Dave Portner joins Document following the release of his latest solo work to reflect on its making, and where it fits in his broader creative evolution
“As an artist, I can be protective over the things I make and do,” says Dave Portner, otherwise known by the moniker Avey Tare. “And sometimes, that means wanting to be protective over how other people feel about them.” Portner’s work, in many ways, does not need to be talked about. Rather, it begs to be experienced.
Portner is a founding member of the beloved experimental pop project Animal Collective, which was born from his own search for community in the transitory desperation of teenagedom. “I can only say this in looking back, but I think I was searching, and [with Animal Collective] I finally found something that was my own.” Decades later, his motives have evolved. His latest record 7s is an offering of his most raw and uncompromised self.
The record is an exhilarating listen. Although some of the artifice Portner and Animal Collective are known for remains, 7s is the artist’s most earnest work to date. Written and recorded over quarantine, it’s a time capsule of a moment in his life when he had nowhere to look but within.
Following the release of 7s, the artist joins Document to discuss the inspiration he found in isolation, his evolution as a solo artist, and his understanding of the I Ching.
Conor Hudnut: This record feels like a return to your earlier style.
Dave Portner: It’s like you’re dancing with the future, but you have one foot in the past. For me, this one felt like the end of an era. I went through a portal or something. I’m looking back and looking forward at the same time. At the time [I wrote 7s], I was feeling the need to be desperately creative. I wasn’t as conscious as I normally would be about trying something new and fresh.
Conor: What is it like talking about your work, and experiencing other people’s interpretations of it?
Dave: As an artist, I can be very protective over the things I make and do, and sometimes that means wanting to be protective over how other people feel about them. The thing about being an artist is that people relate to your stuff in their own way, and draw their own connections. We are very quiet about what we do as Animal Collective, and I think that’s sometimes good. Some music doesn’t need to be talked about, and I don’t personally relate to music in that way.
Conor: There’s something in your work that teenagers really grip onto. Have you thought about what this might be?
Dave: I mean, we try to promote being yourself. We come off as people who are open to expressing ourselves in a way that taps into our true selves and true personalities. At this point, what we’re focusing on most is connecting with our fans. I think they recognize that maybe there’s a common bond between us: how much we both care.
There was a lot of religious and racial [diversity] in the community I grew up in. It was very mixed: My mom was Catholic and my father was Jewish. I went to a predominantly-Jewish school in Baltimore, but I didn’t really grow up religious at all. It felt like everyone around me was in this clique, and like I didn’t fit in. I can only say this in looking back, but I think I was searching, and [with Animal Collective] I finally found something that was my own. It became a group that people felt strongly about, kind of like a religion. Music was definitely that for me.
Conor: To me, 7s feels like a very placeless project.
Dave: It feels like shooting myself in the foot to say this, but 7s really felt like a surrealist landscape. It’s a very subconscious record, a dreamscape-y kind of space.
Conor: It also feels very bodily, there was a lot of physicality to it. Do you think love or sex influenced your creative process?
“At the time [I wrote 7s], I was feeling the need to be desperately creative. I wasn’t as conscious as I normally would be about trying something new and fresh.”
Dave: Yeah, definitely. The person I’m around most is my girlfriend. The conversations we have and the ways we’ve grown together rub off on me, and I think that inevitably feeds into my work. Right now, I’m also thinking a lot about relationships with strangers—about how I treat people and how I come across, or how I want to treat the people I love.
I’ve been in three relationships; I think I’m what some might call a serial monogamist. My thoughts on love have progressed as I’ve gotten older. I’ve been married, I’ve been divorced. Being with my girlfriend now has been an amazing journey—understanding all the different kinds of love, and what our love is. Love can spread very wide. And that can be complicated.
Conor: Do you think that you’re passing essential parts of yourself down through your music?
Dave: I’ve definitely thought about my records as being like my children. Of course, you’re not going to be tending to a record the way you would a child. But because of what I put into them, the amount of time I spend on them, they’re akin to my children. Or maybe they’re just as close as I’ll get to that.
Conor: I thought of the concept of the ‘clear pill’ when I was listening to 7s—the peace of mind you experience when you accept that, no matter what crumbles and falls around you in the world, you are the master of your own mind. Does that resonate with you at all?
Dave: I’ve been messing around with the I Ching recently. It’s a hard practice—to completely detach yourself from everything. I think a lot about why we are so attached to certain aspects of life, and I guess it’s because we’re born into it, and that’s all we know. It’s a hard concept to grasp on to—that there’s something outside of the material world that can help guide us through life. It’s really important to be connected to people, but there are these structures outside of ourselves.
Conor: What kinds of questions have you been asking through your I Ching practice?
Dave: I mean, in terms of questions, it’s nothing that specific. You have to be very thoughtful about how you approach it, what kind of guidance you’re looking for. I just think it’s interesting, how it taps into the universe, and how it taps into the future and the past. It’s been around for so long, you know? Animal Collective has been the thing that’s most taught me that everything changes, everything passes, everything dies. And that doesn’t just mean the body.