INTERVIEW: Avey Tare

Dave Portner is a busy guy. Under the pseudonym Avey Tare, he’s acted as “de facto frontman” of Animal Collective, arguably one of the most influential groups in all of indie rock, for over a decade now. The band’s prolific output represents just a fraction of his complete discography – he’s released collaborative projects with Eric Copeland, David Grubbs, and Vashti Bunyan, as well as his former wife Kría Brekkan. In 2010, he released his first solo album on Paw Tracks, the dark and deeply affected Down There, largely focusing on his feelings about death and illness with a murky sound to match. It’s reflective of a dark period of his life, but with the debut of his latest project, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, it seems like he’s come out on top.

Releasing Enter The Slasher House in April, with former Ponytail drummer Jeremy Hyman and ex-Dirty Projector Angel Deradoorian on keys, the record’s vibe swings to the poppier end of Avey Tare’s songwriting spectrum. Much like the campy B-movies the moniker recalls, Slasher Flicks is an endeavor concerned mostly with fantasy and escape rather than introspection. That’s reflective, in some ways, of Portner’s own migration from the East coast to Los Angeles, where he now lives with girlfriend Deradoorian. But more than anything, Slasher Flicks is about the simple fun of playing music as a three-piece, and though its more straightforward than much of Portner’s catalogue, the eleven tracks on Slasher House each bear his familiar stamp.

Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks are soon to embark on a West Coast mini-tour that kicks off with a stop at FYF Fest. Animal Collective have also announced fall DJ residencies in New York, Philly, and D.C. Portner chatted with AudioFemme about the particular influences that play into this latest project, how he tackles songwriting and producing, and what’s next for Animal Collective.

Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks

AudioFemme: Hi Dave! Thanks for chatting with us. You’re in L.A. right now, and you’re kind of on a short break from touring with Slasher Flicks – you were out for about a month after the record was released, did some shows around Pitchfork Fest, and then you’re going back out around the end of the month, including FYF. Do you like doing festivals?

AT: Festivals have never been my favorite thing. I definitely like the opportunity to do ‘em, but I feel like more than not they’re usually pretty stressful. So it’s kinda hard to go into ‘em thinking it’s gonna be a like great time or something, you know.

AF: I’ve often wondered what it’s like for bands, because as a person who goes to a lot of more intimate shows, I find festivals to be sort of the least desirable way to see a band.

AT: In terms of being in the crowd and stuff, yeah, it’s definitely not for me. In terms of playing you’re just dealing with all these people that are stressed out for good reason to begin with – just trying to move things along – and I feel like it’s just not the most personal musical experience.

AF: How has the rest of touring been, your headlining shows?

AT: Oh, they’ve been great. The tour was really fun. I just like the more intimate feeling, it’s really a lot easier to connect, especially if the crowd is feeling the music. In that sense it was good, it was just good to play with Jeremy and Angel every night. We had a good time playing and it was cool to just be able to drive in a van around the country. It’s been a while since I’ve actually gotten to do that, and see things.

AF: Do you mean like, on the road? Did you go to roadside attractions?

AT: Well a little. I mean I guess just first and foremost being able to see the landscape. I guess I’m used to bus travel lately and you don’t really get a lot of that, especially because you travel at night, mostly, on a bus. You don’t really see the landscape change, and I think that’s definitely one cool thing about the US and driving around, is there’s so much variety to see.

AF: So the album’s been out since April. Are you pleased with how it’s been received? How does it feel to be playing it live now?

AT: I think so. I’m not the type of person that’s too tapped into how the record’s doing. For me, especially, for this project, it’s supposed to be just a little bit more fun and laid back, just trying to just take some time away from working so intensely at music. I mean, I want it to do well, obviously, and I think it is, which is good. But yeah, the songs are tight, and it’s been good being able to play all of them live. When we were writing the record we played some shows before we recorded and there were some of them we kind of wrote after so it’s nice to just be able to play the whole record.

AF: Yeah, I actually went to one of those early shows, the one last summer at Glasslands.

AT: Yeah? That was a crazy one!

AF: It was great – exciting to see the songs develop and take shape. A lot of people have compared the songs to some of the more poppy, anthemic Animal Collective tracks. Did that come from sort of shifting the Animal Collective live sets to more of a “hit list” rather than amorphous jamming that comprised earlier tours? Did that shift influence the way you went into writing for Slasher Flicks?

AT: No, not really. I mean, I guess I write a lot of songs. So there’s definitely songs I’ve been writing over the course of the last year and a half or so that aren’t included on a Slasher Flicks record per se, but I think there is a specific style of song I started putting together for this record because I kind of knew I wanted to do it with a three-piece band. I’m always thinking like, well how can I produce this record, or how can this record be produced, to do something a little bit different than anything I’ve done before.

