BY MARY LYNN DOMINGUEZ It is fitting that my interview with Animal Collective’s Avey Tare (a.k.a. Dave Portner) would begin with me talking about my first drug experience — namely trying pot for the first time and listening to AC’s Strawberry Jam and finally understanding what the word ‘transcendental’ means. I was hooked and there would be no turning back. Turns out marijuana is just a gateway drug to Animal Collective, a far more potent hallucinogen. The good news is that unlike marijuana, Animal Collective is still legal. Since 2000, Portner has been a very reliable dealer, doling out nine wonderfully weird albums, eight EPs, two live albums, and a mind-blowing visual album, all released on the band’s own Paw Tracks imprint. In addition to a number of collaborative efforts, Portner has released two solo albums: 2010’s Down, and more recently Enter The Slasher House recorded under the name Slasher Flicks, along with former Dirty Projector/current Portner GF Angel Deradoorian, and ex-Ponytail drummer Jeremy Hyman. Enter The Slasher House, named after Portner’s love of stabby, Z-grade ’80s grindhouse fare, brings a colorful new dimension to what Animal Collective fans might be familiar with, namely those emotive hard-hitting Avey vocals, along with some fun, irresistibly catchy and intensely energetic backing vocal shenanigans plus the usual swirling sonic swoon. This interview took place back in the spring in advance of a Johnny Brenda’s show that wound up being cancelled due to illness and was re-scheduled for tonight.
PHAWKER: First of all, why the name? There’s nothing remotely slasher-like about this music.
AVEY TARE: I just like the aesthetic of the name Slasher Flicks, I think it sounds good. I think it’s tough to come up with cool band names these days with so many bands, so many titles. It just came to me, and I thought, “Aw, yeah.” Everyone else in the band liked it, we thought it was cool. It’s better than The Avey Tare Trio or something like that. [laughs].
PHAWKER: What are your top five slasher films of all time?
AVEY TARE: I’m surprisingly not a huge slasher movie fan, actually. I like horror films, and more of the supernatural kind.
PHAWKER: OK, what are your Top 5 horror movies of all time?
AVEY TARE: Okay, let’s see. I think Alice Sweet Alice, Deranged. My top two are definitely The Exorcist and The Shining. One more I’d say is Xtro.
PHAWKER: Aside from the fact that the other Animal Collective guys don’t play on it, why isn’t this an Animal Collective album? Which is a long way of asking what prompted this project and how did it come together?
AVEY TARE: I think as far as it being not an Animal Collective record, there’s a couple reasons for that. Animal Collective gets pretty intense working on records like our last one, Centipede Hz. We did that, and then we toured a bunch. I feel like whenever we’re in that process, we always plan to take time off. In that time it’s usually because of Noah and his Panda Bear records. This time, my other bandmate, Brian, had a baby. So it’s sort of letting us have space to do all of this other stuff that’s kind of important for us to do. If we did Animal Collective full-time I don’t think it would have lasted as long. In terms of my songwriting style and what I like to do creatively, as much as I love working with Animal Collective, and we work together so well, there’s still things within each of our personalities that I feel like it’s such a group effort when we’re working together. There’s things that we don’t really get to express sometimes that we would like to express, maybe because the other guys wouldn’t really do that or something. It’s hard to say. Doing solo stuff for me just gives me opportunity to do other kinds of records. It also gives me the opportunity to play with other people, which is kind of what I was up for doing this time. I’m really excited to play with Angel and Jeremy.
PHAWKER: Explain how an Animal Collective album get written and recorded, and then how a Slasher Flicks album gets written and recorded. Do you feel like you could have achieved the Enter The Slasher House sound with Animal Collective?
AVEY TARE: Probably not. Maybe. It’s the kind of thing I was saying before. Usually when I’m making records it’s about a basic structure of a sound in my head. When I’m going into it sometimes it’s little visual cues or something. For my first solo record, Down There, I wanted it to have this sort of swampy feeling, and just that sort of imagery guided it along. With Slasher Flicks I just started writing songs more on acoustic guitar, and thought what I’d really want to do with these songs is play in a trio, and have them played with a really live feel. With Animal Collective, it’s similar the way the groundwork starts. Just sort of being like, “Let’s talk about airplanes” or something, and we try to do a song that has the energy of an airplane. This isn’t real, it didn’t happen, but it’s just an example of how something might come about. I just think the dynamic between people is always different. The dynamic that I’m starting to learn with Angel and Jeremy is totally different than playing with Animal Collective. Since it’s based more on solo stuff, I have a little bit more of control over what’s going on. Generally, we don’t go into Animal Collective writing sessions and say, “You play this” or “You play that,” you know what I mean? With Slasher Flicks, it was a little bit more like that. Like, “I wrote this and I kinda want it to be like this.” But because playing music with people for me is so much about the interaction and intuitive moments and things like that, I think it’s good to leave it open always. I’ll be like, “Even though I wrote it like this, I want you to embellish or do your own kind of thing.” I’m playing with Angel and Jeremy because I like their musical personalities. I want them to shine in the music.
