Josh Dibb (Deakin of Animal Collective): Interview
“AC is definitely on a hiatus to some degree. But, in certain ways, we’re also, I feel, busier than we’ve felt in a long time.”
Most of our readers know Josh Dibb as Deakin, Animal Collective’s longtime cohort, whose guitar playing and contributions can be traced to the band’s earliest inception. And while, yes, he did happen to sit out on what would be the colossal, culturally-shifting Merriweather Post Pavilion phenomenon, there’s no denying the very special hand he’s had in landmark albums like Feels, Strawberry Jam, and even the recent visual spectacle ODDSAC, to name a few.
If Dibb missed the boat on the Merriweather popularity behemoth, it’s obvious within only a few minutes of talking to him that commercial success and critical acclaim are hardly first and foremost on his mind. As he points out, keeping “Whatever [AC is] working on […] the purest thing that it can be” is not only the AC artistic method, it happens to be the main reason Dibb creates at all.
After performing a handful of select live solo shows, Dibb is currently “honing” his solo material for an upcoming Paw Tracks album. I’m pleasantly caught off-guard when Dibb — a real talker — is more than gracious as he opens up about his songwriting process, his excursion to Africa, the pitfalls of remixing for money, MPC samplers, and, yes, even the scoop on the dreaded Animal Collective “hiatus.”
I wanted to ask you about your most recent trip, a couple months back, to Mali for the Festival au Désert. I know you raised quite a bit of money and produced a benefit book/CD to help raise awareness of child slavery. What was your trip like and how did things go?
Yeah, well, it definitely was not my most recent trip. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling and stuff since then. It was a really complicated process on many levels in terms of it was sort of a big step for me, personally, to decide to play solo shows anyway. So, that was a lot of what it was about for me. I’d sort of been putting that off for a while. I think that when I decided to take a break from touring with the band, like, full-on during the Merriweather era. I sort of expected to be playing more shows during that time and just, for a lot of reasons, wasn’t doing it. And that ended up sort of being this opportunity that I sort of felt like I couldn’t pass up. And it sort of forced me to do this thing that I’d been putting off for a while.
So, that was a lot of what it was about. And then the whole fundraising thing you’re talking about was a whole ‘nother element to it, which brought in a lot of new thinking for me in terms of what I’ve been doing — or what I can do, I guess. So, what happened is […] none of the money I raised was for the travel. I ended up supporting the whole trip through an agreement with Paw Tracks about a release I would do — or am going to do — through Paw Tracks. So, basically […] Todd was wanting to front me the money for the travel based on the idea that I’m going to do this book, that you’re talking about, with him. And then, he’ll put that out and that will recoup the cost.
I originally did set it up to try to raise money for the trip, but I changed that. What I ended up doing is that I found this organization in Mali that deals directly with what is a very complicated but very real slave […] problem. It’s more than a slave problem, though there are definitely instances of outright slavery still – it’s more of a really embedded cast system there. There’s sort of a group of people that are descendent from slaves and are now, technically, free. But the way that the society has been set up and the way it’s been working — a lot of which is just cultural and not really even ill intent on anyone’s part — has just led to there being a fairly large group of people that really have no ability to move out of the economic situation they’re in — even through education and/or through work or anything.
So, the organization that I found sort of works with that and the money that I raised for the project ended up going, pretty much, directly to them. I’ve been doing a lot of work talking to that organization and also some other people that I met while I was there […] [People] who live there are from northern Mali, which is incredibly poor and who do a lot of work to try to get working solar panels and wells going and stuff like that. So, I’m trying to get some of the money to them as well. But, yeah, I could talk about it forever.
Is the organization you’re talking about TEMEDT?
I think I saw something about that. Sounds pretty interesting.
Yeah, it is.
“It’s funny to hear you ask that question. [Laughs] Everybody always asks that question in such a hesitant way.”
You mentioned how it was a big step for you to perform solo material and hone that craft — which you’ve been doing quite a bit of lately. How have the solo shows felt for you? Has it been completely different than playing with a full band? Are you expecting to do more solo touring?
Yeah, it’s a lot different, for sure — for a lot of reasons I’d say. The primary difference, of course, is […] me being solely responsible for the songs, y’know? Like everything that we’d been doing for the last 10-plus years, it’s […] generally us working as a group. And, for sure, Noah and Dave have generally taken the lead in terms of the melodies and the lyrics. So, that element of it was sort of the biggest difference for me. But, I think, also just not having other people on stage too. Both, from a technical standpoint, it’s difficult to have as much fluidity in what I’m doing because I have to be responsible — I do a lot of stuff with beats and samplers, but I’m also playing guitar and singing. It’s just, literally, physically difficult to control all those things at once. Being a one-man band is a really [tough] thing, but I’ve been psyched on the challenge.
