Avey Tare's New Experiment? Simple Pop Music
While Animal Collective takes a break, the group's co-founder makes his most accessible and groovy record yet.
David Portner, the unconventional musician otherwise known as Avey Tare, has spent more than a decade creating one of the most ambitious and unpredictable bodies of work in indie music both on his own and with his band, Animal Collective. In a time when even a lot of the best bands operate on the assumption that "it's all been done," Portner and his collaborators have developed a very distinct style that scrambles elements of folk, electronic music, avant-garde composition, rock, and synth-pop into something that doesn't sound quite like anything that came before them. Portner's latest project is Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks, a new band featuring former Dirty Projectors member Angel Deradoorian and drummer Jeremy Hyman. Their debut, Enter the Slasher House, is Portner's most accessible record to date, with the trio playing melodic and relatively straightforward rock. BuzzFeed caught up with Portner recently to talk about the new record, his love of jazz, his recent move to Los Angeles, and the future of Animal Collective.
Do you think of your body of work as being like this fluid, continuous thing? Or do you think of each project as a separate branch?
For me, it's more about one-off things. I guess it doesn't matter to me whether it's included in a body of work or not. I will happily just say, "That was a thing that happened, and there it goes." I've been listening to so much jazz in the past couple years that I just like the idea of just getting a trio together and doing a one-off record. [Enter the Slasher House] is influenced by that jazz way of thinking where it's just like, let's just get together and play a show and record it, and release the record. It's more produced than those jazz records, but to me, it's a similar philosophy.
You've been like that all the way through your career too. Your first records were credited to "Avey Tare and Panda Bear," or "Avey Tare, Panda Bear, and The Geologist."
Animal Collective was started with that idea in mind, like we'd branch off and do different projects and put out as much as we can. It turned out that we started devoting so much time to specific records, and we weren't able to do it as much. But we're back to it again.
How do you think this Slasher Flicks record progressed out of where Animal Collective was with its last album, Centipede Hz?
It flows out of that: this whole idea of early rock 'n' roll, garage rock, and jazz. I got really into jazz before I moved to Baltimore to work on Centipede Hz. The idea with the Animal Collective guys was that we wanted to make a record that was rawer and based on us interacting and the playing being less sample-based. It was really good to play music like that with people, but I feel like for Centipede Hz, the record became something else for us when we were in the studio, because we wanted to hone in on certain things in the music. We ended up doing things that ended up making it not such a live record as much as, say, the Slasher Flicks record was. I was just trying to get the desire to do that kind of record out of me.
One of the things I really like about the Slasher Flicks album is that there's a lot of bass on it, because bass wasn't as prominent on the records you've done in the past.
The way we put together Animal Collective for so long, we didn't really have a big bass sound. We didn't even use a bass drum very often, so the little bit of bass we had, we tried to achieve any way we could. It wasn't until Merriweather Post Pavilion that we thought, "This is more electronic, dance-influenced music, so let's have a deeper bass." That was the beginning of my interest in trying to figure out how to get the bass in there. But the thing with music like ours, is that it's hard to really find room for a lot of bass. A lot of bass means less space for all the other stuff we want to have in there. There's subtleties in the music that I like to be there, little sounds, so if the bass ever got to be too much, we have to bring it down. For this, since it's just a three-piece and we wanted to keep it like what was recorded as such, it opened up room for more bass in the band.
Who's playing bass on this record?
Angel plays the keyboard bass.
I had assumed it was a guitar bass. It has that kind of feel.
That was definitely the goal — I wanted it to sound more like a normal bass, or like the bass sounds in old African guitar music, or dub music. It's a real rubbery-sounding bass that punches.
How did working with two people who you'd never worked with before change the way you made these songs?
As I was writing the songs, I had them in mind. I've been familiar with Angel's projects and where she's coming from since 2008. Just hearing the keyboard parts and knowing the kind of music she's into, it just made sense. Once I started writing three or four of the songs it kinda dawned on me that if it was gonna be a collection of songs, it'd all have to be upbeat and energetic.
Which song came first?
"Strange Colores" was the first song I wrote. When we did the last Animal Collective record, we did these radio shows that we put on the web, just to sorta promote the record. I wanted to personalize mine, so I wrote a couple of short jams to put on that radio show, and I had Angel and her sister sing on them. I played all of the demos for the Animal Collective dudes and some other people, and out of any of them, they were like, "'Strange Colores,' man, that song's a jam."
The other guys in the band weren't like, "No, this has to be an Animal Collective song!"
(Laughs) No, we don't really do that. I played it for them in the context of other Slasher Flicks demos, and they were just saying that one was one of their favorites. We don't really get that way about stuff.
Did you move to Los Angeles before making this record?
I moved to Baltimore from New York to do Centipede, and that wasn't meant to be a permanent thing, it was just to do that record. Angel and I, we lived together in Baltimore and we live together now. We just decided to move to L.A., and for me it was just about seeing what the west coast was about, since I grew up on the east coast. At the time I really needed the change.
How has your experience in L.A. been so far?
I got sick a lot on tour last year, and what I thought was going to be a pretty straightforward year of touring actually became something completely different. I ended up spending a lot more time in L.A. than I thought I would, but it was very introspective weird time when I was weak. It gave me the time to write all these songs, but it also made last year in L.A. seem more surreal and kind of detached. I've always been so sensitive to environments and music, even just listening to music. It's sunny here all the time, and being in the desert is such a different feeling than where I'm from on the East Coast. I definitely feel like there's songs on the [Slasher Flicks] record that don't have the sunny, upbeat vibe that I associated with Los Angeles.
Your voice sounds really confident on this album. Have you become more comfortable with being a singer over the years?
Having done it so long now, it's a, well, not uphill battle, but just working with it. I remember how appalled by my voice I was when I first heard it played back. Then with the last few Animal Collective records, reaching a point where I was comfortable with not putting so many effects on my vocals. With this [Slasher Flicks] stuff, they're more the type of songs which, for me, it needs to feel like it's a singer singing over a more traditional setup.
Do you and the Animal Collective guys have an idea of where you're going next?
No, no. We always throw around ideas, and we actually have tinkered around with a couple songs over the past half year. Over the internet, sending stuff to each other, not in the same room. We don't really intend to put that out on a record; I don't know what we'll do with that, but it's something we're messing around with. In terms of making a record, we're always talking, but as of right now we just plan to take this time off and get a little bit of a breather. It refreshes us to have this stuff going on. Noah wanted to do a new Panda Bear record that he's just finishing up, and Brian had a baby just recently. When the time feels right, we'll start the next round of Animal Collective.