PHAWKER: It says in your bio that you’ve moved to L.A. From where did you move and what drew you to L.A.?
AVEY TARE: I moved from New York. I grew up on the East Coast; I’ve lived there my whole life. Touring more often, you get to see parts of the country, and the world. There are just so many parts of the world and the country that are just appealing to me. The West Coast is one of them. Most importantly, I was just curious to see what a big change like that would do. I feel like you can get into old habits, and same old, same old thing. I miss my friends a lot in New York and on the East Coast, but I feel like it was just time for an environment change.
PHAWKER: How do you feel that it might have changed you?
AVEY TARE: I feel like it’s getting me way back into nature, and just being able to be around nature more. I think that’s hard to do in New York. It’s hard to leave the city and get into nature anywhere around there unless I was on tour. That’s kind of why I was on tour so much. But I feel like I’m just starting to search for a place where I’m feeling better to be home and around nature at the same time.
PHAWKER: Important question: is “That it Won’t Grow” about a failed attempt to grow a pot plant?
AVEY TARE: [laughs] Um… no, it’s more about friendships and relationships. Having the attitude that things aren’t gonna change or that things have to stay a certain way, to me that’s like a negative way. I think I learned a lot of that through Animal Collective, about just always being open. They’re my best friends, but also my bandmates and my workmates. Just being open and not afraid of drastic change. We went through a band member leaving the country. We’ve been through a lot together. It’s just the kind of thing that was on my mind.
PHAWKER: “Little Fang” makes me happy. It makes me think of Michael Jackson’s “PYT.” Let’s talk about directing the video for it. You had Muppet creator Jim Henson’s Creature Shop make the Little Fang puppet?
AVEY TARE: Yeah, my sister worked briefly for the Henson studio over in Hollywood. She was able to work with them to get a simple puppet made. They make some really complex ones. Ours is the most basic, just because we didn’t have a lot of time and they’re pretty intense to make. My sister basically directed the whole thing. I had a few ideas, but we both wanted it to have this black and white, old-timey aspect. I like old, early twenties silent films, and the way effects are used within them. We talked about how any effects we used would be rudimentary. It was just about keeping it psychedelic and having it be about this cat that’s sort of having a hard time being accepted, and finds her crew at this weird carnival.
PHAWKER: It’s something a lot of cats go through.
AVEY TARE: [laughs] Yeah, totally.
PHAWKER: Did you collaborate with Henson’s crew or just play them the song or what?
AVEY TARE: I don’t know, really. Abby kind of did all that. She just sort of had a long ongoing conversation with them. The song was based on a cat I have. Though, the song was a little more about being a parent standing up for your children and backing your kids no matter what. Like, if your kid was a werewolf, then you’d have to back that up, and the struggle that might bring. I feel like since my bandmates are parents, I live vicariously through them and get to see what it’s like to see a child grow. It seems really challenging for me, I’m not there yet. But basically, because I have this cat that sort of gets picked on by my other cat, because we have two. It sort of generated this idea and we thought it would be cool, because is still pretty young, and she has these fangs. We just decided to model it after her.
PHAWKER: Where do the rest of the Animal Collective guys live these days?
AVEY TARE: Brian lives in Washington, D.C., Josh lives in Baltimore, and Noah lives in Lisbon, Portugal.
PHAWKER: Are there plans for another Animal Collective album?
AVEY TARE: Nothing concrete. I mean, we want to do more stuff. I think just because we’ve had this time off, Noah’s almost done with a new Panda Bear record. We wait until we’re naturally in the next stage, you know?
PHAWKER: Right. If Animal Collective never made it past the first album, what do you think you would be doing these days?
AVEY TARE: I maybe would try to work within horror, or film in some way. I don’t know if that’s very realistic. Otherwise, I’d probably just work in a bookstore, an antique store or something like that. Maybe work on a farm.