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Chicagoist Interview: Andy Cabic of Vetiver

By Eric Hehr in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 3, 2011 8:00PM


If you have yet to hear The Errant Charm by Vetiver, you are missing the perfect soundtrack to Summer 2011. The Errant Charm is Vetiver’s fifth studio album, and it showcases an ever-growing palette of instrumentation, tones, and song-craft.

There is a relaxing effervescence to The Errant Charm that echoes Vetiver’s previous albums, but there is also a vibrant sense of energy that is new to Vetiver’s tonality; one that conjures up nostalgic images of pool-side rendezvous and sunny afternoons. Bandleader and songwriter, Andy Cabic, approaches his vocals as if every melody is a lullaby, gently crooning over a texturized sea of acoustic guitars and analog synths. The 10-song Lp is leisurely paced, as if it was written to be the soundtrack to a summer daydream, and it’s easy to get lost in it’s unswerving pleasantness.

This is an album made for strolling around your neighborhood at sunset - right after you’ve left the beach, and right before you head to a back-deck BBQ. It has summer written all over it, but don’t fret! Summer isn’t over yet, and Vetiver is playing Lincoln Hall on September 8th with Sub Pop label mates, Fruit Bats. You still have a chance to soak up the sunny vibes before the chill of fall settles in.

I recently spoke with Cabic about the writing and recording of The Errant Charm, how San Francisco influences his music, his unfamiliarity with Chicago, and Vetiver’s upcoming gig at Lincoln Hall:

CHICAGOIST: The Errant Charm is your second release off of Sub Pop, which is a label known for breaking up and coming bands by releasing their first album. However, your first Sub Pop release, Tight Knit (2009), was actually your fourth record, and you have an extensive resume dating back to Vetiver’s debut in 2004. How do you feel Vetiver’s career has changed since signing to Sub Pop?

ANDY CABIC: I don’t think it’s changed that much, but I think you’re correct: Sub Pop has a lot more notoriety for breaking bands than they do for working with bands who are in the middle of their career. All my work with Vetiver has been a gradual expansion - an expansion of the music and the audience over the course of time. Sub Pop has done a great job with tour press and radio, but I haven’t noticed a huge market change for the band over the course of the past two albums.

C: I’ve read that you spent hours wandering the streets of San Francisco’s Richmond District listening to rough mixes of The Errant Charm, and I’ve always been interested in how locations can influence music and bring out song ideas you wouldn’t normally have elsewhere. Do you feel that your location influenced The Errant Charm?

AC: I spent a lot of time walking around the Richmond District while working on The Errant Charm in the hopes that a listeners first encounter with the album would be one where they walk around their own neighborhood with headphones on. I’ve lived in the Richmond District for about 7 years, so I don’t necessarily think the location is specific to The Errant Charm. I’ve written all my albums in San Francisco, so you would have to listen to all of Vetiver’s albums to find that connecting thread of San Francisco.

C: The first thing that struck me about The Errant Charm was the album cover. It creates a sense of synesthesia - the aesthetic of the cover seems to sum up the sound of the album. What’s the story behind the album cover, and how does it play into the vibe of the music?

AC: I collaborated with Nathaniel Russell on the album artwork. He’s a close friend of mine, and has worked on previous album artwork for Vetiver. Before he even listened to The Errant Charm, he sent me a few dozen ideas, and the image that’s on the cover was one of those ideas. We spent awhile deciding on the font, but the artwork came together really quickly. The overall feeling of the cover captures the arch of the record to me. There’s also something abstract yet recognizable about it that I enjoy.

C: There is an electronic ambiance on The Errant Charm that is much more pronounced compared to previous Vetiver albums, which in the past have been more rooted in folk instrumentation. It seems where there would have been steel pedal swells on previous albums, there are now synth swells. Where did this new influence come from, and how do it shape the direction of the album?

AC: We’ve used synthesizers on past records like To Find Me Gone (2006), but in a more textured way. For The Errant Charm, I wanted to bring those sounds to the foreground of the sonic spectrum. The use of that kind of instrumentation is a reflection of a lot of different styles of music that I enjoy, and I wanted to find a way to incorporate that into Vetiver’s music without going in a totally different direction. There’s still a lot of acoustic guitar on The Errant Charm, but it’s not featured as predominantly as past Vetiver albums. My producer, Thom Monahan, has a lot of vintage, analog synths at his studio, and we just kept layering them on. I think that electronic element is the thread that ties the album together.

C: There is a very calming, laid-back mood to all of the songs on The Errant Charm. Did you intend to capture this specific mood, or did it happen organically as you were writing and recording?

AC: I think that’s just kind of my style. I think most Vetiver records have a laid back vibe to them. It’s just, like, what I do (laughs). To be honest, I think some of the most energetic, up-tempo Vetiver songs are on The Errant Charm, so when the first reviews came back as “another super mellow record from Vetiver” I was like, “Well, I don’t know what to do” (laughs). I think that laid-back mood is just at the core of my songwriting and production interests.

C: You’re playing Chicago on September 8th at Lincoln Hall with Fruit Bats. When you’re in Chicago, are their any specific places you always go to, or things that you’re looking forward to checking out?

AC: I still haven’t cracked Chicago yet. It’s a mystery to me. To this day, I don’t know too many people there, and I’ve never spent more than a day in town. We played Lincoln Hall last fall with Dawes, and I walked over to a record store called Gramaphone Records, but besides that I don’t know of too many Chicago hotspots. Open to suggestions!

C: Any bands or music coming out of Chicago that you’ve been listening to recently?

A: I like Kate Simko a lot, who is a great Chicago based artist.

C: Anything you want to tell your Chicago fans about the upcoming gig at Lincoln Hall?

A: Just come on out and have a good time. Vetiver doesn’t come through Chicago too often, and I’m not sure when we’ll be back next. We’re very excited to play.

Vetiver plays Lincoln Hall Thursday, September 8th with Fruits Bats and Breathe Owl Breathe. 9pm. 21+

For more information on Vetiver, visit: