Animal Collective are the knock-down argument against all the pop-pessimists. Against those who say that pop music has reached the end of the line, worn out its creative energy and is reduced to rehashing the past in superficially diverting new packages.

Here is a band who sound like no one else, a band who surprise and delight with each new record and show. Whereas many bands achieve sing-along catchiness through dogmatic traditionalism, Animal Collective remind you that the true, giddy thrills of pop are rooted in the joy of musicians charting new waters. Their music sounds so exciting because the band themselves are excited; they’re on an adventure.

The morning before their recent gig at London’s Coronet, FACT met up with all four members of the band to chat about their remarkable new LP, Strawberry Jam. The record is a hyperactive rush of shaky, unsteady emotion, with melodies bursting out every which way. The love and joy that is expressed in their music reflects how the band members relate to each other; throughout the interview, the pleasure that they take in each other’s company is clear. Animal Collective are, foremost, friends who love being together, and Strawberry Jam is the sound of their happiness at being reunited after living as far apart as New York and Lisbon, as well as their sadness and confusion at struggling to deal with a difficult two years.

How was the experience of writing and recording Strawberry Jam? It seems quite an intense and emotional record…

Avey Tare: “We wrote it in separate chunks. The first session was in Lisbon in 2005. We were going on tour and touring isn’t easy for us, especially now we have families we have to leave behind. There was a lot going on in my life. Our contract was up with Fat Cat, and the workload with the band was intense. I didn’t know where I was going to live. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to make another record. There were some emotional, dark times back then.”

Did that darkness feed into the songs on the new album?

Deacon: “For me, the idea that our music is sometimes joyous or sometimes dark is kind of weird. We try to express the whole spectrum of what living is about. I don’t think this record is black and white; there’s more tension and strangeness than on [previous LP] Feels, but not necessarily a dark tension. We wanted the song ‘Derek’ to end the album because it’s uplifting, a nice way to send someone off.”

Panda Bear: “‘Derek’ is about a dog that means a lot to me.”

Have you intentionally moved away from the noisiness of your early records?

Avey Tare: “Not really. The melodic side has always been there. Our environment affects what our music sounds like. Strawberry Jam sounds as it does because we hadn’t seen each other for a while, so we were really excited, but it was also hectic and stressful, because we only had short periods of time to work.”

Your records sound like you really enjoy playing with each other. Was recording fun?

Deacon: “We’re really picky about the way things sound, so recording can get pretty intense. But because we experiment in the studio; slowing down tapes, say, to see what it’ll sound like, it’s still fun.”

Geologist: “In the first practice after Noah (Panda Bear) moved to Portugal, we were so thrilled to be together again, so I think that the distance thing could be a benefit. Even now, Noah or Dave (Avey Tare) will come along with a melody so good that I’ll be like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know they had that in them.’”

Deacon: “We recorded Strawberry Jam in a studio in the desert that a lot of country bands use, like Calexico and Iron and Wine, so it was fun to use the instruments there, like pianos and organs.”

All your records sound quite different from each other. Is that deliberate?

Deacon: “We’ve always tried to find something new, something that hasn’t been done before. Our live show drives a lot of what we do, and we couldn’t face playing songs night after night that sounded pretty similar to songs we’d already written. “

Avey Tare: “We didn’t want the vocal layering that was on Feels, and wanted to make a more electronic record. We’re more confident and comfortable vocalists now, so we wanted each voice to stand out on its own. The Sung Tongs album was about trying to see what we could do with just guitars and vocals, but we didn’t want to set any limits with this record.”

What are the new songs that you’re writing at the moment like?

Panda Bear: “Pretty exclusively electronic. We’re mixing it up in that all the little things we usually add at the end of recording, we’re now doing at the beginning.”

Avey Tare: “We’re more getting more minimal than on Strawberry Jam, but also harkening back to Sung Tongs, with a repetitive tranciness. The repetition of techno has influenced all our records, but we’re not like, ‘let’s make our techno song’. It comes out in little ways.”

Deacon: “The new songs are much more beat orientated than other stuff we’ve done.”

You’ve said before that Feels was your album of love songs: what is Strawberry Jam’s theme?

Avey Tare: “It’s an album of love songs too, but it’s the darker side of that, the other side of the coin. It’s also about us seeing each other again after a long time apart. It was a little scary; we didn’t know if it would work anymore. We were just trying to let the record takes its time. It wasn’t until the songs were written that we were like, ‘oh, these songs fit together and could make a record’.”

Do you have any particularly favourite songs on Strawberry Jam?

Avey Tare: “We all love ‘Cuckoo’. But I’d also say ‘Fireworks’, which the first time I heard it I was like, ‘that’s incredible’, melody-wise. It’s a quite an abrasive sound, but it’s got this sweet-sourness to it, exactly like we wanted.”

What were your inspirations for this record?

Avey Tare: “Probably old sci-fi. We watched a lot of Battlestar Galactica while we were recording. We used a lot of those sci-fi sounds. And the dude that we recorded with had these weird compilations of TV outtakes, kind of like video mixtapes.”

Deacon: “Yeah, that connects to the way we collaged sounds together for this record, using old tapes and found sounds.”

Panda Bear: “We watched a shit load of the Blue Planet TV series.”

Avey Tare: “We love those liquidy, underwater sounds and textures. We’ll describe a scene or a place that we want a song to sound like, and most of the time we understand each other.”

Panda Bear: “We wanted this record to sound rude, some how. You know, like the Jamaican sense of ‘rude’.”

How happy are you with how the record’s turned out?

Geologist: “When we were recording my girlfriend asked how it was all going, and I was like, ‘I really have no idea. I listen to these songs over and over and I’m like a zombie’. But then after the second mixing I went out into the desert by myself in the dead of night and I had this amazing listening experience to the record. I think it helps with this record if you listen to it really loud. Before I thought it was good, but then I knew it was good. That was all I could have hoped for; to make a record that gave me that one listening experience.”

Simon Hampson



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