Q&A: Avey Tare Talks Slasher Flicks, Animal Collective, And The Cure
Next week Slasher Flicks — the cosmic power trio comprised of Animal Collective’s Avey Tare, Angel Deradoorian (formerly of Dirty Projectors), and Jeremy Hyman (formerly of Ponytail) — will release their first proper full-length album, Enter The Slasher House. The band makes music that could almost serve as a tripped-out (and slightly more accessible) cousin to Animal Collective — like a prog-rock trio that has eaten too many mushrooms and wandered into a kind of murder-filled woods as imagined in some long-lost ’70s horror movie. For Avey Tare, Slasher Flicks offers a kind of creative respite from the rigors of Animal Collective while still allowing him to stretch his psych-loving legs in a band setting. The record — which is densely layered with guitars, kaleidoscopic percussion, and a variety of modular synths — was actually recorded mostly live with a minimum of overdubs. The press materials for Enter The Slasher House describe the band’s desire to create music that conjures up a “pure emotional space” and that comes from “a place that’s not human,” which is an admirably Altered States kind of goal for any record that lifts its visual aesthetic from old scary movies. Those eager to get their minds slashed early can now hear the entire record in the form of a “visual stream” that was created by Avey’s sister, Abby Portner. Otherwise, you can (and should) buy the record next week.
STEREOGUM: What was the genesis of these songs? How did it begin?
AVEY TARE: It began in the room I’m sitting in right now, which is just a room in our house in LA. I got sick a bunch last year from touring, a lot of throat infections, strep throat, and laryngitis — the worst. The first time it happened was at the end of 2012, right when we started touring for Centipede Hz. We were supposed to play in New York and we had to cancel the show because I got sick. I don’t really remember the sequence of events too well but it started by coming back here and feeling kind of weak and not being able to do much, not really even be able to sing. I often play acoustic guitar around the house to write stuff or just to play and I guess I have been more lately in the past couple years, especially being here in LA. So I started writing the songs on acoustic guitar and then I got it in my head that I wanted to write as much as I could and started separating them into categories for the projects that I was doing, which I kind of do a lot anyway because I’m either doing stuff on my own or stuff with Animal Collective. It’s not usually much of a conscious decision of “oh, I’m going to do these two different things.” I definitely had it in my head that I wanted to do a solo thing without Animal Collective, something that’s more band-focused. The thought of doing a trio seemed really appealing to me. So I started writing and collecting songs that I thought would work the best in that format.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting to think about these songs being written on an acoustic guitar. Do those acoustic, primitive versions of these songs exist somewhere?
AVEY TARE: Yeah, totally. I just record them live on a little personal recorder and use a drum machine or an app on my iPad. I just do something really simple. That’s how I set up the basic rhythm structure for the songs. There are those versions and then I did other demos that I actually sent to Jeremy and Angel and played for the AC guys as well just to get their opinion on them. Those were more electric sounding with electric guitar and basic keyboard lines and bass and stuff so they could get a better idea of what I wanted it to sound like. But I always like to keep it open a little bit when playing with people. It’s weird for me to be in a position of just telling everybody what to play and exactly what to do. I definitely respect somebody that can do that, but I find that it always seems smoother to keep it more open. I like it when everyone is just kind of communicating through the music and just…I don’t really like the word vibing, but vibing. [laughs]
STEREOGUM: Did the songs evolve with the three of you together or did all three of you take them and do your parts on your own?
AVEY TARE: I finished the demos for the first eight songs that I wanted to work on. The thing was that we got asked to play this ATP thing last year so that became more of the starting point and we pushed ourselves so that could actually happen. It seemed like the right amount of time to set it up. I didn’t even really ask Jeremy to play until around that time. I gave them the demos and they sat on them for a while. Jeremy was on tour a lot with Dan Deacon last year so he kind of worked on stuff while he was on tour and did stuff on his computer. I like Jeremy as a drummer because he has this wild and free and crazy side that I felt could really make the songs different and much more of a live band experience. But I didn’t really know how much he would put his own input into it. So when he started showing me things and first came out here to start practicing things, he put these beats over the demo and I was immediately psyched. Angel and Jeremy had some time to just sit with the demos a little bit and then we went into a practice space in LA for two weeks and it just was a fun time trying to work it all out. Immediately, it was clear to all of us that, in terms of other bands that we had played in, it was a very different working environment and experience that for the most part was positive. We were all having a good time and psyched about what was going on. There was still a bit of a learning curve but whatever.
STEREOGUM: I like the idea of trios. There is something very powerful about three people.
AVEY TARE: I do too. More and more, I’ve been fascinated with the number three and how so many great things come in three. In terms of bands, there are so many good trios.
STEREOGUM: How is it to play these songs live? Do they go to a totally different kind of crazy place when you perform them?