It’s been going well. I feel like, to me, I’ve got a long way to go before I get to a place where I’m feeling really psyched about it. And I’ve been way busier this year since that Africa trip than I expected to be — in terms of Animal Collective-related stuff and just other work — so I haven’t been able to do as much touring as I thought I’d be doing this spring. But I definitely will continue to. I’m probably gonna spend a lot of the summer, among other things, recording stuff I’ve been working on and trying to get some recordings out — working on that book that you mentioned and recordings around that. So, that’s going to be what a lot of the summer’s about. I’m hoping that that will lead to a lot more touring in the fall.
It’s tough. AC is definitely on a hiatus to some degree. But, in certain ways, we’re also, I feel, busier than we’ve felt in a long time. And we’ve been working on promoting the movie that we did — ODDSAC. […] The Guggenheim thing that we did in March was actually really time-consuming. We just were working kind of non-stop for a month. And there’s some other stuff later this year coming up that looks like it could be similar to that.
Dave [Portner, of Animal Collective, Paw Tracks] and I have been […] spending a lot of time helping some other bands — some Paw Tracks bands — record their records, actually, in the last couple months. So, almost all of April and the first couple weeks of May […] we were basically in the studio helping some other bands record. So, we’ve been super-busy working on other projects, kind of AC-related or tangentially AC-related. So, in a great way, it’s been a really busy year. But it’s been harder to do a lot of the songwriting and touring I thought I’d be doing. So, it’s moving slower than I thought but I’m psyched.
You mentioned that AC is kind of on hiatus. Although you stepped away and took a break from the band, you had a considerable part in ODDSAC. When it comes time for the group to record, will you be contributing on a new AC album?
To be honest, it’s kind of hard to say right now just because that’s something that we’re probably not going to really start dealing with directly until, probably, early next year. We kind of already know what we’re doing up through December and that stuff. We’re definitely not going to start a writing session or anything this year. […] It would seem that way. I’m definitely psyched on the idea of doing it but there’s just a lot of factors that could change that.
It’s funny to hear you ask that question. [Laughs] Everybody always asks that question in such a hesitant way.
[Laughs] Oh yeah. Sorry.
[I don’t mean to give] such an uncertain answer. But the reality is that, in general, as long as we’ve been playing music together — I mean, even before we were Animal Collective — we’ve never really done a very good job of planning of what’s going to happen. […] We talk about stuff, but until it actually happens, there’s really no way of knowing how it’s gonna form. Y’know, when Noah and Dave started working on Sung Tongs stuff back in 2003 […] you never really know, basically, what’s going to happen. And I think we kind of like having it that way because it just allows for whatever we are working on to be the purest thing that it can be. So, I can’t really predict. But I definitely have a lot of energy to put into music right now, and it seems like the other dudes do as well.
It seems like that’s a pretty good aesthetic to have, too. Sometimes if you plan things out too much, it can seem a little forced or doesn’t come out naturally — whether you’re dealing with music, art, or whatever. It’s easy to over-think.
Yeah, […] even on the level of the formation of the band or the collective — the reason why we chose to do it that way all those many years ago back in 1999/2000 was kind of for exactly that reason. […] We kind of knew we all had so much creative energy to put into things, but we didn’t feel like we wanted to get into a situation where it felt like we had to be locked into this grouping. Like, there’s the four of us and “this is what Dave does and this is what I do and this is what Noah does, etc.”
You mentioned you’ve been writing a lot of material. Have you recorded any of it yet? How far along in process are you for the Paw Tracks recording?
No, I haven’t recorded anything yet. Some of the stuff that may end up working its way into [the] recordings […] I actually did record for the Guggenheim thing […] But the way it was recorded and the way that we presented it, it probably wouldn’t be recognizable. So, that was kind of the beginning of me starting to do stuff. But none of the literal, physical recordings I did for that would be part of it. It would just be, maybe, some of the melodies or samples for ideas to be used in different ways — just recorded differently. But, hopefully, in June and July that would be a pretty big focus for me.
“We kind of knew we all had so much creative energy to put into things, but we didn’t feel like we wanted to get into a situation where it felt like we had to be locked into this grouping. Like, there’s the four of us and ‘this is what Dave does and this is what I do and this is what Noah does, etc.’”
I know you’ve done several remixes for a few artists — Goldfrapp, Ratatat, Phoenix, etc. – and I’ve really enjoyed those and wanted to ask: What do you think goes into making a good remix? Are you currently working on any new ones?
Yeah, I just finished one for Pantha Du Prince. I don’t know when they’re gonna put it out but I just gave it to them, like, 2 weeks ago. For me, doing the remixes thing was kind of similar to the Africa thing. It was sort of this opportunity that came up. The Ratatat one was the first one that ever came up and I was like, “I have no idea how to do [a] remix. I’ve never thought about that before, but I’ll just try it and see what happens.” And I think that I’ve tried to treat each one as like a challenge, I guess, to try something new I haven’t really tried before. It’s a good opportunity to do something that […] if you put some time and energy into it, whoever asks for it will be psyched about it. And there’s a little bit of looseness about what arena it can be, y’know? I only feel a responsibility to make sure there’s some element of the original song — if somebody listens to it, they’d realize it was related — but after that, I feel like there’s a lot of freedom to do whatever.
