Update: The April 25 show at U Street Music Hall has been canceled.
Dave Portner had more than a cold.
While touring in the fall of 2012, Portner (a.k.a. Avey Tare) came down with laryngitis, forcing his band, Animal Collective, to cancel a New York show.
A bout of strep throat struck the following year, resulting in the postponement of seven concert dates in March. Along with the personal frustration of not being able to perform the yelps and shrieks in the band’s songbook of avant noise-pop, Portner, 35, felt he was letting down fans.
“That was really getting me down last year,” he says by phone from his home base of Los Angeles. “I had to find a way through it. Wanting to not let a lot of people down and realizing that I suddenly was in this position, that was kind of heavy for me.”
There also were lingering issues from Portner’s final years of living in New York: separating from his wife, having a sister diagnosed with cancer, the death of his grandmother and feeling ungrounded because of constant touring. Portner touched on these events on his 2010 solo record, “Down There,” and still talks about that time with trepidation.
“There was a side of last year that forced me to be at home and kind of face all this stuff and look at it and look at myself a bit more,” he says. “I feel like in the past couple years, especially in my last couple New York years, it was more like facing myself in a dark sort of way.”
Rather than wallow, Portner took his recuperation time to learn about the mind and body and how stress can affect health, and to find new ways to take care of himself. He also found solace in music, strumming a guitar around the house and coming up with the skeletal parts of new material.
“Casually being able to sit around and play acoustic guitar, and not having to be stressed about stuff, and facing the fact that what had to happen was happening, and not sort of fighting it too much, it allowed the music to just sort of comfort me at home,” he says.
It also led to a side project. Inspired by the work of such minimalist composers as Steve Reich and Terry Riley, Portner decided the parts he had written needed to be fleshed out with keys and percussion. For that he recruited his girlfriend, Angel Deradoorian, formerly of Brooklyn indie-pop band Dirty Projectors, and Jeremy Hyman, drummer for the defunct Baltimore art-rock group Ponytail.
But the sound of their new band, Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks, is anything but minimal. Debut album “Enter the Slasher House” is a dexterous whir of twisting guitar tones, vigorous drumming, cosmic synthesizer squiggles and shifty, sneakily catchy vocal melodies.
The music is a bit more stripped down and traditionally rock than Animal Collective, but the band’s willingness to experiment with form, and to obfuscate pop structure with effects and trickery, dovetails nicely. Such tracks as “Blind Babe,” “Modern Days E” and “Strange Colores” are big-tent psychedelic romps driven by Hyman’s propulsive percussion, while “Catchy (Was Contagious)” and “Little Fang” slink along like loungy love songs written by extraterrestrials obsessed with ’70s rock-and-roll.
The band name and press photos of the mask-wearing trio wielding knives and standing in a pool of fake blood add to the fun-yet-eerie feel, a nod to the soundtracks of amusement park haunted houses and spooky old cartoons.
But the frenetic energy comes from an entirely different source: jazz.
In 2011, the members of Animal Collective had reconvened in the Baltimore suburbs of their youth to record their most recent album, “Centipede Hz,” and Portner began listening to more ’70s free jazz. The bucolic setting of the Maryland suburbs only stoked his interest.
You won’t find horns or stand-up bass on “Enter the Slasher House,” but there’s a clear connection to jazz in its verve and how the musicians play off one another.
“It’s just kind of a one-take feeling or one mike in a room trying to capture energy,” Portner says. “Even though our recording process is a little bit different, it’s still trying to be inspired by that ideal. . . . There are definitely free moments on the record that are just a little bit more improvised.”
As for what’s next with Portner’s main project, Animal Collective, the only plan is that there is no plan. Bandmates Noah Lennox and Josh Dibb also have been working on solo projects, and Brian Weitz and his wife just had another baby. Per usual, they’ll bounce ideas off each other, but other than that, Portner says, “we kinda just plan to go off and do our own things and then get back together when it feels like we’re ready.”
Portner says he’s ready to take a bit of a breather from music. Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks is in the middle of a relatively small run of shows, after which Portner hopes to return to California to pursue a more domestic life and explore visual art, not necessarily professionally.
“Lately, it feels like it has actually dawned on me that I maybe put more time than I should into [music],” he says with a laugh.
Still, when you hear Portner reflect on his prodigious songwriting, dating back to the members of Animal Collective tinkering with sounds in high school, it’s hard to imagine him doing anything else.
“I think it’s just turned into a hobby,” he says. “Something I can really enjoy doing and have, for myself, an easy time doing, just in terms of feeling like I’m always learning something or finding something new.”
Weigel is a freelance writer.
For a sampling of Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks’ music, check out:
From “Enter the Slasher House”:
Appearing Friday at
7 p.m. at U Street Music Hall, 1115 U St. NW. 202-588-1880. www.ustreetmusichall.