Avey Tare & Kria Brekkan: Interview
Walking Backwards Up a Spiral Staircase
In the midst of the release of Pullhair Rubeye, an album controversially released in "reverse" (you can listen to some "forward" versions on this MySpace page) Avey Tare (David Portner of Animal Collective) and Kria Brekkan (Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir, formerly of múm) answered some questions I had over the production and general response to the album (most were answered by Avey Tare). While the majority of critics have either tried to pinpoint Pullhair as an absurdist work versus a realist drone or a gimmicky attempt to release collapsed material, others felt the reversed rhythms and vocals to be ethereal. Although a different sound than what listeners are typically accustomed to, Pullhair was not intentionally meant to be groundbreaking in an “experimental” way. Instead, Avey Tare explains how the album was meant to be a fun listening experience and how the album was meaningful one to create. They also talk about music magazines, Animal Collective, taste, and -- yep -- the Crayola commercial.
What has been your reaction so far to the negative reviews that Pullhair Rubeye has received from publications like Stylus, Prefix, and Pitchfork? Do you feel that the album has been given a real chance by the press?
(hehe) I guess I wasn't aware of most of them. I was made aware of the Pitchfork review though. I don't really have many feelings about reviews, whether they may be good or bad, that is I try and not let them get under my skin. To me, reviews about music I'm involved with exist out there mainly for people who want information about a record, and personally I don't really get into reading that sort of thing. I guess if the record has been written about, then it's been given a chance by the press? It's hard for me to say what that means.
If you hadn't released Pullhair Rubeye on Paw Tracks, do you think a label like Fat Cat or Domino would've released it?
Probably not. That is to say, I don't think we really would have pursued that kind of thing. We might have released it ourselves. It was really our intention to have this be a bit of a more low-key release, whether that has happened or not, I'm not sure.
Does it surprise you that many critics have generalized the album as
gimmicky, or is this something you seem to look past?
We knew that a lot of people would have a difficult time with the record. For one thing because reversed sounds are so "obvious" at this point, and secondly because for a lot of people they can be very difficult or annoying. We hoped there would be people that could get past that because I think that's really all it takes. So no, it really doesn't surprise me. It surprises me that some people wouldn't understand that we would put the record out for any other reason other then the fact that we enjoy it and actually think it sounds good.
What do you think that it would take for people to see Pullhair Rubeye as an ambient work of art versus being known as just an, “experimental backwards album”?
For some people probably just the willingness to do so. The phrase "work of art" seems a little heavy handed though. I do understand that there will be a lot of people who will never get into a reversed record. I also think that knowing it's reversed and that knowing there are other songs hidden in there kind of ruins it for people who also might be put off by it on the first listen. But I don't think anyone should be forced to try and "understand" it or anything. Listening to music for the most part should be fun and to us this record is really fun to listen to and it was also fun to make. If people don't get that out of it, then I'm not sure what I could say to them.
“We knew that a lot of people would have a difficult time with the record.”
Since the album's release, have you put anymore thought into releasing a “forwards” version?
Not really, especially if you mean just releasing the record played forwards. There are songs that we took vocals out of or put at different pitches because we thought they sounded better that way when they were reversed, and to us they don't sound as good in this form. There are songs on Pullhair that we messed around with that we do want to release as they were written, but as far as releasing this collection of songs as is, most likely not. This group of songs represents a time for us that we are passed, I think. It's hard for me personally to keep revisiting old songs, so I think we just want to create something completely new.
Are you ever worried that the fans might reject different concepts that you approach? Do you feel that your fans have been with you on this particular album?
It definitely crosses my mind. I think anyone who is sharing music at a certain point has to think about how it will be received by people, but I wouldn't say I worry about it. I feel like there have been times over the past seven years that AC has struggled with getting certain ideas to be palatable for certain people and sometimes it can be frustrating, but I also think a part of that really keeps us going. It's never been difficult or a worry that people would like or dislike, as that's just the way things work. I'm sure most musicians realize pretty fast that there are going to be people that don't enjoy their music all of the time. But in terms of knowing what people's reaction are going to be when we make something new, for us it really is unpredictable at this point. I'm not saying we would ever try to do something that's entirely alienating. We do focus on the fact that we are sharing this music and we are giving people something that we hope they like. But our tastes are very specific at this point, and what we want to do and give has a lot to do with wanting to be honest and create music that represents us as people, not just the music we like or think other people like. I guess because of this, there are times when we don't know how our fans will react to certain releases. But it doesn't really change the way we approach things because we need to stay interested and I think trying to cater to fans all the time could be kind of boring and very hard in a way. There are probably a lot of AC fans that aren't feeling Pullhair. But there are a lot of AC fans that really like one of our records and not like another, and that's something we've gotten used to and also kind of appreciate.
Do you ever have AC fans in mind when working on a different project like Terrestrial Tones, or is it solely an entirely different focus where fans outside of AC may develop?
I see all these projects more or less as the output of whatever relationship spawned the collaboration. They aren't really put together with any preconceived concepts in mind. So TT is going to be very specific to the way Eric (Copeland) and I relate to each other, and I don't think it could really be similar to AC because those guys and I have a very old and specific way of relating to each other and playing music together, and that to me is at the heart of our music. I think it would be weird if I tried to force aspects of AC into projects outside of AC other then my involvement. The same goes for playing with Kristin.
