Just before Thanksgiving, the locally grown experimental-pop band Animal Collective surprised fans and music bloggers everywhere by debuting its new album, "Painting With," at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Though most of the members no longer call Baltimore home, the record's debut was a cool nod to their local roots.
As City Paper reported at the time, BWI was chosen, in part, because radio station WTMD tailors the soundtrack in the terminals and schedules performances there.
"The reason that we curate the music and produce the BWI Live series is that it enables WTMD to present Baltimore music to a huge audience in a very unexpected, non-traditional, space," Scott Mullins, program director for the station, writes in an email. "BWI gets something like 22.5 million travelers annually. We like the idea of their first impression of Baltimore/DC being some really cool music that they've probably never heard before."
Mullins says the band was looking for a local public place to premiere the album, and label Domino Records approached the station to play "Painting With" for 24 hours straight.
"We loved the idea and if fit right in with what we were already doing," writes Mullins.
No clues about the premiere were given by the band. As member Brian Weitz (aka Geologist) told Washingtonian, "The record had been playing for almost 24 hours and nobody had noticed it yet."
It only came to light when a cousin of band member Dave Portner (aka Avey Tare) posted details on Instagram and a couple of bloggers caught on after Portner responded. The band has already announced more information about the album and a tour, but there were still some questions about the choice to unleash the album on an unwitting airport crowd. I got in touch with Avey Tare via email to discuss the group's intent, what reactions they've heard about, and more.
City Paper: Why? Why an airport on one of the busiest traveling days of the year? Why the band's old hometown airport?
Avey Tare: In terms of the space, the goal was to find a spot that was a little more "common" and less likely to be the place you'd premier a record. We talked about malls and grocery stores as well as airports—the idea being that all sorts of people would be there. The day was more or less chosen at random as far as I know. It didn't have anything to do with whether more or less people would be at the airport. But we were also hoping that some Animal Collective fans would be passing through amongst the crowd, that was the real goal.
CP: What was the intent with premiering it in such a public space, particularly a space that is not associated with pleasant things (long lines, delays, etc.)?
AT: We were really just hoping to catch the ear of at least one dedicated fan. If only one AC fan happened to notice then we would have considered the job done. I thought a lot about how surreal it would have been when I was a kid and excited about some band, to have been walking around some random place like the airport and all of the sudden realize I was listening to music by them. That was the basic concept behind doing this. We were really just hoping maybe a few AC fans would enjoy the experience.
CP: The only clues to this were on Instagram, and it took some sleuthing that involved finding the account of your cousin. Was this always the plan? Was it meant to be public?
AT: The idea was really to leave it up to chance. I think the people we work with would have been disappointed if it went unnoticed, but we didn't want it to feel like some sort of publicity campaign cause that wasn't our reason for doing it. Obviously when you have a record coming out and you do something like this, it will always be viewed as "hype" or whatever, but we really wanted this to be an experiment and not something we could control. It's an idea that's at the heart of AC. I had mentioned to my family that lives in Maryland that we were doing a sort of "surprise" thing there, and Brian's family has ties to the airport [According to the Washingtonian article linked above, Weitz's brother and father work there] so we figured at least we would hear something from them.
CP: What was the reaction? Was there a reaction? The band obviously has a dedicated group of fans. Did any show once the news became public? Do we know anything of their experience?
AT: I hear that the reaction was very positive overall, but I'm not one to troll around and look for press or comments about the band typically. I know a few AC fans made it over and even got some funny bathroom recordings of a couple of songs. That would make a cool release, I think. I'm glad at least once AC fan got to experience it, that's really all that matters to me.
CP: Naturally, there were plenty of people who were in the airport and not registering they were hearing the new Animal Collective album—this was just background music. Is there something about this album, versus everything that came before it, that makes it more likely to catch the ear of an uninitiated airport traveler?
AT: No, not really. I would have happily played any of our records there if we had had this idea. It's interesting to think about how tuned into outside sounds and music people really are, though. I wonder how many people go through the airport daily and don't even realize there is music playing at all. There's also something special about discovering something without knowing or reading or hearing much about it. I think it can really change the experience when you approach something completely fresh and with no ideas about it. It seems so rare these days and so a lot of the ways we've thought about subjecting people to this record have been doing it in a sort of hidden or secret way and so it feels more like the experience is coming from the band.
"Painting With" is due out Feb. 19.