Thursday, 12 January 2012

Interview with Josh Dibb of Animal Collective in The Daily Yomiuri on 21st September 2007

Experiments with Animal Collective
Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

A drowned rat sat across from Animal Collective's Josh Dibb in the Colabo cafe in the Shibuya area of Tokyo as Typhoon No. 9 began to make its hit on the capital. Thanks to a lucky break in the clouds, Dibb had arrived dry as I sat dripping.

"I'm kind of looking forward to experiencing a typhoon," revealed Dibb, whose band nickname is Deacon, on a visit to Japan to promote the group's latest album, Strawberry Jam.

As I set up my minidisc recorder with my drenched shirt clinging to my back, I remembered that the Animal Collective have more than a passing interest in these compact little devices.

"It [an MD recorder] just has this certain quality, the way it captures what's happening in a room...we just kinda got addicted to it I guess," Dibb said.

So hooked that they decided to record their fourth album on MD.

"When we started talking about doing Campfire Songs it seemed a really obvious means to do it with. We used three and started them all approximately the same time. We knew that what would happen is that we'd end up mixing it together in this way where everything is slightly offset, so it would add this spreading effect to it," he said.

This was not the only time the Animal Collective had used such unorthodox methods of recording. Indeed, the music that Avey Tare (Dave Portner), Geologist (Brian Weitz), Panda Bear (Noah Lennox) and Deacon, four high school friends from Maryland, have created since the turn of the century has frequently been labeled experimental.

Yet their inspiration at the time of Campfire Songs came from a more mainstream source. "We were mixing [the album] in Brooklyn with our friend Nicholas, and he had just gotten the Abbey Road Beatles book that's an exhaustive history of every recording session the Beatles did. We'd be sitting there mixing and I'd be constantly flipping through it. They talked about the whole process and how they started to work a lot with tape speeds and vary speed and mix multiple tapes together at the same time... It's pretty amazing stuff to realize how minimal what they were working with was."

And this preoccupation with creating a sound rather than aiming for perfect recording quality is a feature of not only the Animal Collective but also the groups who influenced the band.

"There was a lot of stuff, like Pavement, some of those records were recorded on a Dictaphone...It wasn't lo-fi for the sake of being sloppy, it was this way of representing something in a very certain way," he said.

And when Avey Tare started experimenting with multitrack recording speeds the rest of the band were amazed at what they heard. "The sound quality was not the best ever but it had this very particular feeling to it and you realize that there are ways to represent what's happening and it's not bad [just] because it's low quality or a lo-fi recording," he added.

Strawberry Jam, the group's seventh album, nods at a myriad of musical sources. The Animal Collective aren't afraid to explore new sounds, yet there is very little of the dreaded self-indulgence that is sometimes synonymous with "experimental" music, something that Dibb is conscious of.

"I feel like we're treading that line, we love experimenting and we love that world of exploring sound and what you can do with it, but at the same time we love making pop music, we love making songs," he said.

And Strawberry Jam has its fair share of pop songs, though Dibb's favorite track, "Cuckoo Cuckoo," combines a simple melody with an emotional barrage of sound.

"It makes me tingle every time I hear it, it still hits me like an emotional sort of catharsis that happens to the song. I think the peak of the song is blissfully ecstatic and incredibly heart-wrenchingly painful simultaneously...It's a diamond among gems for me," he said.

The group's quirky lyrics and vocals remind me of Devo yet the layered structure of the group's songs have more often than not prompted comparisons with Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys, an observation that Dibb finds rather tiresome.

"I love the Beach Boys for sure and we all do. I don't know if I see it as this really obvious connection but at the same time I feel a lot of what he [Brian Wilson] was discovering was this attempt to meld this incredibly intense pop perspective, which I know we definitely all have.

"There's definitely a crossover, but I don't feel like Brian Wilson represents this one touchstone for us in that way, but it comes up constantly," he said.

Another group from the same decade had quite an effect on the group, though. The albums recorded by Pink Floyd before Syd Barrett left the group have certainly left their mark on the band.

"Early Pink Floyd, especially for Dave and Brian, was a really, really huge early influence. I think that was an eye-opening moment for them, and then for me. I came to it through them, hearing A Saucerful of Secrets and Piper [at the Gates of Dawn] or the early singles. It's incredible stuff, with unique ways in what a song could be and how it could grab your ear and make you feel," he said.

At one of Animal Collective's live shows, don't expect to get bombarded by a string of old favorites.

"If anything it's the opposite. We write music in preparation for going and playing live. We spend a certain amount of time writing and practicing and working on new material and then we tour with that music...until we get to a point where we have 15 songs and we've played them to the point where live, at least, we've achieved everything we want to achieve...Then we'll go into the studio and record the songs," he explained.

Not that Japanese audiences seem too bothered by this approach, as Dibb recalls from the band's tour of Japan last year. "We were in the middle of a U.S. tour and playing to a lot of pretty rabid kids, really screaming and dancing around and jumping. Then we showed up here and played a show and nobody was moving. I think it took us a couple of shows to realize...they were listening intently and being really respectful and they were actually stoked," he said.

With no plans to tour until next year, the Animal Collective's Japanese fans will have to wait a while to get stoked up again and make do with the bread and butter of their recorded output--with a bit of Strawberry Jam on top.
(21 Sept. 2007)

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