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Vetiver Frontman Talks the Importance of Not-Rushed Songwriting

On Vetiver's latest record, Andy Cabic let the songs percolate slowly, getting to know them almost as if they were people.

The result is Complete Strangers, a title that hints at how people can sometimes struggle to find connections and how two contradictory sensations keep showing up in relationships: feeling like you barely know a close friend and feeling like you've known somebody for years even though you just met.

Cabic, who formed Vetiver in San Francisco in 2002, has been the band's only constant member, writing songs that find the complex middle between sweetness and melancholy, bringing a duality to bear in both lyrics and music.

"When I'm writing, I'm trying to achieve some kind of a balance," Cabic says. "I like it when songs have some mystery and some dynamics and they can do more than one thing at a time.

"You can definitely point to songs that have a catchy, sweet melody and the lyrics are bittersweet, but it's not a guiding principle I have," he says. "Emotionally, if I have one of those things in there, it's something the song asks for somewhere along the way. It's not something I'm thinking of when I'm writing. It's not by design, or some grand mission statement."

Vetiver released Complete Strangers, the band's sixth album, in March last year on the appropriately named Easy Sound label. The four years since Errant Charm was the longest wait between Vetiver albums, with Cabic going back and forth between San Francisco and Los Angeles, putting together demos at his home as well as working with producer Thom Monahan, who has engineered and co-produced every Vetiver album.

"I took a long time to write the record, but it was a lot of the same incubating and waiting that happens with every record," he says. "They were all things that accumulated slowly — bits of drafts, spending time with my producer, and then taking them back home and pushing them a little further."

The songwriting process for Complete Strangers ranged from the more experimental "Stranger Still," an "anthem for insomniacs" brought to life by him and Monahan patiently layering sounds and ideas on top of each other in the studio, to the simple "Last Hurrah," written quickly on an acoustic guitar in Cabic's living room. Elsewhere, the songs range from the peppy "Loose Ends" to the relaxing "Time Flies."

"These songs on the record were pretty disparate, so the sequencing had a lot to do with making them work together as an album," he says. "It was a matter of cracking some kind of code to make them fit together rather than having just a disparate group of songs."

Vetiver has been an ever-shifting band, with different musicians joining for each record and the touring band changing regularly, some staying longer than others.

"I invited people to play on the record who were musicians I admired," Cabic says. "It's always fun. I love everybody I've worked with on all the albums. I'm not trying to change everything up every time. It all deals with schedules.

"The one constant amidst all these records has been [Monahan]. We're good friends and talk about what's best for the songs. It's the working relationship we have and it's built on the fact that we've done all these records together and we try to keep things interesting."

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Eric is a freelance writer covering music, travel, science, and food and drink.
Contact: Eric Swedlund