I was clicking around a music blog I had stumbled upon one day when I was 12-years-old. I must have been tracking down a music video I had seen on TV. I don’t know if I found exactly what I was looking for, because I was too distracted by this song called “Leaf House” by some band called “Animal Collective” that I had clicked to play on the site. What came blasting out of my speakers could only prompt me to think:
What. The. Hell. Is. This?
“Leaf House” was so intensely strange to me when I first heard it. Lyrics about some sad house morphed into vocals that could only be described as a string of noises that sounded like “ah ah ah eh ehhh uh uhh.” The song would warp into layers of vocals like some hypnotic trance, somehow ending up pretty catchy. And, like the cherry on top of some weird indie music sundae, the whole song ended in a monk-like chanting of “meow” and “kitties.” Needless to say, I was flipping out. Where had this been my whole (12-year-old) life? More importantly, what was this?
I searched Animal Collective on iTunes and bought their most recent album at the time, Feels, and listened to it over and over for the next few days. I was in love. I didn’t know about psychedelia or freak folk or experimental music. In fact, I knew little about music at all except for the fact that I liked listening to it. What I did know, however, was that this band was amazing. I thought Feels was straight up magical. At the time, Animal Collective might as well have been a band of aliens. In a way, they almost really were from another planet because I had never listened to anything like them before.
Before I found Animal Collective, the music I listened to was either what I had heard on the radio or music I had cultivated from my parents’ music libraries. I have always had what my friends would call “cool” parents, the kind of parents that are parodied in Portlandia skits and Onion articles. Their love of music heavily influenced mine, because I loved everything they loved. My parents listened to bands like The Velvet Underground, Modern Lovers, The Jesus and Mary Chain and New Order. Punk bands like X, The Minutemen, The Au Pairs, and The Undertones were shoe-ins. The list could go on forever because they didn’t just listen to one era or one genre, they listened to everything: Seventies classic rock, ska, golden-age rap, grunge and more. My favorite band before I found Animal Collective was Interpol and I found that band through them. That sounds so lame, to love all the music that your parents like, but they were my music gurus.
Though, my parents didn’t really understand Animal Collective. My dad took my cousin and I to an Animal Collective concert when they were on their tour for Merriweather Post Pavilion. He described the show as “kind of a snooze” but enjoyed seeing me “off by myself and really digging it.” I’m not sure if my parents really listened to Animal Collective besides hearing them being blasted in my bedroom, but I think that was enough to turn them off to the music. One time I played “Peacebone” in the car and my younger brother was extremely confused by the references to broccoli in the lyrics. God, didn’t he know ANYTHING?
Overall, my family didn’t enjoy listening to Animal Collective, but it didn’t matter because I have extremely supportive parents when it comes to what I want to consume culturally. My parents always understood what it was like to be a teenager because their parents didn’t get why they enjoyed certain music either. I liked music that they didn’t like and that was more than okay, it was good, because when I listened to Animal Collective I was listening to something I had discovered on my own.
I had found Animal Collective without a friend or a parent playing them for me, and that made me realize that there’s way more music out there besides what my parents were listening to or what was on the radio. Finding Animal Collective was just the beginning of cultivating my own sometimes questionable personal taste in music separate from my parents. Stepping outside of the influence of my parents (no matter how hip the were!) was liberating because instead of just listening to whatever somebody else had playing, I was finding music to play for myself. And sometimes that music sounded like someone screaming about inky periods dripping out of intestines and that was cool because it was something I found, loved and made my own.