If you're surprised that Avey Tare followed up a brooding, electronic solo LP like Down There with a three-piece, "good vibes" group called Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks, you haven't been paying attention. A founding member of Animal Collective, the man also known as Dave Portner has been exploring genre and form for a decade and a half.
Enter The Slasher House is yet another chapter in a catalogue that exists gloriously outside of conventional definition. If it makes you smile, it feels like your face could turn inside out. If you feel like dancing, it's 'til your legs swell like a bodybuilder's. It's clear that for Portner, this latest skin — infectious, free-association pop, with the demeanor of a kid eager to tell you the next secret — fits him as comfortably as any other iteration of his sound.
I spoke to Portner about his restless creative spirit, what psychedelia means to him, how Animal Collective handled the Billboard-charting success of "My Girls," and the importance of spontaneity to live performance.
I’ve read that on your last solo album you were exploring a marshy atmosphere. Would you consider this new record an expedition in a similar sense?
I’m as interested in good vibe pop music as I am in intense dark music. I'm always trying to find a way to express all of that.
For [Enter The Slasher House], it's produced and put together in a way that flows like a record should. It’s more like going on a weird or fun haunted house ride, where there’s all these twists and turns. The songs are all over the place and different from each other.
The word psychedelic gets thrown around for your entire catalogue. What's your relationship to that word?
It’s a really tough word to use. I feel like most of the time people will associate it with psychedelic drugs. More and more I find what I would consider psychedelic music existed before psychedelic drugs even came into the picture. A lot of early '60s jazz.
I feel like everyone has their own relationship to the word psychedelic. To me it’s this idea of things being something that they’re not, or perceiving something to be something else. Music can take on this other form that makes it psychedelic, this kind of psychological, psychotic aspect, where things are together but not together at the same time.
That lines up nicely with the whole aesthetic that you’ve constructed for this album. Were you trying to explore that grey area between horror and comedy?
I think so. I wouldn’t say it’s comedy, but if it makes someone smile, that’s okay. A lot of the genre of horror that I really appreciate has a campy side, like Roger Corman. His Edgar Allan Poe movies, they’re as much about humour and fun as they are creepy. I think blurring lines and having drastic shifts in emotion is a lot of what psychedelic music is about. Starting with something that’s really dark and upbeat, then taking it in the complete opposite direction, having these twists and turns.
Your career has certainly followed that path.
Yeah. I’m interested in a lot of that different stuff. I’m as interested in good vibe pop music as I am in intense dark music. I'm always trying to find a way to express all of that.
How do you focus on an initial concept for an album — like good vibes for Slasher House — while simultaneously exploring?
Blurring lines and drastic shifts in emotion is what psychedelic music is about. Starting with something that’s really dark and upbeat, then taking it in the complete opposite direction.
I was also messing around with genres and music that I like a lot, which I don’t do so much when I’m writing for Animal Collective. It was messing around with song forms that were not '60s music or '70s jazz, or bands like Steely Dan, stuff like that.
There’s an element of it that’s different from stuff that I’ve done, and that’s what I want. I don’t think anything is sort of lost, it’s just something different. I’m happy for it to be something different, and I think the next thing will be something different. I think a lot of people criticize or want to judge things based on what came before, which is fair if you really really like something that I or we’ve done in the past. It’s also okay for me if people don’t like it or think that something is better in the past. It’s cooler if it reaches other people.
After "My Girls" broke big, was there ever a sense within Animal Collective of “we have to match this” or “let’s see if we can do this again in a completely other different realm"?
I don’t think it’s ever about "we have to do that again." It’s not like "we tried to do that." We were really happy about it, but we were in that frame of mind back then. But now, I feel like we all want to embrace the moment. I could try really hard to make a straight forward pop record if I wanted to, but it’s not the kind of thing that interests me so much.
When bands like yours make these unexpected hits, there’s an expectation from some that you’ll do everything you can to try and replicate it.
I understand the notion of wanting to keep your popularity. Certainly we don’t want to lose any of the fans we’ve gained over the years. [But] it’s almost more interesting to pull people in with what we want to do, to try and make people understand.
Not to say people don’t get it, because I think that’s insulting to say to somebody “oh, you just don’t get the music.” Music for me, it’s all circumstantial, about where you are and how you’re hearing it. I’ll hear something and be like “I don’t get it, I don’t like this record.” Maybe it’s a record by a band I've liked in the past or maybe it’s just something new. Or I’ll hear it some other time and I’ll see the band live and totally get it
With Slasher Flicks, there’s an opportunity for what you just described to happen. People can hear it now, and hear a good vibes album, and then later on listen to it and be like “Oh, this is a lot creepier than I originally thought.” Or some totally different reaction.
I understand the notion of wanting to keep your popularity. [But] it’s almost more interesting to pull people in with what we want to do.
That’s one thing I strive for, to make records where there’s things hidden in there. Even my closest friends and the people that I would assume would get it hearing it the first time, have written to me about certain songs, saying “Oh, that part finally clicked for me.” I like records like that. It is very intentional.
When it comes to the live shows, how do you juggle audience expectations for bigger tracks, with a desire to do something new and perhaps more memorable?
For me it's letting a live show just sort of be. It’s something happening in the moment, as the word "live" would present itself. Not holding yourself to the notion of it having to be this way or being dogmatic, like "we have to play this song." With the Slasher Flicks shows, we’re playing the songs from the record. We’re all open to the moment. We all come from playing music in live settings long enough that we know you can’t really predict what happens sometimes. And for me I’ve always used that to my advantage, or at least hoped it would work to my advantage.
With Animal Collective, when we first started playing live it was more up in the air. Like, we would just hope we could get through a set. We didn't give ourselves enough time to practice. Even in Slasher Flicks, I feel like we don’t want to be over-practiced. It’s more fun if you’re building during the tour as it goes along. When you’re playing in front of people it becomes this experience that you want to be new and fresh, because they’re experiencing it too. It’s hard to know all the time how exactly it’s going to sound going club to club, so it’s good to let the current environment take it where it goes.