"You have to justify why you're spending your time doing this when you're not making any money and no one else cares."
On Animal Collective's tenth album, Painting With, the iconic experimental outfit deliver a fast, fun take on their familiar sound: bubbling electronics and ricocheting vocals bouncing back and forth over 12 songs in 41 minutes, the LP AC's shrine to the three-minute pop-song. "We wanted to make much shorter songs, a more direct, concise, energetic record," says electronic twiddler Brian 'Geologist' Weitz, 36. "In some of our earliest conversations, we started talking about the first Ramones record. Not that we wanted to make a punk record, that's pretty far outside our vocabulary. We were thinking of a record with no long passages of ambience or slow songs, just constant short bursts of energy."
"We were offered a spot at Coachella, right at the end of the night, before Arcade Fire..."
As with many Animal Collective records, it's a response and reaction to its predecessor. 2012's Centipede Hz was written as a live band album with all four members — Weisz, Noah 'Panda Bear' Lennox, Dave 'Avey Tare' Portner, Josh 'Deakin' Dibb — playing more rock instruments, including live drums and guitars. "We were offered a spot at Coachella, right at the end of the night, before Arcade Fire," Weitz recounts. "And we thought 'If we're going to do that, we can't play any ambient or experimental material.' So we went there, debuted a whole set of weird progressive-psych-rock songs that nobody had heard before on the Main Stage at Coachella, and nobody but our hardcore fans really seemed into it. When there's 50,000 people waiting for Arcade Fire to play, and they don't want to lose their spot, maybe they're not totally up for it. We probably misjudged the situation."
In the time since, members had made other albums: Panda Bear's Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper, Avey Tare's Slasher's Flicks' Enter The Slasher House, Deakin finishing off his six-years-in-the-making solo debut. Returning for Painting With, Dibb sat out this LP (as he does periodically), and the three other members never performed the songs live before recording. The goal wasn't just to make songs shorter, but less layered with noise. "All that processing, reverb, delay: we wanted to leave that behind, make much tighter spaces, like the music existed much closer to the listeners, like they're in a smaller room," Weitz says.
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As for the added expectations that've existed since the release of their breakout record, Merriweather Post Pavilion, in 2009? After two solid decades of playing together, they don't faze the band. "We put out three or four records before anybody even cared," Weitz says. "In the early years, it was hard to get more than a handful of people at any of our shows. I saw a quote from Jack White a long time ago where he said that it was healthy playing for a long time where nobody gives a shit about the music that you're making, because it forces you to realise that you give a shit about your own music. You have to justify why you're spending your time doing this when you're not making any money and no one else cares. I'm glad we had that time as well, that we weren't a band that put out our first record and caught fire. We remember what it felt like to play shows for five or six people, and you can always lean on those experiences when you start feeling nervous about growing expectations."