Avey Tare’s Slaher Flicks’ debut album, Enter the Slasher House, is available for purchase. The band was originally scheduled to perform in DC on April 25th at U Street Music Hall. That show was postponed until tonight, July 23. -ed.
A few weeks ago, I got the chance to talk to Avey Tare—AKA God.
Of Animal Collective and solo-work acclaim, Dave Portner (Avey Tare) is, in my eyes, one of the most influential voices in modern music. His work, in its electronic psychedelically-goopy splendor, has undoubtedly been the soundtrack to thousands of first acid trips (and also those that follow). But also, more importantly (maybe), the work Dave composes is musically complex and beautiful and awesome. BUT LET ME BE CLEAR, PLEASE. I use the word “awesome” not in a “that Shamrock Shake was awesome” sort of way, but rather in a biblical sense (I.e. “You, God, are awesome” Psalm 68:35). Replace “God” with “Dave” in that there bible quote I’ve provided for y’all and you’ve got a good idea of what I mean.
Dave is now adding to his already INCREDIBLY IMPRESSIVE oeuvre with a new project. Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks is composed of Dave (duh) and also Angel Deradoorian (formerly of Dirty Projectors) and ALSO Jeremy Hyman (former Ponytail drummer). While we wait for his Bowery Ballroom show (or U St., for you D.C. kiddies) we can listen to the debut album Enter the Slasher House, and watch the video for first single “Little Fang,” directed by Dave’s Brooklyn-based video artist sister Abby Portner.
AND ALSO while we all wait for the show, you can check out my conversation with Dave. We talked about the new explorations in musical textures he’s making with Slasher Flicks, as well as his synesthesia (!!!) and how it relates to the video art we know and love (ODDSAC, “Little Fang” video, this video for “Bluish” that I love oh so much), and True Detective. Because YES, you guys, Dave Portner watches True Detective.
So how and why did you decide you wanted to start a new project that was separate from both Animal Collective and your solo work?
Really, I was thinking about how to make a record with a different sort of sound from what I had done with my other stuff. I think I just had had it in my mind for a while that I wanted to do something with a new group of musicians to try and do my own sounds. I feel like in terms of playing with other people…like the dynamic I have with Animal Collective is pretty set—we’re pretty used to each other. It’s like everyone comes into it with their own ideas. I feel like when I’m doing stuff on my own it’s always a different process trying to get things down. So for this record it was like, “I feel like I want to have those kinds of drums,” and like “that kind of playing on it,” and just the more I thought about it the more Angel and Jeremy came to mind as the right people to play with.
So is it not completely a solo project? In that when you started playing around with the idea of creating a new project you were already thinking about who else you wanted to get involved?
Yeah I mean when I started writing the songs… Well I’m kind of always writing just bunches and bunches of songs and they start of pretty simply. A lot of these songs just started on acoustic guitar and so the thought comes to mind like, “Okay how are these songs going to be produced?” or “How are they going to end up on a record?” and it just started feeling like I had enough songs that felt (to me) like guitar sounds…where I would play guitar and then think, “These songs can fit more of the format of a band.” You know, the energy that a band would have. I think also that the prior solo record that I did was just me and it was all mostly electronics—I wanted to go about this a little bit differently because of that, too.
With those different projects, are there specific influences you draw from for Slasher Flicks as opposed to Animal Collective or your solo stuff?
I think that every record is different, really. No matter if it’s with Animal Collective or, you know, anything I’ve done. And I feel like the influences, or at least most of the influences, are just really what’s happening in my life at the time. I’m really open to let the “now” sort of guide what I’m doing. Also in the past year, couple of years, I’ve been listening to a lot more jazz I feel like than I ever have.
That’s awesome. I feel like I can actually sort of hear that in “Little Fang.”
Oh yeah! Really? See that’s the kind of thing that I think just sort of comes out. I don’t think necessarily, “Oh, this music sounds like jazz to me,” but I think that’s the sentiment. And also just another reason for wanting to play with a band. So that that live sort of human interactive aspect is really clear in the music.
Definitely. And I was looking at photos from your Glasslands show and it did look like you had pretty much a traditional band live set up. Is it what it looks like? Or how do you incorporate the electronic aspects when you’re orchestrating the live performance?
I mean I think I’m interested mostly, when it comes to music, in textures and creating these sort of musical environments no matter what the record is or what the set up is. So I’m not interested so much in using the sounds of traditional instruments for my own stuff. It just doesn’t fit well to my ears when I’m writing stuff. I mean, I like hearing other people do it, but for me when it comes to composing it just doesn’t seem to fit in. So in terms of writing I find that I write songs that feel more like “me” or like something I haven’t done before when I really mess around with the sound of everything. We use effects, and the keyboards that Angel uses have a lot of modular synthesis involved and oscillators.
And do you use a sampler, too?
We don’t use a sampler. For our next tour we may try and get some of the things we recorded down in the live performance but generally, no, we don’t really need to use a sampler.