Down There, the last solo record I did was

[this] very sort of inner, heady thing that I kinda just kept inside of me for a long time and I finally got out with electronics and was mostly just me in a bedroom. But I think I just wanted the Slasher Flicks songs to just be something that would be fun to play live, and easy to play live for a band. So I think that’s where it comes from too. I was also messing around with referencing a lot of stuff that I listen to actually which doesn’t happen a lot with Animal Collective. I mean, it does, but since things are dissected a lot more by each member of Animal Collective it turns out way different, usually, than I would envision it the way I first wrote the song.

AF: What kind of things were you listening to that influenced Slasher Flicks most heavily?

AT: It goes back to my love of old garage music, the heart of like psychedelic music, like 13th Floor Elevators, or Silver Apples or Love, or anything like that… late sixties, early seventies Kraut stuff. Also stuff like Steely Dan which I’ve grown to like a lot over the last four years. And even like jazz stuff, which I think doesn’t really come through so much on the record, but I think definitely in how jazz is presented on record.

AF: And maybe that collaborative style of improvisation?

AT: Yeah, yeah, and just sort of like the more freeform aspects, letting that seep in where it can.

AF: In terms of playing with Angel and Jeremy, how does their presence influence the material that you write, if it does at all?

AT: Well I think they just have their very own very specific styles which I’d been familiar with before asking them to play. Even if I’m writing most of the stuff, when I play music with people I like it to be as much of a collaboration as it possibly can be, because I think that’s what makes it the most fun and interesting for everybody involved. I’ve never really been in a band where just somebody is like always like “You do exactly this, and you do exactly this, it has to be this way, and just play the same thing the same way like every night.” I think just allowing the way they play and their styles and their ideas to come into it, also gave the record its own sound too. Jeremy has a really wild kinda crazy drum style which is unlike other stuff I’ve done before. And Angel is just a really good singer and keyboard player and the ability to have all that happen in a live setting was really key to being able to record the record like I wanted to do.

AF: You went to Culver City to record it, I read, and recorded in a Medieval-themed recording studio?

AT: Haha, yeah. I guess you could say it was Medieval themed. It just had that look to it. It’s called The Lair and this guy Larry built it. Larry from the Lair – he’s an awesome guy, this kooky, old studio head that has worked in all these different studios over the years in L.A. and finally decided to build his own. It’s strange because it’s only a word-of-mouth kinda thing, he doesn’t really advertise or anything for it. In this day and age, in the studio world, that’s kind of a tough road to go down. Because, you know, a lot of people are doing the home studio thing and the industry just isn’t making as much money. But he just built this whole thing himself, did all the woodworking, wood and iron doors and chandeliers. It’s not a huge place – in terms of studios it’s actually pretty small – but it’s real nice, and it sounded really good. He kind of modeled it after Phil Spector’s old studio in a way and so it has this tiled bathroom that is really good for these natural reverbs, which I like a lot. I don’t like a lot of artificial reverb when I record so it was cool to be able to use the bathroom in different ways to get cool room sounds.

AF: In terms of production, what were some of the choices you made specific to this project? When you listen to the record front to back it feels different from what I’ve heard on other releases of yours.

AT: Oh yeah? How would you say? If I may ask.

AF: It’s tough to say, not being a musician or a producer or having the technical background to discuss that. But I guess, to use a sort of writerly description of what I hear as a listener, you mention the reverb from the bathroom, and you can hear where that’s happening, but in other places the mix sort of flattens out, and then comes back in where all the different elements stand out sharply against one another, almost like there’s a ghost, like another member of the band kind of coming and going and distorting things slightly.

AT: That’s cool, that’s cool. I would say all that stuff definitely happens. I think for me the production is like a tool and like a member of the band in a way and I love being in the studio and making a record… I think listening to music should be fun, first and foremost. It’s emotional. People get a lot out of it in their own way and everybody hears everything different, but for me, growing up listening to music, what I got out of it was the fact that anybody could go into the studio and do all this crazy kind of stuff. Like you’re saying, things get all crazy and distorted here, but then it’s totally normal there, in another place. I think it’s just a fun thing to do.

It also definitely happens with Animal Collective too. I think probably even more so – things are just more deranged and distorted more with Animal Collective, whereas with Slasher Flicks it’s kinda probably the most straightforward drum sounds I feel like I’ve ever worked with. In general in today’s musical landscape, I think there’s just so much music out there that is reverb heavy and distant and I think there was a time in the seventies and sixties where everything was a lot like crisper and punchier and close-up. These days, for me musically, I’m interested in doing records that are a little bit more like that, but also really spacious and allow you to hear the room.

