The principle ingredients in Vetiver's mix complement and counter one another, creating a splendid sparkle. It's a tonal blend of simple pop sugar over a more serious folk-rock stock. By definition, that kind of puts the San Francisco band on the crowded indie shelf in the hip aisle. But Vetiver extends into its own territory by adopting an innocence to the seriousness and some intellectual weight to the fun.
Founded in the Bay Area in 2002 by songwriter Andy Cabic, the band — which includes drummer and Rochester homeboy Otto Hauser — began releasing albums in 2004. First they came out on indie labels like DiCristina, later on its own imprint, Gnomonsong Recordings, and now it's with Sub Pop, which released the band's latest, 2011's "The Errant Charm."
Cabic called us from San Francisco, home of the Beats and spotty cell-phone reception. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.
CITY: What's new in Vetiver's world?
ANDY CABIC: Not much going on lately. I've been home in San Francisco since touring for the last record. I've been laying low here. It feels like it's been a good many years of non-stop playing and working on records. So I've been working on other projects, writing for another record, kind of enjoying being home for a while.
Are you wood-shedding with the rest of the band?
Everyone in the band lives in different places. It's not a regular thing for the live line-up to get together, except when we have tours scheduled.
Does touring take away from songwriting, or do you write on the road?
Touring is hard for me to get into the rhythm where I feel productive. I definitely get into a rhythm when that happens. And leaving to go on tour shakes me out of it. So it did take some of the focus out of that. But it led to different strategies and ways of working. So I'm enjoying being home, but I can't wait to see everybody. We haven't been in the northeast in a while.
With music racing to keep up with technology and consumerism, what's your preferred way to deliver Vetiver to the collective bloodstream?
Personally I like listening to vinyl usually, and often one side at a time. So to me, that format has a lot of resonance. But I don't think there's any one way of going about it that's better than another. I need to earn money from my music to keep doing this. If it were free, I don't know how I'd earn a living. To counter that, the real politics of the way things happen is people hear your music for free in all manner of ways, even when you are selling it.
How do you keep the simplicity in your music in the face of non-simple song structures or instrumentation?
One thing that has happened in making records is that I usually give myself a decent amount of time to make them. Sometimes I start them with a clear idea where it is headed. But what winds up happening is that I revisit the songs in production in stages as the record's getting made. Sometimes I'll track more things and sometimes things will just fall away that are unnecessary. It just comes from taking time, stepping away, and coming back to it, realizing what isn't essential and getting rid of it.
What is the process?
In the writing and recording aspect, typically it's myself and Tom Monahan, who has engineered and produced most of the records. We have a long friendship and working relationship. Usually it starts with the two of us discussing what's going to happen and sifting through songs I have, notes I have. Each record is different after that part, in terms of which musicians come in. One album kind of leads to the next.
Is the Vetiver we know the Vetiver you planned?
I had no plan. I had moved to San Francisco and started writing songs again. I had limited resources. An acoustic guitar — I didn't even have an electric guitar. The first songs were acoustic. Then I found some string players and that gave it a chamber-folk-pop quality to it.
So you had somewhat of a plan?
I just wanted the project to be a catch-all for anything I was interested in. I just wanted to make it so I could do whatever I wanted, which has sort of come true. But there's still a certain sound or style people have come to expect, and I'm happy to find a medium ground between pushing it and keeping things familiar.