Avey Tare’s Crocodile Rock
Published October 22, 2010
ANIMAL COLLECTIVE’S AVEY TARE. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSH DIBB.
It’s not a costume that will you get you ready for Halloween this year—it’s Down There, the debut solo album by Avey Tare, aka Dave Portner of Animal Collective, due out October 26 on Paw Tracks. To conjure spirits and set a bewitching mood, go home, press play on this album (even better: set the needle down on the vinyl), turn off the lights, and find yourself ushered along on a ghost-ridden trip through the murky, swampy sounds and crepuscular voices of Down There.
Drawn to “mellow, dark, haunted, scary music” since he first started playing in high school, Portner’s solo work explores these themes, striking a mesmerizing balance between highly experimental, electronic sounds and eerie, nostalgic themes. After the overwhelming success of his work with Animal Collective, including 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino) and this year’s film collaboration with director Danny Perez, ODDSAC, Portner would be well within his rights to take a break. With this record, however, he continues to push the envelope with deeply personal music that makes you feel both mildly uneasy and unable to stop listening. We recently sat down to talk with Portner in Brooklyn about Down There, Raggedy Andy, and, ugh, crocodiles.
MENDELSON: When did you first start to think about making Down There?
PORTNER: Basically at the end of 2008—that’s the first time I started getting out some basic ideas and just starting to hear some stuff that I wanted to do.
MENDELSON: So its beginnings overlapped with your work on Merriweather?
PORTNER: Definitely. There’s always a lot of overlap with stuff that we do, ’cause for the past three or four years we’ve been constantly going. We’ve been overlapping with ourselves in a way, because we were working on ODDSAC at the same time that we were recording our last two records. To me, getting inspired to write the songs for ODDSAC, what I contributed, kind of goes hand-in-hand with starting to write Down There, too.
MENDELSON: Did you have ideas in mind that you wanted to work with?
PORTNER: It kind of just comes out of experimenting with sounds and keyboards and drum machines. It’s the same thing with Animal Collective. A lot of times I’ll write a song in my head and then translate it to somewhere else, and so since I was using a lot of these keyboards and oscillators, that’s the direction I wanted it to go in once it started getting going. For the most part I wanted it to feel like a bedroom kind of thing, something I worked on in a relaxed way. I thought I would even, for a while, record it myself, just in my bedroom, because I have a lot of—well, not my in bedroom [LAUGHS]—but I have a lot of equipment at home. I’ve moved it all to our practice space upstate now, which is where we recorded the record. I thought that I could do it at home, but it was taking too much time.
MENDELSON: Did you start out with the concept of the swamp? Has it always been a motif in your work?
PORTNER: I think that came a little bit later. At first, I was definitely just like, oh, I like this song, I like this song, this is starting to come together. But it wasn’t until really last year, I think, that more of the songs were coming together and I had this whole swampy kind of feeling—like keeping everything really slow and kind of mellow and kind of murky and distant—came around and just tying everything together, just thinking of it in terms of taking place in this weird haunted ghost ride kind of thing where ghostly people would be talking around you. That all came later. I think a lot of the sounds we’ve always liked since we were younger are these aquatic, kind of wet, swampy sounds… I’d always liked that vibe and been inspired by things like old, swampy horror films, so why not actually make this record?
MENDELSON: You’ve mentioned elsewhere that the crocodile was instrumental to the making of this record. Can you explain what you mean by that?
PORTNER: As soon as you bring anything like that up, I feel like I read back stuff and I’m just like, why did I say that this album was inspired by crocodiles? Because it wasn’t really. I mean, it’s not like anything about the crocodile, per se, put any of this in my mind, but I’ve always liked the crocodile and alligators, too. I grew up going to Florida a lot, or parts of the South where there are a lot of alligators, and I always thought it was so cool that that animal lives in the U.S., that we can live around it.
MENDELSON: You’ve referred to this as your “death album.” How do you feel like it deals with death?
PORTNER: Death in kind of like a loss kind of way, or just moving on from things—old things dying, new things growing. There are a few songs, like “Cemeteries” or “Ghost of Books” that are the most death-focused, or even up to the point of somebody getting sick and there being the fear of death, fear of dying. There’s a lot of fear in there, too, and that kind of translates to the haunted aspect that I wanted to go for.
MENDELSON: There is an interesting juxtaposition of futuristic, upbeat, electronic sounds with that heavier, haunted theme.
PORTNER: I think that also has a lot to do with the kind of music I like. That translates into sound, I do think that is the weird clash always in making music and making music with Animal Collective. I like a lot of old, psychedelic music or classical music or anything like that, but also I’ll try and keep in mind wanting to do something that feels a little bit more futuristic or forward-thinking, or something at least—territory I feel like I haven’t experienced before.
MENDELSON: Will you perform this album live?
PORTNER: You never know. Part of me is like yeah, I’d like to do it, it’d be cool and I’d like people to experience that somewhat. But the other part of me is just kind of like, I kind of want the record to stand as it is, I feel like it’s such its own thing that I can’t imagine doing it live, I’d have to really rework it. I just don’t know.
MENDELSON: Did you plan on the Halloween release?
PORTNER: Yeah, totally. It has a darker vibe, a more haunted ghost vibe. I always liked those records that you bought for Halloween, like the ones that parents would put on the tape player for when kids would show up for trick-or-treating to be the background music. I was always like, this could be my Halloween record—that cheesy ghost record.
MENDELSON: So what are you going to dress up as for Halloween?
PORTNER: I don’t know yet. I like really makeshift costumes lately, that you just come up with that aren’t themed or anything, that are just kind of a hodgepodge of different stuff. Last year it was really sweet because Brian, my bandmate, got married on Halloween, so it was a costume party, basically. We all came up with pretty sweet ones—I was a weird Raggedy Andy doll, I wore a tattered suit and wore a crazy mask—but this year I don’t know.