Tue., Sept. 18, The Space, 295 Treadwell St., Hamden, (203) 288-6400, thespacect.com
Wed., Sept. 19, The Iron Horse Music Hall, 20 Center St., Northampton, MA, (413) 586-8686, iheg.com
If you believe in the zeitgeist, then every era has its characteristic, its feel, its thing. To my ears the band Vetiver, fronted by singer Andy Cabic, has admirably embodied the spirit of the times for the last 10 years or so. That statement is complicated a little by the fact that the musical zeitgeist since around 2003 or so — or one of many zeitgeists maybe — has been one of nostalgia, a looking back to previous eras for inspiration or in search of under-explored tangents. This came along with a taste for the handmade and the subdued.
Vetiver is a quiet, mellow soft-rockish band, one that, along with many of Cabic's friends and occasional collaborators — including Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom — was labeled "freak folk." That term is justly out of favor. It didn't quite do anybody justice, but it pointed to the sometimes disarming whispery quality that much of the music possessed. When I ask Cabic, who spoke with the Advocate by phone from his home in San Francisco last week, about his evolution from having played in noisy indie-rock bands in the '90s to fronting a far more chilled-out project like Vetiver, he said it didn't necessarily have much to do with the era: his old electric guitar got damaged in a car accident, and all he had to write on was an acoustic so that was what he used.
"I just started over from scratch," says Cabic.
After going to college in Virginia and playing in bands in North Carolina, Cabic made his way to San Francisco. In California he found like-minded artists like Banhart, with whom he struck up a musical friendship, working on each others' emerging acoustic music and new songs.
"He was the first person that I connected with and performed them with," says Cabic.
As it happens, in October Cabic and Banhart will be heading to Japan for a week of dual-billed solo shows. But before that he'll play a few shows in the area (one in Hamden and one in Northampton, Mass.) Cabic has also been working on some scoring projects, writing soundtrack music for a few films, like the forthcoming Smashed, which he says is a nice change from writing songs. And he's still thinking about writing songs for a new Vetiver record as well as keeping busy with other projects.
So Cabic is a busy man, which one might imagine could unsettle the calm at the core of Vetiver's music. But Cabic sounds unperturbed. As someone who's helped introduce new generations of music fans to somewhat obscure artists like the singer Vashti Bunyan (who's worked and collaborated and toured with Cabic) or the woefully underappreciated soulful swampy Americana of Bobby Charles (who Vetiver covered on 2008's Thing of the Past, an album of other people's material), Cabic is always ready for that musical discovery or pop pleasure, but he doesn't work himself into a frenzy searching for it.
"I'm a music fan. I go to music stores all the time. I buy a lot of records," says Cabic. "But I'm not as avid, I guess, in searching out new things. In the course of finding out about anything — books or news, or anything — I'm led to places."
If Vetiver's sound has been defined by Cabic's hushed singing, that doesn't mean the band hasn't changed slowly since its 2004 debut. In 2011's The Errant Charm Cabic introduced more keyboards, a few subtle loop-like textures and synthetic rhythms. The songs were "a little sunnier, a little brighter," says Cabic, which sort of accounts for the sonic shift. But it wasn't a huge departure, just a slow morphing that's been part of the band's sound from the beginning.
"I'm always trying to grow Vetiver's sound in a way that people don't even realize it," says Cabic.