Animal Collective share the soundtracks of their lives
Over the course of their decade-plus career, the members of experimental rock band Animal Collective have dipped their toes into the waters of many musical genres, including psych-rock, dream-pop, and frenzied electronica. Their own tastes are, understandably, just as varied. In advance of their tenth studio album Painting With — out now — Animal Collective’s Dave “Avey Tare” Portnoy, Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox, and Brian “Geologist” Weitz sat down with EW to share the soundtracks of their lives.
THE FIRST ALBUM WE WERE OBSESSED WITH AS KIDS
DAVE PORTNOY: Thriller‘s the one I have very conscious memories of.
BRIAN WEITZ: Thriller was mine too.
NOAH LENNOX: I was probably obsessed with like songs on the radio, but Thriller was the first time I had a tape and I could look at it and I knew all the song titles. And of course I saw the videos.
BW: My parents taped the making of “Thriller.” I actually think that was around when we got the first VCR that we ever had.
NL: A lot of people our age would say the same thing.
DP: Obviously he’s a great vocalist, he’s got a great voice, but I feel like he never gets credit for the weird vocal s–t he always does. There’s just these little sounds he’ll make or he’ll pitch his voice naturally.
NL: Little grunts and stuff.
DP: That stuff always stood out as weird, but also just cool. It seemed really normal because it was on such a big pop record. That’s the awesome thing about pop music. Throughout the ages, something like the Beatles or something more recent like Timbaland, you know what I mean? It’s like you—
NL: Sneak it in there.
DP: You have the opportunity to present something that’s going to reach a popular realm but you can still mess around with sounds. There’s stuff people don’t even think is that weird or they don’t notice. If you have a good song, it’s always just going to be, for most people, about the song. Only nerds are going to pick out the little grunts in the background.
NL: Nerds like us.
THE FIRST ALBUMS WE BOUGHT WITH OUR OWN MONEY
NL: I’m pretty sure for me it was They Might Be Giants, Flood.
BW: I had a paper route in middle school, but I was just supposed to give the money to my parents.
NL: I remember going with my brother to get Nevermind by Nirvana.
BW: I remember asking for Nevermind for Hanukkah. I got that and I got the Use Your Illusion CDs, because they kind of came out around the fall of ’91. Those are things I wanted that I had heard on the radio or had seen on MTV, and then [I had] to wait until Hanukkah.
DP: Maybe the Grateful Dead’s greatest hits, Skeletons in the Closet. My cousins had it and I remember finding it really intriguing. I bought the tape.
THE UNEXPECTED ARTISTS WE LIKE
BW: Guns N’ Roses. I can still listen to Appetite for Destruction and get past the pomp of that band and be like — especially now, looking back at other hair metal — “That’s pretty gnarly.” Appetite was the start of finding my own way with music, as opposed to the stuff that was listened to in the house, like the Beatles or Michael Jackson.
NL: I’m not sure I’m in touch with what people expect.
DP: I think you’d be surprised. We have a friend that thinks it’s funny that we all like Thin Lizzy and tells everybody as a joke that we all like Thin Lizzy… Kylie Minogue. Love that Fever record. But I know a lot of people that like that record, so it’s hard to say.
BW: I feel like Kylie’s been one that’s come up in interviews over the years, where someone even made a disparaging remark about Kylie and we were like “We like Kylie.” Or that happened that one time [with an interviewer], he started making fun of the Strokes. We were like, “We like the Strokes.”
THE FIRST CONCERTS WE SAW
DP: The Jacksons’ Victory Tour [in 1984]. Those early concerts, for me, were just huge pop stars. It was just going to see the songs that you liked, the hits, and I never thought of it as more than that. I saw Michael Jackson on the Bad Tour [in 1987] and he did a lot of elaborate costume changes. But it wasn’t really until seeing the Grateful Dead, actually, that changed my perspective. The first time I saw them was in seventh grade, I think. ’91 or ’92.
BW: Mine was the Beach Boys 25th anniversary tour [in 1986]. I was in kindergarten or the first grade. I knew “Help Me, Rhonda” and “Surfin’ U.S.A.”, but I didn’t know much else. I remember thinking the beach balls were the coolest things. I’d just follow those. Beach balls are cool to make fun of at concerts now, but there’s a part of me that still gets a little sweet spot for beach balls.
NL: G-Love and Special Sauce in Philadelphia. I was 15 or 16 — I was a very sheltered young man. I remember going into the show and feeling like the atmosphere and the crowd and the energy freaked me out. It was really kind of overwhelming. And that’s… still the same today. But I was the kind of kid who had anxiety about going to kid’s birthday parties because they freaked me out. It was pretty stressful. I went with a bunch of people and as soon as we walked in I just left everybody and nobody knew where I was for a while.
THE SONGS WE’D WANT PLAYED AT OUR FUNERALS
NL: I’d like something that felt kind of appropriate but that didn’t lean in a sad way.
DP: That’s what I was thinking.
NL: Something that leans in a more happy, positive place, but that was appropriate.
DP: It’s a fine line. This fan recently wrote me and was like, “My pet just died, do you have a song you can recommend for the situation?” I was like, “That’s tough,” because something really sad would come immediately to my mind, but you don’t want somebody to listen to something and get bummed out. You’re like, “There’s gotta be something more upbeat.” Just like, “Albatross” by Fleetwood Mac.
BW: That would be mine. That would totally be mine.
DP: Send them on a journey. Have a good journey, take flight.
THE MUSIC WE LISTEN TO BEFORE A GIG
BW: We had one before [2012’s] Centipede Hz. Brian Auger, “Happiness Is Just Around The Bend.”
DP: And then for the following tours we did “Friends.” [sings] How many of us have them? [normal voice] Whodini. Sampled by Nas [on “If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)”].
BW: During the Merriweather Post Pavilion time period [in 2009, for] the walkout song we would play just before we went onstage, we would try and pick a band from the town we were in.
DP: The Feels tour was the first tour we ever really got into it. Our tour manager and good friend started playing this heavy Japanese psych-rock band in the van. We’d play that while we set up our stuff because it gets us pumped to play.
THE MUSIC (AND TV) THAT INSPIRED THE MAKING OF OUR NEW ALBUM
DP: We’d spend most nights hanging out at my place. I would just play whatever was in my record collection. It’s usually just all over the place.
BW: It’s usually a lot of mezcal.
NL: I remember hearing Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Piñata.
BW: We listened to the Kendrick record [To Pimp A Butterfly] in the car.
DP: We checked out Kendrick’s Kunta’s Groove Sessions in L.A. It was awesome. We got really excited and watched True Detective.
BW: The second season was happening while we were recording. We’d hate-watch it.
DP: We wanted to hate it and hated it but then, because we were all watching it, got into it.
BW: And then during mixing, the new Wet Hot American Summer Netflix series dropped.
DP: Which we watched in like two nights. We binge-watched it.