The Ratatat one, just to do it, was a really new thing and I had a lot of fun working on that. The Goldfrapp one was sort of similar, I guess. And then starting with the Phoenix one and Pantha Du Prince one, I used it as an opportunity to work on vocal stuff. So, I sort of remixed and then turned the remix into a new song for myself. And that’s sort of the new challenge for those, I guess, for me. So, it’s a really personal thing. […] The remix industry right now, there’s a lot of it going around. Y’know, I feel like there’s a lot of people will do them and basically just do it for the money. Like, “Oh, whatever, I can make my rent this month by doing whatever. I’ll just take this part out and add a beat, and there you go. There’s your remix.” For me, I just feel a little bit of responsibility to be psyched about what I’m doing. I guess that’s my only big criteria.
I have some friends in a band who struggled with what you’re talking about. They’re really nice guys but they were remixing this Franz Ferdinand song. One of the guys was talking to me about it and said, “Yeah, I just fucking hate this song.” So I asked him, “Why would you remix a song if you hated it so much?” And he answered, “Well, it’s good promotion.” It just bummed me out that he was taking so much time to do something he really hated.
You mentioned challenging yourself in different ways — whether it’s remixes or solo stuff — and stepping outside the comfort zone. I’ve been watching these solo videos of Dustin Wong — the guitarist from Ponytail and the previous guitarist from Ecstatic Sunshine —
Yeah, I know Dustin.
“Like everything that we’d been doing for the last 10-plus years, it’s […] generally us working as a group. And, for sure, Noah and Dave have generally taken the lead in terms of the melodies and the lyrics.”
I’m super-inspired by the layering of his guitar sounds. If someone’s interested in experimenting with that kind of thing — similar to the way you perform solo with loops, beat samples, etc. — where would you recommend starting?
I don’t know. I think my process is a lot different from Dustin’s. He works a lot directly with loop pedals from what I can tell, like you said. So, he’s doing a lot of live looping, where he’ll set up a loop pedal and start playing something and record a measure of it. And then [he’ll] get that looping and add something on top of that. It’s a very live process.
For me, I don’t do a lot of looping or playing over what I do. My process is, in a way, pretty straightforward. I have an MPC sampler and I use that to make backing tracks — just beats and melodic samples and stuff. But I kind of already know what’s going to happen with that. Either things are just looping or there’s a sequence that I know I’m gonna follow. And then I’m just playing guitar — I don’t know how to describe it. [Laughs] I’m playing the song like as it would be. I could almost, like, do it on acoustic guitar, in a way. […] I use a fair amount of delay or different effects and stuff but I don’t do a lot of looping with my guitar directly.
But there’s a lot of really good looper pedals out there. DigiTech makes one called the Jam Man which is super-simple but a really good, straightforward kind of thing. I feel like some of the relatively cheaper, but not in a bad way, samplers — the basic Roland samplers, the 404, 505, 555, whatever — […] seem [like] really user-friendly samplers to start messing around with just to kind of understand what’s possible.
That’s great. Before closing, what music are you digging right now? Anything you’d recommend checking out?
Uh, what have I been listening to these days? I have a really weird issue with this question, which is when everybody asks me, I always start freezing up. My brain just stops remembering anything.
I know what you mean.
Let me look through stuff I’ve been listening to recently. A lot of what I’ve been listening to has been stuff that we’ve been working on recording, so, [I’ve] been immersed in that world. But I recently discovered the Troggs, which I never really listened to before. Like old, kinda garage stuff. They’re good. I’ve been really into a lot of dub stuff that’s really good. The dub compilation that got put out — Randy’s Vintage Dub [Selection] — I really like a lot. Somebody just got me a bunch of some of the recent Crammed stuff. They put out that Congotronics thing, but I had only heard that first Congotronics record. I’ve got the more recent one and this record Kasai All-Stars, which is kind of similar but good.
But I don’t no. What have I really been digging? […] Some of the stuff is kind of older, it’s been around and not new for most people to hear. But Zomby is really great. He’s like a British electronic dude. He makes really amazing stuff. […] Just listened to, this has been out for a while too, but one of the newer Broadcast records: Broadcast and the Focus Group.
I haven’t checked that out.
That one’s really good. It’s super-60s/tape-collage inspired […] kind of vibes. It’s really good. [I recently saw] Eric Copeland. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen him play. Dude’s really committed to working on jams all the time and it shows. I feel like he’s a really special dude.
Eric Copeland, you said?
Yeah, I guess he just put out a new 7-inch, which I actually haven’t heard yet. I guess, other than that, his recordings are a year old at this point. And all the stuff we’ve put out, I really love ‘em. But, yeah, the show I just saw him play was just … Whew! Mind-altering in a really great way.
[Photo: Jason Nocito]