AVEY TARE: I think they do, totally. For the first month or so, Jeremy kept saying that he needed to hear exactly what we were doing. It gets so crazy sometimes. But we wanted there to be a lot of energy and were psyched that we got that immediately. I think one of the first songs that we worked on was “Modern Days E” and the energy and the groove was so powerful to us that we didn’t want to lose that so we were fine if it was all a little bit crazy. For the first shows that we did, it was definitely a little hard to reign in on the sound and what was going on. I think I come from a place like that musically, though. All of the early Animal Collective shows that we played were really out there and crazy. Animal Collective for me has become a lot more controlled in what we do and it was a nice contrast to have that openness with this project — a sort of jazzy, “let’s see what happens” kind of thing.
STEREOGUM: I love that. I always kind of sensed the struggle between what the roots of Animal Collective was originally — this crazy, free-form experimental thing — and the more polished, slightly more traditional band you have become. You want to go out there and just experiment, but you’ve also got to please the people who bought a ticket because they want to hear “My Girls.”
AVEY TARE: That’s definitely become something that’s more on our minds lately. I feel like maybe since 2003 or 2004 we started to have specific songs that people were coming to see. That is cool, but it’s also sort of about offering something different in terms of a live experience. You put out a record and I feel like people can get psyched at a show and hear songs and be like, “oh, I like that one” but there’s also the experience to me of showing people what exactly the songs can become. The live experience for me is often more like what the songs sound like in my head. It’s a different listening experience — live versus the record — and that’s true whether it’s Slasher Flicks or Animal Collective. I think that happened with our friend Sonny — the guy who recorded this record. We played in a practice space for him so he could get the vibe of what we were doing but it wasn’t until we actually started smoothing everything out and putting it down that he really got it. Back to the live thing, I think it’s cool to not be a band that gets up and just plays the record. I feel like I’m always going to come from that frame of mind in terms of a lot of stuff.
STEREOGUM: Being able to step away from Animal Collective and do something totally different must be liberating.
AVEY TARE: Sort of. It is different but it also just takes me back to other times when I was making music or recording music. Especially the recording process felt more like something older, like something I had done long ago and it was very refreshing in that way. To feel like that feeling kind of still existed. Not that it doesn’t exist with Animal Collective anymore, but every album is different. Whether it’s a totally different project or something that I’m used to, I feel like whoever I’m working with always treats the album as a very specific thing. That it’s just going to be this document of this specific time period is important to me. That I’m going to have to move on from it anyway and it’s always going to remind me of the year I spent working on it.
STEREOGUM: I was always very struck by the way you guys work in Animal Collective. I know that no matter what anyone says, there’s always a certain weight of expectation now when you put out a new record. Being able to push that stuff aside and just let the record dictate what it wants to be is not always an easy thing to do…especially when you have this voracious fanbase.
AVEY TARE: Especially because you want to put as much of yourself into the record as possible. When we were making this record, a lot of times people would ask Sonny to play it for them and ask what’s going on and he wouldn’t really be able to explain what it sounds like…but I think at the end of the day it’s kind of a good thing. We’re just trying the best that we can to put ourselves into the music and not worry too much about what other people are saying or what other people are expecting from us. If you do that, you’re going to lose that sense of what makes the record special to begin with. It’s definitely tough, especially nowadays with realizing that so many people are paying attention. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be a huge, massive band to be able to do that. In a way, I feel like we’re lucky — or I’m lucky — because I feel like I’m dealing with a fan base that seems pretty open. There’s always going to be people that hear this record and think it’s too straightforward or hear it and say “oh, it’s great and it’s good to hear a little bit more of this or that.” Everybody hears things so differently and it’s important to keep that in mind. It’s all very subjective.
STEREOGUM: There was a quote in the press materials that speaks to trying to make music that comes from a place “not entirely human.” I love that idea in general.
AVEY TARE: I think, sonically, that’s what it is all about. The sounds and the way everything comes together. At the heart of it, I think it’s all human and it’s always important to get the emotions in there. The emotional connection to music has always been the most important thing to me. That’s how I connect to music — being able to feel somebody’s emotion in there and what they’re putting into it. The best of both worlds is when people are able to manipulate sound and make it sound crazy or weird or just really good but also have this emotion in there that you can connect to on a human level. I think that’s awesome.
STEREOGUM: I also thought it was interesting that you said this record was largely recorded live without a ton of overdubs and stuff.
