Older and wiser, Animal Collective returns home
Experimental rock quartet releases new album Tuesday, plays Merriweather in October
Animal Collective's new album, "Centipede Hz," will be released Tuesday, Sept. 4. (Brian DeRan, Handout / August 31, 2012)
Scattered across the globe, from Los Angeles to Portugal, they'd collaborate through emails and phone calls, coming together only for tours.
So when it came time to write "Centipede Hz," the highly anticipated follow-up to 2009's "Merriweather Post Pavilion" that was released on Sept. 4, the members returned to their childhood home of Baltimore for three months, ready to work on the next batch of off-kilter psychedelic rock songs.
In January 2011, Dave Portner (aka Avey Tare), Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) and Brian Weitz (Geologist) gathered at the Owings Mills barn Josh Dibb (Deakin) built for his mother and hashed out a plan.
"By the end of 2009, we could walk on stage and not break a sweat with" "Merriweather" material, said Weitz, the only member who didn't relocate to Baltimore (he lives in Washington, and commuted via MARC train).
"It didn't feel right, to feel like you didn't exert yourself or feel the adrenaline. So we talked about live-feeling music."
Weitz says the band decided to "make music that wasn't so ambient" or "liquidy," recalling "Merriweather's" reverb-soaked crossover hit, "My Girls."
"We wanted rough edges," Weitz said.
They got them. Filled with hissing white noise, abrasive backdrops and Lennox's constantly shifting rhythms, "Centipede Hz" achieves the most aggressive sound of Animal Collective's 12-year career. Written in Owings Mills and later recorded in Texas, it is the group's 10th album — and the first since 2007's "Strawberry Jam" to feature Dibb, who took a break from the band for personal reasons in 2007.
"Centipede Hz" is a turbulent successor to the relatively smooth "Merriweather," the record that landed Animal Collective on year-end best polls and catapulted the act from hip obscurity to the mainstream.
With band members bouncing ideas off each other in the same room, rather than via the Internet, "Centipede Hz" has a garage-jam-in-space feel. It sounds futuristic, with darting, bombastic dynamics and vocals that alternate between whispers and freak-outs. Weitz says that was the point.
"One of the ideas was imagining rock music somehow gets to another band on another planet," Weitz said. "They intercept it, and this band like us covers it, but it gets jumbled along the way and they infuse it with their own sounds. That was a guiding idea."
Weitz's extraterrestrial explanation is wonderfully strange, like an off-Broadway show conceived by Wham City, the Baltimore arts collective made famous by musician Dan Deacon. It leads to the question: Were the members of Animal Collective feeding off the city's arts scene while they temporarily lived here?
Yes and no, says Weitz. While Portner — who ended up staying in Baltimore for 18 months ("My girlfriend had never really spent a lot of time there and she liked it," he said) — and Dibb would head into the city after practice to see local bands perform, Weitz and Lennox went home to be dads.
"Four or 5 o'clock came and we went home, made dinner, then it was bath time and sleep," said Weitz. "I had a newborn. Noah had a kid in school and a newborn. We were on fumes. I did not explore the community."
The word "community" prompts Weitz to open up about Animal Collective's complicated relationship with Baltimore. They are often labeled a Baltimore band — they forged their sound as students at Park School in Brooklandville — but that's misleading, Weitz says.
While they appreciate the scene today and have nostalgic feelings for their childhoods ("Merriweather" was named after the Columbia amphitheater Portner frequented growing up), Animal Collective had no part in shaping Baltimore's current arts scene.
"Sometimes we get lumped into it, but it's a discredit to that scene to say that we had anything to do with it," Weitz said, citing Deacon (now their label-mate on Domino Records) and Wham City's hit underground parties at the Copycat Building.
Weitz thinks back to the '90s and early 2000s, when Baltimore's arts scene was more barren, and turns wistful. He says people interested in DIY culture and experimental music often had to head to D.C.
"We look at Baltimore now like, 'Wouldn't it be great if this was going on while we were growing up,' " Weitz said. "We've been admiring it from afar."
After recording "Centipede Hz," the band members once again went their separate ways. For these friends, all in their 30s, Animal Collective is their career, but it's not the only thing they care about. They have friends, families and interests beyond music.
"We get inspired by our own lives," Portner said. "We've all been off doing stuff and have different points of view. And it makes us more excited to work on stuff when we actually are together."
As of last week, they were back together — at least temporarily — rehearsing for an international tour which runs through November. The band is particularly looking forward to Oct. 2, their headlining date at Merriweather Post Pavilion.
"I never would have thought growing up or even in the early years of Animal Collective that we would play a venue like that, mostly because of the size and scale of it all," Portner said. "That was the place to go see all the big classic-rock bands."
With the new record's release only days away, Weitz says the band is prepared for fans' potential disappointment that the less-accessible "Centipede Hz" isn't "Merriweather: Part II."
"Maybe you're lucky if you have one record that people always compare you to," Weitz said. "It's not something to resent. We're prepared to lose fans and gain fans each time."
If you go
"Centipede Hz" will be released Tuesday. Animal Collective performs Oct. 2 at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Micachu and the Shapes will also perform. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $30-$45. Call 877-435-9849 or go to merriweathermusic.com.