Brian Weitz is at home, brainstorming a tunnel costume for his two year old son that he will attempt to fashion with his wife later on today.
In a few weeks he will be over the other side of the world as Geologist, sound manipulator and sampler for Animal Collective. Along with bandmates Panda Bear, Avey Tare and Deakin (known to their mothers as Noah Lennox, David Portner, and Josh Dibb respectively), Weitz is headed to Australia for the Big Day Out.
Having last visited our shores to tour their critically lauded 2009 album Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective bring with them the fruits of their three-year labour – their ninth studio album, Centipede Hz.
The multi-instrumentalist isn’t too fussed about heading out on the road again. Given most of the group are fathers and husbands these days, tours are scheduled to accommodate. “We only do about three weeks at a time so it’s never like we have to gear up for months on the road,” explains Weitz.
“We’re not really like a normal band in that way. Even when we weren’t married, we never toured for more than six or seven weeks and that usually included rehearsal time.” Pausing, he concludes “we love playing live but we’re not really road dogs.”
Despite not exactly being pin ups for the rock n roll lifestyle, the quartet are looking forward to their trip down under for their first ever Big Day Out tour.
Known to artists as the Big Day Off for the breaks between shows, Weitz is already anticipating what to do with his time. “The thing with the days off on this tour is that I think I will actually get to learn things about Australia.”“When you sort of have that parameter, before even writing the first note, sort of frees you from any thoughts about whether or not it is going to live up to it or disappoint.”
“I’m a scuba diver so I’m curious to go up north; I’ve never been to the Great Barrier Reef. I don’t even know if I’ll have time this trip. I like Brisbane and I spent a day in Perth, it seemed pretty nice there,” he reveals.
“Some people make fun of Perth… the most isolated city in the world or something. I dig all of Australia and I definitely want to spend more time there. Melbourne is kind of where it’s at these days” he declares.
Excited for the tour as they may be, Weitz is still a little sketchy as to who else will be joining them. “I think I saw Red Hot Chili Peppers are on the lineup? They invited us in June or July and the lineup hadn’t really been shored up and I know they announced it but I haven’t really looked at the website since it was announced in full. I know about the festival just through being a fan of music and I have friends who have gone down there and played it.”
Discussing Centipede Hz, Weitz readily admits that the band was not interested in making another Merriweather Post Pavilion. “Following Merriweather we decided we weren’t going to have a different process to what we normally had.”
Namely, throwing out what they’d done previously and steer away towards something else entirely. “When you sort of have that parameter, before even writing the first note, sort of frees you from any thoughts about whether or not it is going to live up to it or disappoint.”
The 2009 album that collected countless accolades (such as Pitchfork’s 2009 Song Of The Year for “My Girls”) also saw the departure of bandmate Deakin from both its recording and subsequent tour.
Centipede Hz sees the four members reunited and focused on creating a radically different experience both on the record and in their live shows. “You just know it is going to be different and it is liberating in that way,” says Weitz.
“We started talking about aspects of Merriweather that we weren’t happy with. The big one was that by the end of [it] the instrumentation – like using a lot of samplers and backing tracks – after two or three years of playing those songs live, we felt like our performances weren’t challenging to us anymore.”
“Once we got to know the machines really well even improvising with them was not challenging,” he continues, “we could go onstage and literally not break a sweat.”
Eventually, describes the man called Geologist, the group decided “if we’re going to be playing these songs we wanted them to feel really invigorating and exciting every time we played them. They have to keep us on our toes no matter how well we know them, we want them to be a bit more up-tempo, a bit more complex, to push our musicianship a little bit more, and just require a lot of energy [to play] live.”
The renewed energy of the four piece, and a collaborative writing process, naturally led the band down a new, if not slightly unexpected path. Weitz elaborates: “It pushed us in to more aggressive, louder sort of textures because we were all writing in the same room. We kept turning it up louder, and louder, and louder every day and it just sort of sent us down this path of making more of an almost rock record.”“We started talking about aspects of Merriweather that we weren’t happy with. The big one was… we felt like our performances weren’t challenging to us anymore.”
When asked whether the band is daunted by the rapid expansion to their fan base, Weitz quickly blurts out “fuck oath” before clarifying that playing a festival (“like Coachella or something”) can be daunting.
“There is 50,000 people out there and we kind of know most of these people only know one or two of our songs and we’re not going to play those songs tonight, that can definitely be intimidating but at the same time that is balanced by saying ‘well fuck it’,” he spits cathartically.
Conversely, Weitz calls it “a opportunity as well,” that for those same people who are only familiar with “My Girls” or “Applesauce” – “we are now going to play 10 or 15 songs they haven’t heard before and maybe that will open their minds even more [sending them] into our back catalogue… you just sort of have to look on the bright side of it.”
Casual fans aside, Weitz is simply happy to enjoy the challenges that come with playing a new album and exploring the elements of their sound. “I think [it] changes just because that is a sort of goal of ours. The four records that I can think of that do have the four of us on them are definitely the densest records and slightly a bit more chaotic I’d say in terms of the frequency spectrum” Weitz says evenly.
Laughing, he adds “all of us are prone to just making a lot of sound all the time! With two or three people it can sort of be manageable but with four it sort of becomes a challenge. In the mixing process we are all like ‘well, I never really knew anyone else was doing that because I was just playing so loud.’ A lot of compromises have to be made.”
But for now, it is back to making his son into a tunnel.
Centipede HZ is out now through Domino Records, read the Tone Deaf review here. Animal Collective play the Big Day Out 2013, kicking off in Sydney on Jan 18th – full lineup details and set times here – and two special sideshows, see below for details
Animal Collective Amended 2013 Tour Dates