A Chat With: Active Bird Community
It's rare to find a band like Active Bird Community; a band made up of recent college graduates who have already been playing together for more than ten years. At such a young age, the group has learned so much about their collective sound and the way that each of them work, just by remaining friends and continuing to play music together. Now based in Brooklyn, the four piece create indie rock music with relaxed vibes and relatable lyrics that has increasingly been turning heads. After garnering attention from Chicago based tastemakers, Audiotree, Active Bird Community was asked to perform at the annual Audiotree Music Festival out in Kalamazoo. While there, they took some time to catch up with ANCHR, talking all about their long and winding past together and what's next for them. The band touches on some of their most surreal moments as a band and talk about the decision to record their next album across the country. Tune in below to get the scoop on all that and more, in our chat with Active Bird Community!
ANCHR Magazine: Let's kick things off by talking about your newest album, which came out in January. How was the writing and recording process for that album? How did it all come together?
Tom D'Agustino: Well, I think we wrote most of it throughout most of college. Mostly senior year of college, which should have been about a little over a year ago. I think the writing process for that...we’d been playing around with them the last couple of years, but it really came together when we went to upstate New York and we worked with a producer, Chris Daly. He works on our records, and he’s a long time friend. It was a really good process. It was pretty quick, I think we knocked it out in like 5 days or something. It was good, and I think it shows on the record, in a good way. It doesn’t sound thrown together, but it definitely has like a raw quality to it that I really enjoy. I think that was something I really enjoyed, just getting in there and getting out.
Andrew Wolfson: I think that the fact that we were about to graduate school, we’d been together for years...it almost felt like it was our last chance to say something. I think that’s why some of the songs came together the way that they came together. A few of the songs that were on the record, we wrote right before we went into the studio. At the end of the day we were really happy with those.
AM: You mentioned you’ve been together for years, starting when you were in middle school. What made you guys get into music so young? Was there a band or family member that inspired you?
Zach Slater: It was very--I don’t wanna say coincidental, but we were all just growing up in the same town and we were all friends. At one point, we had the same guitar teacher. So it all just kind of overlapped and made sense, and it was all something we wanted to do. So it’s been really good for us just having that background, and working together for so long. Experiencing these things, and keeping in mind the hard work we put in, it’s also kind of hilarious that we were playing together in middle school. Some of our biggest shows were at 8th grade recognition night and graduation.
TD: Sold out show! I think also, it started as just little kids fucking around and stuff and going through high school together. Learning how to be a band, and then finally when we all got to school, we went to different colleges, across the country, we kind of kept it going in a way. I was really happy cause that could have been a moment where we all just started new bands or didn’t really want to do it anymore. But throughout the whole time, we were constantly in contact, being like this is something like right when we graduate we’re just gonna fucking go for it. I’m glad that we chose to do that.
Quinn McGovern: I went to college with Tom, that’s how I met Tom. He introduced me to Zach and Andrew through the years as we were playing shows together in the Bronx. I became the new drummer about a year ago in September. September 10th, I got a nice little message in my inbox, asking if I wanted to do it. It’s just been such a blast for me, playing with these guys. I feel like I say that all the time, but it’s so true. Every time I say it and every day goes by, it feels even more true.
AM: You have known each other for a long time, and went to different colleges, and came back together. So it seems like you all just work really well together. What have you learned throughout the years of being a band, about each other and the band as a whole?
AW: I think the biggest lesson is how important this is to us, and we never let go of it. Because it was just this music, and this project, and these people...one of the best things to ever kind of happen to us. And we’ve recognized that through the years. It’s hard not to do what we’re doing cause we love it so much.
TD: I think also going off that, the level of like certainty we’ve had about how much we should be playing together….not in the certainty like a level of success, but it feels so right. That feeling never really wavered since we were children. To me that’s like crazy, I’ve never felt that way about anything else. So to literally grow up and go through life and that feeling with these people, and watch their songwriting grow...and how they approach their art of whatever, it’s nuts. Cause it’s like, I obviously have a personal connection to the band based off of what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling, but being able to be up on a stage like that and look around and being like “that’s fucking Andrew, I remember doing this with him when we were like 13!” You know what I mean, it’s a crazy feeling and something very unique to us as growing up together.
AM: How do you think that your working together and writing together has evolved as you’ve grown up?
TD: I think a big part of that, obviously the more we grow up we sort of develop our own relationships outside of the band and outside of the friend group, but to see that translate into a very familiar and comfortable environment...like Andrew will write a line or Slater [Zach] will write a bass part, like oh wow I still am surprised every time they bring something new to the table. But I can still be like, oh that’s totally them! Like that’s totally genuine. I think another huge part is when Quinn joined the band a year ago. That development that we’ve gotten over the past year, still kind of like honing in our sound and figuring out who we are, but having this completely new artistic voice and presence, has just given us so much more energy and life in the writing and performing.
AM: Have you guys started writing for a new album?
ZS: We’re going to San Diego next weekend to record our next record. It’s written, it exists on our phones.
AM: So you recorded the last record in upstate New York, and then you’re doing this one in San Diego?
