Andy Cabic recently made the pilgrimage down to Los Angeles from his home in San Francisco, after completing Tight Knit, the fourth album from Vetiver—the group that serves as his ever-evolving musical home base. Sure, it’s 2009, and the term “freak folk” has become as passé as Jesus beards and funny looking hats have. But if the nomenclature of the California rock scene has left you stumped for definition, please don’t ask Andy Cabic for any answers. While the oft-collaborator of Devendra Banhart’s is an affable gent, it’s obvious that Cabic doesn’t have much use for conversation about silly taglines like “freak folk” or “naturalismo.”
“You know, it’s not something I encounter. Only when….” and Cabic trails off for a moment. I wonder if it’s because he’s too polite to say, “I only encounter that when journalists bring it up.” But he continues: “I don’t know, that has no relevance to my way of thinking about my music. I think it comes from a time when a lot of people where involved in a each other’s music, and touring together, and friendships were acknowledged and being commented upon.” That’s probably as good an answer as anyone could give. Cabic and Banhart met in college in San Francisco and quickly became fast friends—and while he downplays the idea that he’s integral to Banhart’s music, Cabic has either played or served as producer on most of Banhart’s catalog, and has played in Devendra’s touring band fairly regularly over the last three years.
It is interesting to get his feedback on the topic of labels, being somewhat removed from a time when artists like himself, Banhart, Bright Black Morning Light, Jonathan Wilson, and others were getting the bug jar treatment all across the country. “To me, as soon as I see someone apply those terms, it shows me that that person is attached to some idea—and I don’t know why they would be,” says Cabic. “It doesn’t have a lot of bearing on my music, certainly.” We both laugh somewhat uneasily, but you get the sense that Andy Cabic knows that these terms and labels are pretty much implied casually at this point. Plus, he knows he’s no scenester—and he’s certainly nobody’s wingman.
To this point, there is the greatness of Vetiver. “Vetiver is my songs,” says Cabic, explaining the roots of the band that has always been a bit of a traveling road show. “To this day, I’ve played my songs out with different people, having sort of a different line-up over time, gradually picking up friends along the way.” When it comes to his influences, Cabic says, “I’m always listening to new things. I’m always going to record stores. I hesitate to put out some idea that there’s one thing more than others—I’m always getting turned on to new music, and that side of listening is just as important as something I’ve already fell for and dug.”
Which brings us to Tight Knit. As an album, it provides more immediate gratification than previous Vetiver releases, whether it’s venturing towards the more ethereal compositions like “At Forest Edge,” or bopping along to the bouncier tracks like “On The Other Side.” Tight Knit reminds the listener of a time when The Grateful Dead and The Velvet Underground ruled the world from the fringes of America. In fact, Cabic’s gentle voice is quite reminiscent of the VU’s Doug Yule. As would be expected, Cabic’s approach to songwriting is very natural. “Songs are sort of ‘catch as catch can.’ I don’t really believe in a process too much. I don’t have any one way of going about it, I guess.”
For decades, everyone from Neil Young to Cabic’s buddy Chris Robinson has sung about the beauty and mystery of California. “Spending time in California has an impact on your songwriting and your music. I would find more futility in that than I would something like ‘freak folk,’” laughs Cabic. So what is it then, exactly, about California that keeps Cabic—a native of Virginia—in the confines of the wild, weird West? “It’s the small details. It’s the friendships I’ve had with the people I’ve known here. There’s great appreciation for music in the San Francisco area. There are so many music lovers, and a range of places to play. I love the light and the terrain. It’s things like that that draw me and keep me in the area.”
But even still, the road show that is Vetiver keeps moving along. The band will hit the road once Tight Knit is released on Feb. 17. For more info on Vetiver, check out subpop.com/artists/vetiver.