Animal Collective Walks In The Beach Boys' Footsteps (Literally) The band usually road tests its songs before recording them, But for the new album Painting With, they started in a studio — specifically, the acoustically stunning room where Pet Sounds was created.
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Animal Collective Walks In The Beach Boys' Footsteps (Literally)

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Animal Collective Walks In The Beach Boys' Footsteps (Literally)

Animal Collective Walks In The Beach Boys' Footsteps (Literally)

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The band Animal Collective knows their sound, and they have figured out what works for them when making a new album. For example, they usually write their songs, then perform them live and then record them in the studio. This time, with their 10th album, called "Painting With," they are changing their own rules.


MARTIN: This album started in the studio, and it wasn't just any old recording space. Through a twist of fate, they were given a recording slot at Studio 3 in the famous EastWest Studios in LA. It's where the Beach Boys recorded their famous "Pet Sounds" album, and it's legendary in the music world for amazing acoustics.

I spoke with two members of Animal Collective, Brian Weitz and David Portner. And they told me when they walked into that studio, they saw a big piano in the corner and started asking all kinds of questions.

BRIAN WEITZ: Do we need to move it? Where should we put the mic? But Dave just sat down and started playing it, like, in the back corner of the room.


WEITZ: We were, like, that just sounds amazing. No matter where you stood in the room, the piano sounded fantastic. And I think - and that was on day one. And we kind of realized, you know, there's an art to making a room like this, where things sound this good. And then, for the reverb on the record, too, we - you know, there's not a ton of reverb. But we didn't use any artificial plug-ins or digital things, you know.

MARTIN: You didn't?

WEITZ: We just used the echo chambers at the - in the actual studio.

MARTIN: Wow. How does that even work?

WEITZ: It's, like, it's built into, like, the guts of the building, somewhere else, they're just these pure plaster rooms. And there's a speaker in there. And so, like, you kind of book time. You ask the other studios - is anyone using it? And then you send - what you want to put echo on, you pipe it into that room...

MARTIN: Really?

WEITZ: ...Through the speaker. And then there's a microphone that records that and sends it back to your studio.

MARTIN: That's amazing. I mean, we just live in a world where now you just assume that everyone just pushes a button...

WEITZ: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...To get that kind of sound.


BEA ARTHUR: (As Dorothy Zbornak) No, Blanche. She's upset because they keep changing the taste of Coke.

ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: (Singing) Duh, duh-duh-duh, duh, duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-duh.

MARTIN: I want to play "Golden Gal" because it starts with a clip of "The Golden Girls," and that's cool. So let's listen to some of that.


ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: (Singing) Golden gal on her screen, some kind of tune she never seen. Begins with a girl who (unintelligible). Spirit is burning, let's hear it for the girls again. So complex and brave, the power of (unintelligible)...

MARTIN: How did that come about? You were just, like "Golden Girls" - let's find a way to work Blanche or Rose into the top of a song?

DAVID PORTNER: When we were talking about putting the songs together and the sound of the record, we had talked about collage - you know, like, making an actual collage and just ripping different pieces of things together and putting them, like, maybe even awkwardly together. And when I made the demo for that song, I wanted to just start to create the vibe that we could be going for, like, throw in a little examples. And so I just happened to find that sample. I went - there's, like, a whole montage of Bea Arthur sarcastic comments that you can watch on YouTube, which is hilarious.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

WEITZ: That's a good way to spend 10 minutes.

PORTNER: Yeah and just laugh the whole time. And I just - that was the first one, and I just put it on there. And Brian was, like - what's that sample? That's staying on the record. I was, like, OK.

MARTIN: Usually, there's kind of a happy surprise when music comes together and especially if it's collaboration, like you guys have. What was the most surprising thing that happened on this album? A moment or a...

PORTNER: I think the - I mean, the one that I can shoot to right off the top my head is just nailing the vocal arrangement as quickly and smoothly as we did. I think for Noah and I - and maybe Brian, too - I think there was a little bit of a worry that because of hearing the way that they were written and everything, that it might be a little bit difficult to nail them. But it - they actually turned into some of the quickest vocal takes that we've ever done and smoothest.

MARTIN: What was technically hard about them?

PORTNER: Just the separation and the way that the orchestrations are. It's a lot of back and forth singing between Noah and I. There isn't ever really one lead vocalist, you know. I feel like we wanted it to be kind of confusing and feel like, snaky, kind of, where the vocals were sort of wrapping around each other and you'd hear one voice and then it would turn into another. And you'd be like - who's that? Who's that? So I think it was just keeping that in mind and wanting to really nail that - and for that idea to come across - was really important to us.

MARTIN: Can you point to a song on the album that really exemplifies that that snaking vocal - the back-and-forth between you and Noah?

PORTNER: Well, I think "Lying In The Grass."


ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: (Singing) Through the sick and find a level space.

WEITZ: Yeah, that one especially - I thought it was going to be difficult because it's not, like, two vocal parts alternating. It's actually just one melodic line and one - in terms of the lyrics, it's one lyrical line, but they each sing a syllable. They alternate syllables, but they didn't sing it together. It was, like, one went into the room and sang every other syllable and had to nail the notes and then the other one went in...


WEITZ: ...And like, had to do it on the off-rhythm.

MARTIN: Yeah, that's hard.

WEITZ: Yeah.


ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: (Singing) Know the cost and move to cause an endeavor. Globbed onto something in the lawn, there's room to improve as there's a need to uncover...

MARTIN: What's next? I know you something and then you promote. But does that mean you're already back in-studio or thinking about writing? Or - where are you?

WEITZ: We have to go on tour. Or not we have to - we want to.


WEITZ: We like playing live. We don't always try and do a perfect recreation of the song. We like the songs to be more open-ended - have some room to improvise. You know, the beginnings and the endings are a little bit more amorphous. On the 19th, we start tour, and we're going to practice for the few days before it just to get back in the groove. So...

MARTIN: Somehow, I think you'll be fine, yeah.

WEITZ: I hope so.



MARTIN: Well, thanks, you guys, for talking with us. We really appreciate it.

WEITZ: Thanks for having us.

PORTNER: Yeah, thank you.

MARTIN: Brian Weitz and Dave Portner, two of the members of Animal Collective.


ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: (Singing, unintelligible) to the beat.

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