Deakin Opens Up About His Animal Collective Stay-cation

Illustration by Debbie Allen for MTV Hive.

Animal Collective is an art-pop band from Baltimore, Md., but these days they also call Los Angeles and Portugal home. Since 2000, they’ve made nine albums, six EPs, and one very freaky movie (or “visual album”), ODDSAC.  Their tenth album, Centipede Hz, comes out on September 4. Animal Collective consists of four members, all of whom are friends from high school (some from much earlier) and all of whom have fake names that represent things that they’re not in real life. We talked to each of them individually and this is the first of out four conversations.

Josh Dibb (aka Deakin, aka Deacon) is the guy from Animal Collective who almost stopped being the guy from Animal Collective. He took an extended hiatus after 2007′s Strawberry Jam, skipping out on Merriweather Post Pavilion (the band’s most popular album so far) to travel to Africa and navel gaze. Centipede Hz marks his (knock on wood) triumphant return.

The new album was recorded mostly in your mom’s house in Baltimore?

It was created there. We recorded it in Texas and we mixed it in Atlanta. But yeah, the writing process was all done in Maryland at my mom’s place.

Did she know it was going to happen? Or was it just, “Hey mom, my friends are coming over to hang out,” and suddenly her house is rattling like an earthquake?

No, no, she knew what was up. We all grew up together. Noah and I have been friends and making music together since we were in elementary school. So she’s really used to what we do. She’s used to music being played even before we were a band, and she’s always been super supportive of it. She even goes out of her way to make her place available, to the point where it’s almost too accommodating.

Too accommodating?

I think she wants us to make her house our home base or something. For us, it’s like a really awesome place to come back to sometimes. Working on Centipede Hz, it was really, really cool. But she, well … [laughs] she really encourages our presence.

Have you ever used the sentence, “Mom, you’re embarrassing me in front of Panda Bear?”

[Laughs.] Not yet, no. Maybe when I get older?

Even the most supportive parents wouldn’t want a band rehearsing in their house. Has there ever been a point where she was banging on the ceiling, yelling “Keep it down up there, I’m trying to watch Dancing With the Stars?”

Not really. Fortunately, it’s a nice set up. There’s a main house, and then there’s a barn. She runs a sort of a spiritual community. So the community has a stake in what happens in the land, and they have a separate building that’s like a barn. That’s where we did most of our practicing.

The album was created in a barn?

Yeah. There’s a yard separating the barn from the main house, so we didn’t drive people crazy.

That makes the album even more interesting. You made extraterrestrial music in a Hee Haw setting.

[Laughs.] I guess we did, yeah.

Deakin performs with Animal Collective at Coachella 2011. Photo: Wendy Redferns/Redferns

When you’re hanging out with elementary school friends in your mom’s house, is there an emotional regression? Do you automatically revert to being adolescents again?

Not an emotional regression necessarily. But because we’ve known each other for so long, we fall back on a certain familiar language and way of being that hasn’t really changed from when we were a lot younger. But it doesn’t feel like a regression in terms of going back to in time or feeling the way we did when we were teenagers or kids. We just value being four really close friends who enjoy collaborating on music together and hanging out and listening to music and watching movies and doing whatever.

So it’s like the Monkees, but with less hilarious hijinks?

A little bit like that, sure. We don’t live together like the Monkees did. But when we’re working in the studio on a new album, or we’re on tour, we spend a lot of concentrated time together. It’s really special, because we’re usually all spread out so much, and when we’re recording we’re all living in the same city for three months straight and we’re able to relax around each other and really get comfortable.

You don’t see each other otherwise?

We’re definitely a large part of each other’s lives throughout the year, but it’s a more casual thing. I’ve visited Noah on vacation. I’ll come hang with him for a week and hang out. But it’s not like when we’re on tour, or we’re mixing a record. When we started working on this record, Dave had a really nice house that was maybe twenty minutes from where we practiced. A lot of nights we’d go over there and make dinner and watch movies and hang out and just be silly with each other.

Can we talk about why you left the band? Or are you tired of people bringing it up?

No, no, no. I don’t mind talking about it. The way the group has been structured since its conception kind of allows us to operate without a strict sense that every record we put out has to be these four people and this is the way it’s always going to work.

“I couldn’t imagine making music without them. They’re pretty much the only people I put any work into playing music with. But I needed to take a break.”

It’s an open relationship?

It’s definitely an open relationship. As Brian (Geologist) pointed out recently, of the ten AC records we’ve done so far, there’s only four that actually has all four of us on them. That’s less than half. So it’s not such an unusual thing for one of us to step away.

