We spoke with Avey Tare about how death, the dissolving of a relationship and the cycle of day and night informed his intriguing new album, Eucalyptus.
Traveling and taking plants somewhere – that’s what music is like to me, where it takes up a space for a short amount of time and messes with time and messes with that space.
There’s kind of an ephemeral thing going on with your new album Eucalyptus, like the songs were briefly stirred up out of dust in some kind of forest clearing before disappearing again and they’re gone. Please describe your mental and psychological state while making this music – was anything changing or transitioning around you during that time?
Yes, that has a lot to do with the overall movement of the record and the way the songs feel. I was thinking a lot about the transience of everything – how environments change, being around California, the wild California. I’m very in love with changes – I went to Hawaii a couple of times over the course of making this record, and I thought it was interesting that a lot of the plants have been introduced to the island, not being native. Traveling and taking plants somewhere – that’s what music is like to me, where it takes up a space for a short amount of time and messes with time and messes with that space. I think about that when writing songs. I did feel like this material had a “conjured from the dust, conjured from the clay” sense to it.
There are so many odd sonic elements going through Eucalyptus. Creaks, sputters, knocks, rushing water, a mysterious woman’s voice, and what sounds like a sample of a jazz piano trio. Can you tell us about where some of these sound effects were taken from?
Yeah, it’s part-inspiration. The piano bit is from an Ahmad Jamal record, Live at the Pershing (1958). I listen to a lot of pianists, so that’s how that part comes in. Free jazz and bebop has influenced me a lot, even early King Oliver stuff – I was listening to him last night. There’s a mysterious quality to that music that I’m drawn to – it’s hard for me to understand, because I’m not very studied in it or anything. Part of it is sounds I collected, that’s part of it too. I included field recordings from different points when I was making the record. Some are California, Hawaii, on trips – I think there’s some stuff from Florida, where I visit with my family a lot.
It’s a blend of personal things. I thought they’d work for the record because the songs have a really amorphous, ephemeral, dusty quality, like you say. I wanted the orchestrations to be that way, too – to be these constantly changing, moving, liquid-y parts. The inspiration is from me sitting on my bed in my home in LA, just getting a song out there. And usually it’d be the first thing that I sit down and play that day – that would be the thing that I hold on to. So I feel like there is an attempt to keep that original inspiration.
Can you describe the artistic train of thought that goes through all your solo work? Does Eucalyptus connect all the way back to your first solo effort with Panda Bear, Spirit They’ve Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished (2000) in any way?
They all document specific periods in my life. Spirit was more of an attempt to see if I could make a full record and document my childhood and my life up to that point. The only other theme I can think of with Spirit is that it’s influenced by classic psych records that inspired me when I was younger.
California and its environment inspired me to make this more sunshine-y, dusk-to-dawn kind of acoustic record. I just visualize it first, then the music starts to come. As opposed to Spirit – I didn’t really think about that back then.
Because of people around me who have been going through some turmoil, it reminded me of how important it is for myself to find a place where I can be at peace with myself – where I can settle down.
“Selection of a Place” is one of my favorite songs on Eucalyptus – it feels deeply wild and primeval. I watched the Werner Herzog documentary Grizzly Man last night, about Timothy Treadwell’s decision to live his life away from human society and around bears. The song collided in my mind with that film – a human soul desiring to find a habitat or crude home. Does that have to do with your intent behind the song?
It’s hard to define in words what it means to find your place. I feel that could be a different thing to different people. But it has a lot to do with finding peace, in a sense. I was reading through some books and the topic of mystics came up, how they find an important place, a sanctuary. Because of people around me who have been going through some turmoil, it reminded me of how important it is for myself to find a place where I can be at peace with myself – where I can settle down.
Have you heard of Oblique Strategies, the deck of cards published by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt in 1975? One of the cards has some sound advice for creative people – “Honor thy error as a hidden intention.” And that sounds like a worthy way to describe how you make music – very intuitively and not second-guessing things.
Yeah, I’ve used Oblique Strategies in the studio before. I wanted the Eucalyptus songs to have that feeling, because that’s how the songs came out of me, but they are definitely written – I can reproduce them every time. But they definitely came out in a different way, than a traditional chord-structured record.
Who designed the eye-popping cover art for Eucalyptus? Can you tell us a little bit about the concept behind that?
There wasn’t really a visual concept besides my usual influences – jazz music, 20th century classical and indigenous music. But I also wanted to reference Nonesuch record covers, which weren’t that academic-looking but presented their information in an academic, informational way. But I also wanted it to look like it came from me, not just a rip-off of those covers.
Can you tell us, in as much detail as possible, what you did today? What about for the rest of the day?
Today, I’ve been doing a number of promo stuff. Putting together some mixes. Just doing other random things you have to do when putting out a record. In recent moments, I’ve also been collaborating with my sister on some videos we’re making for the album stream.
