The sound of San Francisco is all over Vetiver. More specifically, the sound of late '60s San Francisco.
Since its inception in 2004, the band has been churning out gentle, breezy folk-rock (often with hints of Gram Parsons-inspired country) that's instantly reminiscent of another era. In 2008, Vetiver even released an album of covers, Thing of the Past, that relied exclusively on tracks written before 1975. But in a testament to the band's authenticity, listeners unfamiliar with the often-obscure originals were hard-pressed to recognize that the songs weren't penned by Andy Cabic, Vetiver's mastermind and only permanent member.
That said, there is something undeniably sincere about Cabic's sound, one that's not derivative of a particular artist or genre of bygone eras. That distinction makes all the difference.
Despite the highly stylized nature of Vetiver, Cabic is a man of diverse musical interests. Before moving to the West Coast and forming Vetiver, the Virginia native lived in Greensboro, performing with experimental indie-rock outfit The Raymond Brake. Electronic music, too, has always been a passion (Cabic released a handful of dance-friendly Vetiver remixes under the Neighbors moniker). He also spent a stint performing with Tussle, an instrumental-electronic hybrid, shortly after moving to San Francisco. Now, that seemingly contradictory influence is making its way to the surface of Vetiver, in a subtle way.
Cabic just finished recording the yet-to-be-named followup to 2009's Tight Knit. Fans can expect a new musical palette.
"I just finished it, so my perspective is a little warped," he cautions, "but it feels different. It's got a lot more keyboards on it; a lot more, maybe ambiance, synthesized and guitar ambiance. And it's more upbeat and poppier. Shorter songs, I'd say."
Another major difference, he notes, is the reliance on acoustic guitar, which has formed the cornerstone of many previous records. "Although it's present, it plays a more ancillary role in the songs on this record,” he says.
Don't expect to hear Vetiver in the club just yet though.
"I know that people have some affinity for Vetiver as a band, or the songs of Vetiver, feeling, sounding and moving a certain way. So rather than completely do a 180-degree turn, I was working in a way to bring more of [the electronic influence] in, because it felt really natural and sounded really good. But, you know, it's not like you're going to hear a techno record that's coming from me."
Cabic's approach to songwriting shifted for this project. Rather than slowly accumulating material at his own pace — spending months, if not years, perfecting songs — Cabic and longtime producer Thom Monahan combed through his notes, gathered some of the best "musical themes" and booked studio time a few months in advance. Then they got to work.
"It was kind of like giving myself a deadline," he recalls, "which needed to happen if I wanted to have a record ready to come out this year. But I think within those first few days of doing this with Thom, we felt really good about the songs, in terms of the quality and the ideas."
Though Cabic is eager to debut the material, he says performing the songs live will be a challenge. Vetiver is not your traditional band. With members in Portland, San Francisco and New York City, rehearsals are few and far between. In addition to working out arrangements, Cabic is faced with the daunting task of teaching them to his band in three days.
As with tours past, he will fly to New York for a whirlwind rehearsal schedule just days before the tour begins, the first time Vetiver's full lineup will play the new songs together in the same room. To further complicate matters, longtime drummer Otto Hauser will not be joining Vetiver this time around.
"The songs on the record, a few of them we have been playing, and the ones that lean towards a live arrangement in an easier fashion, we'll probably tackle those and have about five songs that we'll play," Cabic says. "But the rest of the record, we'll probably have to incubate on it and figure out how we're going to do it.
"We'll see what happens. I don't really know. I'm just being conservative in my judgment, given the fact that we'll have a new drummer to introduce all of the set to and everyone will have to climb onboard a few new songs. It's going to be tricky."
But don't worry: the band has a reputation for stellar live shows, and last-minute rehearsals have come to be as much a part of Vetiver as its penchant for vintage sounds.
"The members keep changing," Cabic says casually. "This is kind of what happens every tour."
— Dane Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Vetiver, with Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Sunday, March 13 (9 p.m. $10/$12. thegreyeagle.com)