Exclusive: PopBytes talks with Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom

After the 2009 release of Animal Kingdom’s album, Signs and Wonders, they were named by iTunes as the “Best New Alternative Act.”

Three years later, the British trio has released their eagerly anticipated sophomore record, The Looking Away. And later this month, they’re bringing their live act to this side of the Atlantic for the first time.

In anticipation of Animal Kingdom’s first ever U.S. headlining tour, I caught up with band members Richard Sauberlich, Hamish Crombie and Geoff Lea to talk about the new album, their upcoming shows, The Wizard of Oz, deep fried donut burgers, and more.

AN: How do you feel your music has evolved from the release of Signs and Wonders to The Looking Away?

RS: I think the songwriting’s stronger and the record feels a lot more cohesive than our first one. Sonically we also got much closer to the sound we imagined this time round – we learned a lot more about how to create the kind of sounds we were hearing in our heads during the writing stage of this record and spent a lot of time making sure we had the atmospheres and textures in the demos down along with the songs themselves before heading into record. It’s the first thing we’ve recorded that I’m really happy with; normally I find it really hard to listen back to our own ‘proper’ recordings.  So yeah, lots of credit due to our producer, David Kosten.

HC: Working with David Kosten (who made the Bat For Lashes records) made a big difference. He was very good at taking our demos, which were pretty developed already, and getting the best out of them.

GL: A lot of songs on Signs and Wonders were written over quite a long period of time and rehearsed over and over again just with the basic ingredients of two guitars, bass and drums. We also recorded with that traditional style band set up, which is what we wanted at the time but when we came to writing and recording The Looking Away, we all started to branch out a bit from our comfort zone instruments. We messed around with old sampler keyboards and laptops to create some interesting textures, which inevitably gave the music more depth. Also, when we were looking at producers, it was important to us that they were a firm believer in creating a more hybrid sound.

AN: Your sound has often been compared to bands like Coldplay and The Shins. How would you best describe your music to someone who has never heard an Animal Kingdom song before?

RS: Ha! We’ve also been compared to The Cure and Sigur Ros in the space of a few days so I’m not sure how good a gauge these kinds of comparisons are. I’d describe our music as euphoric and melancholic at the same time. There are a lot of different colors on the record, though. It’s a bit kaleidoscopic.

HC: People have said everything from Death Cab For Cutie to Radiohead. Hopefully we sound like us.

GL: It’s essentially song-based indie but with a hazy splash of electronica and killer drum grooves! (P.S. I’m the drummer).

AN: In a few weeks, you’ll be embarking on your first ever U.S. tour. What about playing for American audiences excites you the most?

RS: We’ve heard from friends in other bands that the American audiences are much less reserved than English crowds. Also, we’ve not really played these new songs out live yet to people so that’s going to be exciting. Aside from that, just getting on the road in America has this kind of mythic quality to it if you are three guys from England that play music. It’s what you dream of doing when you’re first getting blisters on your fingers learning the guitar. I’m sure it’s the same for American bands coming to Europe for the first time.

HC: Because “Strange Attractor” has only been released in US and Canada so far, it’s gonna be special connecting with people live, who up until now we’ve only really met on Twitter and Facebook.

GL: From the reaction we’ve had from “Strange Attractor,” it feels like a lot of peeps over there are really getting what we do, so playing the new record and traveling from state to state will be a blast.

AN: You’ll also be playing some big music festivals this summer like Lollapalooza in Chicago and the Outsidelands Music and Arts Festival in San Francisco. What other bands are you most looking forward to seeing at these events?

RS: There are so many I wanted to see but we have to leave for the next city pretty much as soon as we finish. Both of the lineups are amazing.

HC: Jack White, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, SBTKT, White Denim.

GL: Both festivals look amazing. I’m gutted we can’t spend the whole weekend there as there’s the heavyweights such as Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Metallica, all of which I’d play along to for hours when I was young, and also the likes of Amadou and Mariiam, our neighbors Bombay Bicycle Club, Justice, Twin Shadow, etc. To be honest, festivals are always about finding new acts for me so just wandering around and checking out stuff I’ve never heard like The Growlers would be great – I love that band name!

AN: Speaking of touring, you’ve previously hit the road with bands like Snow Patrol, Vampire Weekend, Band of Horses and Silversun Pickups. What do you find to be the biggest differences between playing headlining shows versus being the opening act?

HC: Often opening for a band you’re kind of the wallpaper while people buy their drinks! Headlining is always more pressure but more rewarding, as people have come specifically to see you.

