Avey Tare on "Eucalyptus" | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Avey Tare on “Eucalyptus”


Aug 16, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

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Avey Tare's new solo album of unexpected spacious delights should actually come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Animal Collective since the wild rumpus days of their broadly experimental records such as Danse Manatee; Spirit They've Gone, Spirit They've Vanished; and the wild live jaunt Hollinndagain. Yet after Animal Collective's recent production heavy, electronic bent, hearing Eucalyptus, or rather inhabiting the same space of the ecosystem of sound it disperses, did sort of seem unusual—in the best way.

There might have been a clue picked up from some of what was heard on Animal Collective's recent EP, Meeting of the Waters, that Dave Portner and his endlessly adventurous companions were meandering off trail again (a version of Eucalyptus track "Selection of a Place" is the final cut). The refreshingly organic EP had a similar outdoor feel to 2003's Campfire Songs at points and signals a presence of the abstract expressionism that had never left them but may have been lying latent for a while.The further you travel with Dave Portner into his amorphous Avey Tare sojourns, the less gravity seems to have a hold.

This time around, Portner derived much of the impressions from time spent along the coastline of the Los Angeles area, where he now lives, and during trips to Hawaii. His love of Hawaiian music shows up in the acoustic strums that cycle through the album like canoe paddles in and out of water, guiding Portner through secret tributaries. You hear brushes of Gabby Pahinui strings everywhere, the essence around which all other elements collect. I caught up with Portner one afternoon, chilling in the kind of post meditative serenity that he must have tapped into when in the natural confines that surrounded him during the creation of Eucalyptus.

Charles Steinberg (Under the Radar): I love the name of the album. Why Eucalyptus?

Dave Portner (Avey Tare): For one thing it came from living in California and being around it. Eucalyptus was introduced to California from Australia and it's pretty prevalent here now. The smell is very unique, it's in the atmosphere. I wanted the record to in some ways be about my day to day life in Cali at the time and [that title] seemed like it made sense, aside from liking the way it sounds. A lot of the reason for any title that's a part of Animal Collective or my own is liking the way a word sounds or words sound together.

So the record was written in California but conceived in Hawaii?

Writing in different places inspired the record in their own way. I travelled to Hawaii a couple times on vacation while messing around with the record more in my head, that's why I say conceived. I didn't have a guitar there, so it was just something I was thinking about. I wrote lyrics to some of the songs there too, like "Selection of a Place."

What about those environments inspired that atmospheric, free form sprawl?

Well, it's always hard to put into words how an environment inspires you. I'm a very visual person when it comes music, so I always look for inspiration from my physical environment or being in a place. I'm also really into Hawaiian Music so that was an influence as well. There's something about being on the coast and by the ocean. That's what my experience there had in common with where I live in Cali. You're so close to the shore and there's just something about that. Going into the ocean every day changes you. Spending a lot of time in the water changes the way you think, it changes your body chemistry.

Lyrically, the record comes across as a stream of existence, a stream of observation. You say music is very visual so did that play into how it was writtenbeing in those types of physical environments?

Definitely, some of those lyrics came from being in those environments. "Lunch Out of Order Pt. 2" is an example of thoughts I would have while taking a long hike, which is something I would do a lot of in Cali. Hikes are a really psychological process for me. On a good hikewell most hikes are goodbut you're seeing environments change a lot. Also, having a career which involves moving around a lot, you're seeing environment change too. You come and go from circumstances. That's what a lot of the record is about to me. Observing environments changing and people and relationships changing, blending that all together. That's why the music and lyrics fit together in that way. Music to me is something that comes and changes an environment. It takes up time and changes time and space. I think about it a lot in that way.

Talking about the coast and being by the water, I was curious about "PJ" [where in a ghostly voice, Portner tells a story of an encounter with a strange entity on the beach]. Did that come from a dream or a stranger you encountered by the beach?

It's sort of a dream, [rather] a dreamlike story that I came up with when I was younger, when I wanted to write a short story about somebody, or myself, walking along the beach and suddenly running into an old friend of theirs that had passed away. It so happens that a really old friend of mine passed away a few years ago and it really affected me a lot. He was one of my closest friends throughout my life. It's someone I think about every day. Those emotions linger in me. It took me a while but I came up with a melody and it seemed to make the most sense for [that story].

What's the catalyst for you to make a solo album apart from Animal Collective? Is it something you periodically feel it's time to do?

It's usually some sort of idea that begins to germinate in my head or in the way I hear new kinds of music. I feel like it starts inside. That's what happened with Down There [Avey Tare's first solo album from 2010] I'll start to be inspired by things I'm into, or in the case of this record, the environment I'm living in and what surrounds me. The record will start to take shape internally first and then I'll be like, "Alright, yeah, I'm ready to put together a collection of songs."

The very acoustic, meandering, open form of the album, is that something that comes as a way of moving away from the electronic gloss of recent Animal Collective back towards a more organic pasture?

Because of going a lot more electronic and playing more keyboard myself over the last two Animal Collective records, that was the natural move, but I've been thinking of making an acoustic record for some time, so it all coincided. Also, playing acoustic guitar is something I can do easily around my home in any room. That's sort of the nature of it too, wanting to spend time around my home and play music in a relaxed environment that isn't so planned out and doesn't need a lot of setting up of equipment. So in that way, it was much more of a bedroom project.

Describe how the rest of the sound takes shape around the acoustic guitar. Those other elements. There's almost an ecosystem that forms around the core of guitar.

