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By Alexander Laurence

Vetiver is a San Francisco band consisting of Andy Cabic, Devendra Banhart, Alissa Anderson, and Jim Gaylord. They have been friends for years and just released their debut record this year. Virginia-born Andy Cabic writes most of the songs.

A well connected Bay Area musician, Cabic has assembled an all star lineup to play on his record. Joanna Newsom plays harp on "Amerilie", Hope Sandoval sings on "Angels' Share", and My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm O'Ciosoig plays on "Luna Sea" and "On a Nerve." Of course Devendra Banhart makes his presence known on one of their best songs "Amour Fou", one of two songs Banhart co-wrote with Cabic.

Andy Cabic moved to the Bay Area five years after the breakup of his former band, The Raymond Brake. He has been involved with the music scene for years. He is also a member of the instrumental band Tussle.

I met Andy Cabic in San Francisco recently. I visited him at his house he shares with Devendra Banhart and other members of Vetiver. While I was talking to Cabic, Banhart came outside, shirtless, with some other friends, to sit in the garden. It was a sunny weekend in San Francisco. They seemed to be having a lot of fun playing music and living every day to the fullest. Vetiver will be on tour across America in June and July of 2004. Vetiver will be playing live with Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. They will be at the Bowery Ballroom on June 21st.


AL: When did you come to the Bay Area?

Andy: I am from Virginia. I came to San Francisco in the late 1990s. I went to school in North Carolina and played in a band there. I was in The Raymond Brake. We did a few records on Simple Machines and Hepcat Records. We played around.

AL: When did Vetiver start to happen?

Andy: I was still writing songs. I had moved to a new city. I didn't have an electric guitar or a band anymore. I wrote stuff on an acoustic guitar. I wasn't thinking about playing out to anyone at that point. I was looking for a band for a while but nothing clicked. I just played by myself initially and then got together with Devendra. I got some string players to fill out the sound. That was when Jim Gaylord and Alissa Anderson joined the band.

AL: Is Vetiver just you and whoever joins you onstage?

Andy: Pretty much. But Alissa has played cello and Jim has played violin. That has worked out really well. They have been friends. I like to play with people who I know.

AL: I saw you open for Angels of Light. Devendra played on a few songs but I don't remember if he ever joined you onstage.

Andy: Sure. That was a night where he was going to play twice already. He was playing by himself and with Angels of Light. I didn't ask him to join us onstage that night because that would mean he would be playing with every band that night. It's not good to overwork the guy. But if he is around, he will play with us. We are playing with Belle and Sebastian on Friday and Devendra will probably play with us that night.

AL: When did you write the songs for this album?

Andy: I have been writing them for the past four years. The album took a long time to come together.

AL: How did the band Tussle fit in to the picture?

Andy: They were my friends and roommates. Tussle was something that we did for fun. We had a bunch of instruments set up in our basement. We played instruments that we don't normally play. I have never played bass guitar in my life. I had borrowed a bass. Nathan was playing any electronic gear he had around. We were learning to play. The band was really organic. Tussle gained momentum along side Vetiver but it was completely different. It is like two sides of my personality that I can enjoy.

AL: You have been a DJ for a while too.

Andy: Not really. I had just moved here and I didn't have a record player. I wanted to listen to records and I had been shopping for records. A friend of mine knew that they had a night open at El Rio. I went down there with a tape. I got a night going there. It was a place to play my records. It was really low key for the first year. We have been doing it for four year now. It's what I have been doing on Monday nights.

AL: What is your opinion of the music scene and the club scene in San Francisco?

Andy: This city is full of subcultures. There is a Mod Britpop scene here. There are people who like to dress up and go out to clubs. People are very supportive of local bands. It's very common for people in other bands to pay attention to you in any city. But in San Francisco there is a lot of interplay between visual artists and musicians. There is more overlapping. San Francisco has a history for more theatrical bands, like Tuxedomoon or Caroliner.

AL: Many bands from the Bay Area don't do long tours or play in other cities. They are just local favorites. How many times has Vetiver played outside the Bay Area?

Andy: This is our first time. That may be a trait of bands here. There are also bands like BRMC and Vue who don't play here very often but play abroad all the time. Tussle did a short tour or the East Coast. We played in Europe. We have also played in Japan. Some cool people invited us to Japan. We just made the tour of Europe happen because people didn't know who we were. We played with Erase Errata.

