Photographs by Rachel Briggs.
“It’s always slightly confounding to me whenever Vetiver is depicted with the same tropes that people have read off of press sheets,” says Andy Cabic. “The same sort of milestones get mentioned but then no one really digs to find out that there are those other things going on.” Cabic is referring to the remixes that he and Vetiver producer Thom Monahan do under the name Neighbors, as well as the more experimental textures that have formed sort of a eerie nucleus to all of his band’s records. “There’s a 12-inch of ‘Been So Long’ and ‘You May Be Blue’ off To Find Me Gone that we did a couple of years ago. We just put out another 12-inch for a song off the new record called ‘More Of This’ that has a remix. So those are pretty different but no one seems to have really picked up on them.” Instead, fans and critics have happily grouped Vetiver with the burgeoning modern folk scene, with its many poster boys and girls. (Just Google “freak folk.”) When asked about the possibility of Vetiver going in an even more experimental direction, perhaps like his former band Tussle, who plays a dense, rhythm-centric electronic music, Cabic is open. “I think that would come from having the genesis of the songs not being on an acoustic guitar,” he says. “After this tour, we’ll probably start doing more writing and getting back to that rhythm. I went down to L.A. already and hung out with Thom. We spent a week, basically, generating ideas in new ways. Not with a guitar first but using keyboards and things like that, so I’m looking forward to doing more of that.” Read the full interview with Vetiver’s Andy Cabic and hear the songs Vetiver recorded below.–DAVIS INMAN
These tracks were recorded live and mixed by Steve Martin.
Tussle was an earlier project you were involved with that was more experimental. Do you ever see Vetiver’s more pop-oriented music going in that kind of experimental direction?
I was doing both bands at the same time, initially. I’ve been helping [producer] Thom [Monahan] record the next Tussle record last year and this year. I’d say that there are songs on all of the Vetiver records that have elements of experimenting with studio trickery or different sort of sound sources and approaches to texture. Also, I’ve done some of that in remixes. There are remixes of Vetiver that had happened under the name Neighbors that are just me and Thom. So there’s a 12-inch of “Been So Long” and “You May Be Blue” off To Find Me Gone that we did a couple of years ago. We just put out another 12-inch for a song off the new record called “More Of This” that has a remix. So those are pretty different. No one seems to have really picked up on them, and it’s always slightly confounding to me whenever Vetiver is depicted with the same tropes that people have read off of press sheets and other sources and the same sort of milestones get mentioned again but then they don’t really dig to find out that there are those other things going on, too.
I noticed more experimenting on Tight Knit. I mean, “experimental” is a bad word for it. I don’t know what Animal Collective would call it, sampling and lots of harmonies.
Well, they’ve made the transition to a sample-based group, largely, on the last couple of records anyway.
Vetiver gets labeled “folk” a lot because it’s acoustic-based music. But “folk” is such a confusing idiom in itself. So how does all of that work in terms of Vetiver going in a more experimental direction?
Well, I think that would come from having the genesis of the songs not being on an acoustic guitar. I live in San Francisco, and all the rest of my band lives in New York, so my method of songwriting has always been sort of solitary. I get the rudiments down on acoustic guitar. That’s had a lot to do with living arrangements, living in an apartment, or living with roommates, sort of writing in quiet conditions. I think, also, I have a good sense of strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve tried to play to my strengths, so if there’s something where I’m not singing very loud, it’s because I don’t think I would be very convincing in a more bombastic work. I sort of did that. In college, I had a band that was louder and more typical North Carolina indie rock of the day, sort of Sonic Youth-inspired. I found that I liked that okay, but I don’t think it plays upon my strengths as well as what Vetiver does. But after this tour, we’ll probably start doing more writing and getting back to that rhythm. Since the last record came out, we’ve been touring a lot, and I’ve really lost that rhythm. I’m looking forward to [writing again]. I went down to LA already and hung out with Thom. We spent a week, basically, generating ideas in new ways. Not with a guitar first but using keyboards or things like that, so I’m looking forward to doing more of that.
And Thom produces all Vetiver records?
Yeah. We both produce the records. I’ve done all of them with him.
Where did you meet him? Was he in the Pernice Brothers? I don’t really know them though.
Yeah, he was in the Pernice Brothers. You would like them. Joe Pernice is a great songwriter, and Thom played bass and did a lot of the production on those records.
And that’s a defunct thing?
Yeah. Well, Joe just published a book last year.
I think it is fiction. It also plays heavily on his life experiences, and I think he’s a well-read, eloquent person. His songwriting has always been put in that of a literary vent. He likes bands like The Go-Betweens and The Church and things like that. Thom did the production on those, and I knew about him because he had done some Lilys records. He was a part of the band The Lilys and he had done a record with Beachwood Sparks. We had some mutual friends from other scenes and times and such. Back in 2003, a demo I had done made its way to him, and he actually approached me and said how much he enjoyed it. We talked about my limited resources and his interest, at the time, in doing something. We made it work, and that’s how that first record happened. Then we’ve just been really close friends ever since. We have a rapport and camaraderie that’s really great, and I really can’t imagine working with anyone else.
