extend more into the actual performance and composition of the songs – we felt like the process and output would be affected by being in the same room and the volume and visceral impact that happens when a band is playing together in a practice-space can affect the parts that are written because you’re more amped up; you’re thinking about the how the sounds sound amplified in a room – while when you are demo-ing and sketching remotely, you are usually working in headphones sitting in a chair – so your output tends to be more cerebral – and I think that comes across on Merriweather – that it’s a headphone experience, whereas Centipede Hz is, I feel, a little bit less so. I feel that Centipede Hz makes more sense when you hear the songs played live or played on a stereo in an open room.”
And I, for one, totally agree – in fact I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t even bear listening to Centipede Hz on headphones – I confess this to Brian – that listening to it that way actually makes me “feel weird” – he laughed a little – “Well, we like headphone records and we ideally aim to make a record that sounds good on both – and for someone like me who knows all the parts that are buried in the layers it is really easy to listen to on headphones – but that’s fully admitting that I have a different perspective on the material than someone else might. But it doesn’t really surprise me that some people can’t listen to it on headphones – I think that the way that songs were written there is supposed to be some… ” he pauses to find the word… “air…” he finds it, “involved in the listening process. I think if you’re listening to it on a stereo you’re going to be closer to the experience we had in writing the material”
And, it follows, logically, then, that hearing the songs live is even closer to the experience again – I ask if there’s anything extra special planned for the live show – Brian explains that logistics are still being finalized but that they hope to be bringing a pretty elaborate stage show with them that is designed by Abbey Portner (Dave – Avey Tare’s sister) she did all the video material that accompanied the album streaming; plus the album artwork – the includes inflatable stage pieces and video projections. Brian cautions though that this was, as of the time we were talking, still subject to venue specs and costs of freight etc but that they truly hope to be able to bring the full experience to Auckland.
The other convenient “sound-byte” about this record that I was keen to get more clarity on was that it’s inspired by radio transmissions and space travel. Brian explained “that was more to do with the environmental sound design of the record and it’s two separate ideas – it’s not necessarily radio transmissions from space – it’s was trying to make a type of rock music that didn’t exactly sound like something we had heard before – something that was more tweaked and alien sounding. And the other idea was the concept of radio sound design from pop radio – the really bombastic and futuristic sound collage quality of commercial radio that people just digest – I’m referring to the interludes, the station IDs, the announcements, the call-in contests which have people screaming – if you take those things out of that context it just sounds like really random collage noise music – taking those elements that we all grew up with and are familiar with but put into different context can be really challenging.” He continues “So we just kinda merged those two ideas together – if there was a band on another planet making strange rock music broadcast via radio-waves you’d hear it complete with all these other weird noises.”
SEE ANIMAL COLLECTIVE – LIVE AT POWERSTATION
MONDAY 14 JANUARY 2013