Vetiver interview

TMF sits down with frontman Andy Cabic.

Way-homer….when I first read that term in an interview with Andy Cabic, affable and dishy leader of the San Francisco band Vetiver, I had my own interpretation of what he meant. As an ex-pat living in Manchester certain types of music, certain bands, certain songs, feel like souvenirs from home, like flicking through an old photo album, the memories come pouring back in. Vetiver’s beautiful and laid-back songs full of yearning, roaming, loss and resolution have that laid back west-coast vibe to them that always makes me feel a bit home-sick.

Cabic is himself a bit of an ex-pat. Growing up in northern Virginia and living for a time in Greensboro, North Carolina, he finally relocated to San Francisco after the break up of his first band The Raymond Brake. In 2004 he formed Vetiver (named after a type of grass native to India) and the band released their first self-titled debut on DiCristina Records, with To Find Me Gone following in 2006. 2008 saw the release on Things of the Past (on Gnomonsong Recordings), a stunning collection of obscure cover songs that the band had amassed throughout their travels, many of them, like ‘The Swimming Song’ becoming staples of their live sets. That collection of songs helped shape their newest release 2009’s Tight Knit. More stripped down than their earlier recordings, the songs retain their passion and quiet energy that washes over you like waves lapping on a beach. Way-homer. I get it now. These songs may not knock you over the first time, but like those waves, their gentle power will eventually leave an impression, and it will be a lasting one.

After the band’s thrilling performance at Manchester’s Academy 3 on September 7th, Cabic very kindly granted me an interview in which he discusses his band’s musical evolution, his love of synths, and the democratisation of music.

TMF: Kings of Leon complained that they get a better reception over here than in the States because Americans just want to listen to kiddie rock like Hannah Montana and Jona Brothers. Do you agree? How does the reception you get here differ from the States?

AC: Well, it’s hard to say. I live in San Francisco but the rest of my band lives on the East Coast. And that sort of condition kind of creates a situation where we tend to play….We do actually play London maybe more than other places, but generally speaking we play most cities about the same amount of times every year. We don’ play San Francisco more than we play Los Angeles more than we play New York City, it’s kind of all around the same. So I’m not sure I would be the best person with a perspective on that. I mean, different countries and different places, you know you could generalize and say culturally maybe sort of applaud or [they] are quiet or talkative during sets in different ways but, you know, I’ve had enough exceptions to the rule to not really feel like there’s a rule. So, it’s hard to say. But I do like playing over here, especially Manchester, London, and certain cities where we have like what seems like a really strong enthusiastic audience.

TMF: Well, as you can tell I’m originally from the States, from Oregon. I’ve been away for a while. What is the music scene back home like? Have they embraced the 80s like the UK has? There’s kind of an 80s revival thing going on here with lots of keyboard and synthy-type bands. What’s the scene like over there right now?

AC: You know I think that with the Internet and the sort of “Democratisation” of recording technology it’s meant that there’s a lot more bands that, at least [that] I’m aware of, are out there. So I think that actually I haven’t noticed there being a predominance of any one sound. I think that you have rather like cliques and sub-scenes that are richer for that. But I would be hard pressed to say that there’s any one sort of dominant theme. 80s fashion is certainly popular in terms of like bright colours and sort of like big sneakers. But I myself I live in San Francisco in sort of like a tame quiet section that’s really just filled with Asian grandmothers and Russian widows, so I’m not a good judge of the sorts of things out there.

TMF: So are you not really affected by the current music scene?

AC: I just do what I do, and that’s what I do. I have no problem with keyboards and ones from the 80s are fantastic and I use them in a lot of my music though you probably couldn’t pick that out, they’re in there, and I love that stuff.

MF: Are you influenced at all by other contemporary bands? For instance, what do you like listening to?

AC: I like Gillian Welch a lot, I like strong songwriters, people with good lyrics, I think she’s a good lyricist. I think Bill Calahan’s a great lyricist. I like people who take care with how they record their records. I think the new Dan Auerbach record is really well recorded and sounds great. But I like all kinds of things. I like things that are recorded really “crapilly”, and are probably ephemeral in the eyes of the maker too. It just all depends on the mood and how it hits you.

TMF: Tight Knit seems to me more personal and introspective than To Find Me Gone. Was that just a natural progression of where you were going musically or did you consciously strive to create a different sounding album?

AC: I had line-up changes, and a lot of the songs on To Find Me Gone were of the same sort of era and time as the first album where as all the ones from Tight Knit were created separate from those. I think it’s just an evolution in terms of recording at the studio The Hanger which was where Things of the Past was recorded. It’s sort of…it’s the fourth record I’ve done with Tom [Monahan, producer], so, he’s grown a lot in terms of his capabilities, and I had a new group of people that were involved with the record too. So it’s a lot of those things. I wouldn’t say it’s any more introspective than To Find Me Gone, at least I don’t think of it that way, but I do think it’s got…it touches on things that are on all of the records that lead up to it, and then it adds some new things, so I think it’s kind of a cumulative sounding record.

TMF: In between you recorded an album of cover songs called Things of the Past which you described it as “an experiment”, and one of the best experiences you’ve ever had. Did recording that album help shape Tight Knit?

AC: Yes. It was kind of a precursor. I hadn’t finished writing Tight Knit, and I knew that when it was time to record that album we were going to do it at the studio in Sacramento called The Hanger, so in order to get some of my new band mates sort of familiar with working with Thom, and in order to try to record and mix the entire record at that studio we went in there and did Things of the Past. So definitely we set out to record sort of the same way.

TMF: It’s actually the album that got me into your band. I heard you a session Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour a while back, you did ‘Blue Driver’, I thought it was such a great idea and I loved the stories behind some of the songs. One record you got in a thrift shop….it’s like this photo album of songs, I just loved it. And from there I discovered your other music.

AC: Oh, that’s great.

TMF: OK, last question. You said of the Tight Knit that “There’s still the “way-homer” vibe that is intrinsic in everything you do. Are you always trying to find a way back home?

AC: Well, that’s not what “way-homer” means.

MF: Oh, isn’t it? Did I get it wrong?

AC: No, no…it comes from a comedy term. I think it refers to when someone tells you a joke and you don’t get it right away you get it on the way home. So, what I meant by that was that a lot of times our music just sort of skims over people and it’s not until they give it repeated listens that it sinks in and people sort of come to like it….

TMF: It kind of percolates. Some of my favourite bands are bands now I didn’t get at first and the more you listen to them the more they kind of seep into your bloodstream and those are the bands that stay with you, aren’t they?

AC: I think so. I hope so.

Veriver are playing the End Of The Road Festival, Dorset 11/9, the Audio, Brighton 12/9, and Bestival, Isle of Wight 13/9.


Updated: Sep 11, 2009

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