Down There was an album destined for discussion. The swampy, warmed-over textures and downhearted lyrics opened up a world and perspective from Animal Collective‘s Avey Tare we didn’t expect, given the trippy optimism of his main project. As a deeply personal work, it opened a portal to the usually clouded emotional soul of his band’s canon. It certainly deserved some back story and explanation.
To procure one we dropped some quizzicals off in Avey’s direction. Charmingly, he answered. The result sits in words below…
musicOMH: Has it been nice to not be thinking about Animal Collective for a while?
Avey Tare: It’s been nice to have a break from touring. A lot of this year actually was spent working or thinking about Animal Collective stuff, but the past few months have been a nice break from thinking so much about music. To tell you the truth though I like to keep busy with music, or at least writing music, so it will be nice to get back into the flow of things with Animal Collective as well.
OMH: It seems right now that all the members of Animal Collective are out working on other projects. Is that something you planned while you were recording Merriweather Post Pavilion?
AT: No, not really. We just take time to go off and do what comes naturally to us in our spare time. It’s nice to not plan things so much like that, because Animal Collective has become such a planned beast and so much goes into it.
OMH: At what point did you know you wanted to write a solo album?
AT: I’ve been working on all the songs for some time. I guess I didn’t really know it would turn into an album until I had a collection of songs that made sense together. I think it’s really been a matter of actually having some time to put it all together. There’s been so much going on in my life that it’s been crazy.
OMH: Down There is definitely one of the darker albums from an Animal Collective member. How old are the songs on the album?
AT: I started thinking about the songs at the end of 2008.
OMH: A lot has been made of the album’s swampy textures, especially with the cover image. Is that something you were aiming for?
AT: Definitely. For about a year or year and a half I really wanted to make the record feel as swampy as possible.
OMH: You’re certainly singing a lot on Down There, but your voice is always warbled in one way or another – you’re never singing through a clear channel. What was the motivation behind that?
AT: It seemed to fit with the atmosphere and the song styles. The overall production style was way more electronic than other stuff i’ve worked on, and so i wanted the vocals to keep within that frame of sound. It also helped give the music a sort of broken feeling or an alien feeling. I wanted it to sound like ghosts singing.
OMH: It’s interesting how the last album you were involved with was about being happy with what you have, and here you’re singing lines like, “Shouldn’t I be content with what I got?” In a way it sounds like you’re not entirely convinced.
AT: Totally. The whole writing and recording process was parallel to me dealing with a lot of things going on in my mind. I was questioning a lot of things I’d come to believe, or was just realising. Music and life to me are similar in that they are an ongoing process of learning or a quest of discovery because everything is so transient. It’s not really about reaching a final point and saying that’s how it is. Things aren’t going to be great all the time. For me it’s more about laying out a map or guide. Things always changing. Sure, you learn a lot along the way, and come to have a new understanding of things, but whats’ interesting to me while working with music is showing the process, not really the outcome. The whole record represents my thought process.
OMH: You’ve said in a few interviews that Down There came from a ‘dark place’. Do you feel you needed to write these songs to exorcise any demons? Or to clear your head?
AT: In a way, yes.
OMH: Cemeteries sticks out in particular from the rest of the record simply because of how quiet and mystically peaceful it is. It still carries the melancholy tone. Where did that song come from?
AT: It definitely came from a mysterious place. Just the overall vibe of walking in a deserted cemetery is peaceful and beautiful, yet chilling and dark to me, so I wanted the song to feel that way. The song is also very sad to me but I think it’s just cause it makes me feel defeated. I was probably a bit sad when I wrote it. I remember when I was younger asking my brother why cemeteries never change, and him telling me that they are something we don’t really want to think about so much, and yet we’ve gotten to a place where we have to because they are so implanted in our culture that we keep making them and they grow. When I started to write the song it made me think of how it was sad that to some people cemeteries are a very sad or dark thing or something to turn away from. They’re this lingering image or reminder of death hanging over our heads. But to me as an environment they are also really beautiful, especially some of the older ones. They invoke ghosts and haunting merely my just being there and i like that.
OMH: Do you have any thoughts on the overall response to Down There?
AT: I’m happy people seem to be in to it.
OMH: Lastly, you’ve said before that you have no intentions of playing this material live. Is that still the case now that it’s out and people are listening to it?
AT: For now, yes.
Avey Tare’s album Down There is out now through Paw Tracks.