On his new record, Cows on Hourglass Pond, the Animal Collective founder draws from within.
Avey Tare has kept things minimal on his third solo album. Cows On Hourglass Pond sees the artist born Dave Portner pouring himself into lush, groovy sounds in his home studio in Asheville, North Carolina, where he recently relocated. Providing the vocals, beats and guitar, the Animal Collective member channels the landscapes he observed on cross-country road trips and his affinity for the surreal on the record’s 10 tracks.
He captured the record on a Tascam 48 tape machine, reuniting with the tool he used to make much of his earlier acoustic output with Animal Collective. But these songs are definitively Portner —less programmed and more focused on his signature folky guitar strumming. In the below conversation with AdHoc, Portner describes the music as a reflection of nature as he sees it and of a growing sense of unease about the future and time, in addition to influences like Buddy Holly, Waylon Jennings, and Ennio Morricone.
The album, released March 22 on Domino, is accompanied by a first-person note that describes Portner’s visions and thoughts while driving across the U.S., yet the artist said he hopes listeners interpret the music their on way. He’ll play the new songs live April 1 at Market Hotel, where he’ll be joined by Josh Dibb aka Animal Collective’s Deakin and touring drummer Jeremy Hyman.
What was the writing and recording process like for Cows on Hourglass Pond?
I had a burst of creativity two winters ago. I had to play a show in Copenhagen for this festival, [and] my sister Abby [Portner] was asked to do an event and asked if I’d be a part of it. I wasn’t able to do it because I had lost the digital files. I just sat down and started writing new stuff, and it opened up this door to writing all these new songs throughout the year.
Last winter, I locked myself away in my home studio, which I call Laughing Gas. I have a tape machine, a Tascam 48. It had been awhile since I had attempted to record all of my own music. I do a lot of demoing, but I wanted to get a really nice sounding recording on my own. The past couple records I’ve worked with my bandmate, Josh [Dibb aka Deakin]. It’s always just wanting to do something in a different process, for me. It’s challenging, and I find the challenge really keeps me creative and keeps me on my toes and making new things.
You’re living in North Carolina now. What made you move down there?
At the end of 2015, I had been living in LA. I just realized LA wasn’t really the place for me. I have a lot of friends there, and for that, I love it, but it’s just … large cities in general, I feel like I kind of got tired of the environment and the way of living.
It’s wooded and [there’s] forests—I’m a lot more about that. Kind of like the way I grew up, which is another reason—I just felt like my roots feel more attached to an environment like this at this point in my life than they do in cities.
You’ve recorded before with the Tascam tape machine. What’s your relationship with it like?
I got it in ’96, I learned how to record with Brian [Ross Weitz]—Geologist, from Animal Collective—on it. It was kind of our project in high school. I went on to record the first collaborative Animal Collective record on it, Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished, which at the time, to me, was sort of like a solo record, because I did most of the recording and writing and everything. I just had Noah [Lennox, aka Panda Bear] play drums on it. We recorded all the basic tracks for Danse Manatee and Sung Tongs on it, and have used it for sound sources.
The best thing about tape machines is the varied speed. It’s a little knob, and it speeds things up or pitches things down. There’s nothing that really compares to analog varied speed. Over the years as Animal Collective, we peeked into the world of Beatles recordings, and varied speed was a big thing in their psychedelic time periods. It’s always a technique I’ve gone back to.
Nostalgia comes up on the record a few times. Can you talk about nostalgia as a theme?
There’s songs that definitely highlight longing for something, or something lost. I feel like people often hear my songs or Animal Collective songs now and think off the bat that I’m trying to write about childhood, and I can say there’s not really anything on this record about [my] childhood. Other kinds of nostalgia creep into it. As a songwriter, I think it just comes into songwriting a lot. It’s a common trope.
Did you feel nostalgic using the tape machine?
Definitely. There’s rituals that Brian and I developed in terms of cleaning it; there’s upkeep you have to do with it and being in that frame of mind. I was very nostalgic.
Among your inspirations for the record is Ennio Morricone soundtracks—is there a specific one that influenced you?
I have a Morricone playlist. I just love the production and the way the instruments all work together. The way that he’s so diverse in his ability to do something offbeat and crazy-sounding. The textures are very considered, as well as the composition. For that era of music and just what he was doing, it really caught my eye. Duck You, Sucker!, also called A Fist Full of Dynamite, was put out in a theater when I lived in New York, and I had the opportunity to see it in the theater. Some of the vocal stuff and the singing I really like.