GL: The back stage catering …

AN: On your last album, you had a song called “Tin Man.” On this new one, you have a song called “Straw Man.” I have to ask –- do you have a track centered around the cowardly lion in the works? 

RS: Ah! Straight to the top of the class, Alex! Been waiting for that question for a while but you’re the first ones to get there! Naw, it’s entirely coincidental. “Tin Man” was originally called “Computer Love,” but we changed the title because of the Kraftwerk song with the same name. “Straw Man” is just about someone melting away in the wind and how fragile we are. I was always vaguely freaked out by the The Wizard Of Oz, though; I did not like that green witch one bit. “I’m mellllllting…. melllltttttting ….”

HC: We were working on a track called “Jell-O Man” for the longest time but it came out a bit shaky.

GL: No, but we have one called “Toto.”

AN: The Looking Away’s lead single, “Strange Attractor,” became your first song to chart on American Modern Rock radio. Can we expect a new single/music video in the near future?

R: Yeah, we’re not sure which track it’ll be yet or exactly when it’ll be out. Definitely got some good ideas for the videos, though.

HC: We have a couple of options and are thinking up video ideas right now. It’s going to be hard, video-wise, to top a slow motion Jell-O puking supermodel.

AN: The album gets its name from a phrase that is scattered throughout various lyrics on it. Can you tell me a little bit what the term “the looking away” signifies to you and why you thought it best represented the theme of the record as a whole?

RS: It’s about a kind of selective inattention, about deliberately tuning things out. The simplest way to describe it I guess could be that when I looked at the paper this morning I saw a headline about a massacre in Syria, but I clicked on an article about the ‘10 best toasters’ instead. Its about disassociation and disengagement.  Allowing yourself to be distracted, or choosing not to let something uncomfortable into your field of view.

It was a phrase I saw while I was writing “The Art of Tuning Out”  – I think it was in a John Pilger, or Medialens book – and it started out as the title of that song originally, and then the rest of the record started to grow around it – or maybe it started to throw a bit of a shadow across the record instead.

HC: It’s that modern guilt associated with distracting yourself with bullshit on a day-to-day basis. It’s always easier to check your Twitter than it is to really take a look at the dark stuff happening all around the world.

AN: Can you tell me a little bit about the story of the music video for “Strange Attractor”? It’s not every day you watch a beautiful girl projectile-vomit chunks of rainbows.

RS: Well we’re having a lot of fun reading different people’s interpretations of it, so we don’t want to really say what it means to us and pop that bubble! Besides, do you really need a reason to watch a model eject a rainbow of Jell-O and milk in glorious high definition 2500 frames per second!?  No! You just hit the play button again … and again. On The Wizard of Oz theme you brought up earlier, though – if you want to peer behind the curtain then you can see day one of when we first came up with the concept and filmed Geoff on our phones puking up different mixtures of milk and colored things. I think the one on there is colored feathers and yogurt. It’s not pretty. You can see it below at 3.40 in.

HC: It was a hard day for the poor model: 12 hours of milk and blue Jell-O! She had to make a disgusting thing somehow beautiful and pulled it off. She deserves an Oscar in a category that has yet to be invented.

AN: While we’re on the topic of throwing up, what’s been the most bizarre or culturally shocking American food you’ve seen on a menu in your time here thus far?

RS: We’re actually massive fans of that show Man Vs Food, which you get over here in the UK too. I have gotten in touch with the host, Adam Richman, on Twitter. He’s going to give us some tips for places to go when we’re touring. I’ve spent a lot of time getting very hungry watching that show, and now it’s payback time. The plan is to try some of the challenges and call it “Band Vs Food.” Maybe film some and stick it up on our website.

HC: I always loved the deep fried burger between two donuts. Clean, simple and nutritious.

GL: The Chicago Pizza Pie took some serious eating…

AN: I suspect that the three of you are very close. Who’s the biggest troublemaker and who’s the voice of the reason in the group?

HC: I think we all veer between personality types. If Geoff has been drinking too much, though, we’ll get him his pills and try and get him to sleep. It usually takes both Rich and I to restrain him.

GL: Hamish, after a few sherbets, is known to go a bit AWOL but lets just say Rich and I are reasonably good at clearing up the mess.

AN: Anything else you’d like to add that we didn’t talk about?

RS: We going to try and do some impromptu acoustic things while we’re on tour, so if you want to come along we’ll be putting them up last minute on Twitter!

HC: In which state can I purchase the deep fried doughnut burgers?

Animal Kingdom - The Looking Away

Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. Alex lives in Western Massachusetts and can be found on Twitter at @AlexKNagorski.