Hahaha. Well, music like I said has always been very physical and environmental to me since I was in high school. What drew me to music was its ability and nature to inhabit a room and come out of the speakers and touch me. It was this thing that I could kind of lose myself in, so that's definitely always on my mind when I'm trying to think of new ways to put together songs and compositions. But I also wanted the music in the record to kind of unfold and keep moving forward and in a way feel like things are growing and passing away. Like the way seasons come or like the way a day comes and goes, you know what I mean? Like how petals of a flower open up during the day and then close at night. Having those thoughts in mind, especially with this record. I just wanted every step to be new and fresh and come out of nothing and just disappear, then move into the next [stage].

I'm curious about you working with Deakin [Animal Collective's Josh Dibb recorded the album]. What I've noticed is that when he's not involved in a record or concert, for me anyway, I feel like Animal Collective becomes more of an upbeat, keyboard and beat driven affair and when he is involved, you guys enter into more of an atmospheric sprawl, like what's going on in Eucalyptus and on his solo album Sleep Cycle. Is that something you notice happening when working with him?

I wouldn't really see the relation in that, no. For me, I just feel like going into this record, that's just the way it was written. A lot of the parts and the structure was that way even before I ever got together with Josh. Like with old records like Feels, it had that kind of sprawling feel because those were the kinds of songs I felt like writing at the time. With the more recent material, that's from us talking about making music in a more upbeat, produced way. With Centipede Hz, for example, we kind of wanted to make that one a little more complex in its structures and movements, so the songs on that one were a bit longer. As a reaction to that we wanted to make songs on Painting With a bit shorter, ya know?

This is a solo album and yet there were a few artists who contributed in their own little ways. How did your relationship with [composer and violist] Eyvind Kang come about? [Kang was responsible for the chamber orchestration on Eucalyptus.]

I've been a fan of Eyvind's music for a while. Along with Brian [Weitz, Geologist in Animal Collective] and some of the other dudes. We all liked him going back to high school and college, the stuff that he put out on [avant-garde and experimental New York label] Tzadik and seeing him play in New York when we were younger. It was really inspiring as a new sound and voice to us. Through recording Feels with Scott Colburn, who's an old friend of Eyvind's, we got to meet him and know him. He recorded on Feels actually, but I kind of reconnected with him recently because he moved to the LA area and started teaching at Cal Arts. He came to an event that I set up, this all night drone and ambient thing that Brian also played and we just started talking about ideas and music again. Because of the stuff I had going on with Eucalyptus, it dawned on me that it would be a cool collaboration. In the way this music is amorphous and has a touch of free form to it, I felt like handing over certain elements to Eyvind. Also Jessika [Kenney's] singing part on "PJ," to have another element of this aspect that would come and go. Similarly with Susan Alcorn's pedal steel playing. I just love the pedal steel guitar, again from Hawaiian music and I liked Susan's solo music. I think she's doing something really cool with the instrument.

I had never paid that much attention to Hawaiian music until I saw The Descendants. The whole soundtrack is basically this great Hawaiian folk music that courses through the film. It really does stick with you. How much of Hawaiian music was an influence for you?

[It was definitely influential] and not just Hawaiian but Pacific Island music gets in there too. The way the guitars are used and the singing and certain chord changes and of course the pedal steel. There's a certain lulling, floating aspect to it. Maybe it being coastal has something to do with that.

You guys are very enthusiastically curious about other musicians and obscure artists, yet that never seems to have a totally direct imprint on your music, which is very distinctly your own. Apart from Pacific Coast music, were there other things you were listening to at the time that informed the way you wrote?

Yeah. It's hard at this point to get around making any kind of music that feels other than like it's coming directly from me. Even if I try sometimes, it doesn't really work out so well and feels a little forced. But yeah, there's a heavy jazz influence and modern or 20th century classical music influence, just in the kind of way the compositions feel and the textures that are used, that's in there. Also, more structured '60s country and folk music. Even some old Tin Pan Alley and '20s music I listen to a lot for the singing and harmonies. I get fascinated with chord structures that I don't understand at all, and those older chord structures that come from immigrant and eastern european music, it has a foreign sound that's alien to my ear. Those are the things I listen to and try to figure out.

Yeah, far out. Those things kind of poke out, not on the surface but are more subtly integrated. Even in "Lunch Out of Order Pt. 1" I get a little bit of Madlib in there.

I can see that. I'm using some jazz samples, which he uses a lot, but yeah, he's one of my favorite musicians in my lifetime. He's inspired me alot. That first Quasimoto record is one of the greatest records ever. It's one of my favorites...but that's no surprise ya know?




Avey Tare 2017 Tour Dates: 

10-02 Somerville, MA - Once Ballroom
10-03 Montreal, QC - La Sala Rossa
10-04 Toronto, ON - Lee's Palace
10-06 Chicago, IL - The Hideout
10-07 Minneapolis, MN - 7th Street Entry
10-10 Seattle, WA - Barboza
10-11 Portland, OR - Holocene
10-12 San Francisco, CA - The Chapel
10-12 to 10-15 Joshua Tree, CA - Desert Daze Festival
10-17 Austin, TX - Barracuda
10-18 Houston, TX - The Secret Group
10-20 Atlanta, GA - Mammal Gallery
10-21 Durham, NC - The Pinhook
10-22 Washington, DC - Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
10-23 New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom
10-25 Philadelphia, PA - Johnny Brenda's
10-27 Asheville, NC - Masonic Temple
11-04 Dublin, IE - Whelan's
11-05 Glasgow, UK - Broadcast
11-06 Manchester, UK - Deaf Institute
11-07 London, UK - The Borderline
11-09 Paris, FR - Point Ephemere
11-10 Brussels, BE - Rotonde
11-11 Utrecht, NL - Ekko
11-13 Copenhagen, DK - Vega Ideal Bar
11-14 Berlin, DE - Auster Club
11-16 Vevey, CH - Rocking Chair
11-17 Milan, IT - Santeria Social Club
11-19 Madrid, ES - Moby Dick
11-21 Lisbon, PT - TBC

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