That’s awesome. And you were talking about it earlier, how you composed the bones of most of the album on acoustic guitar. So when you’re talking about these sort of textures and non-traditional instrument sounds, it’s like—you know—you barely hear maybe the chords that you were laying down right in the beginning on guitar when you’re listening to the final product. So how does that translation work, from sort of this original idea that you’re maybe messing around with on guitar to what we actually hear on the record?
We set up like two weeks of writing in April of last year where we were just going to flesh everything out. I mean I had made demos, really basic demos, of the songs after writing on acoustic guitar. So I then make the transition from acoustic guitar to electric guitar. After that I start messing around with effects and stuff like that—just to get a basic idea. I think it’s just that I’ll hear in my head how I want certain textures to be and then it’s just about trying to recreate them with the instruments as best as possible. Then there’s the step of us really all getting together and having three people magically be able to play the songs with the sounds, and everything like that. It’s a slow process but it comes together.
Yeah, totally. So as far as the three members—what do you think Angel and Jeremy add or bring to the project?
I mean I think their abilities and their personalities are pretty unique, you know what I mean?
And I’ve known about what they’ve done musically for some time now and just been into it—their styles. Angel is a great keyboard player and Jeremy is a real wild-style drummer. It’s different from other stuff I’ve played with before—so yeah, just being able to get that down. They’re also both old friends too, so I was thinking about their relationships and friendships and how that would work in the music.
Yeah, creating music with a totally new dynamic.
So this is a little bit different, but I wanted to talk about it. Your video art is really amazing, and it has been sort of pervasive throughout your work in the past with things like ODDSAC for Animal Collective or the “Little Fang” video. And I know your sister is here in Brooklyn doing video art. So I guess my question is: At what point in the music-making process do you start thinking about the video or the multimedia aspects?
I know from the beginning it’s always going to be involved because I feel like it’s cool, for me, to think of a record as a sort of art project. You know what I mean?
Yeah—I love that. Sort of creating a fully formed project beyond sounds.
Exactly—so adding to the visual side after already having the music. I mean the crucial element, of course, is the music at first—but I feel like I think about music in such visual terms that it’s hard [to not consider the visual elements]. It’s not something that I really turn on or off. It’s like even listening to a record…I mean that’s kind of why I got into music. It has always taken on a whole visual atmosphere to me.
Wait. That’s awesome. You have synesthesia!
Yeah! Totally! When I found out about that (synesthesia, or whatever) just thinking about Nabokov, or someone like that, having it—that phenomenon really fascinates me. But yeah, we used to just sit around and talk about visuals and stuff that we would imagine when we were listening to records when we were in high school. So it’s always been something I’ve wanted to carry with me. And I also really like bands that have a strong visual element like Black Dice or Sonic Youth or Pavement, or someone like that.
Absolutely. And it elevates the art, in a way.
Yeah, totally. So it’s just something I’ve always wanted to incorporate. Sometimes it’s hard collaborating with people just because I feel like, with Animal Collective for example, we all have this “vision” of the music already that we’ve all talked about, and it’s hard to give that over. And it’s similar with this stuff, but with this and with my last solo record I started talking to my sister Abby about it really early on in the process so made it easier for everything to line up.
Yeah. So like with “Little Fang”— I thought it was really accessible and current. Maybe also a little bit less experimental than some of the other stuff you’ve done in the past. Do you think that sound is pervasive throughout the album?
I think, yeah. It’s the kind of album that is a good collection of songs. And in terms of the idea of our sort of “horror funhouse effect”—it’s like you don’t know what’s around every corner. I kind of like records like that. The songs aren’t just all one set up. The songs take all of these sort of twists and turns. I feel like it’s hard for me to talk about music in terms of accessibility because sometimes I’m not the best judge of that sort of thing. [Laughs] And I definitely understand that “Little Fang” is a little bit more minimal, I’d say. It’s less affected and stuff. And then I also feel like there’s stuff [on the album] that’s way more affected…but then again there’s stuff that I would think might have a different sound quality that would be just as sonically pleasing.
So we can expect sort of a range on this new album coming out?
Yeah I feel like there’s a big range.
Cool. And then this is a question I’m really curious about because you grew up in, or around, Baltimore—right?
Yeah! Actually, is your phone number from Baltimore?
Oh yeah! I’m actually from the suburbs of D.C. So kind of similarly to you, I just moved to Brooklyn. And I know that you’re in L.A. now. So having spent considerable, formative years in Baltimore, New York, and L.A., how would you say each place affects you or inspires you as an artist and as a musician?
I feel like growing up in Maryland was really inspiring just more for the countryside landscape. It influenced me musically in that way and I think I just got really into listening to music in terms of the environment I was in in Maryland. I got really into being out in the woods and thinking about what kind of music would be good for listening to out in the woods or at night. But also just going downtown in Baltimore and being able to see my first all ages shows was extremely influential. And coming to the realization that there was sort of this underground of music.
So where were those places in Baltimore?
