When Animal Collective’s Avey Tare set out to record his solo debut, “Down There,” he took inspiration from a number of unexpected sources, including the cosmic horror of author H.P Lovecraft and the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger film “Predator.”
“I’ve always liked really ‘wet’ sounding textures. Something like the noise the Predator makes,” he wrote in a recent email exchange. “That combined with my love of horror and sci-fi was really the initial inspiration. I like the idea of dwelling on the unknown. It makes life more mysterious.”
Fittingly, the songs that emerge are dark, atmospheric and swampy, as if they came from the soundtrack to a lost John Carpenter film. Indeed, some cuts barely register as songs at all, coming across like digital ghosts more than fully formed musical ideas — a point Tare, who performs at the Majestic Theatre on Dec. 6, readily admits.
“I think some of the criticism of ‘Down There’ would be that the some of the songs seem like…well, not songs, really,” he said. “And in a way that’s true. I didn’t really want to write the kind of songs I write with Animal Collective that are more complex. I wanted to get these little pieces and textures and fit them together like a collage. It’s very similar to the way I make visual art, and to me this record is a very visual thing.”
It’s also, in its own way, intensely personal. Though Tare wrote most of the songs for the album when things were going relatively well for him professionally — Animal Collective was touring behind the critically lauded “Merriweather Post Pavilion” at the time — privately, his life was gradually coming apart at the seams. Over the course of several months, the musician’s grandmother passed away, his sister was diagnosed with cancer (“Heather in the Hospital” was written about her struggles with the illness) and he parted ways with his wife, singer Kristin Valtysdottir.
“I’m sure most people can relate to the fact that it can be really hard to find a perfect balance in life — the kind of balance where everything from family to love to work to relaxation all make sense and seem to fit,” Tare said. “It was a really hard time for me in that regard. It still can be in some ways.”
For that reason, the musician initially chose not to tour behind “Down There” following its October 2010 release, citing an unwillingness to live with the emotionally draining material on a nightly basis. And even though Tare said he’s now put some distance between himself and the album’s more personal tunes, he admitted that some are still too raw to perform live, including “Ghost of Books,” a trippy number where the singer appears to contemplate the blindsided nature of his divorce.
“I ran to tell all my good friends of the new love I did find,” he sings, his voice awash in a digital fog. “I was confused by the changing tide.”
Most of the songs on the album started as sparse bedroom sketches, and from the onset Tare never envisioned performing them with Animal Collective, believing his minimalist approach didn’t fit what the band was doing at the time.
“I like my own music to be a bit more minimal. Sometimes I wonder if that turns some AC fans off because they’re used to the barrage of sounds (we) throw at them,” he said. “But I love drone music and techno and even sparser singer-songwriter stuff, so I like to explore that kind of world on my own.”
Still, Tare always viewed his solo turn as more of a parenthetical — a brief moment to pause and catch his breath, if you will — rather than the start of a new career outside the group, and in recent months he relocated from New York City to his hometown of Baltimore, where Animal Collective recently started work on its highly anticipated next album.
“We just finished another two weeks of writing sessions and put together five new songs,” he said, noting that the crew plans to begin full recording sessions in January. “We’re really excited about this record … and it’s been really fun jamming with those guys again.”