Animal Collective interview: Geologist Reflects On 20 Years Of Playing Together

April 27th 2016

Animal Collective interview

“I was thinking… If you met an Animal Collective fan who was in their senior year of college, they were born after we started the band.”

Twenty years is a long time to spend with anyone, or anything. People change, tastes diverge. Yet after playing music together for over two decades now, the founding members of Animal Collective are somehow still crafting records that are rich, future-facing, and uniquely their own.

After the recent success of their tenth studio album Painting With, Geologist (Brian Weitz) spoke with FBi’s Emily Mathison about how it feels to be in Animal Collective in 2016. He sheds light on how 40-minute improv sessions helped the band create some of their shortest, sharpest tracks yet; and recalls a cassette recording from high school days that sounds surprisingly like Animal Collective.

There’s also a sneaky mention of heading to Australia in early 2017! If you can’t wait that long, you might be able to catch them at Bestival in September – make sure you’re in the draw to win tickets with flights, accommodation and more as part of Fly FBi here.



Firstly, congratulations on the album. I’ve noticed there’s quite a similar sounds to your older albums, but I think there’s a lot more of an electro and futuristic feel to it. What was the main influence when you were recording Painting With?

We always decided the first Ramones record was our main influence. I’m not sure if it really sounds like that… But just in terms of making something more straightforward – upbeat energy, short songs, and very to the point. There’s no slower or ambient passages on this one. We weren’t trying to make a punk record, but it was about the energy of the early Ramones work.


There is such a hard and fast energy to it, so I guess it comes through in that way.

We’ve never really made a record like that before. It was a challenge for us. Could we make three minute songs and pack a lot of interesting material into concise and energetic statements?


That’s definitely the way it comes across. Was that the initial direction you wanted the album to take?

Yeah, we talked about that before we wrote any of the music. We took about six months off after we toured the last record, and that’s about the time we started texting and emailing each other and having phone conversations and just checking in with each other about what we were interested in for the next album.


I think the album has a pretty mind-blowing feel to it… some of the beats are pretty intense. Was that an intentional feel you wanted for the album or did it just come about naturally?

That was another thing we spoke about early, about having very powerful rhythms, having a studding quality to them. And to almost be electronic and futuristic, but primitive at the same time. We weren’t really sure what they would sound like, but we talked about ideas of having heavy kick drums, and electronic and organic percussion. We sometimes throw vague concepts around and we’re not sure how they’ll turn out, but the powerful rhythms were a focal point for sure.


I’ve heard a 23 minute improvisation piece that you guys have recorded, and have read that you have done a lot of improvisation in the past. Does that play a big part when you’re recording?

Some records more than others. It plays a big part in getting our minds warmed up. So in the improvisations we recorded for this album, we never intended to produce material that we would use. Often we won’t even talk about making one of those pieces. We’ll just come back from lunch and someone will say, ‘I need to dial in a sound on the synth for the next song,’ and while they’re doing that someone will get bored and just start making a noise. It’s something we won’t really talk about. Before we know it we’ll be playing.

Even with the improvisations we release, like that 23 minute one, it’s probably closer to 40 minutes in total, but it’s just at a certain time someone thought it sounded sweet and hit record. But we were probably playing for a long time before that.


The band has been together for quite a while, so that kind of gel obviously comes from you guys working so well together. Does it get easier as you keep working together?

Yeah, well life gets more complicated so that adds a layer. We’ve been playing together for over 20 years at this point – even before Animal Collective, going back to our high school bands. Josh actually just found a cassette of a performance of our high school band yesterday. We all listened to it on Dropbox this morning, it was from 1996. I was actually surprised at how much of it sounded like Animal Collective, and there was improvising in between songs too, kind of like how we play our shows now!


Up until this point you’ve released 10 records. How did recording Painting With compare to how you recorded your earlier work?

The studio situation is the biggest difference, the earlier stuff was recorded at home or people’s apartments. We didn’t really go into studios. I don’t think we went into a studio until our fifth record. But this one was in Hollywood, so we were next-door to a room that has the mixing desk where ‘Thriller’ was recorded, and Mamas and Papas records, Sam Cook records and Frank Sinatra stuff was done in the room we were in. So to be in a historic studio like that was pretty special and unlike anything we have ever done. And we felt it made a difference.There’s very little to no artificial reverb on the record, it’s all just the room or the natural echo chambers they have there.


Was it intimidating at all recording there, knowing who has previously worked there?

