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 second of out four conversations.
Brian Weitz, aka Geologist, is the Harpo of Animal Collective. He provides electronic samples and “sound manipulations” for the band, just like Harpo did for the Marx Brothers. Talking to the 33-year-old Geologist is a weird experience, because you expect him to answer every question with a series of whistles and random found sounds. Or at least I did. He was, coincidentally, flattered to be compared with Harpo. “My father-in-law will be psyched,” he said.
Are you wearing the headlamp right now?
I’m not, no, sorry.
So it’s just a stage thing? You don’t wear it offstage, in your everyday life?
Not really. I mean, if the power goes out in my house and I have to go down to the basement to find the fuse box or something, I’ll put it on. Or if I go camping or something. But that’s about it.
You’ve worn a headlamp during camping trips?
Absolutely. Maybe not the one I’m using now. I go through them pretty quickly. I lose quite a few of them during a tour.
Because you’re misplacing them, or because fans are stealing them?
No, I’ll give them to fans. If they ask, I’ll definitely give them my headlamp.
That can be an expensive habit. It’s not like throwing a drum stick into the crowd.
Yeah, but I come prepared. You have to bring a few pairs on the road. The headlamps I’m using now, I don’t think I’ve taken it on a camping trip yet. It’s a brand new pair.
Do any of these camping trips involve exploring caves?
Have you been down in McDougal’s cave, looking for treasure with Becky Thatcher?
It’s a Mark Twain reference.
No, I don’t think I’ve been there. When I was doing research in Belize for my thesis in school, I went with somebody to a cave on my day off. I’m pretty sure I was wearing my headlamps during that trip.
So when you call yourself a geologist, you’re not completely full of shit.
Not completely, no.
Do you know anything at all about geology?
Next to nothing.
What’s the world’s second longest river?
Very nice! Which mineral can be used as a compass?
I really don’t know.
Lodestone. But you’re one for one. That’s not bad.
I got lucky.
What’s the story behind your name? How’d you end up being a pseudo-geologist?
When we were all living in New York, there was this guy who thought I studied geology in school. So he said, “I’m just going to call you the Geologist. That’ll be your nickname.” He thought it was clever.
How is it clever to call an actual geologist “Geologist?”
I don’t know, he thought it was funny.
Hey, you’re a musician. I’m going to call you “The Musician.”
[Laughs.] Right, I know. But then he found out that I didn’t study geology, and he was pissed. He tried coming up with a new nickname for me, and I was like, “Why don’t we just stick with Geologist?”
You liked the name?
Yeah. It was the only sort of nickname I’d ever had in my life. It seemed like a good nickname for a musician. But this guy wouldn’t call me that anymore. He said, “I’m not gonna call you that if you’re not a geologist.”
Your contributions to the band have been called “sound manipulations.” Is that how you’d describe it?
I suppose so. But we all kind of do that in the band. I don’t have exclusive rights to it. I do it with samples and more electronic kind of stuff. A good reference point in mainstream pop would be the stuff the Beatles did on Sgt. Pepper’s, or songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
Are you more comfortable expressing yourself with found sounds and samples rather than a conventional instrument like a guitar or a keyboard?
Maybe. I do it better than I would do with a musical instrument. When we played music in high school when we were kids, I could play guitar or I could play piano. But I didn’t naturally gravitate towards those instruments. I wasn’t the guy who was like, “Oh, I wrote a melody.” That just never occurred to me. I wasn’t super interested in it.
How’d you figure you could make music without just strumming chords?
It was when we started thinking about songs in terms of sound design. That’s when I realized, oh yeah, you can turn any sound into something interesting. You can give anything a musical intent if you just have the intent. It was a way to be musically expressive when you’re not super talented or skilled in a traditional way. I had more fun doing it that way.
If you could use just one note or sound fragment to describe the new album, what would it be?
Wow, that’s hard. Anything?
Anything at all. It could be a brick going through a window or a c-flat or a throat clearing.
Huh. I don’t know. That’s a really limiting question. Or I guess challenging. I’d have to say … scrambled radio frequencies. That’s a big theme of the record. So yeah, just the fuzz of a radio signal that’s not quite within reach.
You got married on Halloween. Was that a coincidence or did you plan it that way?
A little bit of both. My wife and I, we were worried about the dress code at our wedding.
She was, or you were?
[Laughs.] No, we both were. I didn’t really want to tell my friends what they should wear. Maybe they didn’t have any of those clothes, like traditional black tie or evening attire. I didn’t want to make friends of ours spend money that they didn’t have on nice clothes.
Are all your friends hobos?
No, but you know what I mean. Fancy clothes are expensive. But she was like-
“She” being your fiancée?
Yeah. She was like, “But our parents are all going to be wearing nice clothes.” Which makes it more complicated. It would be weird to tell some people they can show up in jeans but other people will be there in tuxedos, because that makes everybody stressed out. You know what I mean?
I totally get it. You’re trying to be inconspicuous in your cutoffs and tuxedo t-shirt, and you’re sitting next to Mr. Moneybags in his top hat and monocle. It’s awkward for everybody.
Exactly, yeah. So we were like, what’s the best way to handle this? And in a separate discussion, we were looking for a place to hold our wedding, and looking at open dates, and we noticed that all the places we were considering had availability on Halloween.
Halloween isn’t a big wedding holiday?
That’s crazy. Since when has Devil’s Night not been all about commitment ceremonies?
Even before we got married, it was a big holiday for my wife and me. She was my high school sweetheart, and we got back together around Halloween, so that was kind of cool. And having a wedding on Halloween kind of solved the dress code problem. If you don’t want to come in evening attire, if you don’t want to wear a coat and tie, feel free to wear a costume.
It’s actually brilliant.
We even provided costumes for people. Nobody felt weird or out of place, and everybody got to wear exactly what made them comfortable. Halloween in general is pretty much my favorite holiday. But this just made it more so.
And the nice thing is, you’ll never forget a wedding anniversary. Every year, when children show up at your home, demanding free candy, it’s like a reminder. “Oh yeah, time to buy flowers for Mrs. Geologist.”
That hasn’t happened yet. We always seem to be on tour over Halloween. It’s been inconvenient in that way. So we usually end up celebrating our anniversary on November 1st. Even when I’m home, it’s not the best night to go out and have a big anniversary celebration. I like to give out candy and see all the kids in costumes. Plus, we have a kid who we dress up now. We take him out on Halloween. It’s about him, not us.
Do you dress him as anything in particular?
We usually make the costume if we can. He’s been a pumpkin and a shark so far. We spend a lot of time debating his costumes. But he’s getting old enough now that he has an opinion about what he wears. I have a feeling that the next Halloween coming up, he’ll want to decide for himself what he wants to be. He’ll be a fireman or a construction worker. Somebody tough.
Not a geologist?
Sure, if he wants to. I’ve got enough headlamps. [Laughs.]
What if he’s like “I want to be Panda Bear?”
You won’t be a teeny bit defensive? “You’re the Geologist or you’re nothing!”
No, no, not at all. He can be anybody he wants to be. If he wants to be somebody from Animal Collective, I have no problem with that. He can be Panda Bear if he wants. I’m sure we can find one of the old panda bear masks that Noah used to wear. They might be on eBay.
Centipede Hz is out September 4 on Domino. Read Hive’s interview with Deakin here.