How do Buddy Holly and Waylon Jennings figure into the sound of this record?
In terms of liking recording and being into recording, especially analog recording, things like Sun Studio and Chess Records—those are like temples to me. That’s where all the great recording came from. The early rock & roll stuff—just how simple and how good it sounds, the style of guitar placement and rhythm—just makes me dissect and look at the music a little bit more in terms of the textures and what’s going on.
The album title references cows. How did the cow imagery come about?
Cows are just everywhere. I’ve taken some memorable cross-country trips of late, and it was on one of them—just driving, where it was snowy on part of the drive, and I would see cows standing out in farms or pastures—that I happened to think of cows standing on a frozen lake or pond. That’s such an interesting image to me; it’s surrealist. To me, it kind of brings to mind, in a dark way, time running out in a bit, and cows being somewhere where they’re not supposed to be—thin ice. I had thoughts of, on a grander scheme, where we are in America.
How was working with your sister Abby on the visual side of the record?
[The video for “Saturdays (Again]”] happened to come from personal footage Abby took. Domino thought it would be cool to put out something visual with the release, so Abby decided to mess around with it. Abby and I have worked together long enough now that [it’s] very easy. There have been times when it’s been very stressful, moreso with Animal Collective, I’d say, but that’s usually a way larger production. We have a way of communicating now [where] it’s easy to get across to her what I’m looking for or what feels good to me.
You wrote a note to listeners to accompany the album. What was the intention behind it?
In today’s social climate, people often latch onto a story about the person or a backstory to the record. Especially for a record like this, for me, it’s more just about creating musical environments, landscapes—and [thinking about] how landscapes inspire me, and driving around the country.
My intention was just to get some imagery and feelings down on paper. I don’t like to put too much into peoples’ minds before they hear music. I feel like everybody should be left to come up with their own take on music, especially with our music. It’s hard to know how to do that a lot of times. I’m always trying to do it in a different way. I like writing, and I think my lyric-writing comes from a place of being interested in creative writing. It got me writing again and writing fictional stuff. I think it’s good, and something I like to do a lot.
The past and future intersect on the record and in your note. Why do you bring up robots?
It seems like the integration of robots into our life is more on the horizon now—that there’s kind of no turning back at this point. Just feelings about that. I like a lot of sci-fi imagery, fantasy, and it’s just me wanting to incorporate that in a visual manner. Looking at the past, versus the future—we’re just moving forward, and to a lot of people, that means progress, but I often wonder if there was a time in the past, maybe if you look at things in reverse, [where] we were better [off], and what that all means.
You’ll be playing in Brooklyn soon. Have you played at Market Hotel before?
I’ve been to a version of it—I saw Deerhunter there a long time ago. It seemed like a room that was still kind of under construction, in Todd P. fashion. Usually, in the past, I’ve played at Bowery Ballroom, so it’s nice to play at different venues around town. I wanted to keep it to rooms on this tour that would feel good with a smaller crowd. It’s not often, especially with Animal Collective, that I get to do a tour like this.
You and Noah recently did an anniversary tour for Animal Collective’s Sung Tongs. How was your experience revisiting that material?
I’m really glad we did it, and it was really easygoing. I feel like we played in diverse enough places that it was just interesting to see different peoples’ connections to the record, and also comforting and good to know that people in Chile can relate to it as much as a person in Copenhagen. It was nice to just play with Noah—two acoustic guitars connecting in that way. Often in the more recent Animal Collective stuff, there’s been so much more gear and equipment and sounds around us. It’s nice to be able to connect on a minimal level like that.
Merriweather Post Pavilion turned 10 recently. How do you feel about it now?
I feel like all three of us feel it’s definitely a high point process-wise. We love the record; we’re happy with it. What it comes down to for me is the process and the time I have while making it. Doing that one in particular—it’s hard to say why it felt so easygoing. There have been other [albums] that felt that way, but for some reason, just the whole way through… Noah always brings up the word “serendipity.” It just felt really, really good for all of us. I’m psyched that it’s lasted and people still hold onto it. We definitely put a lot of time into it.
What’s next for Animal Collective?
We’re going to get together in a couple months. Individually—especially Noah and I—we’ve collected a few songs, and I believe Josh has some too. We’re gonna get together and start putting them together. We’ve got Desert Daze coming up at the end of the year, and we’re keeping that in mind in terms of songs that we’re gonna need to start playing live. But songs that we want to record—sometimes for us, that can be two different things. It’s hard to say this early, but we definitely have a lot of material that we’re psyched to do something with.