Cruising the bargain bins with Vetiver’s Andy Cabic

"I'm in here pretty often, as you might guess," says Andy Cabic, leaning back against a stack of reggae albums at Amoeba Music and laughing like a man who has spent a little too much time combing through dusty vinyl.

Growing up in the D.C. area, the 33-year-old guitarist, Devendra Banhart sidekick, and frontman for local indie folksters Vetiver spent his youth hitting used-record shops. "Back when I was a kid, you had to ask the people who worked at the record stores for recommendations," he says. "There's so much more music out there now, and it's so easy to access. I'm afraid that people are losing that personal connection to music because they didn't have to drive around to three different record stores looking for an album the day it was released."

A longing for days gone by manifests itself on Thing of the Past, a covers record due out on May 13 that finds Vetiver reinterpreting songs by the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Bobby Charles, and Norman Greenbaum. Cabic says the decision to record a covers album came out of a lineup shift after 2006's To Find Me Gone. (Vetiver's current crew features new guitarist Sanders Tripp and new bassist Brent Dunne alongside veterans Alissa Anderson on cello and Otto Hauser on drums.) "Although we're all old friends, we've never recorded together as a group before," he says. "I wanted to get into the studio with everybody to just see how it felt. A covers album sounded fun."

Vetiver: Paying Amoeba's bills.
Alissa Anderson
Vetiver: Paying Amoeba's bills.

Cabic and company mined different resources for the album's 12 tracks, from personal favorites to bargain-bin discoveries. He found Kathy Heideman's Move with Love at Community Thrift. "It's an amazingly beautiful record," he says. "I have no idea where Kathy Heideman is today or what happened to her, but 'Sleep a Million Years' is a really great song that I felt like we had to have on the record. To have Vashti Bunyan on it with us was incredible."

"Roll on Babe," another Thing of the Past gem, was written by Derroll Adams but popularized by former Faces bassist Ronnie Lane after he released it on his 1974 album, Anymore for Anymore. "I love Ronnie Lane," Cabic says. "He has a certain looseness that I aspire to. After he left the Faces at the apex of their fame, he apparently lived out in the sticks in England on some farm and recorded music on the hillsides. You can hear kids playing in the background on some of the songs on those albums he made. I've always thought that was pretty cool."

A more obscure source of inspiration came from Elyse Weinberg, a Canadian singer-songwriter who moved to Los Angeles in the early '70s and was friends with Neil Young. "We do a great song of hers called 'Houses,'" Cabic says. "It was supposed to be on her second album that never came out. I heard it as an extra track on a reissue of her first album. I saw one over in the vinyl section when I was in [Amoeba] the other day. Let's go take a look." When I catch up with Cabic, he has pulled out a copy of Elyse and is scanning the liner notes. "Neil Young actually plays the guitar solo on the original recording of the song," he adds. "It's a great record and it's got an amazing cover."

On "Blue Driver," Vetiver is joined by singer-songwriter Michael Hurley, who recorded the song for his 1972 album, Hi Fi Snock Uptown. "We had him come down to the studio to sing on it, and he ended up hanging out with us all day and stayed at my house," Cabic recalls. "That duet with Michael Hurley is something I'll always remember because I've always been a big fan of his music."

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