Slow Growth: Vetiver

Vetiver’s Andy Cabic prepares to translate from the studio to live performances

Andy Cabic has been at it for a while. Under the moniker Vetiver, he had his coming out in the freak folk explosion of the early oughts alongside tourmates Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart. Unlike their contemporaries, Vetiver was always easy on the freak, instead offering up the kind of classic, amber-encased folk-rock you might've found in your cool baby-boomer uncle's old LP-filled fruit crate. 

His newest collection of songs, Complete Strangers, slides right on in out of nowhere, like a late afternoon mist over the San Francisco bay, where Cabic has lived since 1998. His new band is light and tight, and the production has a lot to notice without feeling fussed over. Whereas the previous long-players were unabashedly indebted to the '70s, this has more to do with the era when bands like the Sea & Cake and Stereolab were re-imagining AM radio and bossa nova through their dorm room windows. There's a new groove going on—it ain't quite funky, but someone's been using an air freshener around here. 

So I called Andy at 4:30 in the afternoon and he cleared a few things up.

One thing I have to say about Complete Strangers is that I really like the snare drum sound, and I hate snares, I make all of my drummers turn them off.

Ah, so you're more of a tom guy...

Oh totally. Is there any snare-secret you had when making the record?

No. Josh Adams played drums on the record so, he would be man to talk to about that.

So he just hits it good. He really does, man. He's a really carefully grooving drummer, and Tom [Monahan, engineer] gets great sounds. We've done a lot of records together, and it's just a slow growth of our long relationship.

Did Vetiver start as a solo project or a democratic band?

Well, it's just what I call my songwriting. The lineup's always been changing. It's a democracy of one, I guess.

Is there a difference between the live band and the studio band?

It always mutates a little bit, mostly [because of] time and people's schedules, but at the moment a different group played on this record than [the touring band].

Do you appreciate the novelty, after getting so deep into the arrangements on the record, to go out with a band of new players and kind of re-discover the songs?

Oh yeah, its fun. It's a totally different experience to write the songs and then demo and record and then play it [live]. That's how all of these songs worked: they started in the studio [before being performed]. This is the first time that no one who's in the band played on the album.

So you've been adapting for over a decade, have you been touring this whole time?

Just when it makes sense, when I can do tours that make money...

Yeah, when you can pay people.

Yes, exactly, cover expenses and so forth... and also I had a band where people were starting to do their own projects. I got to the point where I didn't have a touring band in place. So I pulled together Vetiver as it is now.

Do you feel differently about [touring] now than when you started?

It's a constantly percolating industry that is really saturated with touring bands right now, probably more so than when I started. So everything being relative, it's hard to draw any conclusions, except that I'm fortunate to be able to do this for a living.

So this is all you do at this point, you don't have a day job or anything?

No, I'm a musician.

Well, you're one of the lucky few.

Yeah... lucky or cursed, it's hard to tell the difference.

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