When Animal Collective’s winsome pop collides with Philly-based video artist Danny Perez, odd shit occurs. Perez has a knack for sussing out the band’s darkness. Take Perez’s first collaboration with the group, for 2004’s breakout indie pop single, “Who Could in a Rabbit.” Tangentially a video updating of the tortoise and hare race, it devolves into shocking cannibalism by song’s end. And for last year’s “Summertime Clothes,” Perez paired that MPP song’s sweet summertime stroll with throbbing flesh pod dancers right out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
So AC fans expecting something like a huggable romp (much less a concert film) when Animal Collective team up with Perez for the feature-length Sundance Film Festival brain-scrambler ODDSAC (screening tonight at the Visual Arts Theater) will have expectations quickly dashed. Band members Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist, and Deakin appear but as eerie doppelgangers of themselves. Tare gleams in demonic red, Bear rocks an Edgar Winter frightwig, Geologist looks like he stumbled away from Renaissance Fair with too much mead, while Deakin recasts himself as the next Nosferatu (or Joshferatu, if you’re clever), ruining a family camping expedition with a long, horrifying sequence that will turn you off of roasting marshmallows over a campfire forever.
And every visual vignette gets distorted even further by Perez’s masterful video manipulation, creating abstract washes that both mesmerize and disturb in equal measure. We asked Perez a few quick questions as ODDSAC makes its New York premiere and he scrambles to load props into a van for Animal Collective’s takeover of the Guggenheim later this week. His lone request: “Jesus, just don’t ask if the music or the visuals came first. I hate that question.”
[Unprompted:] I’m really proud of ODDSAC. I really feel like it’s a 21st century work in some ways as far as re-contextualizing a lot of things that we love. It’s a hodge-podge approach that reflects the level of cultural saturation we’re in in the world. Whether it’s music or art or film, it’s a reconfiguring of elements so as to make something new. It’s for people with a short attention span. If you get bored, it moves on fairly quickly. It’s for people with no attention span. I hope people glean that from it. In one way, it’s oddly critic-proof. There’s no middle ground with it. People will either be stoked or else hate it and dismiss it. But it warrants multiple viewings. My main desire was to make something I would be stoked about.
What was the band bringing to the table, in terms of visual ideas? I notice the horror movie motif arose but was there an underlying structure to the movie overall?
Not really. We hashed out all these ideas and while we knew there would be live-action vignettes to it, the video animation was open-ended. I kept plot and structure out of it as I didn’t want any of that. It doesn’t have to have a beginning, it doesn’t have to have an ending, but in the end, I’m glad it’s bookended in a way by Dave’s scenes.
Was there anything that you edited out for being too linear or making too much sense?
The way the footage was shot, being linear was never a concern. I was happy with what we had. I gave myself a challenge by taking traditional narrative elements and taking it as far as we could go. Shooting kids, or shooting people in a room, and then treating it as purely visual aspect to manipulate was our primary concern. The live-action stuff was treated compositionally as something for me to warp in the frame, which isn’t that different from stuff I had previously done with Animal Collective in the past. There was more of a budget so that we could incorporate more cinematic elements, in terms of lighting and staging, but we went mostly with accidental stuff we captured. Shooting scenes with the kids was a nightmare in terms of trying to capture what we originally intended. The kids wouldn’t follow script or would cry because of the bright lights and so I just had to work with random stock footage of them and try to make something out of it.
While I can’t imagine the band referencing Led Zeppelin, did each band member conceive of their own scenes, a la The Song Remains the Same?
We knew each one would be featured individually, but it was a pretty wide cross-pollination.
So who hated s’mores in the band?
That was me! That whole campfire sequence stemmed from us having this vampire (played by Deakin) emerge from a canoe on the water after a long distended sequence of video. So what else can we do? In typical form, we just went with him coming onto the land and finding these campers. That was our attempt to try and subvert the ideas that people have about Animal Collective as these campfire-loving, whimsical kids being cute, which we all find clichéd and unappealing. So we went “okay” and made this sequence that was just this gelatinous, sugary…brutality. We thought it was funny and horrifying at the same time.
It’s truly a frightening sequence. And it’s funny that their Campfire Songs album gets reissued right as this film is getting screened, an album which truly did put out there this vibe of the band as benevolent, gentle, peace-loving granola crunchers.
Totally. That was a fun thing to do, to make a big visual-aural arc that goes for this John Carpenter-esque horror scene. I was particularly happy with that scene. We went through a lot of marshmallows and marshmallow bags (the latter of which got incorporated into the movie’s poster design).
Was there a willful subversion of fans’ expectations? To try and challenge their preconceived notions about where the band might go next?
Honestly, they’ve always had that in them. Take Here Comes the Indian. The more out there elements are always present. I have more respect for them because of that. That we could score a movie like this was pretty rad. We started the shoot like four years ago, and that it got to be finished is sorta amazing. I mean, even the company we did this with downsized by 80%. Even with the success of Merriweather Post Pavilion, it would be a difficult climate to even make a film like this now. We were lucky to get in when we did.
Were there any other band movies of this ilk that you guys look up to as a standard?
We’re fans of–and not necessarily the music, only the movie–Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels. That has a lot of sweet visual moments, with video manipulation and pioneering effects. It’s super tripped-out. And same with the Monkees’ movie Head, this giant surreal debacle funded by a major studio. I always think about that. At the very least, the Monkees made something even more ridiculous forty years ago.