There were venues that don’t exist anymore that were sort of just like DIY spaces. There was one called the Small Intestine, there was one called Shuffle House. It feels like there’s sort of a larger established community in Baltimore now, whereas back then it was all people who were older than I was so I didn’t really have a full grasp on the community, I just kind of went to the shows. It seemed like all the places were just shifting all the time because they would be in storefronts, or wherever, that wouldn’t always be that safe. Or it would be a little sketched out with police squads or something.
[Laughs] And then New York was really where I first found my sense of a musical community. After dropping out of school and having a hard time there, I realized what I was looking for, and what I wasn’t finding in college in New York, was a community of people who I felt good hanging around with. [Everyone in the community] happened to be musicians, so we all used to play at the same places like The Cooler, which isn’t there anymore unfortunately, and other places in Williamsburg back then. And then that same thing with Baltimore [happened in Brooklyn]—places would just come and go. We’d all share practice spaces and stuff like that. So that’s really how New York influenced me—being around these musicians a lot, and enjoying their music as well, and just getting inspired by it.
Having that creative community.
Yeah I feel like that guided a lot of the early stuff I wrote, you know?
Totally. So what motivated the decision to go West?
After a while I just started traveling so much for Animal Collective and not being at home so much and coming back, when I would come back, I started to feel like New York was not the kind of place I wanted to come back to so much anymore. It doesn’t feel very pretty to look at necessarily and it was sort of confining to me. It’s not easy to leave the island, so to speak, and get out into nature. And that’s stuff that, when I really get to the heart of things, is really important to me.
So do you think that’s been helpful creatively? Getting out of a space that maybe wasn’t the most enriching towards the end?
Yeah, totally. Sometimes you just gotta do that. You get into a comfort-zone or something; You get into these repetitive loops. There was other stuff about my life too that I wanted to change. And I just feel like a change of environment or space can be healthy in that way.
Definitely—especially as a creative person. It’s a whole new set of things to be inspired by, people to talk to, I mean…everything when you move.
So besides Slasher Flicks, is there anything musically or otherwise in the pipeline for you?
Yeah I mean I’m trying to be kind of mellow about it right now. For me it’s really important to have time away from that too, with writing and stuff, just because I can get really obsessive and then only do that…if I let myself. So I’m just trying to be a little bit more lax about it while this sort of Slasher Flicks stuff is happening and the record is out there and we’re getting ready to tour.
Yeah, to just let things happen sort of organically. So, unrelated—what was the last book you read?
The last book I read was Speedboat by Renata Adler. I thought it was a great. A friend recommended it to me, he does a book club here.
And what was the last movie you watched?
The last movie I watched… I watch a lot of movies [Laughs] I’ve been watching a lot of TV shorts recently, I usually don’t watch TV. I got really into True Detective.
OH MY GOD I JUST FINISHED IT YESTERDAY.
Yeah, right? It was realllllly good, right?
It was SO GOOD.
That’s probably the last thing I watched full on through. I thought it was really good and everyone I know is super into it too. It’s the first TV experience I’ve had in years.
Yeah, I feel like that’s a common thread too, that this is really the first TV series in years that’s actually…. I don’t know. It’s not like there haven’t been other good TV shows it’s just that this was so…cinematic, or something.
Yeah totally. I mean like all my friends still watch like Breaking Bad or The Wire and stuff and tell me to get into it but then I’ll try it out and just be like “Eh. TV is not really my thing.” But not this one. This one was really good.
So how about the last album you listened to?
Same kinda thing…I’m listening to records all the time. Yesterday I was listening to this band from the 60′s I really like called Lothar and the Hand People.
I haven’t heard of them, what are they like?
To me, it’s like if Devo and early Beatles, Revolver period Beatles, combined. And then there’s some electronic stuff on the record. It’s kind of this geeky pop sound.
And then I have one more real full question. So this is sort of broad but I feel like older generations, my parents for example, feel like electronic music or music with heavy electronic aspects is devoid of emotion. And I feel like your music is sort of the ultimate challenge to that assumption or generalization.
Because you can’t really listen to it and be like, “this has no emotion it.” I don’t think anybody could say that. So do you think that as electronic music is becoming more mainstream that those assumptions are changing?
I’m not sure, really. Because I feel like it’s sort of a 50-50 thing. There has been plenty of electronic music that is emotional to me and that I feel like can be done really well that maybe doesn’t come across so much in performance. I feel like so much music these days is so much more production-based that I think a lot of people are getting away from the sort of the energy-oriented music that is more about just playing. There a side to that that’s easier, because it’s more hands-on and you have a more direct connection to an instrument and you’re emoting there immediately. Whereas you’re kind of twice removed if you’re laying something down. You know what I mean?
Yeah that makes perfect sense. It’s almost like less visceral.
And I think that it can be done well, but it’s hard to say. I mean “mainstream” music these days, I don’t even know what that is. Is it like Katy Perry or what Pitchfork is reviewing? So yeah, I’m not sure…it’s hard to say.
Who the hell knows. Well, dude, thank you SO much for talking to me it has really been an absolute pleasure and I appreciate it a lot.
No problem—thank you.