ZS: We’re bringing our producer with us. We’re gonna be recording at Lost Ark Studio, and it’s gonna be engineered by Mark Butler.
AM: Nice! What made you decide to go all the way out there?
ZS: I think we felt like...I had a running joke with [our producer] that I wanted to record it in Hawaii, which is obviously never gonna happen, but he hit us up one day like guys, I found the closest thing we can get to Hawaii...this awesome studio in San Diego! We figured out the logistics, and I think for this record it was all really important to us to get out of the Northeast, like out of Brooklyn wherever we are, and really like be out of that headspace, musically and mentally, so that we can really focus on what we’re creating and not being distracted by anything else in our lives. Being thrown in a completely different environment and seeing how that pushes us.
AM: So how do you think growing up around New York City influenced you when you started writing?
AW: I think the fact there were a million bands playing shows in the city, when we got old enough our parents let us go see those shows. We didn’t even realize it, but we were in the middle of this amazing scene. It was inspiring! I can look back at certain shows and those artists completely influenced the way that I play and the way that I write. We were together at those shows, so it was a big--
TD: Yeah we were all kind of getting influenced and inspired at the same time. At the same moment of our lives. We had this cozy cute little town where we could just write songs and break shit, but it was cool to go in the city and be like this is how musicians actually do it. To be exposed to that at a young age, it was amazing.
AM: Do you have specific shows that you remember that influenced you?
AW: The one show whenever I think about it, it was King Krule, Real Estate, and Girls, all in one night. That was life changing for us. I saw Animal Collective during the Merriweather tour. We don’t sound like Animal Collective, but that was awesome. Just to see somebody up there, it was really amazing.
AM: I feel like everyone has artists that influence their sound, and then there are those that influence your stage presence, so I get what you mean!
TD: I remember I went and saw a Panda Bear show on like Randall’s Island or something. A long time ago, I think my brother was a senior in high school and I was a freshman in high school. He invited me to come with him and all this friends, and I was like this is the coolest thing that’s ever happened. I remember just being there and getting to experience that at that big stage, and being surrounded by people older than me and more experienced with music and stuff, and just having that rub off but still feeling comfortable being there...that was a big part of it. I think we were all obsessed with Animal Collective in high school, though.
AW: Yeah, that was a really big thing for us.
AM: Very cool! Then talking about taking your music on the road, you spent the summer with Cymbals Eat Guitars and The Rocket Summer, right? How did those tours go?
TD: They were great! Cymbals Eat Guitars, when we got offered to do that with them...that was one of the bands, when we first started smoking weed and listening to music in high school, we were just like oh my god this is fucking nuts. So getting to meet them and play with them and learn from them, was crazy. To feel like you’re supposed to be there, and not just like little high school fanboys on stage...to feel like wow, I’m actually part of this was amazing. Rocket Summer was great too! I never really listened to them when I was younger, but it’s definitely one of those bands that were huge when we were in middle school.
AW: He put out a record when we were 12 years old, did a 10 year anniversary tour, and he asked us to be on it. There were tons of people there. 10 years later! That’s inspiring, the fact that somebody can put out an album and 10 years later people are like hell yeah! We’re just like “here’s some songs you don’t know…” It was a lot of fun, though!
AM: So speaking of festivals and all that, you’re here and played Panorama Festival this summer, too. How did that go?
ZS: Panorama was absolutely unreal. We got thrown on that bill fairly last minute, and we actually had to cancel a date on our tour to get back to New York and do it. That was probably one of the most surreal shows we played. There are artists that are doing well and then there are artists on this other level that you can’t even believe exist. Like Tame Impala, or even like Vince Staples. Any of these huge names, and you just see your name next to those names and you’re like how did that happen?
TD: It makes no sense...
ZS: You play like Northside or South By Southwest, and those are much busier festivals where you feel like you’re part of thousands or millions of bands, you know what I mean? But you play one of those stages, and you’re like wow...I remember halfway through the set...I think we had played like two songs. I was just shaking. My knees were shaking, but I looked out in the crowd and the front row were just my friends and family, it was just like we hit a crazy note and I was like “we belong here!”
AW: He even said that! That was the weirdest part. I have a line in one of my songs where I say “and you’re up on the screen,” and I pointed at the screen and I didn’t know it at the time, but the screen was my face.
AM: Nice, did someone get a photo of that?
TD: Yes! A lot of moms taking photos…
AW: Overall, Panorama, the lineup was insane. When it comes to festivals in general, a festival has to have a good brand. You’re walking around...you’re in that world, and Panorama had that. It’s so nice and refreshing when it’s not only the artists, it’s the festival too. It all works.
AM: What do you guys like about this festival [Audiotree Festival]? What are you looking forward to while you're here?
TD: This lineup today...when we got invited we all just collectively like shat ourselves. Because it’s all of our favorite bands. Bands that we’ve been listening to for a while, bands that we just started listening to, and everywhere in between. To get to share a stage with that, especially with the crowd so into it...they’re just like standing and baking in the sun. They’re just so into it, it’s amazing. We’re backstage right now with all my favorite bands walking around and I’m trying to find the way to not seem like a total weirdo and just play it cool. It’s unreal, and I can’t ever imagine that feeling going away.