AL: Do people check out new bands here all the time?

Andy: The scene supports new endeavors. People do short lived projects all the time. There are house parties all the time. There are underground shows. John Dwyer is a local musician who does things all the time. If he has the inclination, he will start something at the drop of a hat. He will stretch out a new project for a few shows. Other people do that sort of thing. Things tend to run out their course here before people in other places pick up on it. You have a greater concentration of media in places like Los Angeles, New York, or London, and those places can hype something up.

AL: How do you write songs? Do you write lyrics first or do you write the chords or melody?

Andy: It depends on the song. Yeah. These songs shape up over time. It is usually music first. I labor over the lyrics maybe longer than I should.

AL: How do you know you have a good song? Do you make tapes and listen to them?

Andy: Sometimes. I used to. Sometimes these songs come in one sitting. Usually I try to hone it down until I have a song. I try to play it all the way through. I can work on separate parts with who I am playing with. I do all the arrangements. I play the songs to them and they contribute what they are going to perform.

AL: Do you have a musical background?

Andy: No. They can read and write music better than I can. Sometimes we improvise. But we didn't do that with most of this record. Most of these songs I had written before Alissa and Jim had come on board.

AL: What are some things that you are inspired by when you write songs?

Andy: There is definitely some literary influence on some songs. Writing songs is something that I have been doing for a while now. I don't have an experience and feel that I have to put it into song. It is just something that I have always done. I work with sound and phonetics. Sometimes words can shape themselves through the music. Other times I want to tell a specific story. Other times I like to be imagistic. I try to play with a few styles. I am not just doing any one thing.

AL: How did you write those songs with Devendra Banhart?

Andy: We just played together and that's what came up. I had the general idea for "Amour Fou." The vocal style and the pacing came about when we were playing. I had the chords written already for that. The other song "Los Pajaros del Rio" I had written the melody. Devendra wrote the lyrics. He speaks Spanish. We write songs together all the time. We play together all the time.

AL: When Devendra sleeps on the couch?

Andy: He lives here. He has just recently moved back to San Francisco from New York. Devendra travels a lot too.

AL: I was looking at the website. It took a while to load. What was the story with buying a van?

Andy: We found it on Craigslist. We went down to San Bruno and met a Pastor. The van was good so we bought it.

AL: Why was he selling it?

Andy: Because the parishioners couldn't climb into anymore. They were too old. It's a big van. I have driven it back here from San Bruno. It needs work. It doesn't go very fast.

AL: You bought that for the big tour in June and July?

Andy: Yeah. It's going to be Vetiver, Devendra Banhart, and Joanna Newsom. Devendra is going to play Vetiver if he feels like it.

AL: What is the setlist for Vetiver going to be like?

Andy: We are going to play all the songs from the record. We have a few new songs too. We have other songs that are not on the record.

AL: Are you going to play any songs by Randy Newman?

Andy: Sure. I love Randy Newman. It's just us who are on the bill every night. Devendra and Joanna and myself are all friends. We are going to make a big night out of every show we play. We can play together and change it around. We can do whatever we want.

AL: You also recorded with Colm O'Ciosoig from My Bloody Valentine and Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star. How did you decide to have him play on the record?

Andy: We recorded the album at their house. They were really generous and nice for letting us do that. We had already played live a few times with Colm O'Ciosoig. I asked if Hope would sing on a song and she did. That was her favorite song by us. There was a song that needed more percussion. I asked Colm if he wanted to play something on that and he did. It worked out pretty well.

AL: What does Colm O'Ciosoig do most of the time now?

Andy: He records a lot. He is working on the next Mazzy Star record. He is probably working on the next Warm Inventions record. He is busy.

AL: Joanna Newsom plays on one Vetiver song. Does that mean that she will join you onstage?

Andy: If she wants to. I hope so. She has been touring a lot all this year.

AL: Besides Randy Newman are there any other bands that you like?

Andy: Yeah. I like a lot of Brazilian music and I like The Carter Family. I like Brightblack. We played with them a few times. I like Kelly Stoltz.

AL: What is going on with Tussle and Vetiver? Joanna Newsom was in the Pleased and had to take some time off so that she could tour for her solo record. How are things going to work between the two bands?