[To Kria] Will you be venturing into more solo material, or are you currently content with various collaborations?
I have been playing the piano a lot by myself. I had already started playing it when in Múm, but now I play it more often and with more focus. It makes me happy. Occasionally, I play shows by myself for small audiences. But the dynamic of playing with other people I find more interesting than playing alone. I do get sad when I don't play music with anybody for awhile. Right now I am recording and mixing a band, and though I hadn't really meant to be anybody's recording engineer, it is bringing me a lot of joy cause the band is such pleasure to work with and I had become kind of existential about playing the piano by myself.
“I think playing live music is the closest I've come to an outer body experience or at least losing total awareness of myself.”
Have you thought doing other projects together?
We definitely want to keep making music together. It's hard right now cause AC is taking up a lot of my time, and when K and I can just be together, I'd personally like to be doing things other then playing music.
I've read before that you have been into mind-expanding devices like the dream machine and sensory deprivation tanks. Do you find yourself still using those meditative methods? If so, do you ever feel that your music generally captures a meditative mood?
I think playing live music is the closest I've come to an outer body experience or at least losing total awareness of myself. I'd hope that people would experience this while listening to us or seeing us, but it's not something we try and put in there; I guess if its there for a person it just happens. I do certain types of breathing meditation often, and I find it helpful just in terms of living in NY and being calm. Things like the dream machine and float tanks I've tried out and enjoy experimenting with, but its more out of curiosity and not something I find myself doing all the time.
Are you excited about the AC's future? Do you see the band continuing formally as it has recently or have you always seen the band adaptable to situations and moods of the members (ex: Sung Tongs being just an Avey Tare/Panda Bear collaboration)?
I'm really excited about writing things and moving forward with AC or whatever music project I might be working on. We are definitely open to things changing right now. I think if anything else it keeps it fun for all of us and interesting to have to work harder sometimes. Right now Josh (Deaken) is not playing with us just cause he needed some time for himself. In a lot of ways, it's a total bummer cause you find yourself without someone who's been a really important part of the musical process over the past few years, and it just feels kind of weird. On the other hand, it's been really sweet to be making something with a foreign setup right now, and I think somehow it just feels right for this moment. We started playing music and releasing music with the idea in mind that we never wanted to be a band that was restricted to four guys playing the same instruments all the time, etc. I think we like the challenge of being forced to do something different, and it's not even so much that it's about the challenge; it's just that in terms of taste and what happens naturally for us seems to be an inclination to want to go somewhere different and try something new. I think playing as a three piece right now is doing that for us.
I will have to admit that I was surprised the first time that I heard “Sweet Road” used in a Crayola commercial. Was this a tough decision at first? How do you feel about the overall marketing of your music?
For the most part, we are very protective of our music and are very aware of our fans attachment to it and how marketing can sway that. We try to be involved and make decisions about every single aspect of how our music is presented, and I even think that it has annoyed certain people we work with because we are so careful and involved sometimes. In terms of TV and commercials and having our music associated with other parties (or companies), it's not something we really care to be involved with. For one, I don't watch TV, and I don't like it, and so just the thought of having something I make be involved with that seems pointless. But in the grander scheme of things, it's also of course being a part of a larger process that is really messing up the world as far as I'm concerned, and I try and have as little to do with that as possible, but sometimes it's hard to avoid. I'm sure that a lot of our fans were surprised by the commercial. I can only speak for myself and say that I ok'd it for the simple fact of being associated with something that's going to influence kids to be creative. It wasn't for the money, or for the exposure. It's a tough decision cause of course there are certain people that might not believe that and still think we "sold out" or whatever, but I can't change that.
“It's a tough decision cause of course there are certain people that might not believe that and still think we "sold out" or whatever but I can't change that.”
Do you feel that there is a lack of open-mindedness in the record industry?
I think there is a lack of unified taste, but I can't really say if there is a lack of open-mindedness cause I think I'd have to hear more stuff that's out there to make that judgment. If there is a lack of open-mindedness anywhere, I would say that it's just within people in general and not just the music industry. I think with self-promotion and the internet becoming such a powerful resource, a lot of bands don't even need labels anymore to do what they want, and so I think it would be silly for people in the music industry to not have a certain amount of open-mindedness. I'd like to see more cultures and countries crossing paths as far as the Western music industry is concerned, but maybe even that is happening more and I'm not aware of it.
On Panda Bear's new solo album, he sings "Get your head out of those mags and websites who try to shape your style." What are your general opinions on music magazines and websites?
In my opinion, he's just speaking about people who assume certain magazines or websites are the end all be all of taste. I'm not really that kind of person, so I guess I don't think about it so much. I've also been burned one too many times by trusting the words of a review only to find it had nothing to do with my taste at all, so I guess in that sense I don't even really read many record reviews anymore. To a certain extent, I think I have to be involved in some fashion of music journalism cause I want to know what's going on and what people are doing and playing, aside from getting out to see what I can and hear what I can, that's the only way I know (i.e. looking on the web etc.). I'm more of a hands-on person though. I rely mostly on my friends' advice about things I should hear and really have to just have a personal connection with a piece of music to get into it these days. I don't really read magazines unless I stumble upon an article that really suits me cause usually I have a couple books I need to get through. But I do rely on certain websites for info.
Would you ever consider creating another album that is reversed?
No, I don't think so.