The band returned to Baltimore to write material for the new disc. Why did you do that and how’d it go?
We’ve been living in different cities and, for the past few records, we’ve been putting together songs through file-sharing. This time, we wanted to write the songs together, so we had to pick a location. Noah and I both have children, so we needed to think about the fact that, if we were going to uproot our families and bring our kids, we’d have a support system in place. Coming back to Baltimore, we had schools we were familiar with, parents to help with babysitting, and things like that. It was more logistical than sentimental, although Baltimore feels safe, secure, and familiar. Plus, Josh was already living there, and he had built a structure on his mom’s property in Owings Mills where we could practice.
What sort of structure was it?
They had a really old barn that was in disrepair and just used for storage. They tore it down and used the foundation for a new structure that’s more like a garage or workspace, with an office in it. It was perfect, because we like to play together and then retreat to our separate areas to work out our own parts.
I see you recorded Centipede Hz at Sonic Ranch in Texas, the studio where Beach House recorded their most recent album. How did you end up at that studio?
We’re friendly with Beach House, but we didn’t exactly know they were recording at Sonic Ranch. Actually, we got an email from an intern at Sonic Ranch at the time we were deciding where to record. We were looking at west coast studios, but we visited their website and thought it was great; it was a residential studio in El Paso. Then, we remembered that Beach House had said they were going to El Paso, and it just clicked that they were probably at Sonic Ranch. Then, we contacted [Beach House singer] Victoria [Legrand], and she told us about it and even suggested what would be the best room for us to play in. But it was a complete coincidence that we ended up recording at the same place—though it seemed like the coincidence was telling us that that was where we should be, and we ended up having a really great time.
Ben Allen, once again, co-produced the new album. What does he bring to the recording process?
He brings distillation. It’s really easy for us to know what the core of any of our songs is, because we’ve been there since the inception and know all the building blocks. We’ll think that the chord progression or the melodic backbone of a song is really obvious, when, in fact, it isn’t obvious at all for outside listeners. It can be hard for us to keep that in perspective. Ben is a song-first person. He isn’t as interested in all the extraneous sound and noises. He really likes lyrics, vocal melodies, and drums, and it’s good for us to have somebody with that kind of ear in the studio to tell us, Guys, I don’t hear the song. And we fight to hold on to those leftist elements that we like and remind him that, for us, the melody and rhythm aren’t enough for us—we want more of a spacious sonic picture with an experimental feel to it. We want to turn left with the songs, while he wants to turn right, and that push and pull gets us to a middle ground that we really like.
You’re playing at Merriweather Post Pavilion in October. What’s the best show you’ve ever seen at Merriweather?
Oddly enough, it was seeing the BSO perform the music from Looney Tunes cartoons a few years ago. My wife and I were looking in the paper for something to do, and we came across that, which seemed pretty weird, because they were going to show the cartoons while the orchestra played the scores. We ended up going, and it was packed with families. We brought a picnic and just sat around and thought the whole scene was amazing, seeing parents recite lines from their favorite cartoons as the kids watched them for the first time. It was awesome.
You all went to Park School, as did the guys in Yeasayer. What is it about Park that produces top-tier indie musicians?
They recognize when kids have certain interests, and they let them do it. They take the arts seriously and allow kids to take the initiative. We played at the school’s coffeehouse, talent shows, but they yelled at us for bringing guitar amplifiers that were loud. So we asked if we could do something different in the cafeteria or gym, where we could invite loud punk bands to play. A lot of schools would have just laughed at us, but we met with the principal, and we worked out something. They treated us like adults, in a responsible way. They taught us that if you want something to happen, you can go out and make it happen.