Musicscan: After the rather song-oriented “Feels” your “new” release “Hollinndagain” is again a rather experimental and minimalist exploration of rhythmic and harmonic patterns. What is the songwriting process like for you guys? Is there one major songwriter or does everyone contribute equally?
Animal Collective: Well this is a re-issue actually so as it is new to most ears, we actually recorded it in 2001. In certain ways to us, all of our albums are song oriented. Usually the process is different for all of our songs. A lot of the songs on this record came from practice sessions where we were really working on just playing live together and what that meant for us, because it seemed really new. We were keeping things pretty loose as you can hear. A lot of the songs on “Hollinndagain” came from verbal ideas we had. Where we would write out words or speak about rhythms before we played them. A really good example is “Tell It To The Mountain” where the lyrics were written out first and then Noah figured out a way to phrase each line with drums. This allowed for them to be really open ended and they tended to change a lot from show to show. So these versions are really just a few of many that exist.
Musicscan: What makes Animal Collective special to you? How would you describe the essence of the band?
Animal Collective: It’s pretty much a part of me and my life at this point aside from the fact that the guys I play with have been my friends since high school. I consider it an outlet for just about everything I want to express in my life…and that allows me to utilize just about every medium (music, painting, photography, film) that I like. I would love it to grow and grow in this way.
Musicscan: Did you have certain musical or aesthetic goals when you started the band?
Animal Collective: Just to keep making music we really cared about and that we would want to listen to and to give a new energy to the world of music and the world in general. I guess we’ve always wanted to make sure our sound came from our point of view and was never skewed by outside forces.
Musicscan: What makes for the perfect song in your opinion? Have you ever achieved something like a perfect song in your opinion? How would you define a perfect song?
Animal Collective: Well, perfect for Animal Collective is just when everyone’s part sounds so sweet together and we all know it because we all smile while we are playing or after that when we listen to a playback in the studio. Sometimes perfection is imperfection, though, you know? Something that’s perfect sometimes can’t be recreated…our live shows are like that to me sometimes.
Musicscan: Is it necessary to create a certain distance between you and the music in order to get a better understanding of its inherent quality?
Animal Collective: It helps but it’s really hard. The music is 100% part of me. I’m so submerged in it most of the time, whether I’m thinking about it while walking around or listening to it or playing it. It is important to listen to it from the point of view as an outsider sometimes. It really does put it in perspective a lot of times. I’m not sure how important it is, though. I guess it has taught us that sometimes no matter how pleasing something can be to you, it’s not always that way for anyone else. I think it helps to get beyond selfishness and self-indulgence in sound.
Musicscan: Do you think there are still genuinely new sounds to be discovered or can modern music basically be said to be a recombination of already existing forms and elements within postmodern concepts of collage, pastiche or bricolage?
Animal Collective: I think the music that is most original is music that comes directly from someone’s soul, I guess. There are too many people that are directly ripping off other sounds they are into. We have so much access to the past that it’s so easy to get stuck there and be like “oh that’s amazing, I want to write something like that.” Rather than just write a song directly from you with the means you have. If you ask me not many people are actually “themselves,” though, if you know what I mean. I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious. Society has really fucked the hell out of individualism. On the most minute level I’m talking about music criticism, commercialization, and things like modern radio, but, of course, it goes way beyond music. I think you can benefit from borrowing or being inspired by other sounds or ways of making music. I think you just have to take it beyond the point where creating something similar to someone else is good enough for you. Take Ariel Pink for instance, you can definitely reference stuff in his sound, but to me, no one else could make records that sound like his other than him. The same goes for how I feel about Black Dice. I think we really need to evolve as listeners at this point for modern music to evolve. I think there aren’t enough people really listening out there.
Musicscan: On “Hollinndagain” you seem to abandon structure in favour of free forms and improvisational approaches. Is there a dichotomy between structure and improvisation or do both also rely on each other?
Animal Collective: I think it’s good to have a handle on both, or to have a handle on one by not having a handle on the other…does that make sense? We really discovered a new way of playing live together by making it up on the spot in our apartments, but when it came down to playing in front of people we wanted to have more control then improvisation could afford us. At the same time in a lot of instances, it’s cool to not have so much control, because then people can’t predict where you are going. I think we’ve been doing a lot less improvising in the past year and a half or so but I think it’s something we are getting back into, at least just in terms of practicing and playing live.
Musicscan: What made you decide to release the record on Paw Tracks as opposed to Fat Cat?
Animal Collective: Well, we have a contract with Fat Cat that only allows us to put a certain amount of records out with them. But aside from that, probably the most important reason is that we want Paw Tracks to flourish as our own creative label and I think, putting out some of our own music on that label is important for that.
