The USA is a broad, disparate, incredibly varied series of interlocking towns, cities, counties and states. Simply put: get off the bus in the West Coast, don’t expect it to be like the East.
Avey Tare, though, revels in this. One-quarter of Animal Collective, the musician was raised in Baltimore before being drawn to New York. Recently, though, Tare – real name Dave Portner – decided to abandon the East Coast, moving out to Los Angeles with his partner Angel Deradoorian.
“LA is a different city, just because it’s so spread out and you have to drive everywhere,” he says. “It’s got that energy and atmosphere of a city but doesn’t really look like a typical city. California is really accessible from LA. All of California, and that’s why I like it. The landscape is so nice to be around, and that’s what makes it different for me, for now.”
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Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks, 'Little Fang'
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However, the shift of location was prompted by much more than scenery – continually moving, Portner felt the need to force himself from the grasp of settled surroundings.
“It was, for me, an escape from the East Coast, because I grew up and lived there my whole life. Music has always been more of an escapist kind of thing for me. I’ve always, since I was young, gotten into records for being able to take you somewhere else outside of yourself. I got into playing music for that reason, too. Any record I focus on, I want to have that element of being able to take that and make some alternate environment for people to listen to.”
The multiple contradictions of Los Angeles life – its country/urban environment, its empty sprawl – seem to mirror the binary nature of Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, his new collective. Named in partial homage to groups such as The Wipers and The Cramps, the band’s music is caught between solo vision and collective endeavour. Formed alongside Deradoorian and Jeremy Hyman, the material began life as Avey Tare recuperated from the strains of a major Animal Collective tour.
“I got kind of sick and had to cancel a show. So I was just around home, not feeling so good, but still wanting to play music, and a little bit bummed out that I wasn’t out there finishing shows. So I started playing acoustic guitar around the house, collecting these songs that I thought for me, at least, I could play or record on guitar. Then I started getting it into my head that it would be cool to play with other people, like a trio, specifically.”
Which is where the material takes on a new light. Recently falling under the spell of jazz, Portner began to play with the push and pull of songcraft and improvisation, tightly wound sonic structures and freeform experimentation.
“I kind of did some demos before we started playing, and tried to plan out as much as I thought should be planned, in terms of the basic structure of the song. Whenever I play music with people, I feel like I want it to be more of an open interaction. I feel like that’s what playing music with people should be all about: not telling them exactly what to play, because then the energy isn’t as strong.”
He continues: “The emotions are always better, there’s something realer about it – and it’s more fun, too. So I kind of left it a little bit open and when we started playing it was cool to see both Jeremy and Angel expand on simple parts that I had written for them, and then make it seem a little freer, too – there was some open-endedness in the parts.”
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I wanted it to be this ego-freeing thing where I was lost in it, this collective experience
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Forced to retreat into his Los Angeles home due to sickness, Portner was drawn to the bare energy, the electric rawness of jazz. “I’m really into the raw energy of that stuff,” he enthuses. “Sometimes with the jazz stuff it’s a little mellower but a lot of the records that I end up listening to are just performance records; they’re live, recorded at a venue or something like that. It’s all about what happens there, at that time.”
This methodology infected the Slasher Flicks threesome, with the band seemingly taking Jack Kerouac’s old improvisatory phrase of “first thought, best thought” as their mantra. “We would usually do about eight to 10 takes of a song – I feel like once you start doing it over and over again, you start to lose that initial energy,” Portner explains. “We’ve always tried to do it with the earliest take we possibly could.”
Recording in LA studio The Layer (“It had a really nice room with great natural reverb”), the intention with Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks was to allow the studio itself to sing as an instrument. “I always want to allow the room to create the atmosphere,” the songwriter says. “Try to do as much as we can with the bare bones of what we have.”
Much more than a mere side-project, the trio’s ‘Enter The Slasher House’ LP (review) has become a vehicle for Avey Tare’s own dissatisfaction with the production techniques, the overly complex fussiness that befalls many of his contemporaries.
“I feel like so much about modern music is about production, you know what I mean? It ends up starting to feel very crowded and squashed, space-wise. There aren’t a lot of new records in pop music I listen to where you can actually hear a lot of space in the sound.”
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Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks, 'Strange Colores'
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Which isn’t to say that Avey Tare is nostalgic, or even retro – unsure how to define what he grasps for (“I wouldn’t say it’s minimal music but at the same time you’re aware of the space”), the songwriter emphasises colour, feeling.
“When I start writing a collection of songs, it’s hard to know from the beginning if they’ll all go together on a record. I feel that with the Slasher Flicks, once we had all the songs together, it was really about finding a way to make them all fit together as a good collection of songs, with a good flow.”
Ultimately, ‘Enter The Slasher House’ is designed as a transgressive experience, as extending beyond its roots in pop or even jazz. From the horror title to the often-bracing music contained within, it’s an arresting, vital experience – not something to chill out to.
“I mean, for me, it goes back to what I was saying about music taking you away from your daily life, just for a second,” Portner explains. “I think, ever since I first started playing out or playing music live, I wanted to get away. I wanted it to be this ego-freeing thing where I was lost in it, this collective experience.”
“There is something really human about that,” he finishes, “but there’s also an element of giving up your personality for a minute to become a collective part of the group. I feel like it’s kind of a goal for me to get people away from their egos and just interact with this record in a totally different way than they would in their ordinary, day-to-day lives.”
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Words: Robin Murray
Photos: Nathanael Turner
Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks’ ‘Enter The Slasher House’ is out now on Domino. Find the project online here.