There are things scarier than horror movies. Sidelined for a big chunk of last year with chronic strep throat, Animal Collective’s Avey Tare began to question the longevity of his music’s signature—that always ecstatic scream. A now fit Tare (or Dave Portner to his pals) rebounded by forming Slasher Flicks, a less-dense but still loopy new psych band. The fright flick-inspired group, featuring ex-Dirty Projectors’ singer Angel Deradoorian and ex-Ponytail drummer Jeremy Hyman, will adorn the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan with copious day-glo skulls tonight, playing in support of their trippy new record, Enter the Slasher House. Its songs have wobbly edges not unlike Animal Collective, but the trio swirl them out from a pop center that's a bit neater than the recent work of Tare's more famous band. We talked with Avey about the mental impact of last year’s health struggles, why Animal Collective are more like the Grateful Dead than the Avengers, and the more subtle horror of stuff getting stuck in your head.
You’re such a screamer in songs, how much did it freak you out when throat problems started to pop up a lot for you last year?
Avey Tare: It was a stressful year for me. Just coming to the realization of what I might not be capable of anymore in terms of going out on tour and, at least for Animal Collective, the basic structure of how we’ve put everything together. It really got me. I did some vocal training. You can scream the right way, in a way that doesn’t really damage your voice. The combination last year of sickness coming on, and going so heavily in those songs where I really just push so hard. For Animal Collective especially, we play for so long now on stage, it really just wore me down.
What sort of vocal exercises do you do?
It’s just like basic breathing stuff. I saw a vocal coach and just sort of learned some other basic singing techniques. It’s an area that I never really came from. It’s helped for sure.
So, instead of becoming a hushed folk singer or something, you are finding different ways to do what you've always done?
I mean, it’s a big part of the music I’m into making and doing. It might change now anyway. I feel like this record is a real turning point for the kind of music that I want to produce or put together. But at the same time, those techniques were all real helpful for last year, changing my body and my mind and my way of approaching it.
More than other bands, when Animal Collective guys do separate work, people sort of see it as within “The Animal Collective universe”, like you are the Avengers or something and these are your solo adventures. Do you have any thoughts in why your fan base is so invested in the unit?
The only thing that is similar in my experience is The Grateful Dead when I was younger. I sort of caught the tail end of that. Going to see them, even if was just like Bob Weir coming to town, I would be just as psyched to go see it. For me, it’s because the environment and the experience gives you this feeling that’s almost like a home or a crowd, or something you feel comfortable in. I think especially when you’re young, that’s the kind of thing that you want to recreate in your life as much as you can. Kind of like just hanging out with a group of friends, you know?
Would you ever present it as a unified thing? Like, David Byrne leaves the stage in Stop Making Sense and it’s the Tom Tom Club for two songs?
We’ve talked about doing tours like that. It’s something that hasn’t happened really, but it’s not something we try to avoid or keep it separate. I think it comes from the basic idea that we were enthusiastic about when we were younger, make as many different things...not think of it as being one band that was always Animal Collective. We were always, in our musical world, just interested in doing whatever, you know?
The album has been publicized with lots of horror movie imagery and it plays into the live show, but you’ve said that Slasher Flicks’ connection to horror was in its fun aspect as opposed to anything really grisly or grim?
It’s more of the overall arc, the individual songs don’t really have anything to do with horror movies.
Though, given that context beforehand, you do kind of think about it when you listen to the record...
Oh, yeah, that’s cool. I think that’s really interesting. Feeding people words about music and seeing that it really then affects the way they hear the music.
It’s a pretty fun, upbeat record. So it sort of put me in mind of how, when you are in a theater watching a horror movie how quickly a scream kind of turns into a laugh. You’re sort of embarrassed that you really had that reaction. How close they are, being scared to being excited to being happy.
They’re kind of crucial to each other in a way. The most effective horror film balances that sort of lightness with darkness, because if it’s all the time purely dark and brutal you don’t have that break to bring you back in to being scared again. You’re immune to it then, or something.
The Slasher Flicks’ song “Catchy (Was Contagious)”, that’s sort of a horror movie theme. It’s more of a David Cronenberg thing than a slasher movie, maybe, the strange concept that things can keep playing inside your head whether you want them to or not.
Yeah, some sort of crazy disease spreading. I guess because I was sick a lot, the comparison kind of came to me. When you are working on music, it’s even worse. You’re trying to practice a song and then you go to bed just to have that song repeat in your head all night. (laughs) It’s like a nightmare.
Do you have aspirations to do stuff that’s more visually based, or in mediums other than music?
I’d love to make a horror film. I just think the film world, for me, is such a different beast than the comfort zone of the music world that I’ve been in. It’s a little daunting to get into it. I’m definitely interested in doing more musical/visual oriented collaborations. Especially in the live realm, honing in on something like that.
What are you envisioning, something that’s more of a one-off museum installation?
Maybe something that’s more like that or maybe something that can travel around a little bit more. That just doesn’t have to exist in a museum, something that could exist in a cooler environment. More relaxed or something.
Do you have a running notebook of this stuff that you are hoping to realize in off-time from Animal Collective?
Other stuff in a notebook, or a dialogue I have with the Animal Collective guys. I think we happen to have a long list of stuff now that we’ve talked about wanting to do, which is usually one more-concrete idea that we’re moving towards. Now it seems like we’re moving towards multiple things. (laughs) We might have to choose which road we will go down.