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Animal Collective Talks More About Returning to Maryland, Turning Pop, and Playing Merriweather Post Pavilion

In this week's cover story, we talked to Animal Collective members Brian Weitz and David Portner—aka Geologist and Avey Tare, respectively—about their recent return to Maryland to write new material following the huge success of their 2009 album Merriweather Post Pavilion.All four members spent January through March working in a converted barn on the property of band member Josh Dibb's mother's house, just the same as they did some six years ago when they wrote several songs for Feels.Of course, on Saturday they're actually playing a show at Merriweather. Below are excerpts from the conversations with Weitz and Portner that didn't make it into the story, including why you won't hear too many Merriweather songs, more thoughts about returning home, and how they feel about being able to put on a show at the venue at all.On getting back to group writing sessions after the last two albums were done as an exchange of ideas over e-mail:Weitz: Oh, that was a lot of fun. . . . It was difficult, especially for someone like me—my role in the band is more electronic, and you have these very specific samples and whatnot. The e-mail way of working was really easy for me, because you had time to process and think. You didn't have to come up with something on the fly or in real-time. It was really challenging and difficult, but after a while you get the hang of it and your brain sort of gets used to it. It was a lot more challenging than previous writing sessions for me. We're always trying to make things challenging for ourselves to keep it fun.Portner: The only time that all four of us get to hang out anymore is when we're working on stuff. In that way, we're kind of really lucky. We're such old friends, and we like hanging out with each other so much. That we can do it when we're at work, it seems rare. It's rare to just be psyched on going to work and working with the people that you work with. It's always about us hanging out, joking around and that kind of thing, and jamming.On the therapeutic and cathartic qualities of leaving New York to write after Portner dealt with a divorce, his sister getting cancer, and the death of his grandmother, topics he explored on his solo album Down There:Portner: Definitely there is and has been. I feel like definitely the writing, for me, that we all did had its moments of things still lingering from the darker periods in New York the past couple years for me. And I think it was helpful to work through some of the remaining stuff and yeah, just shift out of that vibe.On eliminating field recordings for the new songs:Weitz: I have a very classic Geologist-puts-field-recordings kind of move that I like to do. I'm just kind of sucker for that stuff. But I actually set a rule for myself with this one that I wasn't going to do it, and I wasn't going to make recordings from around Baltimore, use any nature sounds or anything like that. . . .  I just couldn't do it anymore. It felt like cheating, almost.On the "alien band" theme and digging through old radio clips:Weitz: We just always wanted to sound like an alien band, ya know? Not like the bar scene from Star Wars, or anything like that, but sort of that vibe. And we thought, if you were able to sample sounds from outer space— that's a very common thing that people do, like, you try to make these sounds that sound like they come from outer space. Lots of psychedelic rock bands [do that]. We thought it would be interesting if it went the reverse way. If you actually were a band on another planet, like, what you would be sampling from Earth? Radio waves travel into space, so we actually went back through old cassette tapes—Dave's brother used to be a radio DJ in the early '90s. So we went through a lot of early '90s radio recordings and took a lot of radio IDs and snippets from DJs talking on the radio and put them into the stuff. . . . We were going more for top-40 stuff, like B 104.On Phoenix, Md., the town that surrounds the town of Jacksonville mentioned in the article:Weitz: We used to play shows in Phoenix in high school, in, like, a basement. . . . We did these shoes a couple months back, and the girl who founded that company, Keep, she grew up in Phoenix, went to Dulaney High School. We were friends with her from playing shows around Baltimore in high school, and she had a couple of shows out at her house. The actor named P.J. Ransone, who was on The Wire [Ransone played Chester "Ziggy" Sobotka in Season 2] in one of those seasons, he also grew up in Phoenix and we knew him through playing in bands in high school, so we played a show at his parents' house.On how long Portner, who currently lives on the outskirts of Pikesville, plans to stay in Maryland:Portner: I think probably through the end of the year. I'm starting to move on from New York. I'm just not as psyched on living there so much anymore. It's a little crowded for