Dave Portner is sick of the hullabaloo, and I don't blame him. With Animal Collective closing in on two decades of constant activity, the musician who also records as Avey Tare felt a need to escape, both physically and emotionally. So as commitments to his main act wound down, he jumped at the first opportunity available to record a solo album. No big studios, endless chatter, and pre-release singles: for Eucalyptus (out now on Domino), Portner just wanted to focus on the music itself. "I wanted to do a more intimate, close-up, bedtime sounding record. I usually have that feeling with my solo stuff just because Animal Collective has become such a larger studio-based project," he tells us.
After his run with side band the Slasher Flicks came to an end in 2014, Portner began recording music in his California home. He made some fruitless demos, forgot about them, hit the studio with Animal Collective, toured with them for two years, and eventually dug up the demos after a casual conversation with bandmate Josh Dibb, who performs under the name Deakin. Dibb recorded Tare's last solo effort, Down There in 2010, and two eventually decided to record what would become Eucalyptus in 2015.
Eucalyptus stems from Tare and Deakin's love of recording, as well as an attempt to re-capture the naivëté of high school, when making music was nothing more than a fun way to hang out. "Josh loves recording music—it's something we all got into when we were younger, during high school" Portner explains over the phone, prior to hitting the stage with Animal Collective in Jackson, Wyoming. The early Eucalyptus sessions were casual and unhurried, a vibe that's reflected on the album. "I wanted to it to have a tape-y feel in the sense of the collages and some of the stuff I wanted to bounce down to cassette," Portner recalls. "I wanted it to have a patch-y, collage quality."
Eucalyptus functions like a song cycle, with tracks flowing in and out of one another at an unhurried pace. Tight in structure but loose in feel. It's a passion project in the strictest sense of the phrase. The album is murky and swampy, acoustic guitars and kitchen-sink electronics backing Portner's distinct voice. "Ms. Secret" utilizes a pedal steel sound, giving Eucalyptus' psychedelic minimalism a bit of country flair. Tare's voice is at the forefront of this record, unabashed and excited in delivery. Even when backed by somber instrumentation, his voice is bouncy and ecstatic. Portner is thrilled to be making this record; the fun radiates outwards.
In keeping the project close to home, Portner also enlisted former Slasher Flicks collaborator Angel Deradoorian for the record. "I love her voice and we have a really close, intense relationship—a deep friendship," he tells us. "We've always really respected the music we make, and because I just love her voice so much it was easy to go to Angel. She just gets things spot-on really quickly." The duo's near-telepathic relationship permeates throughout the entire record, as Deradoorian's haunting, wraith-like voice saturates throughout, especially on a track like "Melody Unfair," in which her voice blends with the electronic landscape to create a texture distant and otherworldly.
While the California scenery hovers over Eucalyptus, Portner's time in Los Angeles and his relationship with Deradoorian also impacted the album's sound. "A lot of it is about change. Being in nature, I like to observe patterns and cycles, [like] seasons." For Portner, the cycles of the Earth and the patterns of his life are intertwined. "I notice these things in the ocean and in forests and see how they relate to my life—my relationship to LA, which was a passing phase for me, getting over certain emotions," he adds. "My relationship with Angel came to a close in LA. It's all in there." When the lyrical content doesn't directly touch on these themes, Portner's compositions are still steeped in a reflective hum—a level of contemplation that's melancholic and, at times, joyous too.
Eucalyptus harks back to the early days of Animal Collective, back when it was just him and Panda Bear jamming out by an imaginary campfire. "I think Animal Collective is very human in one sense—with the melodic elements and emotions," he reflects. "But that's tucked away within this larger palette of sounds and environments." On Eucalyptus, Portner touches directly upon the source, tapping its energy for California's expansive deserts and endless oceans—navigating this inspiration back towards his life. "Everything's related and there are so many things happening on a much larger level that are also happening on a smaller level," he reflects. And this is the similar to how Eucalyptus operates as a whole, with small ideas and fragments crashing together into something much, much bigger. Avey Tare's music is caught somewhere between the cosmic and the mundane. There's no place he'd rather be.
Will Schube is a writer based in Texas. Follow him on Twitter.