For this week's print feature on Animal Collective, I spoke separately with Brian Weitz (a.k.a. "Geologist") and Josh Dibb ("Deakin"). Both were generous with their time and it was about half-way through the second interview, with Dibb, that I noticed a subtext linking both conversations in a way neither I nor Team AnCo could have planned.
I went into the assignment hoping to learn something about the tension that marks their sound. I wanted to understand how the band has always managed to balance their tunes, which are often beautiful, with such a distinct sonic harshness. Was this a rule the band members openly abided by? Or was it the product of their collective intuition? (No pun intended, really.)
Many technical questions followed. We talked about formative influences and we talked about how the band arrives at decisions for changes in direction. But together, Weitz's and Dibb's answers began to paint a more interesting and intimate portrait of the band's dynamic than I could have designed with a question sheet. I've excerpted and edited the two conversations in an attempt to delineate a discussion that, with hindsight, was not so much about music as it was about trust and friendship. Animal Collective performs this Friday and Saturday, Sept. 21 and 22, at the Fox Theater in Oakland.
So you're rehearsing for the tour. What's the vibe like right now within the band?
Brian Weitz: Good! Because we don't live in the same town, the time we get to practice doubles as the time we get to spend together as friends. So whenever we do that -- or we go into the studio -- a few of us tend to rent a house together or something. The last time the four of us had gotten together to really play or do anything creative was at the beginning of the year when we were in the studio.
Is it challenging to keep everyone on the same page? How much do you guys keep in contact between sessions and tours, for instance?
Weitz: It's so easy these days with email and cellphones, you know. I think I've texted or emailed with every one of the guys today.
How about the major decisions, like booking sessions or even deciding on new directions to take in your music? I imagine some of the larger picture stuff requires some back-and-forth among the four of you.
Weitz: It all depends on where the conversation takes place. You know, like going into the writing of the new record, in early 2010, none of us were in the same city. We hadn't even moved back to Baltimore yet. So all those early conversations -- what the new record should sound like, when we should do it, what are our goals for how many songs we try and write -- those happened either by email or by Skype conference calls. I mean, there's a lot of necessary administrative communication everyday, which usually I end up writing. And I'm sure if you asked the other guys they'd probably tell you it's more words than people really need to be reading.
Is there anyone in the band who's maybe a little more aloof than the others?
Weitz: [Laughs] Some people just don't check email as often. I think Noah [Lennox, a.k.a. "Panda Bear"] would admit he doesn't check email that much. Or he does, but he doesn't really have the energy to respond. And I don't necessarily think for any human being email and text is the best way to communicate. But I fall into the convenience of it. I mean, it's so easy to misinterpret someone's tone of voice.
Is that a problem for the band?
Weitz: Not too many times have we misinterpreted each other. But it definitely happens.
I wonder how much the general trust you guys share -- which I would guess is what the overall good communication boils down to -- was solidified by the intensity of your early days -- first in Baltimore, then in New York -- when you guys were practically living and working together every hour of the week.
Josh Dibb: It's difficult to say. I mean, for me I'd say around '95, '96, '97 -- from high school to the beginning of college -- there were experiences we got to share together: it was like a club the four of joined that we really liked being a part of. Just the way we related to each other musically, at that point. And it became our way of being social. Our favorite thing to do socially was to get together and create these unusual [musical] spaces. And there was so much discovery going on at that time, especially at such an impressionable age. But I would say, even though we carry the history of those times, it's a lot different now.
Have the changes, which I assume are rooted in the shake-up of the band's geography, has that been a net positive?
Dibb: I think it's a net positive for sure. Yeah.
Because it's kept things fresh?
Dibb: I think that for us -- the combined psychology of the four of us [laughs] -- it's really easy to become bored or impatient if we stay in the same place creatively for too long. I really like the fact I can look back at the things we've done and feel a little nostalgia while also feeling a little alienated from myself -- like "who was that?"