I’m not sure about the rest of the day. I play music mostly every day, so I’ll probably do that.
Finally, what do you hope those who hear Eucalyptus understand about your life, message and perspective from these songs?
I hope they can find me in there. This record has a very intimate, magnifying close-up aspect to it. It seems like people I’ve talked to who I’m close to have been getting that. But I hope it also creates an environment that people can get lost in.
I wanted to conjure the feeling of a summer day as it passes and takes you into nighttime with your air conditioning on, the fans going. How your body feels.
We asked David Portner to give us a brief description of each song on his new record, Eucalyptus.
I see it as the start of a day. Waking up and progressing through the day, and the specific thoughts I’d have. It also compares how one is feeling in that moment in comparison to times past.
It’s about inspiration. As a writer, melodies get stuck in my head and they haunt me until I do something with them. It’s also about that kind of sweet, sad fact – again, back to things being transient – that sometimes you get used to a melody that you really enjoy and it loses its flavor.
It’s about how important staying up all night is in my life, ever since I was a kid. To have those delirious late-night moments that are also nostalgic, emotional – the good times I look back on. The comparison between youthful fantasy stuff and more adult-themed conversations. And “Ms. Secret” is about the secrets that are talked about at those times, and what is revealed in the sunrise – the secret of the universe.
Lunch out of Order (Pt. 1 & 2)
This is a conceptual pair of songs that’s more like a collage, in that you can play in any order – hence the title. I wanted to take it into a mode of peace, which became “Lunch out of Order, pt. 2” – the most heavily-sampled song on the album.
I was looking to write a song about people feeling the need to get out and be around people. I get pretty reclusive. I stick around the house, working on stuff for a few days straight. But being on tour makes me realize the value of getting out and being around people and singing and dancing, and the importance of music. I symbolized that with the Jackson 5, a very important and awesome music group.
It’s about me running into a friend on a beach who also passed away a few years ago. And the emotions involved – just me describing that scenario.
The breakup song of the record. It’s about a relationship ending – specifically, mine with my ex-girlfriend ending. But I didn’t have negative feelings about the breakup, so any time that came up for me on the record I wanted to have a positive feeling in there. So, I guess it’s a positive breakup song!
Selection of a Place
See question 4.
Mainly, I liked that loop that I sang over and wanting to do something with it – and thinking it’d be cool to sing something so stream-of-consciousness that it was completely off the top of my head, about a boat trip I took with a friend.
It’s about somebody and the feelings of being on tour a lot. I’m accustomed to having a partner that have to be away from for long periods of time. It’s about that, and how love doesn’t have to exist just in the physical realm – it’s also in the ether, or whatever you want to call it, as well.
It’s mostly about the ocean and how powerful it is. A little of it is about a rough experience I had in the ocean that left me very humbled. It made me realize how much bigger it is than I am in the grand scheme of things. It’s also a sad song, because the ocean is very much in danger right now at this time in history. I think it’s really important that people are aware of that and do something about it.
Sports in July
I wanted to conjure the feeling of a summer day as it passes and takes you into nighttime with your air conditioning on, the fans going. That transition, and how your body feels. And then it moves into a part about the soothing aspects of the wind. I think it’s a metaphor for having to wait for something to make you feel better. And there’s no payoff because you don’t know when it’s coming.
When You Left Me
This record and the emotions in it are about anything leaving – whether through death or a relationship ending. I walk around Echo Park a lot and watch the birds take off from the bank and totally disappear over the city. I’ve processed it through splitting up with my ex-girlfriend, although we are still friends. So I wanted to write a song about that – not about the birds, specifically – but about something being there one minute and gone the next, and about how a person processes that.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Phone
Published: July 19, 2017
Total questions: 8 + 14
Word count: 2078
Reading time: Eight minutes
Longest word: orchestrations
Ahmad Jamal: Yes
Secret of the universe: Sunrise
acoustic, Ahmad Jamal, air conditioning, Animal Collective, Avey Tare, Baltimore, beach, birds, boat, body, breakup, Brian Eno, California, changing, clearing, crude, Danse Manatee, dawn, day, death, dusk, Dylan Rieder, Echo Park, environment, error, Eucalyptus, fan, Florida, forest, Grizzly Man, habitat, Hawaii, hidden, home, indigenous, intention, invasive, Jackson 5, july, King Olver, knocks, liquid, loop, Los Angeles, moving, mystic, night, Oblique Strategies, ocean, Panda Bear, peace, Pershing, Peter Schmidt, place, plants, point, psychedelia, record, relationship, Rob Carmichael, sanctuary, social, soul, species, sports, sputters, Timothy Treadwell, tour, transience, trip, turmoil, voice, Werner Herzog
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
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