The last time we heard solo material from Animal Collective’s de facto frontman Avey Tare, it was 2010’s Down There, a dark slice of brooding electro-psych that sounded like Merriweather Post Pavilion filtered through murky swamp water. That he returned four years later with Dirty Projectors’ Angel Deradoorian and Ponytail drummer Jeremy Hyman to release an album inspired by the horror films of his childhood wasn’t all too surprising. He is a founding member of one of the oddest bands to win Pitchfork’s Album of the Year, after all. What’s shocking about Enter the Slasher House, the band’s first release under the name of Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, is how goddamn fun it is.
With everything from Ariel Pink-style weirdo pop to upbeat scuzz, Slasher House is a rollicking album of psychedelic jams that rival the catchiest AnCo cuts. Lead single “Little Fang” features a tripped-out video directed by Avey’s sister Abby Portnoy in conjunction with the Jim Henson Company, with nothing less than a Muppetised version of his cat wandering through a sinister spookworld. We spoke with Avey about horror soundtracks, forming the band, and the possibility of a Slasher Flicks slasher flick.
Your last solo album, Down There, was pretty moody and atmospheric, while Enter the Slasher House is a lot more upbeat and jazzy. What prompted the sonic shift?
I feel like Down There partly came from being in a dark place at time. One of my biggest influences is what’s going on in my life at the present, so I’m always pretty open to being influenced by what’s going on at the time. When I really started writing all the Slasher Flicks stuff at the end of 2012, it started this period of me getting sick a lot on tour. I ended up being home a lot, really weak. I was getting a lot of throat infections—strep throat, bronchitis—so I couldn’t even talk let alone sing. I started thinking a lot about how the mind and the body deal with stress. I just wanted to be positive so all the songs I started writing fit together in this more energy-influenced, upbeat vibe. I used the music to feel better rather than dwelling on the darkness.
What about slasher films spoke to you at the time?
Since I was younger I’ve drawn a correlation between horror films, particularly movies like The Shining and The Exorcist, and psychedelic music, and I started drawing a parallel between them as I got more and more into making music. I was seeing films that were really inspiring in their shift in mood and their outrageousness. The crazy sounds and effects reminded me of listening to psychedelic music. With Slasher Flicks, on the one hand I’m referencing old psychedelic music and garage rock more than I ever have, along with punk bands like the Cramps and the Misfits. At the beginning it was more about putting together a collection of songs than a concept but once everything started shaping up it seemed like a cool idea to make it like an old haunted house ride at a fair- an exciting, fun thing to do with a dark, scary aesthetic.
How much of a role did Angel and Jeremy play in founding that aesthetic?
The fun thing about playing music with people is sharing the experience and creating an open dialogue with these very intuitive moments where things happen spontaneously. I’m not the type of person who enjoys writing everything and being like “OK, now you play this”. That doesn’t tend to be much fun. Even though I wrote all the structures and there are lines I’ve written I like to keep it open. I like what Jeremy and Angel can do. I’ve been familiar with musical styles for a while and I wanted them to shine within the structures I wrote.
How does writing a track with them differ from writing a track with Animal Collective?
On the one hand it is me writing more of the stuff. I came to the table wanting Jeremy specifically to play drums and choosing Angel because I liked her keyboard playing and her singing, whereas with Animal Collective it doesn’t work like that usually. Everybody brings their own thing to the table. We produce the songs to be some crazy thing that’s the input of all of us, whereas with Slasher Flicks, this setup was how I envisioned it. I feel like Jeremy and Angel don’t really come from the same artistic process as me, especially the live the performance, so in that sense it’s just about getting used to integrating people into the way I’m used to making music.
Sure, and you’ve been touring with them for almost a year now. Was it hard translating that sound from the studio to the stage?
I feel the live experience should offer something different than just listening to the record. Especially at the early Slasher Flicks shows it felt really out of control and I liked that. It was like going back to my older days of playing shows where you didn’t know what was going to happen and there was that element of unpredictability. I feel like we want to tighten the reins on that more and more. Now that we have recorded songs we have a better grasp of what they actually are but I feel like there’s still going to be a side of it that’s freeform.
John Carpenter soundtracks often seem to be the go-to horror influence when it comes to a lot of new experimental music.
I think John Carpenter is a genius and I love the fact that he wrote his soundtracks a lot of the time and directed all these diverse movies. I had the Halloween III soundtrack when I was young and I love those synth sounds, but in high school I was really influenced by the Texas Chainsaw Massacre style that was more like musique concrète, like pots banging, a lot of delay, feedback.
Your videos too have been pretty out there too, like the one for “Little Fang.” Do you think you’d make an outright slasher vid?
My sister Abby directed the video and she was friendly with some of the people at Jim Henson so we had this idea, she talked to them and it worked out that we could create this puppet. It was pretty out there. The gore aesthetic has never been totally my thing. It’s more about the way slasher flicks sound. I also think there’s a really positive vibe in the all songs so I’m not sure it would completely fit.
What are Slasher Flicks’ favorite slasher flicks?
I’m a nerd when it comes to that. I like a movie called Alice from the ‘70s. This movie Deranged. The ‘70s is the era I like, lots of low budget slasher movies. Texas Chainsaw Massacre has a great template. Even something as popular as Halloween, I go way back with that movie. I grew up watching it.