Andy: This is the first year that Vetiver and Tussle will both have full-length album out. I will probably try to tour with both bands. We will see how it goes. I would like to do both. Everyone in Tussle likes Vetiver. They know that I have been working on this for a long time. We will miss some shows but that is how it is. They will be okay. The Tussle album will come out in August.

AL: Who does your website? There is a lot of artwork there by Devendra.

Andy: Yeah. Devendra provided some drawings. Karen Ingram animated them and designed the site. We have had friends help us with it. I am the one who is adding things to it now.

AL: Are there any good books or films you care to mention?

Andy: People should read Charles Portis. James Purdy is really good. I like Miguel Esturias.

AL: I saw that you had a DVD of The Office in the other room.

Andy: That was Devendra's. He is a big fan. The Office is great. We were watching it last night.

AL: You live here with Devendra and Alissa.

Andy: It's been good. We have only been here a few months. We have a garden. I have to get a weed wacker. The beans and sunflowers are starting to grow. I used to live in The Mission. I like it now here in The Richmond. It's very quiet.

AL: What qualities do you like about music?

Andy: I always liked well-written songs. I grew up liking The Replacements and Rain Parade. I liked a lot of Georgia bands like REM and Pylon. (Devendra and friends walk by us towards the garden).

Devendra: REM sucks.

AL: Did you like any Virginia bands?

Andy: I liked a lot of DC bands like Fugazi and Unrest. I used to play a lot in that area when I was in The Raymond Brake.

AL: What was The Raymond Brake like?

Andy: It was North Carolina indie rock. It was college rock. I enjoyed being in that band.

AL: When you play with Devendra on this tour what are the venues like?

Andy: They are all intimate places. Some theaters and some churches and galleries and alternative spaces. There are some clubs as well.

AL: Are you going to do another Vetiver record soon?

Andy: We will probably record another album this year. We have written enough songs for it.

Website: www.vetiverse.com


--Alexander Laurence




Devendra Banhart | US Tour 2004
w/ Joanna Newsom, Vetiver

Fri 6/4/04 Portland OR - Berbatis Pan
Sat 6/5/04 Seattle WA - Crocodile Café
Mon 6/7/04 Salt Lake City - UT Kilby Court
Tue 6/8/04 Denver CO - Revoluciones Collective Art Space
Thu 6/10/04 Columbia MO - Ragtag Cinemacafe
Fri 6/11/04 Des Moines IA - Vaudeville Mews
Sat 6/12/04 Minneapolis MN - Woman's Club Theater
Sun 6/13/04 Chicago IL - Bottom Lounge
Tue 6/15/04 Detroit MI - Stormy Records Space
Wed 6/16/04 Cleveland OH - Beachland Ballroom
Thu 6/17/04 Pittsburgh PA - Garfield Artworks
Fri 6/18/04 Amherst MA - Unitarian Meetinghouse
Sat 6/19/04 Cambridge MA - Brazilian Cultural Center
Sun 6/20/04 Providence RI - AS 220 Art Space
Mon 6/21/04 New York NY - Bowery Ballroom
Wed 6/23/04 Philadelphia PA - First Unitarian Church
Thu 6/24/04 Arlington VA - Iota Cafe
Fri 6/25/04 Baltimore MD - Mission Space Gallery
Sat 6/26/04 Carrboro NC - Room Four
Sun 6/27/04 Winston-Salem NC - Project Space 211
Tue 6/29/04 Atlanta GA - E.A.R.L.
Wed 6/30/04 Nashville TN - 5 Spot Cafe
Thu 7/1/04 Memphis TN - Hi Tone Café
Fri 7/2/04 Dallas TX - Gypsy Tea Room
Sat 7/3/04 Houston TX - Orange Show Center for Visionary Arts
Sun 7/4/04 Austin TX - Flamingo Cantina
Tue 7/6/04 Tucson AZ - Hotel Congress Ballroom
Wed 7/7/04 Phoenix AZ - Modified
Fri 7/9/04 Los Angeles CA - HQ Headquarters Gallery
Sat 7/10/04 Sacramento CA - Old Ironsides
Sun 7/11/04 San Francisco, CA - Great American Music Hall

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