Animal Collective hole up in a barn to create their sweaty new album
Published: July 18, 2012
Fame is boring because everyone knows what to expect. But Josh Dibb, or Deakin as he is known in Animal Collective, is a surprisingly interesting guy, despite the fact that his band, originally from Baltimore, is one of indie-rock’s biggest acts. When he walks into a Hampden watering hole to talk over a beer, nobody seems to recognize him, and he spends the first 10 minutes of the conversation interviewing us. He seems more like a graduate student than a rock star, thoughtful and serious, with a mystical bent, which is appropriate for Animal Collective’s adventurous and sometimes obscure music.
Centipede Hz, the follow-up to 2009’s breakthrough album Merriweather Post Pavillion, is due out in September. Merriweather was leaked online months before its release, so Domino, the band’s label, has made it all but impossible for anyone to hear Centipede Hz. But Animal Collective’s sometimes obsessive fans and internet pirates aren’t the only ones for whom the wait is torture.
“Sometimes, I wish there wasn’t this whole wait,” Dibb says. “I understand why it works the way it does: The print magazines need their lead time and everything, and the label feels like, if we didn’t repect that, everyone would ignore it. But I think it would be more fun if it just came out, and then people dealt with it.”
In truth, Dibb seems partly shell-shocked and partly bemused by Animal Collective’s rise to indie glory. (The tastemaking website Pitchfork gave Merriweather an almost perfect 9.6.)
“When Noah [Lennox, aka Panda Bear] and I started playing music, we were 13,” Dibb says, “We were into small-scale, underground, indie stuff like Don Cabellero and early Modest Mouse, and we thought: Can you imagine what it would be like to get in a van and go on the road?” he recalls almost wistfully.
A little later, at the Park School in Baltimore, Dibb met Brian Weitz [Geologist] and Dave Portner [Avery Tare] and introduced them to Lennox. “We started making little recordings with our own packaging and stuff to give to friends, and I realized I could bring them to Sound Garden, and they’d sell them on consignment, and it was so cool,” Dibb recalls. “We never imagined that would lead to hundreds of thousands of record sales or any of that.”
When the band finished touring for 2007’s Strawberry Jam, Dibb needed to step back, and he took a break from the band to work on solo projects, splitting his time between Baltimore and New York. That was when the band started writing Merriweather. The quality of the music was such that Dibb couldn’t stay away. But there was also a sort of distant process involved, with each of the band’s members working on their parts from different locations.
“Dave would write something pretty realized and he would send it to Brian and Noah in [Washington,] D.C. and Portugual [respectively,] and it was all pretty sample-based,” Dibb says. “Even after playing an hour and a half-long show for thousands of people, we could walk off the stage and not really even be sweaty. With the new album, we wanted to be physically engaged.”
In some ways, it is the classic rock and roll story. After a breakthrough album, the band retreats to a Big Pink-like location and holes up to rediscover themselves. Animal Collective had the perfect place. They retreated to a barn on Dibb’s mother’s property, in Owings Mills, where they had been hanging out since they were teenagers. The barn also serves as an office and meeting space for a consciousness school that Dibb’s mother runs. “It encourages people to relate to themselves and understand themselves in terms of love and compassion,” he says.
The band has a spiritual aspect, but as they set up their equipment and began jamming below the school’s office, Dibb sometimes “felt like we were tainting this spiritual thing they were trying to do with our own sense of dude humor.”
But it was precisely this rough physicality the band was after. “We started out by just jamming in a room together as much as possible, without really worrying about songs. We wanted to play more live instruments instead of sampling. Noah started playing a full sit-down kit, which he hasn’t done since, like, 2002. Just sitting in the room with a drummer, the ideas worked themselves out,” Dibb says. “It’s a more visceral experience—more in your body and sweatier.”
Domino’s security is so tight that, despite Dibb’s effort to share, CP could not obtain a copy of Centipede Hz, so we’ll have to trust him when he says the sweat is apparent in the finished product.
“Merriweather was euphoric with this heavenly reverb. This one is close up in your face,” he says. “I’m really excited about it. It’s denser and more claustrophobic, with a lot of density and a lot of movement.”
Once they had those claustrophobic, sweaty, visceral ideas down, the band would sit in a room together, each member working out his part. “You’d be off in a corner with your headphones on, and then say, ‘Can you check this out?’ It was a workshop atmosphere, super-productive, and super-fun.”
According to Dibb, Portner wrote most of the songs. “The lyrics come out of the sounds, though. The most important thing for us has always been the whole song.”
Now, it is just a matter of waiting—and talking, endlessly it sometimes seems, about an album no one has heard. “They [Domino] put us in a room in London for eight hours, and every 25 minutes, another journalist would come in and ask us pretty much the same questions,” he says, taking a sip from his pint.
“Sometimes, I wish I were that person, like Dylan, who could just spit out things that were engaging or funny enough to be worth reading, even if they weren’t true,” Dibb says. “But I’m just not,” he confesses.
But still, even at the Park School, their alma mater, the boys in Animal Collective aren’t exactly recognizeable faces. “It’s funny,” Dibb reflects. “We all still have really fond memories of our high school and we went back to visit one day—just to see old teachers and stuff—and this young girl kind of looks at us and hurries off. A few minutes later, she comes running back out of a classroom and says, ‘Are you guys Yeasayer?’”
Anonymity in everything but music seems to suit Dibb just fine. “Daft Punk was smart, the way they wore masks. Sometimes we wish we would have done that,” he says. “I know pretty much exactly what I’ll be doing for about the next year, with touring and all,” Dibb says. “But other aspects of my life are important. I don’t have the ego to assume being a muscian will support me for the rest of my life,” he says. Even for the closest thing to an indie-rock star, “daily life and the immediate are still what most of my days are about,” Dibb says as he finishes his drink and prepares to head back to his mom’s house in Owings Mills.
> Email Baynard Woods