ABOVE: AVEY TARE’S SLASHER FLICKS.
Much to the dismay of Animal Collective fans around the continental United States at the latter part of 2012, a terrible illness sidelined main man Avey Tare (né Dave Portner) and forced the band to cancel the rest of its tour. That could’ve left Portner with a lot of time to sulk and stew and wish he was back out there with his bandmates, but instead he poured himself into a new set of songs. Those homebound tracks made up what would eventually surface this week as the debut record of his new band Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks.
Enter The Slasher House, out today on Domino, is a collaboration with Angel Deradoorian (on leave from Dirty Projectors) and drummer Jeremy Hyman (ex-Ponytail) that draws on the freewheeling energy of the jazz records that Portner has fallen love with over the last couple years and the campy boardwalk carnival rides of his youth. Speaking from his home in Los Angeles, Portner discusses the circumstances that spawned this collaboration, and draws a few lines between his solo material and his work with Animal Collective.
COLIN JOYCE: You moved out to L.A. a while ago, right? How are you liking the change?
DAVE PORTNER: Yeah, yeah, in the past year I’ve been a little back and forth because I’ve been on tour so it hasn’t really felt like two years have gone by. Years go by fast, but it’s been here and there. I’ve had the last three months or so here and it’s been nice settling in. I’ve had chunks of time here, but this has been the longest period of time I’ve been here since moving.
JOYCE: I guess I want to talk about the origins of this project. It’s called Slasher Flicks, and you’re a known horror movie aficionado; how did this guide the concept of the band?
PORTNER: It’s an aesthetic that the band title works for. It brings to mind being young and going to the boardwalks on the shore of Maryland, or my dad grew up on the shores of New Jersey on the coast there, so when I was young I used to go to the boardwalks there too. A lot of the amusement areas have old haunted house rides. It’s a little bit of that feeling of riding one of those rides. It takes the more fun aspect of it. The word “campy” comes to mind, but I don’t totally see the music as being like that. It’s a little bit of the psychedelic aspect of that, the rudimentary effects and art style.
JOYCE: How do you navigate the campiness? You sound like you don’t want to emphasize that aspect of it, but you also seem like you’re drawn to the more whimsical side of horror.
PORTNER: The songs just really start as songs emotionally. I think that guides it in one way. Whether or not I might attach them to a certain kind of production value or anything to do with the vibe that we’re talking about, all the songs come from their own place anyway. That’s the way for any record I work on. I feel like the emotional background of each song individual makes it stand outside of that campiness. Oftentimes that campiness will just be a production thing that happens later on.
JOYCE: Tell me a little bit about how the band started.
PORTNER: Angel and I have known each other since 2008. We got to really be friends with each other around 2009 or 2010. We’ve known each other musically since around that time, so I’ve been aware with what she’s doing. We’d jammed here and there, but we’d never written anything together. We also live together. We’re a couple, and we have been for quite some time, too. I met Jeremy through her. They’ve known each other for a long time, too, from touring when he was in the band Ponytail. Angel and I lived in Baltimore together for about a year and a half when I was working on the last Animal Collective record. I managed to be able to see Jeremy play a bunch when I was living there. I saw him a bunch on tour around that time too playing with Boredoms and Dan Deacon. I got really into his style and when I started writing songs around this time last year for this record, I got it into my head that it’d be cool to do a record as a trio with a band and do all the parts live.
The prior record I’d done solo was all electronic, so it comes down to figuring out how to get a new sound. Sometimes it just takes getting new heads involved, and hands. Something about a trio really appealed to me. I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz in the last couple of years, too, probably more than I’d ever listened to. A lot of free and more psychedelic jazz. Just that has influenced me has made me want to do something freer energy-wise.
JOYCE: So in addition to the personal aspect, it was the idea of the trio that was fruitful to you as well. Where does that idea come from?
PORTNER: Totally. In terms of the jazz stuff there’s Bill Evans trio, Blue Cheer at times were a trio, maybe not all the time, but I really like the idea of a power trio. I didn’t want it to be like full-on rock. It was a matter of thinking about more experimental composition music that I like, like Terry Riley, so it was getting a little bit of that element in there too.
JOYCE: You said that these songs date back to just over the past year, right?
PORTNER: I started around the end of 2012, right after an Animal Collective tour. I was pretty sick and I just had a lot of time sitting around, meekly playing an acoustic guitar. Once I started writing a couple of songs in this format, I started thinking about how I could get it together and do demos.
JOYCE: What’s the difference playing the live show for Slasher Flicks both versus the solo stuff and versus what Animal Collective does?
PORTNER: I’m pretty used to playing with a band with Animal Collective. Almost all of our stuff is based on playing it live in the first place. This feels similar in that way. It reminds me a little of the earlier, wilder, Animal Collective shows. We always wondered if we’d even get to the set. That’s what the Slasher Flicks shows last year felt like. I like an element of craziness and a sense that things might fall apart at any second. There’s a part of that in psychedelic music and into playing live that’s just natural. Compared to doing something on your own, it’s hard to have that freedom on your own. So many solo artists just have backing tracks or whatever, and that’s not a bad thing, but over the years it’s been on my mind to do solo shows. I always come up against that. I remember playing my first solo show in 2001, and I went all out and put together all that stuff, but after the show it is what it is anyway. Since then, I wonder if it’s putting together all that effort putting together all this prerecorded stuff. So much of music is about energy to me, just making this thing happen onstage. It’s always harder to manage that on my own.
JOYCE: If you’re drawn to the manic nature of the way the Slasher Flicks shows, is that something that you miss with Animal Collective now that it’s more of an established thing?
PORTNER: I don’t think it has anything to do with us being established, but the way we want to present our songs now. For us, Animal Collective has always been about finding a new challenge, and it became a challenge for us to start figuring out how to play a more precise set. All the writing that went into the last record made the songs a little more complicated than we had done in a while and we wanted to be able to play them precisely. To do that, compared to where it was more off-the-cuff, we started to use in ear monitors. Things could be a little more controlled. We always want that wild element to still be in there because it feels like a part of who we are and how we like to play, but it’s about finding a balance. Some shows can still be like that, and some can be more controlled.
JOYCE: You said you were sick at the end of the last Animal Collective tour, which is when you were working on these songs, was that weighing on the headspace you were in when you were writing the songs for this record?
PORTNER: Sort of. It’s weird how it takes something like an illness or a heavy blow to the system. This is why I’ve always believed that the mind and body are so closely linked together. Sometimes if you’re not paying attention to one or the other, something pretty drastic can happen to make you pay attention. As crazy and as bad as the sickness made me feel, it was something necessary for me at the time. Since then I’ve really reorganized my system so to speak. I haven’t gotten sick at all really, so it’s been a really positive thing. In terms of the music it just gave me more calm time at home where I wasn’t running around. I think a little bit is about what the title, Enter The Slasher House, is for me. I was just in this crazy headspace dealing with the pressure, wanting to play live and still be out doing stuff with Animal Collective. It was a big psychological battle. The music was just finding a positive way out of that and not dwelling on it too much in a bad way.
JOYCE: Have you ever had that confluence of events drive you to make music like this before?
PORTNER: I’m always pretty open and aware to my current environment. I feel like that’s really what keeps music really current and positive for me. That’s why I’ve been able to do it for so long and still be able to play with people I knew when I was 14 and 15 years old.