Vetiver-they're not copying anybody.When Andy Cabic writes music, he just writes music. He doesn't
ponder his influences or how the record label will respond to his work or how
people like this writer will interpret it-the dude just writes music, then
plays it with his band, Vetiver.
Although quietly talked about in the indie folk universe for the last half of this decade, San Francisco's Vetiver-a band with an oft-rotating lineup that for all intents and purposes is Cabic's personal vehicle for his songs-has only recently started to turn heads en masse, thanks to January's Tight Knit, the band's first disc on Sub Pop Records. Vetiver got an additional nod of respect in this region when it was named one of the headliners (along with Dr. Dog and Blitzen Trapper) at the Pickathon festival this weekend, the Portland-area event that's increasingly becoming the go-to festival for today's cutting edge roots-based acts.
Like Dr. Dog and label mate Fleet Foxes, Vetiver has been viewed by some critics and fans as creating tunes that seem a tribute to, or imitation of, earlier times. Cabic said this has never been his intention with Vetiver.
"I think it's really just attention to detail and good playing and well-recorded songs that give that impression, because I think there's something to be said for the production values and the craft of recording and songwriting from decades past," says Cabic over the phone from Los Angeles where he's checking in on some producing gigs, including meetings with legendary singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan, whose album he'll be producing this year.
Cabic is correct; there isn't much of a throwback feel with Vetiver, other than, perhaps, the poetic honesty of Cabic's lyrics. On Tight Knit, Vetiver hops from mellow whimsy-laden folk numbers to bouncing pop nuggets (like "More of This" or "Everyday") that could fit nicely on a Shins record, touching on myriad styles in between. But, like many intensely focused singer-songwriters, Cabic isn't at all concerned with emulating any particular artist or band.
"I think we're able to have different songs sound different ways. I think you'd be hard pressed to say that we sound like, say, the Grateful Dead. A song, or a moment in a song, might have that, but I think there are things that are uniquely us and things that might remind you of another artist," says Cabic.
Cabic's name is often associated with quintessential "freak folk" (probably the worst and most confusing genre name in all of music) star Devendra Banhart, the often-hairy L.A. songster known for his outrageous appearance and his hippie-meets-hipster folk tunes. The two lived together, toured together and played on each other's records for years and have been mutually influenced by each other as both have grown as musicians.
"I think the influence goes both ways with us. We sent out demos of our albums in the same package before either of us had put out anything, so it goes back that far," says Cabic, who played at sessions for Banhart's soon-to-be-released disc, but has devoted more of this time to Vetiver as of late.
"We're not collaborating in the sense that we did early in the story of Vetiver, but that's less to do with some absence of interest in doing it; it's just the way our lives have gone," says Cabic.
Now forging a respected songwriting reputation of his own with Vetiver, Cabic and his current band are using the trip up to the Northwest for Pickathon to stop off in Bend, a place that-and this is pretty cool, at least in the street cred department-was recommended by several of his friends. "I've heard a lot of good things about Bend," he says, thus putting pressure on all of us to ultimately turn out as cool as he's heard we are.