It was okay, we just locked ourselves in the room. I think we felt a little uncomfortable though. We have never recorded in a place that has interns that clean up after you, or go get food for you. That was a little new to us. But we bought them a lot of cases of beer and wine, we felt they had treated us really nicely.


How have your older fans received the new album?

We kind of reload fans a lot. When we look out at the crowds at our shows there are a lot of young kids, so they can’t have been fans for very long. So I’m not sure if the older fans are standing up the back or they’re just not coming.

But I’ve noticed for a long time that there’s always a new group of younger fans that have discovered us through the newest record, so they seem to receive it better than the older fans, which makes sense to me. We’ve all been music fans for a long time, we’re all 37 and 38 years old, we know what it feels like to have grown up with bands that you like and you stick with them for 10 years or 5 records… it rarely means as much to you as their first couple years or first couple records.

We kind of see that as two-sided. You never want to feel like your long-times aren’t as excited about your newer stuff. But that’s just the reality. The positive side of it is that we’ve been lucky enough to have been a band for 15 years, that we have the kind of career where that can happen, where we have fans that prefer stuff from a decade ago.

Again, talking just how long we have been a band and hearing that tape from the mid-90’s, I was thinking that if you met an Animal Collective fan who was in their senior year of college, they were born after we started the band. So you have to find someone in their mid-20’s who has a job and pays their own rent to have been born before we started making music together… it’s really cool. Very few people stay interesting for that long. We’ve at least been able to keep ourselves interested, so that’s the main thing.


The sounds you guys produce seem to have a bit of a timeless feel to them, I can see why you’d still have fans from so long ago. You guys are in the middle of a huge tour at the moment, how is the new material panning out in a live setting?

It’s great. We’d never played it live before, so we were a little unsure of how it would go. But it’s been really fun, we’ve been able to stretch the songs out a little bit, beginnings and endings have become less rigid, compared to the album. We’ve been figuring out ways to improvise into and out of the songs which has been fun, because we didn’t have any idea of how that would happen on stage.

The last show we just played in Manchester I think might be one of my favourite shows I’ve played in a long time. Going back many years and many records, this might be one I’ll remember for a long time. And the fans seemed to dig it, I can’t totally speak for them, I don’t interact with our fans on Facebook or anything. But the fans I met after the show seemed pretty psyched. Everyone always loves ‘Floridada’, people always jump around for that one.


The tour at the moment is around a year long, will you expand that at all?

As of now, hopefully we’ll extend it a bit into next year. Early 2017, and the early part of the year is when we generally come to Australia, and then we want to get to South America some time early next year. The tour is at least a year long, probably not too much longer than that because we’ll just impatient and just want to move on!


Is it overwhelming committing to such a long tour?

It can be, but with this material we didn’t play any of it live before we recorded it, so I think that allowed us to go into the tour feeling pretty fresh. In the past we have usually toured material for a year before we have released it, so in these cases it can be a bit overwhelming, because it’s already been a year with the songs and we have to do a second year with the same music.


Does touring interfere with your personal life much, or are you used to it now after touring for so long?

Both. Some of us have children and it’s not easy for our wives and kids when we’re gone. But it’s been our reality for so long now, we’re kind of used to it. We never go away for more than two or three weeks, and we then will go home for two or three weeks and spend time with our families. We’re going to take this summer off for the most part to spend more time with our families, so that breaks things up a bit.


You guys have a few festival appearances as well. You’re playing Bestival, Electric Gardens, Primavera Sound and a bunch more. How do you compare them to playing headline shows?

They can be just as fun, as long as we get a chance to soundcheck and bring our stage production and play at night time. We’re lucky enough at this point that when we get asked to play festivals we can request these things. We try to let the festival know we can’t do a very good job without a soundcheck, and if we play during the day we won’t be able to play our light show, which we think that’s a lot to the show. As long as we’re up front about that and the festival can accommodate that, our set can go down just as well as a headline show. There were times, especially when we were younger, when we didn’t know what to ask for, so you don’t get a sound check and you get 20 minutes to change over from the last band. They never go over too well! But if a festival is able to accommodate our requests, the show is just as good as playing a headline show.



Win tickets to Bestival 2016

Wish you were heading to Bestival to see Animal Collective? Fly FBi is your chance to win a massive UK holiday including two return tickets to London, Bestival tickets, three nights accommodation in London and more. Become a supporter by 5pm April 29 to be in the draw! More info here.



Read more from Emily Mathison

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