Vetiver's Andy Cabic is a Complete Stranger

Music Features Vetiver
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Let’s get this out of the way first: Vetiver’s Andy Cabic is a genuinely nice dude. He’s quite chatty from his home in San Francisco and has a good memory for voices. He remembers the admittedly ridiculous conversation with frequent musical collaborator Devendra Banhart and me from just before they embarked on a short California tour together.

Cabic likes to talk about his local favorite record shops—like a bookstore near his house called The Green Apple that sells cheap used vinyl, Rasputin Music and Groove Merchant, not to mention the wax heaven known as Amoeba Music. He’s got a Pete Jolly record called Seasons on his turntable when we speak, and with such a broad and deep collection of records, he’s picked up a few regular DJ gigs around town in the four years since The Errant Charm. Cabic has also written the soundtracks to the Sundance-screened film Smashed and documentary The Family Jams. And after clarifying that he’s not actually a vegetarian, he remarks that he’s been cooking a lot of plant-based meals in his spare time at home between album cycles. This maple-roasted kuri squash recipe (not to be confused with curried squash, he clarifies) with pomegranate seeds and garlicky bitter greens was a recent hit.

The thing is, Cabic doesn’t really want to talk about Complete Strangers. Because contrary to the engaging small talk of these other topics of conversation, Cabic seems like a very private person. In fact, he’s content to let his sixth LP, released on a sixth different label in his 10-year career, speak for itself.

I hear a lot of moonlight sound / Guess I always will / In my head it makes some strange sense but / Outside, it’s stranger still
- “Stranger Still”

Yet, Complete Strangers speaks in pretty dense terms, musically and lyrically. Equally vague and specific, textured and sparse, the record probably does make sense in Cabic’s head. But without much direction, no Google Maps for records, each song on Complete Strangers feels both familiar and foreign.

Emerging from the Bay Area’s freak-folk scene of the early aughts with contemporaries like Banhart and Joanna Newsom, Vetiver has largely abandoned his previous psychedelic freakiness for a more straightforward folk structure. On Complete Strangers, Cabic’s soft and subtle singing style rarely deviates from carrying a melody line over top of sounds produced by his guitars (or Banhart’s on “Time Flies By”), keys, percussion, and maybe the occasional pedal steel wail from Beachwood Sparks’ Farmer Dave Scher (on songs like “Current Carry”) or woodwind instrument.

“All the songs are unified because I sing the way I sing and a certain melodic bent that I’m prone to,” Cabic says. “But otherwise, I think they all come from different times and different places in terms of how they wound up being finished.”

And finishing this record took a considerable amount of time. After touring The Errant Charm for two years, Cabic relished the time he had to write his next release. When schedules aligned, he’s drive south to Los Angeles to write, jam, and record in longtime friend and producer Thom Monahan’s studio. They indulged in opportunities to write and rewrite, digging into older materials and revamping them in different ways.

“Edgar,” for example, is the most narrative song on Complete Strangers. But originally, the song started as an instrumental inspired by techno song beats from years ago. Salvaging the tempo and the melody, Cabic and Monahan managed to fit it into the album.

“I’m a slow writer; I’m not a prolific writer,” Cabic admits. “After the last tour cycle, I just took my time trying to figure out what I wanted to do, what I had to say, and how I was going to say it. The record really took a slow pace of accumulation.”

Words disguise the way/ We feel inside / Life’s mystery makes / Time fly by
- “Time Flies By”

Lyrically, Complete Strangers can be as impenetrable as the individual musical layers comprising each song. But for the first time ever, fans will find liner notes with a lyric sheet in a Vetiver record to help guide.

“There’s something in me that appreciates the old [Michael] Stipian school of not having lyrics and letting people mishear things or hear them the way they want to,” he says. “But then I would notice after the fact online that there’d be some wild guesses at what I was saying and I wasn’t always too keen on what people were surmising.”

While he continues that part of the rational was just to “switch it up” for fans and listeners, Cabic still edges away from sharing too much about any songs in particular.

“I’m not really comfortable talking about them,” he admits. “I’m not sure I can speak to the meanings or what’s exactly happening in each song. I think that they’re pretty clear. Whatever they’re saying, I’m pretty happy with it, both in song and on the lyric sheet page.”

Silence relieves me / Speaks when I can’t / Tells me it’s getting / Out of hand
- “Last Hurrah”

Even if Cabic isn’t comfortable with talking about his work, he’s definitely okay with the idea of having people discern meaning from Complete Strangers, whether or not it’s the version he intended. His silence creates the breathing room for interpretation and personalization.

“My music doesn’t flaunt itself or participate in whatever changing zeitgeist happens. I kind of imagine that the people who enjoy the music are somewhat like that themselves. If they’re out there, they’re kind of hidden to me,” he says, pausing before exclaiming, “In a nice way!”

He concludes, “I don’t need to be reminded or talk about what I do all the time. But I’m excited to have a new record out! It has been a while and I’m happy with it, so I’m looking forward to sharing it with people.”