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Animal Collective

Animal Collective

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 27th August, 2012 1:50PM

Animal Collective are due to release their eleventh studio album, Centipede Hz this Friday August 31st. UTR caught up with Josh Dibb (Deakin) to chat about the more relaxed writing and recording shtick they went for on this album, and what exactly they were trying to channel (read: alien band interpreting earth band).

Hey Josh, what are you up to at the moment?

I am just living outside of Baltimore and I’m here by myself. I live out in the woods and it’s very beautiful, so I’m just sitting on my porch watching the day come to an end.

Are you gearing up for a tour in support of your new album?

Yep definitely. We have a tour starting on the 18th of September out in Seattle so we’ve been practicing in the lead-up to that. We’ve been working on a bunch of other stuff too. We’re doing these radio shows - not sure if you’re aware of them - on our website. We’re also trying to get together a larger scale live set. We did it for one of our last tours last year and we want to do it again so we’ve been spending a lot of time designing and doing pre-production to get that stuff together – it takes a lot of time! Plus we’ve had a bunch of interviews - you know, everything you have to do to get ready for a tour and promote an album.

Tell us about writing and recording Centipede HZ:

It was a unique process this time because the last couple of records - Merriweather Post Pavilion especially but Strawberry Jam also – people came in with preconceived ideas of what they wanted the record to sound like, whereas this time we intentionally left it blank. We had this three-month window where we figured out how to get everybody living in the same city at the same time, and just be able to hang out and work everyday to come up with stuff. So it had an organic evolution to it: it was just a super fun and a cross between being our 9-5 and just being four best friends hanging out in a room making jokes. We’d work 10-6 Monday through Friday, mostly just because the guys had children and could only be away from their kids for certain periods of time.

Was it hard for you guys to go in without an idea of what you wanted to do considering the thematic, disciplined nature of your previous albums?

No I don’t think so – it was exciting once we decided to do it this way. We had a sense - to some degree at least - of how we wanted things to sound and feel, so there was an energy that we had already tapped into. We wanted things to be more raw, and sweaty is a word that some of us used a lot - we really wanted it to be something that felt more visceral. It’s closer to something we’ve done in the past - like Strawberry Jam – so we knew we wanted that energy going into it, and it was just a fun approach to achieve it.

I think there was a way of doing things around Merriweather Post Pavilion that was for those guys – I wasn’t involved but I’m familiar with the process – so based on preconceiving things, working out things on samplers and being fastidious in that way that it was really exciting to feel the freedom of playing with live instruments a bit more.

There’s always this thing about starting something new I think that has a little bit of, not anxiety or fear, but that feeling where you’re anticipating that moment where it all comes together and until it does you’re always a little bit nervous. But I think that happens with anyone and that’s part of what makes it fun.

Reflecting on the album as a finished body of work: are there any ideas or inspirations that are particularly apparent?

Um, I donno, not really. I feel like we were all pretty aware of what was happening. There was a lot of clear direction with a lot of stuff like that. The thing that is sort of surprising to us is that when we get to the end of this process – and it’s happened with every album – people don’t understand it. As we’re putting it together there’s a lot of clarity to us and it’s complex but we know what everyone’s doing and it makes sense, because we’re working on it. And then we play it to other people or even to people who we’ve worked on it with like our engineer, who was just like: “I can’t follow what you guys are doing”. For us that’s the part that becomes a surprise: realizing that while it makes sense to us it doesn’t translate to other people. That’s a helpful thing to find out because we can work out the things that are both exciting and challenging – because we like being challenging – and then the things that we can go “OK maybe this is just confusing”.

Why did you call the album Centipede HZ?

Yeah that was one of the words that shaped our ideas of things pretty early on. I think Dave (Portner) was the first one to use that word before we’d even started playing together. It just represented a lot of things: the speed and the frantic nature of it, the multi-sections of it - there’s all these little parts that are moving and weaving, making figure eights and going all over the place. That was the reason it came up and then the more we thought about the record as an interpretation of an alien band who was hearing broken up radio frequencies from earth and interpreting them, the more it fitted with the idea of an insect, because they have this very alien quality. There’s a gnarly quality to too it which we wanted it to have - the word centipede brought a lot of that into it.

You guys have been making music for a long time now: how do you think Animal Collective has changed over the years?

I think the changes in approach are things that are difficult to describe. The two things that pop to mind are firstly the evolution of our own process throughout the years. We’re always looking for things to feel new to us every time we move onto a new project: we want to absorb everything we did last time but more forward in a way that’s changing something, so we’re not repeating ourselves. And we’ve been doing that process for so many years that we’re kind of like that centipede, where we’re moving across the floor in a kind of ragged line. Secondly, the thing that has gone in a straight line is learning to work in studios and having mastery over technology and instruments – and that just keeps growing. That was kind of vague but if you think of it like this: the project itself is made up of faders on a mixer and every time we do something the mixers are pulled up or pushed down and sometimes we make a new phaser. It really changes all the time.