What else is Thom working on?
Over the past few years, he engineered that Gary Louris record Vagabonds. He did the Lavender Diamond record [Imagine Our Love, Matador 2007]. He did, along with me and Noah Georgeson, Devendra’s [Banhart] Cripple Crow record. He’s done the Brightblack Morning Light record that came out on Matador [Brightblack Morning Light, 2006]. He’s done a lot of things. He just did Au Revoir Simone’s record [Still Night, Still Light, Moshi Moshi 2009]. Thom comes from a background of My Bloody Valentine worship. He has a pension for industrial music and we both share that. We’ve schemed about ways of involving those things, when they make sense, in Vetiver.
So were you interested in Vashti Bunyan and other acoustic-based music before you moved to San Francisco?
How did writing acoustic music happen?
Well, all I had was an acoustic guitar. I got in a car accident and broke my only electric guitar, and someone had given me an acoustic guitar, so when I moved to San Francisco I basically started all over again because nothing that I had done from the East Coast translated at all. No one had heard anything about what I’d been involved with or any of the labels.
That really changed the direction of the music?
Totally. I had always listened to a broad spectrum of stuff, but I think coming to San Francisco, there were way better record stores there, and a lot of them have closed since I moved there. But there was so much to get turned onto, music-wise, with venues and music shows coming through. I was just a voracious record store shopper. By getting older and getting a better sense of my own style and, like I’m saying, those strengths and so forth, solidified my songwriting.
In terms of songwriting, To Find Me Gone seems very organic. Tight Knit feels more crafted, like you have more “chops” as a songwriter. Do you feel that way?
Well, no, because [the two albums] seem like they’ve had the same processes for me. Some of [the songs] are from close to the same time period. I think the difference would be To Find Me Gone has a more layered approach. The first thing Thom and I did was track scratch vocals and acoustic guitar for pretty much all of the songs. Then we just layered things on top. We were still mobile, like the first record [Vetiver, Dicristina 2004], and would take a laptop and go out. We recorded Naybob and Raybob [Nathan Shineywater and Rachael Hughes] from Brightblack in their cabin in the woods. We moved around. And [recorded] the cymbal things…we had so much stuff. We basically paired it all down and took it all away and only kept what served the songs best. In Tight Knit, I was still writing the songs on my own, but I’m having a band pulled together subsequent to To Find Me Gone, and some of those songs are getting a chance live before they’ve been recorded. Things like chops and stuff like that, you’re probably hearing that from the other musicians that are on the record.
Maybe that’s it. Maybe the band sounds more like a unit.
Yeah, because the songwriting is still pretty much the same. The approach is, at least as good as I can tell, not really that different. Also, Tight Knit is closer to the covers record [Thing Of The Past, Gnomonsong 2008] because they were done with the same group of people at the same studio with a very similar approach. So those two records, I see, are very similar. There are songs that are like that on Tight Knit, like “Everyday” is layered like songs on To Find Me Gone.
So what happened to that unit of Vetiver?
Sanders [Trippe, guitarist] just didn’t want to tour anymore. He’s got a house in Greensboro, and he’s got a fiancé, dogs, a fledgling jewelry designing business. He builds his guitars. He’s a great wood-worker. People should get a hold of him.
Does he build a lot of guitars?
Well, no. He was working for a while at a guitar manufacturer called Roscoe [Guitars], which he left, and now he’s transitioning to doing stuff on his own. So he has some tools, and he’s building up a shop, and he’s doing a lot of jewelry design. You should see Alyssa’s ring. She’ll show you.
Sanders Trippe played on both records, right?
Yeah. He played on a Thing Of The Past and Tight Knit. But he just really didn’t want to tour. Same with Brent [Dunn, bassist]. Brent got married. I can’t blame them. There are times when I don’t want to tour, either.
It seems like Vetiver is a pretty good gig though!
Well, the next time someone wants to leave my band, I’ll have you call and convince them.
The current band sounds great though, but it seems like you and Sanders had a good musical rapport.
Yeah, we knew each other for a long time. Actually, it’s been – not a struggle – but it’s just never come together with finding people. In San Francisco, everyone’s already in a lot of projects and really busy, so when I needed a band, I just called on some old friends that weren’t seemingly that busy at the time.
Gnomonsong is your and Devendra’s label. But now Vetiver albums are coming out on Sub Pop?
It seemed like time to try something else. I wasn’t sure what the difference was. I have good friends who are on the label, like Kelley Stoltz and Fruit Bats.
There are so many bands on Sub Pop.
Yeah, they sign all the time. Now they have a lot of my friends on the label. It’s actually incredible. They’ve signed Beach House and Happy Birthday – these are people I’m good friends with, so it’s quite a scene there. They really are kind and know what they’re doing. They’re all great to work with.