In January, Animal Collective released Merriweather Post Pavilion, a gorgeous, wonderfully weird set of psychedelic electro-pop. But the trio — Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox, Dave “Avey Tare” Portner, and Brian “Geologist” Weitz — are a restlessly creative crew, and this month they return with a killer five-song EP titled Fall Be Kind. Vulture checked in with Weitz to talk about the new disc, the band’s rabid fan base, and why the Grateful Dead were punk before punk even existed.
It’s been only ten months since the release of Merriweather Post Pavilion, and now you’re back with a five-song EP. Are these songs leftovers from those sessions?
Three of the songs are from the Merriweather sessions: “Graze,” “On A Highway,” and “I Think I Can.” When we make albums, we listen to all the songs we’ve recorded and piece them together, to see how the album’s going to take shape. Then we take out what we think feels out of place. This time, we knew we were going to have more than one release — but it wasn’t like we knew there’d be leftovers when we cut the album.
On “What Would I Want? Sky,” you use a vocal sample from the Grateful Dead’s 1974 song “Unbroken Chain.” It’s the first time the band has allowed the use of one of their songs as a sample. How did you convince the Dead to let you do that?
We didn’t know that no one had sampled one of their songs before; we just thought it would be really expensive to do it. We had recorded a version of the track live on the BBC, and we sent it over to Phil Lesh. He really liked it, and the band didn’t ask for a lot of money.
Are you a big Dead Head?
Well, I’ve been into the Dead for a long time, and recently I’ve been getting into a lot of their seventies stuff.
Do you guys hope to have a music career as long as the Dead’s?
That’s hard to say. It wasn’t all good times for the band: They didn’t have successful marriages, and there were problems with drugs and alcoholism and stuff. These are things that I wouldn’t suffer gladly for a long career. But I have respect for the way that they did things. It’s weird to me that punks hated the Grateful Dead so much. They had the same spirit as punk rock. They would put on free concerts, and when they became a huge megaband, they stood up to giant ticket companies. They did things their own way. They were punk before punk existed.
The cover art for Fall Be Kind shows a blurry, indecipherable picture. What is that?
Dave found it, and e-mailed us saying that he wanted to use it for the cover. I wrote back to him: “I can kind of see this weird eyeball and a shadow of a guy.” But then he never responded to me. I’ve forgotten to ask him again. I have no idea what the picture is.
Your band has cultivated a pretty rabid fan base over the years — there was even a thread on the AnimalCollective.org forum discussing your recent marriage. Does that type of privacy invasion bug you out?
We used to read the site when it started, but then it made us feel uncomfortable. I’m a pretty private person. Dave had talked about my wedding in another interview, and I guess that’s how our fans found out. That didn’t bug me out. But then I heard that fans were looking for photos from the wedding. Let’s just say that didn’t make me super comfortable.
You guys are almost finished with a long-in-the-works Animal Collective movie. What will it look like?
We’re calling it the “visual record” — we wanted to make an experimental sort of film with our friend Danny Perez. There’s nothing linear about it. There are a few characters at the beginning and end, but there’s not a lot of dialogue, really. Danny described it as a fever dream, which is a good way of putting it.
You guys formed in Maryland, then moved to New York. Now, everyone lives in various cities around the world. Do you find being apart from everyone helps or hinders the band creatively?
It initially helped [to be] living away from everyone, because we were so burned out on being around each other so much. Now we’re at a point where we’re comfortable working on our own various projects. We’ve talked about our next record — beyond the visual documentary — and how it would be fun to write together from beginning to end. But in terms of all of us getting married and starting families, it’ll take us a while. The next record could be far off.