Animal Kingdom are a band with a sense of perspective. Sure, they might have won the iTunes award for Best New Alternative Artist of 2009. Fine, single ‘Tin Man’ was numerous websites’ track of the month last year. Yeah, they might be about to go on a tour, headlining a show in no less a venue than the mighty Jericho (formerly the Tavern). But it doesn’t get to them. ‘It’d be awesome and really flattering if people wanted to give the album awards or say nice things about it…but ultimately it’s just the four of you, sitting in a room, trying to write songs.’
Richard Sauberlich, the band’s front man, has a touching sense of modesty. He‘s fully aware of how lucky he’s been, emerging in London the way he and his band did. ‘Every band in London does the same thing. You play at any place you can. Then you hear rumours of A&R men turning up, and there’s major excitement, but you never know whether they actually did. It was hard’.
Though he points out that ‘It’s even harder now: fewer bands are getting signed with the record industry as it is’. It doesn’t help either when, as a band, you have severely limited resources. A band now known for their effects-laden sound (‘We like bands who have a lot of atmosphere, space and reverb, basically’) started with just a pair of acoustics. ‘When we first started out, it wasn’t so much that we wanted to be an acoustic act, it was just that we had two guitars and they were both acoustic… once we tried to buy more gear, salvaging it from wherever, so we could get a bit louder’.
And louder they got. With Phil Ek at the helm, they produced one of the stand-out albums of last year. Ek’s resumé is impressive, and Sauberlich certainly appreciates both what he brought to the studio. ‘He had just finished Fleet Foxes record just before he did our one…When we got there we asked what he’d done recently, he said ‘I’ve literally just finished this’ and we were like, ‘Fucking hell, that’s really good.’ Throw in The Shins and some Les Savy Fav for good measure and you have a modern indie icon.
No producer battles on this album then. But its recording and composition weren’t all as simple, and sometimes the smallest things caused havoc. ‘Deciding the tracklist is the biggest headfuck,’ laughs Sauberlich, ‘aside from trying to find a name, (which is the number one headfuck of being in a band)’.
Songs were cut (‘Some of them were real good actually – it’s a shame they didn’t make the album. Some of them no-one will ever get to hear though, because they were so shit’); then the songs were ordered (‘We knew it would be very rare for people to listen to it all in order. That said, we still drove ourselves crazy trying to make it perfect.’) Yet still perfection was hard to come by, ‘After doing that for weeks, you haven’t got a clue what order is good anymore. Maybe next time we’ll draw them out of a hat or something’.
And maybe here is the essence of their perspective. Sauberlich knows that Animal Kingdom have further to go, and is not resting on his laurels. His suggested solution to the iPod shuffle culture is as follows: ‘I guess the onus is on you making an album someone wants to listen to start to finish. If it’s good enough to keep you there I guess it will keep you there.’ And, beyond the reverb, he has healthy respect for the past masters who can keep you rooted to their music. ‘Songs that try and have a message are amazing when people nail it. When someone like Dylan or Neil Young really does it and says something important, it’s great, and that’s why they’re amazing. They can do that, whereas ninety-nine out of a hundred people would deliver it in like a clumsy way’ For the time being, Sauberlich looks on in awe. ‘It would be fucking amazing if one of those songs came out, to be able to nail one of them.’ But Animal Kingdom themselves only stand to get better. As for a new album? ‘We’re working on the next record now. It’s sounding awesome’. Point proved.
Animal Kingdom are playing the Jericho on Friday 19th February.