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On The Road, For The Record: Avey Tare of Animal Collective

Earlier last month we caught up with Dave Portner, aka Avey Tare of Animal Collective, before he performed at the secret LA event, Last Night. We drank black tea on Fairfax, took some polaroids, and discussed ways to make tour feel more like home. Today he releases his latest record, Cows On Hourglass Pond, which was recorded between January-March of last year in North Carolina. Yesterday, he kicked off his North American tour and will be traveling throughout April. Read below to find out which songs AC listen to before they go on stage and what advice Dave has for musicians debating whether or not to hit the road.

What would you say is the biggest misconception about being on tour?

That I’ll get sleep.

Me personally, I can’t really sleep so well on tour. I don’t well with it, especially with the bus. I don’t adapt well to the bunks. And especially in Europe, it’s just because of the added on jet lag; my schedule gets totally thrown off. And so I basically survive off of before-show naps.

How do you see grounded?

A number of ways; I meditate a lot. I do that at home too, so I continue that practice on tour. If I’m in like hotel rooms, I try and bring homey stuff to put around.

Like what?

Blankets and candles.

Is there a specific scent?

I’m more of an incense person, so Sandalwood, Palo Santo.

What kind of meditation do you do?

It’s breathwork that my band mate’s mom taught us. She’s a holistic and breathwork instructor. She kind of schooled Noah and me when we were younger, in college. She calls it continuous breathing or circular breathing, but it’s not exactly like the circular breathing that you would do to play an instrument. It’s basically taking super deep breaths and not stopping; just letting the oxygen get to parts of the body that it usually doesn’t. People don’t really think about their breathing a lot. Some people even stop breathing for short periods of time without thinking about it.

You’ve been on tour with different projects at different times of your life. When you think back on it, do the tours blend together or is it easy to differentiate them?

No, it’s been so long now, you know? I think our first tour was in 2001. So, it went from being in a white Previa van for our first tour, it was Noah’s mom’s. We actually had to put a whole, crossed bungee thing so all the equipment wouldn’t fall on the person in the back. Then we moved to sprinter vans. Most recently, I stopped drinking alcohol, for a year and two months, so that’s the biggest difference on tour for me now. While we were touring for the record “Sometimes”, which happened last year, I was completely alcohol-free. That was my first tour in a long time that I did sober.

In 2013, I saw your Animal Collective set at Treasure Island in San Francisco –

It was so cold, I remember.

Totally freezing, you could see all the fog rolling in from the water – what are the main differences as a musician playing a festival and a solo show?

I definitely prefer our shows. It’s just our fans coming; they kind of know what to expect from a show from us. Even though we pull a big festival crowd at this point, I feel like you’re still playing for the people that you’re hoping to convert or to the people that don’t really know what’s going on or haven’t heard a lot about us. I think the thing about festivals is, even playing live in general, is that it’s just so unpredictable and so different from night to night. The air, the speakers, the everything; it’s just so different. Festivals are just such a stressful environment a lot of the time. And it took us so long to work up to be able to do it right. We would just get up there and feel hurried with all of our gear and people yelling at us. Now, at least we have the luxury of being able to have a crew; that really helps us out a lot. We wouldn’t be able to do it without them really.

How many people are in that crew?

I think the most we’ve toured with is 12, including the band.

So that’s including band, merch…

Sound, Front of House Sound, Monitor Sound. We had a guitar tech on the “Centipede Hz” tour, which is the one you saw at Treasure Island. There was a lot more guitar on that record, so we had a tech. My sister is our projectionists/set designer, and she usually has a tech. Sometimes we’ve had an additional lighting person as well, and our tour manager.

What are your top five must-have items that you’ve got to pack?

I always pack a little charm that I have; it’s my travel charm that my older sister, Heather, gave to me, I think, maybe when I first started touring. It’s all torn up now, but it’s holding on. I don’t travel without it. We used to put it around the rear view mirror on our van.

I have to bring my headphones. Dried mango. I always take this blanket that my older sister also gave to me. I put it over the TV, because I never watch TV in the hotel rooms; I kind of just mask it. Then, five would be a camera. I’ve always been kind of like the documenter on Animal Collective tours. I’ve got videos, photos.

What’s your favorite song to perform right now and why?

The most recent tour we did was our Sung Tongs Tour, and usually, my favorite songs are the new ones, really. So we have this song called, “Sea of Light.” That was probably my favorite moment; well it was more a segment, it was the encore segment of that. People that have seen us before know we kind of string our songs together.

Totally, when you performed “The Purple Bottle” in SF, I was like “WHAT is this version?” and was obsessively googling afterward.

When you’re on tour – do you have any go-to spots?

I’m more of that type of person that has to get out and walk around. Our FOH sound guy is super into coffee, so I feel like there’s always a stop at the best coffee place we can find. I like doing the cemeteries a lot. I love cemeteries, and I went to this really cool one, I can’t remember the exact town, but it was in Sweden. I decided to take a walk through this old little town we were playing in, and eventually stumbled upon this really old, amazing, beautiful cemetery with little pine trees. Recently we were in Sao Paulo and there was a cemetery with these incredible statues and mausoleums; men and women embracing each other.

Before you get on stage, do you have any rituals?

Well in my time of drinking, I would drink white wine a lot. We always pick one song, I feel like that becomes the tour songs. So pretty much like 5-10 minutes before we go on, we’re listening to that song.

What was the last song?

We didn’t have one on the Sung Tongs Tour, we kind of mix it up all the time. “I Need Love” by LL Cool J has been one. “Friends” by Whodini, has been one. “Happiness Is Just Around The Bend” has been one.

That’s great. What would you say was the most inspiring moment with a fan or something that really warmed your heart and made you really excited?

Some people, you know, cry or shake and I still can’t get used to that. It’s indescribable to me. We wear ear monitors, so it’s harder to hear the crowd, but when you can hear people singing along to our songs…

How much are you writing while on tour, if at all?

None. Sometimes lyrics, but musically we don’t; very rarely. Maybe sometimes we’ll take a little bit of an idea and have it be a partner set we go into or something like that. And usually we leave it open to it being different every night, you know? So it’s not exactly like writing.

Because you don’t necessarily write on tour, are there any artists you like to collaborate with in other capacities whilst on the road?

Most recently, in the last year, I’ve been collaborating with Lonnie Holley on stage. That was really cool. I played with him for a couple of sets; Bradford Cox from Deerhunter called us up on stage before to jam with him recently. That’s fun; I usually get most excited with close friends. It’s hard for me, and all of us, I feel like, to just settle in, you know? It’s like a conversation.

Any other vital pieces of knowledge for people to know about tour?

I think if you’re a band and you have the opportunity to tour, you should do it. I say this having lived in the US, and growing up here, and that being the easiest place to drive around. I’m sure a million places around the world have a lot to offer, but for bands in the US, get out and drive around; it’s a must in life. You need to see the changing landscape. The frame of mind on tour is a very specific frame of mind, and it changes you.

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