Musicscan: Is pop music always already global these days or do you think that there are always local specificities/aspects that mark and distinguish certain regional and cultural aspects?
Animal Collective: Well, I think it depends on how much you want to zero in on the details. I think there are things about certain Eastern European pop music or Indian pop music that sets it apart from other place’s music and you could probably say that for most countries pop music. Some countries have sensibilities like a sense of humour, for instance, that shines in their own pop music which sets it apart from others. I don’t know if you watched Euro Vision this year. I could see how someone could generalize, though, and say it’s all the same. I think that’s a technology thing, though. I mean, everyone is using computers now and everyone is using the same programs and in this way it’s sad, because it has really diminished the quality of most popular music. There should probably just be a program called pop song.
Musicscan: What is the difference between art and entertainment in your opinion?
Animal Collective: Art doesn’t have to be entertaining, especially if it’s conceptual, though I’m not much of a fan of conceptual art. Most things that I find really entertaining, however, I’d say are rather artful.
Musicscan: Do you think the CD as the primary medium for music will last? Do you think a change of the medium will also entail different approaches towards the music and therefore also the songwriting process?
Animal Collective: This is the big question. Everybody in the music industry seems to be freaking out about this these days. One thing this issue has made me wonder is, why they ever made CDs so big? I mean if they were smaller, I think they’d at least stick around a bit longer. But the fact that digital music takes up so little physical space, I mean in a way it makes sense - less plastic, less waste. Too bad it doesn’t sound as good, but who really cares anyway anymore right except for a few recordphiles out there? I can’t really see how it’s going to change the song writing process, but maybe that’s for someone else to figure out and not me. Did you mean the album making process, because that’s different? For us personally I don’t think it will change how we construct an album, but it probably is making a new generation less concerned about a full album what with Ipods and Itunes becoming so popular. It is lessening the quality of music these days as well. It seems like any band that gets a little hype for a song on their Myspace page can get huge. I think it’s weird that bands don’t even have to do DIY tours anymore to get a following. I kind of feel as though they are the ones missing out. It will never diminish the thrill of live music, though. It’s also changing the record as a product and what people have to offer now in terms of a release. I guess that is if people are still concerned about making money or offering something original to people. But in a way that’s the way it should be. I feel like you should have to earn the money you make off of a release if you want to live off your art or music or whatever. Ultimately music should be free, though, right? There are cultures of people still out there that play music freely and with each other and it’s just a way of life. But I shouldn’t talk because, unfortunately, people will still be paying money for our next release and our next concert, but that’s just the way this world works.
Musicscan: Does music have a social impact or is it another entity that does not really have any direct effects on social life?
Animal Collective: Well, most of us that have been in high school know that there is always some kid that thinks he or she is cool because of the music they listen to so I’d say yes. It’s also hard to deny that the Beatles or those early 70s punk bands or Bob Marley have a big influence. Someone like Derrick May hasn’t had a pretty huge social impact. It usually involves just a select group of people that care, though.
Musicscan: Can music have political dimensions? Do sounds have a directly political semantics or is any attempt to politicize music always only achieved through discourse about the music?
Animal Collective: I think a certain sound can be a political statement but usually it has to be portrayed or offered that way and most musicians know better. I think the bands in the late sixties such as the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, AMM, Can, Kraftwerk etc. were definitely making political statements with their sound, but I don’t really know if it was taken as such because in some ways it was better off as just music and for the most part kept that way. I think, it’s too easy to attack musicians for being political, because for the most part we are just supposed to be entertainers.Just look at how hard they came down on the LSD and mushroom experiments in the 50s and 60s when it was tied into music. I think sometimes, unfortunately, powerful music can go unnoticed for that very reason.
Musicscan: Does art have responsibilities?
Animal Collective: Yeah, I think most importantly art has the responsibility of teaching people or reminding people to create and the importance of creation and that it can help move toward something positive. It’s something that is really lacking in our social, political, and even our religious structures today and which, if you look back to ages of old, was probably something that was at the forefront of all of those institutions. I don’t mean we were all artists or anything or to say “go paint a picture, man,” but maybe that all of life, including our daily lives, had something to do with creation or the act of creativity whereas now that is not the case at all. After all, the earth we live on is a massive part of our creative process as humans and for the most part we are destroying it. We seem to take a lot more and destroy a lot more these days and it seems pretty obvious.
Musicscan: What can we expect from Animal Collective in the near future?
Animal Collective: A good jolt to the brain in 2007.
Musicscan: Any comments or anything you would like to add?
Animal Collective: Make sounds, make anything you want.