me. And just trying to think a lot about moving out of the city, that's another reason why it's cool to be living here. . . . I live in the county, so it's definitely nice to return to this kind of living. I spent so much time in the city over the past 11 years, or whatever that yeah, it's just nice to get back to this. I haven't spent this much time outside in a really long time, around trees and that kind of thing. So it's definitely making me think a lot about future living, for sure.On being back to your childhood home but living on your own:Portner: I have memories of a lot of places around here, or places around closer to where I'm living, where like Brian and I would go hang out, at strip malls or something, and just smoke cigarettes. It's weird to drive past one of those places every day. Not in a bad way, just it's sort of surreal—just to be real close again to a place that you spent so much time around doing all these things. . . .  I feel like just living here, just having a place here that's not with my parents or whatever, has made it totally different. I feel like it's more of an experience that's totally new and awesome.On family dinners:Weitz: On some of the weekends, we would try to have dinners. Dave's girlfriend is a really good cook, and so we would try pretty regularly to get the kids together—like my kid and Noah's kids—and have these family events. . . . When you're at a dinner party that your friend's girlfriend is throwing, and your kids are crawling around, and everyone's drinking wine, you definitely feel like you're your parents.On having to alternate headlining duties with Black Dice in the early days, because the room would clear out, to sharing a bill at Merriweather:Weitz: There's the obvious reasons that you can't deny, our music—our music, I don't know about Black Dice's—is a bit less abrasive and challenging than it was in those days. We've always sort of wanted to have a pop element in our music, but it's definitely gotten less obscure over the years. Back then it was very buried in noise. . . . We did something together at Coachella, as well. And the videos that we're doing on tour are actually created by Black Dice, and they created our stage setup for Coachella, so they came out there and brought their wives and stuff with them. It was about 10 years on from our first tour that we did it together. To be up there working together on something together in front of 50,000 people, yeah, it's mind-blowing and kind of inexplicable.Portner: Just seeing crowds like that, and realizing that it's us doing it, it just blows my mind. I feel like it doesn't stop blowing my mind. And the relationship with musicians and bands that we like and are friends with, and can just keep that kind of thing going, I think it's awesome.On the development of their music that has brought them to this point:Portner: It's felt pretty natural. I think it's happened at such a, in a way, like a slow pace. It just seems like nothing ever really has felt calculated or seemed like a step we were using to—I don't know, it's just a varying visualistic way of approaching what we want to do with music. It seemed like it always fit our personalities and where we are in our lives. It never felt like we were being pushed into anything, or trying anything out for the wrong reasons. We've kind of just been psyched on what we're making and try to always make sure that we're proud of what we're doing, and just kind of see where it goes from there. And I think we're lucky in that way, that more and more people have followed where we're going and where we're at. I feel like we're always uncertain about what will happen next. But it's felt really natural, that's the only way I can describe it.On why you'll only hear a couple of Merriweather songs at Merriweather:Weitz: The significance isn't lost on us, but I guess we're ignoring it. It would be completely contrary to our instincts. We just don't do that. You know, we had this at Coachella. People were expecting us, and even made comments, that it's about time that, if we're playing on a main stage in front of 50,000 people that we just embrace what a band in that position does. I even got an e-mail forwarded to me from the promoter at Merriweather that said something about like, I hope you're gonna play the songs people are coming to hear. It's just an attitude we don't have, for better or worse. We hope people are understanding, but we are who we are and we do what we do. People seem to—you know, it's gotten us this far. The only way for us to be honest and sincere up there is to do what we're excited about doing.On getting the chance to play Merriweather:Portner: I haven't been there in a really long time, so I have a hard time imagining what it will be like, being there [laughs]. Anytime I think about being there, I think about being on the lawn, or something like that. So it'll definitely be way different being on the stage.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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