Animal Collective: “We never just look at albums like music; they’re conceptual projects”

Animal Collective’s forthcoming album Centipede Hz is their tenth record, and although aware of the potential expectations surrounding its release, Brian Weitz (aka Geologist) is comfortable in the band’s ability to be different and to educate their audience in the process. “I’m sure [pressure] will creep its way in there at some point, but our goal was not to make ‘Merriweather Part II’, but we don’t want to repeat the sound of any albums that came before it either,” says Weitz.

“We still want to sound like Animal Collective, but like something new at the same time, and that sort of freed us from any pressure at the beginning of the creative process… If they [listeners] only listened to Merriweather Post Pavilion, then it probably will take them by surprise. I think any of our records would take them by surprise, but we’re used to that,” says Weitz.

The group has harnessed creative control since the release of their debut Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished in 2000, which Weitz graciously attributes to labels and publishers that have let them grow. “I think we talked with one record label once where they wanted us to make the next album like the one before it, just because it did well, and that was the end of the conversation,” laughs Weitz. “We just don’t work with people like that, whereas with Domino, Fat Cat and Carpark (who run a side label with us) all those people are more interested in seeing what we will do with that freedom.”

Today’s Supernatural the first single from _Centipede Hz_was released through the band’s online radio transmission, a dimension of Centipede Hz Weitz views as partly educational and interactive for fans of the group. “It was never originally talked about as a way to release the album, because we never just look at albums like music, it’s more fun for us to see them as conceptual projects, were you can create an environment or world or vibe around the whole album,” says Weitz. “Dave did that really well with the Avey Tare solo record, like he did a release party in New York, and he decorated the room to look like this swamp and he had additional sound effects, and we’ve always talked about doing something like that with Animal Collective the next time around.”

The transmission features songs from artists diverse as Scott Walker, Robin Gibb, Spectrum and J Dilla to guest appearances by Atlas Sound and Haunted Graffiti, the experience enhanced by Abby Portner’s visual design. “The initial point of the radio was from a sharing perspective for our fans, because a lot of them are young and don’t know of some classic records and those [records] that have influenced us,” says Weitz. “We just thought it would be a great way to expose them to it, much in the same way our favourite bands when we were teenagers did for us, like you’d read interviews with Pavement and they’d mention some of their favourite records growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and there was stuff we’ve never heard of before so we’d go and find it.”

The balance between styles can be tricky to achieve, especially when the band encompass such a diverse appreciation for music. “It varies from song to song, but Apple Sauce took forever because we had a lot of different versions of it, so we were constantly adding things and then taking them away, trying to find what worked because sometimes it sounded too chaotic, and then we’d try to figure out the instruments that bring out the chords in the melody, because the song is so dense, but something like Today’s Supernatural came together really fast,” says Weitz.

The album maintains a colourful vibrancy throughout, Rosie Oh and Monkey Riches reminiscent of arcade game machines and carousels, with Dibbs’ Wide Eyed diverting to a more low-fi and warped sound. “We were listening to a lot of classic and psychedelic stuff like Silver Apples, Pink Floyd and Fifty Foot Hose, things that had rock elements but also used music on fret and electronics in there,” says Weitz.

Merriweather producer Ben Allen has returned to produce Centipede Hz but as Weitz explains “It’s very rare to work with the same person twice on a major full length record, we originally had the idea of recording this album in the same way we record our shows… We were thinking about doing it ourselves, but we didn’t have too many ideas at that stage, and then Ben saw us play a show and he wrote us this really nice letter saying how he really liked the new songs and it seems like a totally different band than the one he worked with before.”

“He [Ben] was really interested in the way the show was structured and he had this idea of recording a band as if they were playing a concert, where it would be just as much a performance for him in the control room as it would be for us [the band] in the tracking room, and we’d all be in it together,” says Weitz. “Merriweather Post Pavilion was full of so many serendipitous, circumstantial things and with Ben it just seemed to fit, like without even trying, we were on the same page with him.”

For Weitz, being together in Baltimore to write the album together shaped the sound intended for Centipede Hz. “It made it easier to make the music we wanted to make this time around, which is something that sounded more live and orchestral, and I think if we tried to do it over the internet it wouldn’t have been the same,” says Weitz. “For someone like me, who does more sound design stuff, to make samples that are tailored to the songs, it’s not like picking up an instrument all the time, so not having the headphone experience can actually be more challenging for me than to do it over email. ”

Josh Dibb (aka Deakin) took a break from Animal Collective after the release of Strawberry Jam in 2007, but has since rejoined David Portner (aka Avey Tare), Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) and Weitz on Centipede Hz. “Josh wasn’t part of Merriweather [Post Pavilion] so he’s sort of been absent for a lot of time over the past two years, but there was a couple of projects we worked on in between touring and recording Merriweather stuff (the installation at The Guggenheim Museum and our DVD Oddsac ) and both of those involved the four of us, so we were working together more behind the scenes and out of the public eye,” says Weitz.

Animal Collective’s imaginative sensibility is rife through all areas of their artistry. After being approached by Plexifilm, the company responsible for a number of music documentaries including Wilco and The Pixies, the band developed their visual album Oddsac . “They asked if we would be interested in making a documentary,” explains Weitz, “and we said maybe, but a) we aren’t into fly on the wall cameramen recording private moments and b) it’s like every tour documentary [for the most part] seems to haul the same models, like the shots out the window of a sunset or people buying snacks from a gas station, but we thought of a concert film that was more abstract… We started talking to our friend Danny Perez, who has directed some films for us, and we asked him if he wanted to come on the road and shoot a few shows and see if he could edit it into a more of a weird visual thing. We told the company we had this idea for a film without a plot, and we’ll write and record all original music for it and the sound design and we’re going to treat it like an album”.

After driving for days through mountains somewhere in between Minneapolis and Seattle, the group discussed ideas with Perez in a van, and settled on psychedelic vignettes more than a straight forward version of live footage. “It took four years to finish it, but it was one of the most fun things we’ve ever done, for me personally,” says Weitz.

Stream Centipede Hz from Animal Collective’s radio station

See Animal Collective at Big Day Out 2013:

Friday 18 January – Showgrounds, Sydney

Sunday 20 January – Parklands, Gold Coast

Friday 25 January – Showgrounds, Adelaide

Saturday 26 January – Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne

Monday 28 January – Claremont Showgrounds, Perth