The new Animal Collective album, Merriweather Post Pavillion, is finally officially available today. We had heard it was great—even one of the best albums of 2009. Now that we've listened, we agree: The most accessible album so far of the Baltimore-born indie rock band is, indeed, fantastic. Writer Nick Sylvester interviewed the group's electronics specialist Brian Weitz for our February 2009 issue (read the profile), then handed over the transcript so we could learn even more about the music pioneers. It turns out the band members are a lot like us—they dive, they love to experience the world, and they think laying on a blanket outside listening to music is hard to beat. Get a taste of the new album with these YouTube videos of the opening tracks, "In the Flowers," "My Girls," and "Also Frightened."
Interview by Nick Sylvester; Photograph by Ethan Levitas
Photo from left: Brian Weitz, Dave Portner. Noah Lennox, and Josh Dibb
NGA: What is your personal history with the outdoors?
BRIAN WEITZ: I have been scuba diving since I was 12 years old. My father’s family is from Savannah, Georgia, and we used to spend the summers down there when I was a kid. I immediately fell in love with the ocean and spent most of my time chasing minnows in the tide pools. When I was 12, which, at the time, was the minimum age that one could be scuba certified, my dad offered to sign us both up for the class. I guess his thinking was that it was an activity we could do together for the rest of our lives. Unfortunately he didn’t like it very much. Our first dive in the ocean was a wall dive off of Turks and Caicos. The wall extended well below any sort of visibility. We hovered at 100 feet, but the darkness below was a little unnerving even for experienced divers. I think it was a bad choice for a first dive. We’ve been talking recently about going again somewhere mellow, like the Florida Keys, where he could get comfortable in shallow water first.
I, on the other hand, loved it right away and was immediately hooked. Since then I’ve been diving in Florida, Belize, Tobago, Baja, Monterey, Australia, New Zealand, and a liveaboard to the Revillagigedos Islands off of Mexico. Another member of Animal Collective, Josh (aka Deakin) is also an enthusiastic diver and we’ve been going as buddies now for the last three years. We had an amazing dive together in New Zealand at a small archipelago called Poor Knights. It’s a protected marine reserve so the fish life is really incredible. There is an archway called Blue Mao Mao that was pretty spectacular. We also were on the liveaboard together to Revillagigedos where we spent six days diving with manta rays, dolphins, and sharks. We even did a night snorkel with the silky sharks that hung near our boat at night to eat the flying fish. Our next trip is scheduled May 2009. We’re gonna do a week aboard a catamaran diving around the Coiba reserve off the coast of Panama. We got to give a big shout out to Drew, the third member of our little diving crew. He is far more experienced than Josh and I, and he is helping us to explore the underwater world. We also got our sound guy certified in New Zealand when we were touring there, so we’re hoping he will join us for a trip sooner or later.
My girlfriend and I do a trip every summer for about a month (if we have the time). We both enjoy camping and hiking so we make sure we go to a place where we can do some outdoor stuff. We went to Peru in 2007 thinking we’d hike the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu, but we didn’t sign up in time. There is limited space as far as how many people can set out on the trail each day. So we had to take the train and the bus. But we did a lot of day hikes around the Cuzco area to see smaller and less well-known Incan ruins. It wasn’t a serious backpacking trip or anything though.
Other than that, I also spent about 18 total months living in the desert outside of Tucson. I was studying environmental science and policy at the Biosphere 2 center. There were always a lot of outdoor activities to do around there. My favorite in the area is the Chiricauhas.
NGA: Do you feel that your love for the outdoors seeps into your music?
WEITZ: When we were kids we spent a lot of time listening to music outside. Our friend had a great back porch and his parents were often out of town so we spent many nights in his backyard listening to music on a boom box. Over time we started thinking about what records worked best based on the time of day or night, the weather, how visible the stars were, what the sunset looked like, etc. Ever since then music has been inextricably linked to the surrounding environment for us (most of us anyway).
I find it almost impossible to listen to music when it doesn’t work well with my surroundings. My girlfriend and I were driving around the fjords in Norway a couple years ago and she put on the first Weezer record, which I really like, but it just didn’t match with what we were looking at out the window. I told her we should turn it off and she looked at me like I was slightly nuts. I don’t think it’s weird at all and can’t really relate to people who don’t see the two things as linked. Music and environment enhance each other in terms of creating an experience or a memory for me. A lot of times when we’re working on a song or an album, we try and think about what kind of landscapes or weather patterns the melodies bring to mind. We think of it as the song has a melody and rhythm and lyrics and then we create a home for the song to live in, or a world in which it exists. Then the audience can hopefully have their version of a similar image in their minds when they listen. It doesn’t always have be done with natural sounds or field recordings though. We do use field recordings a lot, but we also try and achieve it through the instrument choices, the effects and reverbs, and more abstract sounds that have some environmental qualities to them but aren’t totally straightforward.
[Living in DC] has definitely played a role in our sound for the last few records. I use a lot of field recordings that are made in remote places that I’ve never been, some of which are made underwater. Through my old job working in ocean policy, I met a few scientists who studied bioacoustics. They help me get interesting stuff for us to use on the record. I wouldn’t have met them had I not been working on environmental issues in D.C.
NGA: Merriweather Post Pavilion is named after an outdoor venue in Maryland. Are there memories or qualities of the place that you feel shaped or informed the new album?
WEITZ: I went to a lot of concerts at outdoor pavilions on the East Coast when I was growing up. The first concert I ever went to was the Beach Boys at the outdoor place in Philadelphia. I didn’t see too much at Merriweather personally, but Dave (Avey Tare) went to a ton of concerts there. I went to one or two. A friend of ours in high school used to live on edge of the woods that border the property so we could hear the music sometimes when we’d hang out in his backyard.
Mainly for this record we wanted it to feel like you were listening to it outside, and there was a lot of Maryland imagery in our heads, specifically inspired by times spent listening to music outside in various backyards. Merriweather is a pretty well known place around where we grew up, and it immediately brings Maryland to mind. We liked it as a title for a couple reasons, but in terms of the actual place, it is supposed to make you think of lying on a blanket on a lawn at some kind of outdoor space while you are listening to our record. It also has the word weather in it, and we were thinking about weather patterns while producing a lot of these songs. Plus, those words just sound awesome together.