Animal Collective's Geologist Shares How Arizona Shaped the Band's Music

Arizona, which can be somewhat of a mystery to the outside world, impacts musicians in ways that only the West can. For Brian Weitz, better known as Geologist and as one-fourth of Animal Collective, his academic stint at southern Arizona’s Biosphere, while a Columbia University undergrad, caused him to revisit the classic psychedelia of his childhood that would later shape such seminal AnCo records as Merriweather Post Pavilion and Strawberry Jam.

“I spent six months [in Arizona], and I remember that being the first time that it made me thing 'Well, I’ve lived in New York now for three years, and I’ve been listening to all this experimental electronic stuff,'” he recalls. “I remember going to Arizona and going 'This stuff doesn’t work out here, it’s hard to listen to this music in my car while I’m driving around the desert.'' I just sort of like music to be cinematic, I like it to fit with what I’m looking at, and I think it was when I was in Arizona that I was thinking I just wanted to put on a Grateful Dead record or go out to PDQ [in Tucson].”

So strong was Weitz and company’s affection for the Dead that Animal Collective was allowed to sample the band on 2009’s “What Would I Want? Sky,” the only time that the Grateful Dead has allowed their work to be used in such a way. Animal Collective tends to have that effect on people; there’s an immersive nature to their work that’s sweeping, left-of-field and ever-shifting while still retaining bits of both accessibility and the weirdness that’s drawn the college set since the early aughts.

“We obviously have songs like 'My Girls' that have done a bit better, are more universal, but we’re pretty aware that our back catalog is not going to be for everyone,” he says. “Even some records, some people haven’t enjoyed us at all since Here Comes The Indian, so we’re kind of used to it. Maybe with some kids, when we’re in the middle of some ten-minute, ambient portion of the set where we’re not actually playing a song, maybe that’s the part that will speak to them and they’ll be inspired by the freedom and watching us go into it.”

Such inspiration unto all could make the case for the buzz surrounding events like Animal Collective’s visually stunning 2011 Coachella set, replete with projection cubes and a spaceship-worthy light array, to the band’s recent world premiere of 2015's pop-leaning Painting With over the speakers of the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Animal Collective is nothing if not unorthodox in their approach, and that’s part and parcel of their appeal to their next generation of fans. Weitz knows this, and despite almost 17 years of a band and the acknowledgment of his age, it’s the possibility of Animal Collective being instrumental for someone that’s one of his driving forces today.

“It’s a weird feeling for us, I like the shows where the kids are really young, because to me they bring a lot more energy than an older person, and I say that even as someone in my mid-30s,” he says, laughing. “When I go to shows now I’m not really going to push up to the front, [just] stay close to the bar and the bathrooms. I like when the kids show up, and I also feel like maybe they are a bit more impressionable. We realize it’s not going to work for all of them.”
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Kristian C. Libman