What’s the better way to describe your leave of absence from Animal Collective: a stay-cation or a time out?

I don’t think either of those really explain it. I just remember [long pause] we recorded Strawberry Jam and I started having this feeling that I needed to take some space for myself. There were a lot of different reasons for it. Some of it was just really personal stuff. My dad passed away the year before while we were on tour, and it kind of came out of nowhere. And there was this thing that I needed to figure out about my relationship with music.

Whether you wanted to keep making it, or keep making it with the guys in Animal Collective?

I couldn’t imagine making music without them. They’re pretty much the only people I put any work into playing music with. But I needed to take a break. I didn’t really know what it was going to mean at the time. There was never a sense of whether it would mean taking a break for three months or never coming back and doing it ever again. There was definitely a lot of uncertainty in it. After finishing Strawberry Jam, I really didn’t do much music at all. I mean, there were a few things. We went back in the studio to finish an EP. And we had this movie, ODDSAC, which was already in process at that point.

You weren’t completely on hiatus from Animal Collective?

I guess not, no.

So it was a stay-cation then.

Well, okay, maybe that’s the best way to describe it.

That’s what a stay-cation is. You’re on vacation, but you’re still at home. You were taking a vacation from music, but you never really left music.

Music was just a tangential part of my life. It wasn’t until 2009, 2010 that I started feeling a desire to work on music in earnest again. I had to find my own way to it and find the ways that felt good for me. I started doing a lot of remixes and working on my own music again for the first time in a really long time. And then in 2010, Dave (Avey Tare) and I got this house in upstate New York that we used as a recording studio. Dave wanted to do a solo record and he asked me to help with that, and that was a really intensive four to five weeks of just Dave and I living in this house, just the two of us, pretty much working nonstop. I started feeling psyched to be making music again.

Stream Centipede Hz‘s first single “Today’s Supernatural”:

Music in general, or music with your bros?

Specifically with these guys. I had a sense of my own purpose and what my role was as a musician in this group. I think that’s something I really needed to feel like I knew how to do again. I value being a songwriter and being somebody that knows how to create my own stuff without other people. If I was going to come back and do another AC record, I needed to feel comfortable with myself before I could feel comfortable in the group dynamic.

Is Animal Collective a democracy?

It’s a true democracy but with a shifting kind of control. We have a lot of respect for each other’s opinions, and each other’s role in the band.

But somebody has to have final say, right? Otherwise it’s anarchy. Who does the buck stop with? Who wears the pants in the Animal Collective family?

It depends on the song and who’s the core songwriter for that song. We all have a lot of respect for each person’s creative drive when it comes to that kind of thing. If it’s a song that Dave wrote, I’m going to defer more to his feelings on certain things, even if I might disagree with him. I’ll push and say things like, “Hey, I think it would be really rad if we did it this way.” And he’s like, “I don’t know.” And I’m, “Come on, just let me try it.” Sometimes I’ll be right and sometimes I won’t be.

But either way, he gets to tell you to fuck off? His song, his rules?

That’s it. That’s his role in the song. And the same goes for me. If it’s a song that I’ve written, ultimately I’ll able to say, “Yeah that’s working for me” or, “No that’s not.” There’s a lot of mutual respect. The democracy comes in how we leave space for each other to do things within a song. We give each other a lot of creative freedom within our songs.

You’ve changed the spelling of your stage name a few times. In 2012, is it Deakin with a K or Deacon with a C?

It’s Deakin with a K. It was originally Deacon with an e-a-c-o-n. But it changed organically. I kinda didn’t have a choice.

How so?

I played some shows in Baltimore and there’s this local artist named Dan Deacon, whose name is actually Dan Deacon. It’s not a creative name, that’s actually his name. He also lives in Baltimore, and he called me and was like, “Hey man, I don’t want to be weird about this, but you played a show in town and there were flyers everywhere and you’re using my last name. I think it’s confusing to people.” So I decided to change the spelling, to use a K instead of a C. It’s all pretty arbitrary.

I was hoping you used to be called Deacon because you were an actual deacon in the Christian church.

No, no, no.

So the spelling similarity is just a coincidence?

It is. But I know some deacons. My mom has a really good friend who’s a deacon. Whenever I see him, he actually laughs about how we’re both deacons. He’s like, “Hey, see you in church next week?”

And you’re like, “Nope, I’m in a satanic rock noise art-pop band. Better luck next time!”

Noooo! I’m not saying that to a deacon. Are you kidding me?

Centipede Hz is out September 4th on Domino. Check back tomorrow for Hive’s interview with Geologist.

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