My friend and I were listening to the first ZZ Top record. And he was just kinda like “This just seems like music that sounds really good because it happened then and there at that time with these guys playing like they played.” And it doesn’t seem like a lot of music is like that any more, where it’s just a matter of three people coming together and playing a song in a certain way and that’s what you hear, basically. So I think more lately, I’m definitely interested in trying to do that. And I think maybe some of that ghostly sort of studio stuff that you’re hearing is also just us, kind of doing that and making sounds and songs shift as we play live.

AF: How do the connotations associated with slasher flicks – gory B-movies, having a graininess to it, being low-budget, for instance – how do you feel those sort of thematic elements make their way into the record?

AT: To me there’s always a visual side to music when I’m making it, [but] it doesn’t necessarily fit into the way the music sounds specifically unless you can tap into my head maybe. For me, the notion of the basic slasher flick brings to mind youth and teens and a party atmosphere and all this stuff that you kind of encounter in slasher movies. Like the “scream queen” and that sort of thing. That side of it is also in garage and psychedelic music. I’ve always kinda drawn a similarity between horror movies and psychedelic music, and I think it just has to do with these drastic shifts in mood and things getting really wild and then things getting calm – it happens in both of these art forms. That contrast, to me, in music is really important – having moments of super light stuff and having moments of dark stuff. It makes it all work.

I think there’s something about the cheap [special effects]. Now we look back on it like it’s cheesy and rudimentary or something, but the time, in the seventies and eighties, it was new. Now it’s an art form to me. It’s something that’s not going to be recreated unless people are doing “retro” stuff, and it just seems like people wouldn’t even want to recreate that kind of thing, especially in horror if they want to be effective. Just that kind of cheap thrill – like fake blood – there’s something about it that just fits into the music, too.

AF: I think it’s very interesting to draw a parallel between those visuals and the music, because a lot of these movies, too have incredible soundtracks. You have Goblin doing Suspiria, you have these weird synthy interludes that are so off the wall and creepy noise effects and theatrical sounds and the like.

AT: It’s definitely those kind of movies that got me more into music when I was in high school, like the soundtrack to Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I mean, it works effectively with the movie but I’d never really experienced anything that was just sort of noise like that, you know? It got me into sound music, people banging on pots and pans and industrial tools being used in music. It made me go out and discover bands like Faust and stuff like that.

AF: When you have a new idea for a song or sound, does it automatically get filed as “Oh, this is good for Animal Collective” or “This is a Slasher Flicks thing” or “This is really something else?”

AT: Yeah, usually. Especially with Animal Collective, at least the last few records, we sort of start talking about ideas before actually going into it so it gives me an idea at least, of the types of songs I’d probably write.

AF: Almost like a little bookmark or something.

AT: Yeah. And then, other things, sometimes it’s like I’ll know a song has more of an electronic sound so I’ll have to use it for something that’s a little bit more electronic, or this song I’m writing could be really good sample-based. It usually works that way and then they’re all kind of like grouped together after a while.

AF: Do you feel like you have ideas for the next records you want to do? Either for Slasher Flicks, or Animal Collective or something else altogether?

AT: I’m kind of in a middle world right now, I’ve got a lot ideas floating around with Animal Collective and on my own too, but everything’s just sort of coming together. This year was mostly meant to be more like a year off, just because I did so much touring last year. As much as I love just working on stuff I think it’s also trying to like not focus too intensely on it right now. But probably by the end of the year the ideas will become a little bit clearer.

I feel like people that I play music with just are doing a lot of different things. With Animal Collective, at least, we plan to take this year off. Brian had a baby, actually, and Noah is working on a solo record. We take this time to have those individual moments and there comes a time when it just feels natural to get back together and start working and I know we’re talking about that time but it’s hard to say exactly when and exactly what it will be.

Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks West Coast Tour Dates:
08/23 Los Angeles, CA – FYF Fest
08/24 San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall
08/25 Santa Cruz, CA – The Catalyst Atrium
08/27 Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios
08/28 Seattle, WA – Neumo’s
08/29 Vancouver, BC – Biltmore Cabaret

Animal Collective DJ Set Tour Dates:
08/02 Miami, FL – Grand Central $
09/10 Philadelphia, PA – The Dolphin ^
09/12 Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Bowl ^
10/02 Philadelphia, PA – The Dolphin %
10/03 Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Bowl %
10/05 Washington, DC – U Street Music Hall %
11/12 Washington, DC – U Street Music Hall %
11/13 Philadelphia, PA – The Dolphin %
11/14 Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Bowl %

$ DJ set featuring Animal Collective members Deakin and Avey Tare
^ DJ set featuring Animal Collective members Geologist and Deakin
% DJ set featuring Animal Collective members Geologist, Deakin, and Avey Tare

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