AVEY TARE: I mean there’s definitely overdubs but not as many as I’m used to working with Animal Collective — where there are literally hundreds of tracks sometimes. We had the foundation for these songs and we thought they were kind of sweet as they were. That’s another different aspect of playing with Angel and Jeremy. We’re always like, “Oh, there’s so much going on already so let’s just focus on what’s there and work with that.” Not that I really wanted to keep adding lots and lots of stuff to this anyway but I feel like, for the most part, it is kept to a pretty basic level, on some songs more than others. We added flourishes here and there to keep the environment kind of psychedelic and unique and not just have it be one continuous sound. There are records that have a continuous sound throughout. There’s this band named African Brothers Dance Band and their first record is a collection of their singles and it keeps a really consistent sound the whole way through. I really, really like that record. But then there are other records where songs shift so much that each song sounds completely different, like a Beatles record or something like that. I think albums like that are amazing too because it’s always like, “What’s this album going to be like? How’s it going to pan out? Are we going to keep it totally continuous?” I don’t think I’ve made a record yet that’s completely like that. Maybe Campfire Songs. I feel like the overdubs keep songs in their own world and make them distinguishable from each other.
STEREOGUM: There’s something to be said for records that are totally schizophrenic, but I like how this record has a very cohesive sound. All the songs sound very different from each other, but still very much of the same piece.
AVEY TARE: I definitely thought of it more as a collection of songs as opposed to the last solo thing that I did which was more focused on keeping an overall environment. I didn’t have as much of the songs from the beginning and just kind of went into it, working on it as I went. But for this one it was more like, “Here’s this collection of songs. How can we make them work all together?”
STEREOGUM: I also love that it’s called Slasher Flicks. That name certainly lends a certain connotation to the entire proceedings.
AVEY TARE: It’s weird when you put a word into somebody’s head. That’s why it’s always so weird for me to talk or write about music because it’s like… Do I want to be influencing people in that way? So much of it to me is about interpreting it how you want and that’s the fun of music. When we were younger and listening to music like The Incredible String Band or Piper At The Gates Of Dawn by Pink Floyd, I think we put this dark element into it that I’m not sure was intended to be there. There’s a kind of spookiness in the music that we liked and we picked out. We just started bands based around that feeling and that sonic environment and that’s stuck with me. Of course I always liked horror movies too and it kind of ran parallel to that but I feel like there’s always a playful side to it too. I like early Cure records — Pornography and Faith are some of my favorite records of all time. That’s the most goth I ever got. I never got super gothed-out or anything. They’re great, haunting records and we used to listen to them on tour all the time. I think that kind of vibe is in there too. Pornography is this weird, crazy, psychedelic record. The cover and the whole package is amazing. It’s always been about the whole package: what the album artwork is going to be like, what the band name is going to be. Band names are really tough to come up with these days. I know so many people that are like, “We’re trying to come up with a band name! You gotta help us out.” We’re always just like…well, Animal Collective isn’t actually a very good band name. You don’t want to ask us. I landed on Slasher Flicks because I liked the way the words sounded together and it seemed like not a very typical band name or something that you would associate with a band. But then we were actually surprised that it wasn’t already taken as a band name.
STEREOGUM: That’s the other thing: trying to find something that doesn’t already exist in the world somewhere is an increasingly difficult thing to do.
AVEY TARE: I always think two word band names are my favorite like Sonic Youth or Vampire Weekend. Those are great band names. It’s always two words that really work for me.
STEREOGUM: What will the rest of this year be like for you? Are you going to do a ton of touring behind this record? Do you want to?
AVEY TARE: I don’t think we’re going to do a ton but we’ll do some US touring. We already have one set up. Then we’ll play some festivals, play in Europe a little. But probably not do too much, just because we all have different things going on right now and it’s not a full-time thing that any of us are focusing on. We’re proud of it and are psyched to play together and stuff but Angel works on her music and Jeremy’s doing his thing so I think we’re going to keep it a little bit shorter.
STEREOGUM: Being able to do these projects on your own outside of Animal Collective must be a nice way to stretch your legs creatively. I feel like these kinds of projects usually benefit the other band as well.
AVEY TARE: I think so, yeah. Especially for Animal Collective being able to last as long as it has. Whenever we’re done with an Animal Collective thing — a long tour or whatever — I always have in my head that I’m going to take a break. Over the past couple years it’s been kind of tough to train my brain to be like, “Alright, you don’t need to work on music right now. It’s cool to take some time off.” I’m always excited about something else that I want to work on… which is good — I mean, there could be worse problems to have — but for me it’s good when I’m not totally in the depths of an intense project to have some time where I just don’t play music. I think that’s equally as important.
STEREOGUM: Yeah. When you feel the inclination to start writing songs about being on the road, you need to get off the road and do something else for a while and write a song about that.
AVEY TARE: Yeah, totally. That’s the thing — that’s what keeps you inspired and what keeps the inspiration fresh and original. If you’re not doing anything other than just making music all the time, your output is going to get kind of boring.
Enter The Slasher House is out 5/8 via Domino.