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Animal Collective's Geologist On Their New Album, "Call Me Maybe," and the Band's Unexpected Favorite TV Show

animalcollectivecentipedehz.jpgIf there's an indie rock hierarchy -- as low-key and self-effacing as such a thing would be -- the four gents of Animal Collective might very well be near the top. The band, which formed over a decade ago and is comprised of native Baltimoreans Avey Tare (David Porter), Deakin (Josh Dibb), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) and Geologist (Brian Weitz), has become known for combining catchy, easily digestible pop-rock lyrical hooks with super experimental and challenging instrumentals. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than 2009's explosive Merriweather Post Pavilion, their first big commercial success and an album that propelled the group to major headlining slots and the aformentioned top-tier status. Three years later, the foursome are back with a new record, Centipede Hz, out now, and if the hyperkinetic rock music found on a song like "Today's Supernatural" is any indication, the band wasn't content with merely replicating MPP's winning formula.

And now, on the eve of a big show at Brooklyn's Williamsburg Park tomorrow night (their first gig in New York since the LP's release), we had the chance to chat with Animal Collective's Geologist about Centipede Hz, what would happen if they did a cover of "Call Me Maybe," and the story behind why one of their songs played on The Simpsons. Read on.      

Tell me about the genesis of Centipede Hz. Did you have any particular goals or anything specific in mind when you were working on it?

Yeah. We wanted to explore our take on something a bit closer to rock music. We wanted some live drums and we all wanted to be playing live instruments of some kind and we wanted to play around with distortion and more aggressive textures in the music. On some of our previous records we had slower, more ambient tracks, and we didn't want this record to have so many downtempo moments.

The last record [Merriweather Post Pavilion] had been more sample-based and even during the performance of it, we primarily used samplers. The performance got very cerebral -- we could just stand up there and not even break a sweat. So for this album the goal was to write some really visceral music that would be challenging for us to play even if we grew to know the material really well.
What's going on in your video for "Today's Supernatural"? It seems particularly bonkers, even for an Animal Collective video.

Danny Perez is the director and he's done three Animal Collective videos. We let him come up with the ideas usually when we work together.  I don't think it's about a linear plot for him -- it's just about visual imagery and he draws a lot. The [images] will just be whatever is in his head at the moment and we're just like, "Yeah, go for it."

Did he give any context for some of those images like that monster desert cruiser?

No, there was no explanation whatsoever. He just thought that would be something that would fit the song, something circus-y and fast.

"Today's Supernatural" Video

What kind of stuff do you and your bandmates listen to when you're just hanging out? Are there any surprising songs on your iPods?

There's a lot of Heatwave and Steely Dan these days. Also, it's not like we listen to this song all that much -- I don't think any of us have a copy of it -- but the other day we heard that "Call Me Maybe" song. There's something kind of undeniable about it.

You guys should do a cover of it.

I don't know what we'd do. We'd probably change the lyrics, I'm sure. I don't really like songs that use the word 'maybe.' I feel like the lines that people come up with are really unimaginative and cliché if you use the word 'maybe.' They usually rhyme it with 'baby.'

Your song, "Winter's Love," appeared on The Simpsons. How did that come about?

It was very confusing. They asked us, and we were very excited and I don't even know if they paid us at all. They may have paid us the standard rate but we would've given them [the rights] for free because we grew up [watching] The Simpsons. They said, "We just want to know if you'd be open to us using the song before we actually start working on the episode because we don't want to try it and then you guys will say 'no.'" And we were like, "You can totally try it! Just let us know if you use it so we can tell our parents or set our DVRs or something." And then one night my wife was watching The Simpsons and I was in the kitchen washing the dishes after dinner and she called me in and -- because we don't listen to our own music very often at home -- she asked, "Isn't this an Animal Collective song?" They never told us that they were gonna use it and so we had to email the show and say, "Hey, what's up? We never signed any papers...We're psyched but a heads up would've been nice."

You guys don't listen to your own music outside of the studio? Is it like an actor not wanting to watch themselves in their own movie?

Yeah, when we're working on [a song] and finishing it, we listen to it a lot. We hear these songs hundreds of times and listen to them obsessively before they come out, making sure they sound exactly the way we want them to sound but then once we're ready to turn them over to the public, I'll almost never listen to them again -- unless we're going to play an old song on tour. 

And, speaking of tours, how do you decide what to play live? It seems like you improvise a lot.

We get that all the time. Our show at Pitchfork 2011 featured a lot of songs from Centipede Hz.  A lot of people say, "Oh, they just went up there and improvised or they just made noise and it was experimental" but that's just because we're playing new songs. We played Merriweather songs for a year and a half before it came out and people said the same thing. They asked, "Why aren't they playing Strawberry Jam and instead playing over all these techno beats?" The songs are written and composed but I think if you're not familiar with something and get all this dense information thrown at you at once, it's probably pretty hard to make sense of it.

That's interesting that you give new songs a test run so far in advance.

It's a habit we got into when we were younger, starting out in New York at 20 or 21 years old and playing shows. Not that many people came to see us -- it was only our friends. There were 15-20 friends that would show up every time and we'd only be playing 20 minute sets -- the first band of four or five bands on a bill at the Mercury Lounge or somewhere like that. We'd play a show a month and we'd feel bad making our friends come out to hear the same songs every time so we'd just spend the month in between the next show writing a few more songs and we got in the habit of playing new songs before we recorded them. I think we realized that there are some benefits to it. If you play a song twenty or thirty times and then get to a part that is boring to you, you can go home and change it. Whereas if you record it first and then you're playing it, you might think, "I could have done better there. Maybe I was rushed or not that inspired that day." Going through all those dry runs on tour, it allows you that editing ability.

Last question: Do you guys have any unexpected things you do to unwind while on tour? Any TV shows or movies you really like?

A few of us are Project Runway fans. It's a good show. I've been watching it for a couple of seasons but I don't really know what's going on this season so don't say anything if you know!

Photo credit: Abita Photo

Originally published on October 4, 2012

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