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Published: 2011/07/27
by Ron Hart

Vetiver’s Errant Charm

For its second Sub Pop release, Vetiver officially ditches his indie-folk past by delivering an album that teems with a fuller, more vibrant pop sound that pays homage to frontman Andy Cabic and company’s roots in Tusk-era Fleetwood Mac. The palpable energy of these 11 tracks on The Errant Charm can be attributed to the way by which Cabic crafted them: during long walks along the streets of San Francisco listening to the rough mixes on a Walkman. The kinetic stride of this unorthodox creative process can be heard on such buoyant cuts as “Hard to Break” and “Wonder Why”, which have far more in common with Freedy Johnston than Vashti Bunyan. Elsewhere, material like “Fog Emotion” and “Soft Glass” ripple with the catchy subtlety of The Sea and Cake at their most accessible, furthering the melodic potency of this exciting new direction for one of today’s great American bands.

What initially prompted the more pop-oriented direction of The Errant Charm?

I think this was something I’ve been building towards for a while. I’ve always thought of Vetiver as pop music, though perhaps of a subtle, understated variety. It’s been a gradual evolution of arrangements and performers on the albums, culminating in a record with more electric instrumentation, keyboards and a mongrel approach to process.

What were some of your creative touchstones in the creation of this new album?

I used a lot of Thom’s keyboards and synthesizers which have made appearances on past albums, but not to this extent. We used old drum machines and had Otto track on top of them. Many songs on the album were demoed from fragments at Thom’s studio, and those demos shaped the arrangements, pointing the way to the lyrics and so forth, so the process was a little different for this album, not dissimilar to how we recorded To Find Me Gone.

I understand a big part of the creative process for this new album is you listening to its rough mixes during long walks around San Francisco. Are you an avid walker? Do you just go where the sidewalk takes you or do you follow a regular routine path?

San Francisco is a very pedestrian-friendly city. I go on walks when I can and run most errands that way when possible. Including this walking concept in the press sheet for The Errant Charm was more to encourage others to walk around with the album when they first listen to it, as I think it flows well in that context. Somehow, this got reduced to an album about walking or made while walking which isn’t really the case. The songs tend to find their own direction, lyrically and arrangement-wise. You try this, you try that. It either works or it doesn’t or you leave it be and wait and see. I’ve lived in the same place since I recorded the first Vetiver album, so listening to mixes while walking around has played a role in every record, not just this one.

What is it about the work of Thom Monahan that keeps you working with him?

Thom is a good communicator and is clear about his process and what he feels the strengths and areas for improvement are as you’re working. We’re close friends who often complete each other’s thoughts when we’re working together, and we have a shorthand that makes recording fun and immediate. We share a background playing in some of the same scenes and listening to the same records and he knows pretty much what I’m going for in performances and sounds.

Was the creation of The Errant Charm primarily the work of you and Thom or did you have other players involved?

It started with Thom and myself and then we tracked the rest of the touring group in a NJ studio, both capturing live basic tracks for songs and having them play into what I’d been working on with Thom in L.A. Thom and I sorted through all of that, I worked on finishing lyrics and recording vocals, and we completed overdubs and mixing in LA and Sacramento.

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