In the late ’90s as dot-com’s boomed, so did the housing market in San Francisco. When Andy Cabic arrived via North Carolina circa ’98, accommodations weren’t exactly plentiful. Still, like aspiring musicians and artists always do, he made the best of it. And actually, cramming into a house with eight roommates helped inspire the mellow finger picking and half-whispered vocals that became the backbone of Vetiver.
“I lived in a hall closet for a while so I didn’t play amplified,” he recalls fondly, “I really was writing for my own pleasure without any thought of playing the songs for other people.”
Listening to Vetiver’s introspective 2004 self-titled debut, it’s not hard to picture Cabic shut away crafting the intimate ditties that have evoked comparisons to Nick Drake and Neil Young. With melancholic minor chords and tender string accompaniments, the songs sketch an air of mystery and convey a certain timelessness that has lead many reviewers to suggest Cabic and his Bay Area cronies, performers Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart, are calculatedly anachronistic. Predictably, those who criticize these purveyors of “psych folk” often hone in on appearances.
“Some people love to talk more about my beard than what’s musically going on,” Cabic laments, “Sometimes, especially around here, you have shows and you do note if people all have a similar vibe to them, but I’m not consciously looking to develop any certain kind of audience. In my understanding of how genres get labeled and codified, it always seems to be to the detriment of the music in the end because it’s used to write it off after a certain amount of time.”
It is a particularly foggy morning in the city by the bay, and we’re lounging in the songwriter’s cozy living room. Nowadays he has just two roommates — one being Vetiver’s cellist Alissa Anderson. He also has more space for his records, various guitars and a banjo. Glancing out the window, the songwriter admits he’s envious of the lush garden the neighbors planted recently. His yard isn’t barren; it boasts succulents, rosemary and lavender blossoms (though there’s no sign of any vetiver, the Indian grass used in aromatherapy to alleviate stress). Nevertheless, Cabic says he still wishes he had the time to nurture a more challenging, vibrant collection of vegetation.
That probably won’t happen anytime soon, though. He’s about to hit the road in support of “To Find Me Gone.” The project’s sophomore effort features Cabic coloring his arrangements with richer vocal harmonies and dynamic instrumentation, including hand drums, flute and harmonium. And that’s just on the album-opener “Been So Long.” A deeply meditative blend of eastern and western influences, the song explores the passage of time, absence and how fate often lets us know where we truly belong.
No stranger to touring, he spent the better part of the last two years playing shows across Europe and North America with Vetiver, as well as alongside Banhart. All of the time away hopscotching from one town to the next affected Cabic deeply, as evidenced by many of the lyrics and, more obviously, the album’s title.
“I didn’t make the record with anything in mind, but I’ve thought a lot about it since I’ve finished it,” he says, “A lot of it has to do with what’s happened to me with being away and coming home and then trying to find a sense of space again and tap back in to the things that go on without you.”
This time around, as more and more folks catch wind of Vetiver, there’s no telling how long Cabic will be gone. No matter, one thing is certain: he’s found and cultivated a rather pleasant place to return to.
For more information on Vetiver, visit: http://www.vetiverse.com/vetiver.html.