San Francisco indie folk group Vetiver continues to make waves in the Bay Area with recent show dates including an acoustic performance by the band’s singer-songwriter Andy Cabic, alongside Tim Bluhm (The Mother Hips) at the Sweetwater Music Hall, plus an opening slot for Iron and Wine in Big Sur. Vetiver is also set to perform an intimate acoustic trio performance at The Chapel on Saturday, August 20th.
Andy Cabic started Vetiver in 2002 after moving to San Francisco from the East Coast. Since then he has released six albums under that moniker while forming a special bond with Los Angeles producer/engineer Thom Monahan (Chris Robinson, Devendra Banhar), who has produced all their records to date. Vetiver has shared the bill with artists like Vashti Bunyan, Devendra Banhart, Fleet Foxes, The Shins and Wilco to name a few. Coming off the high of playing Portland’s Pickathon Festival, Vetiver has no plans on settling down, with sights of a new record and a small tour on the horizon.
We caught up with Cabic to chat about living in San Francisco, working with Thom Monohan and playing Pickathon.
Did you go to Outside Lands this year?
No, I was up in Portland for Pickathon. It’s a good festival. It’s pretty small but it’s almost the perfect size in my opinion. It’s [managed] well, it’s a great mix of people and families and stage sizes. Everybody plays at least twice so you don’t have those things where you have to miss bands, you can see who you want to see.
The bands play twice?
The bands play at different stages. You might play a stage inside a barn, and then in the middle of the woods, or the main stage outside. It’s been going on about eighteen years and started as a more grassroots-oriented festival. Every year it has expanded. They’re good at bringing in bands that are on the verge of breaking through, and a few international bands. This year Beach House played both festivals.
That sounds a lot different than Outside Lands…
Seeing shows in Golden Gate Park is special but this is one of my favorite festivals I‘ve ever been to or played at. Plus it takes place on this farm on the outskirts of Portland.
You’ve lived in the city since 1998. Why did you choose San Francisco? Were you familiar with the music scene then?
I had some friends out here that had an open room, so I had a place waiting for me. I didn’t really have an idea, I just knew about certain groups that I liked. I came at the time where those things were happening a little less. I knew about The Champs, Fifteen Colors Union, Caroliner–I was pretty fascinated with them. There was a lot of turntablism from the fallout from DJ Shadow, and lots of good hip-hop. I tried to fall into something but that took me a while. I was in a post-punk band called Tussle, and at the same time I was always writing. I picked up acoustic guitar and that’s what led to doing Vetiver.
How has the city influenced you musically?
I’ve been here a while so it’s hard to reflect but there’s always great venues and promoters and bands here. Sometimes it’s just hanging out with my friends and less specifically having to do with the music scene and just hanging out in venues. Everyone can connect with how hard it is to stay here and make things work financially and so forth. I just moved from the apartment I had lived in the whole time I was doing Vetiver. I used to have all my musical gear around me and now I don’t. So now I’m focusing more on playing acoustically and using that as a fundamental for song structure. It’s always a matter of working with limitations. There’s so much of the beauty of the topography and geography. I’ve had friends in other cities encouraging me to leave, but we love it here.
You worked with Thom Monohan again in LA to record Complete Strangers. This record took a little longer than previous ones to release. How long did it take to create this record and why do you think it took more time than others?
Seven or eight years prior I was putting [a record] out every year or so. It took longer than I thought. I was doing some filler stuff. The band I was playing with in that time gap went off and did some other things. But it does take me a while. I’m getting going on writing and finishing songs for the next one. It never really comes that easily. I’ll demo as a way of writing. With Complete Strangers I would visit Thom and find moments when we could do stuff together, then come back to the city and go with it. I got better at tracking stuff we could use, so that record is a mix of things I did on my own and that I did with Thom. The arrangements needed other people and at that point we’d book some studio time and find some players that I wanted to work with.
One constant in your musical career is working with Thom. Would you ever consider working with another producer or studio?
I’ve done other things at other times. I’d have to have someone kind of proposition me. I don’t know any engineers that I’ve encountered that vibe with. I’m in touch with Thom all the time. It’s just reflexive to talk about the next record. I enjoy working with him so I just plan on continuing to.
You’ve got some cool gigs coming up, including a show at Sweetwater Music Hall with Tim Bluhm (Mother Hips) and Johnny Irion (U.S. Elevator). Can you tell us more about that?
It’s me, Johnny and Tim. Johnny is sort of the connecting factor. He’s done a lot of stuff with Tim, and I produced Jonny’s record a few years back. Tim and I had been talking about playing together at some point. It’s sort of a ‘songwriters in the round’ sort of thing.
Can you give us any insight into what the ‘trio’ might look like for the Chapel show?
I’m actually about to rehearse with my guitarist. Our drummer isn’t available so we’re doing it acoustically. I’ve played duo shows but we’re bringing our bass player into the mix. It was gonna be a mellow night. I might bring a drum machine. Either way, the shows at the Chapel are always fun.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
I wanna write and record a new record. I’ve been pretty much touring consistently since the last record came out. I’m just hunkering down. I need deep concentration for writing.