“A Record That Feels Like It Doesn’t Let Up”: Animal Collective’s Geologist on Not Chasing Fame and That Crazy “Wipeout” Sample


Animal Collective have been around for a long time — since 1999, actually. The members, which is a loose term seeing as each album or live lineup features any number of a set group of people — have known each other since high school. After years of making music together, 2007’s Strawberry Jam opened the gate for their weirdo psych-pop to reach critical mass, and then 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion elevated them to the rarefied air of indie rock royalty. With that album’s follow-up, Centipede Hz, the band has entered a phase that could easily be compared to Frank Stella’s maximalism, piling gooey sounds on top of shiny sounds to create fantastical collages that fly in the face of MPP‘s relatively simple psych-pop songs. That trend continues with their newest album, Painting With, out tomorrow via Domino.

Geologist, née Brian Weitz, is a key architect of that maximalist sound, the member responsible for the ambient wash and piecemeal constructions that make Animal Collective songs sound like Animal Collective songs. We talked to him about this newest album’s arty bent, how the band post-rationalized “FloriDada’s” absurd sample of “Wipeout,” and whether or not they care about producing an album that reaches the same heights as MPP.

Did you approach Painting With with any specific goals as to how you wanted it to sound, or what you wanted it to achieve?

Geologist: Probably like six or eight months after touring for Centipede HZ we started conversations about the next album, so we started writing in early 2015. In terms of things we were listening to, it was early Beatles, and the first Ramones record. We’d never really done a record with short, punchy, energetic songs. A lot of our records have these ambient segues between songs. We just felt like we could do that pretty easily. It was a bigger challenge to us to pack a lot of stuff into short statements, and make a record that feels like it doesn’t let up.

You mention the Beatles or Ramones, and those bands make you think of pop. The songs on Painting With songs aren’t really pop songs, though.

We knew they were going to be Animal Collective songs. We had a similar reaction from the first friend that we played it for. We were like, “Yeah, we were kind of thinking like first Ramones record,” and he was just like, “I don’t know about that, what are you talking about? There’s no scuzzy punk songs here.” And we were like, “Yeah, we mean like, in spirit.”

The goal was not “let’s make a pop record,” where the songs are three minutes and catchy and popular and easy to swallow. We knew the songs would always be Animal Collective songs. We’re always interested in songs, for the most part. To me, they’re just good songs, and they sound like Animal Collective songs.

You mention wanting to create “Animal Collective songs,” what does that mean? What do you personally do to create that sound?

Well, I do a lot less than what a lot of people think I do. I think a lot of people assume that I make all of the beats, which isn’t the case at all. I rarely add anything rhythmic to the band, because Noah is a strong drummer, so usually his role is making beats.

In the early days of the band, Dave [Portner, aka Avey Tare] was playing guitar, Noah [Lennox, aka Panda Bear] was playing the drums, and we wanted to have lots of electronics and field recordings and things, so that’s what I would do, more the ambient textural stuff. I add a bit of psychedelic to it. At this point, we all sort of do what I do in the band. We’ve all got more into samplers and synthesizers, so we all kind of take on that role.

You mentioned trying to make “fun” songs, and that’s something that isn’t really associated with the band. But there are some absurd samples on this album, like “Wipeout” on “FloriDada” and the Golden Girls sample at the beginning of “Golden Gal,” that can’t really be explained away as anything other than fun.

Those were there for fun. The “Wipeout” sample, we knew that moment in “FloriDada” was going to have a sample of some sort, because Dave and I — he and I are the two in the band who lean the most toward collage or musique concrète — we talked about collage moments where things would sort of be ripped apart. And, really, Dave has just always wanted to sample the beginning of “Wipeout,” for no apparent reason other than that he likes the way he sounds.

I thought it was almost too recognizable, that it’s too conceptual, but it wasn’t even conceptual, really. But we ended up making it conceptual to justify it. It actually wasn’t until we talked about doing the video, and how we explained that the song just uses Florida as a jumping off point to talk about boundaries and arbitrary lines. In the video they actually drew like a tidal wave washing away the state of Florida, and washed away the boundaries, and we were like, “Oh. There was our conceptual justification for doing this the whole time.” Even though it wasn’t our idea.

As for “Golden Gal,” when Dave sent the demo to Noah and me, he put that in front of the demo as a joke, but in the end the song didn’t sound right without it.

As far as the album title and reference to Dada, did you go into the studio thinking that it would be about art, or did it just develop that way?

It came about more as we worked on the record. A long time ago, when we were working on Strawberry Jam, we talked about how we never really had a band name. This conversation happened after Feels came out, we had done maybe three records in a row under the name Animal Collective, as opposed to like Campfire Songs, which isn’t called “Animal Collective” on the record, it just says Campfire Songs. Some of the previous records just listed who the band members were who played on it. So we never really had a band name, it was just Fat Cat, the label, who said our CDs and records need to have a band name, you can’t just keep saying the band name is the album name for every record you do.

No, that isn’t very SEO-friendly.

So they kind of asked us, because we called one record “Animal Collective” and that’s what’s on the show posters, can you just use that? And we were like, “Sure.”

But then, for Strawberry Jam, we thought about going back to this thing where we don’t have a band name anymore, and Dave was really pushing it, so he was just like, “On this record, we should be called the Painters, because I’ve always wanted to have a band called the Painters.” The rest of us were like, “Nah.”

When we send around demos to each other, they’re always under fake band names. Maybe there’s some sort of security concern, but it’s more for our amusement. For this one it was under the band name The Painters, and then when we were working on the songs, we thought of the sounds as being in brushstrokes or splashes of color. Noah started to look at the songs and found that he thought they were arranged in this skewed way that mirrored kind of the way a cubist would work. And Dave and I were talking about how were going to use collage in a different, more aggressive way.

Between those conversations and the fact that the demos were labeled as The Painters, we realized that a theme was presenting itself. So, that’s where that came from.

How was working with John Cale and Colin Stetson on this album?

The hardest thing was telling them what key and chords the songs were in. The three of us being like, “Uh, hold on.” We all know that stuff, because we took piano lessons, but it’s not the way we write our songs. It was actually cool to see Colin improvise for two hours based on a key. John Cale was the same thing. Actually, he came in to recreate a sample that didn’t sound right. But one of the best things about it was being forced to go back to the basics and find the key and chords our songs were written in, like back when I was taking piano lessons.

The last thing I wanted to ask you was how you guys approach a record after reaching the critical and popular high of Merriweather Post Pavilion. It definitely changed the sound of indie music. Do you feel any pressure to match that record’s influence?

At the end of the day, it’s all about music. We were all music fans, and even our favorite bands, we realize they were only making albums for three to five years that mattered to us in our adolescence. We still like those bands now, 20 years later. We’re realistic, things happen in the moment. Maybe fans latch on to something because they’re at the right age, or they’re in their early 20s and you’re in your early 20s. You can’t really figure out what the intangibles are. We were lucky to have that moment for a few years. We’ve been around long enough, we’re all between 35 and 40, we’re just realists. It’s not like that lasts forever. And you can’t set out to please the fans or the critics, or try to get them to like you as much as they did at one point, it’s a losing battle. That’s not for us; it doesn’t excite us.

When you make a record, you spend so much time with it by yourself that you can’t imagine how people will react. You hope people like it, and you hope you’re still going to give your fans the enjoyment you gave them before. It’s really just about the three or four of us in the studio, getting excited. Those are the reasons why we do it.