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Animal Collective's Deakin on recording remotely

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Animal Collective

Baltimore quartet Animal Collective

Joshua Dibb, who goes by the name Deakin, said that recording an album remotely with Animal Collective ended up being somewhat life-affirming.

The group is touring in Missoula off its latest album, “Time Skiffs,” released in February, with a stop at the Wilma on Saturday, Aug. 20. The album sounds immediately like an Animal Collective record — psychedelic pop with harmony vocals with influences like ambient, dub and electronic elements sutured together. It doesn’t sound like they recorded it remotely during COVID-19, and you wouldn’t quite know unless you read it.

“I feel like a lot of things in my life have sort of been leading to this,” he said. "It’s kind of a cliche to say, but I think all of it led me to a place of being much more appreciative, of the power of gratitude."

The group formed more than 20 years ago, between several sets of friends from high school, Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), Dave Portner (Avey Tare) and Brian Weitz (Geologist). “Time Skiffs” is their 11th record, and a remarkably long run considering the left-field sounds (noise, psych, pop, ambient) that they somehow found a mainstream audience for.

While recording “Skiffs” remotely in 2020, he worked through the initial grind, where any task took much longer, and settled into a more positive place.

“I was just like, ‘Man, this is amazing," he said. "There’s all these things about this that can feel compromised, but like I’m making music with my three best friends. We’ve been making music since we were teenagers, we are still finding a way to do it. I get to like spend a day in my studio by myself …working on something I care a lot about."

Back on tour

Performing live again starting this year was awesome, he said, with one significant caveat.

In May, after a show in Los Angeles, Dibb and Portner both contracted COVID-19. They canceled almost half the remaining dates, and Dibb said he was “not normal” for almost two months. After fever and other common symptoms passed, he endured several months of operating with “zero energy.” His breath would run short getting groceries, or while trying to take a short walk. After they resumed, he was able to play and “never felt like I couldn’t do anything I wanted to do,” but he felt “a nagging feeling that, like, I couldn’t quite catch my breath.”

The album’s origins

“Time Skiffs” was recorded in 2020 in dispersed fashion, with members in different cities, but it’s not a pandemic album. The sort-of lightness you hear in the tunes came from the preceding years, when the group started playing them live.

“The energy that I associated most with the record is more like the kind of 2018-19 period when we were writing that stuff and energy that came into that,” he said.

Dibb, Portner and Weitz were invited to write site-specific music for a location in New Orleans called the Music Box Village.

Performers are encouraged to collaborate in the “village,” constructed by the New Orleans Airlift artist organization, which comprises structures and houses with built-in instruments by artists. He said a railing might have guitar strings running through them, that are sent through a delay pedal, or a house filled with handmade chimes in different tunings.

“That was a hugely impactful sort of event and atmosphere for us to write for and perform in and interact with,” he said.

They came up with the music with the houses in mind to a degree, with space for the “house” instruments and other collaborators.

When the group was finally all able to get in one place in July 2019, they wanted to “approach it all from like a very stripped down place.”

They talked about leaving space; Lennox wanted to set aside synthesizers and just sing and play on a classic drum kit; Portner would play electric bass (with some exceptions).

“Electric bass is something we’ve never even really used in a regular way,” he said. That Portner wasn’t as focused on synths and guitar left more space for Dibb and Weitz to fill in. Dibb usually plays guitar but went for keys, which he’s been playing since he was kid.

The somewhat organic feel was a concrete choice. They like to have a template going in, and wanted to avoid sequenced rhythms. There’s a version of the album closer, “Royal and Desire,” from the Music Box Village that’s more sequenced and based on a sample than the final version on “Time Skiffs.”

They easily had two albums’ worth of material — they finished another record in December and it will likely be released sometime next year.

“I think that we found that all these different interests and energies are better if we kind of kept allowing the script to change, and not letting ourselves get locked into a sort of linear, classical hierarchical (band). I don’t think we would’ve lasted very long if we had done that,” he said.

The “main trunk” he said, is the band’s discography, starting with “Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished” in 2000 and stopping for now at “Time Skiffs,” but “all the things that made that possible include all the solo projects, all side collaborations, all the soundtrack work.”

To him, each studio album has “a certain amount of rejection of what we did the last time.”

Getting together to experiment with new instruments and improvise goes back to when they were playing in college in someone’s basement.

“A song would emerge spontaneously that sounded like nothing we'd ever heard before,’” he said. "And wanting to figure out: ‘how do you capture that?'"

Now, they’ll even look for different geographical places to stir up new ideas, he said, “to kind of keep changing, changing the permutations and changing the tools and changing the environments."

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