Animal Collective on ‘Isn’t It Now?’, Their Second Album in Two Years – “We Were Just Really Psyched to Play Together Again”

Animal Collective
Animal Collective | Credit: Hisham Akira Bharoocha

Animal Collective waited six years between the release of their tenth album, Painting With, and their eleventh, last year’s Time Skiffs. The latter album was recorded remotely while the band’s four members – Dave Portner (Avey Tare), Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), Josh Dibb (Deakin) and Brian Weitz (Geologist) – waited out the Covid pandemic in various cities across North America and Europe.

The material on Time Skiffs was written and arranged during a three-and-a-half-week session in late 2019. The band members had convened in rural Tennessee, where they rediscovered the joys of playing live together again. The sessions were so fruitful, in fact, that post-Time Skiffs, Animal Collective had enough remaining material to throw together their twelfth studio album.

That album, titled Isn’t It Now?, is out now via Domino. Created alongside D’Angelo engineer Russell Elevado, Isn’t It Now? features some of Animal Collective’s most spontaneous and lively recordings in more than a decade. To coincide with its release, Music Feeds caught up with keys player and guitarist Deakin, the only Animal Collective member who currently resides in the band’s hometown of Baltimore.

Animal Collective – ‘Gem & I’

Music Feeds: You haven’t lived in Baltimore the whole time, have you?

Deakin: No. I moved away from Baltimore in ’97, went to Boston for a few years. Noah and I both went to Boston. We were one year ahead in school from Dave and Brian, but we took a year off after high school and stayed in Baltimore and then went to different schools in the Boston area for a year and a half, two years, and then we both dropped out the same semester and moved to New York.

I lived in New York from 2000 to 2010 basically and then moved back to Baltimore in 2011 and I’ve mostly been here since then. I lived in New Orleans for a brief moment and I loved it a lot, but I didn’t stay there.

MF: Is your family in Baltimore?

Deakin: Yeah, my mother lives in Baltimore. Brian and I are the only ones that still have our family rooted in Baltimore. Noah’s mum doesn’t live here anymore, and Dave’s parents left the Baltimore area a number of years ago.

There’s a lot of things about [Baltimore] I love from the past and from the current reality, but it is strange to be living in a place where I’m at times on the same block that I was on when I was three years old.

MF: Were you in Baltimore all through the Covid lockdowns?

Deakin: Yeah. We had written and arranged pretty much everything that ended up on Time Skiffs and Isn’t It Now? by January 2020 and we had gotten together to jam one last time and were making plans to record with Russell [Elevado] that spring. We were looking at studios and trying to book time for April, May, or even early June of 2020.

And then, with Covid, I didn’t leave Baltimore and we didn’t see each other in the flesh for 18 months. We got together in August of 2021 in Nashville for a month, and in the meantime we had made the Bridge to Quiet EP remotely, we made Time Skiffs remotely, had worked on a soundtrack remotely, and then got together August of 2021.

MF: And that was the first time you’d left Baltimore since pre-Covid?

Deakin: I think the first time I left Baltimore was the spring of 2021. Dave and his sister and a couple of other people were going backpacking down in Tennessee. I had been working as a carpenter for most of the pandemic along with working on the record. The winter had been really tough for me because we had finished working on Time Skiffs – it was done –so from January to March, or even April, of 2021, I was just in the trenches.

I enjoy carpentry. I care about it a lot. But it was an especially brutal job that just had me very focused on nothing but waking up at 5am every day and driving in the cold to get to a job site.

And then Dave was like, “Hey man, we’re actually going backpacking this weekend,” and my whole being lit up. I was like, “Oh my god,” and I just threw my tent in the truck and drove nine hours the same day to meet them. Everything started to feel like it was finally shifting.

Animal Collective live in 2017 | Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

MF: Did that experience teach you that you wouldn’t want to do carpentry as your full-time gig?

Deakin: I’m in a constant state of schizophrenia about it. I love it quite a bit. What I always want to have my life be is a really good balance. I would rather an existence where it was almost simultaneously, like working on a piece of furniture or someone’s kitchen while I’m also going to the studio in the evenings or something.

It’s very hard to find that balance and I oftentimes end up doing nothing but music for a year and then having to do a lot of carpentry for six months or something. I like it, but when I’m not doing any carpentry, I miss it and when I’m not doing any music I start to feel really nutty.

MF: Two albums in two years is a great gift to Animal Collective fans, and also a bit unexpected. Was it just by chance that you ended up with two records, or was it the plan from the outset?

Deakin: It was totally chance. For the sessions where most of it came together – which was this month we spent in Leiper’s Fork outside of Nashville in 2019 – I showed up with two or three songs, Noah had probably at least a dozen songs in a demo folder and Dave had a bunch too.

I think we were just really psyched to play together again. That was the first time all four of us were jamming in that way since Centipede Hz, so it was a pretty long break for me. I think for everybody, it had been a minute since we had been working in that way.

MF: What was the set-up in the jam space?

Deakin: Noah showed up having written melodies with chord structures and he wanted to just play drums and sing. He didn’t want to be responsible for any actual musical element other than the idea and the structure. And Dave similarly, except all he was doing was playing bass, and I really committed to not playing guitars and just focusing on keyboard work.

And I think that, combined with what Brian does, it just felt much easier to be like, “What about this song?” and people would learn it really quickly and jam on it and the sounds would start to make themselves really clear. Things just fell together really naturally.

Animal Collective – ‘Defeat’

Further Reading

Animal Collective Release 22-Minute Track, ‘Defeat’

Nabihah Iqbal: “I’m Confident in Myself Because I Know People Appreciate What I Do”

Lonnie Holley Urges Us to Go Deeper – “We Should Appreciate the Lives We Have and Not Treat Those Lives So Foolishly”

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