Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear is about as infallible as modern musicians get. As one quarter of Animal Collective and the mastermind behind 2007’s euphoric Person Pitch, Lennox knows a thing or two about hyperbolic critical praise. Still, in an early morning phone conversation from his home in Lisbon, Portugal Lennox remains scarily modest and even self deprecating about his work. It’s a refreshing twist on the rock star persona – a kind of reverse-Bono if you will. Read on as we discuss Animal Collective’s new movie, Panda Bear’s new album and the perils of not speaking Portuguese.
Run us through your day… I’ll get up and I’ll either make myself a sweet coffee or make an instant one if I’m feeling really lazy. Then I’ll do a bunch of emails and internet stuff for an hour or two. Then I’ll have lunch with my wife then go to the studio to work for four hours then I’ll come home and pick my daughter up from school, give her a bath. Then my wife gets home and we’ll make dinner, have dinner, then we’ll hang out with my daughter, put her to bed, then my wife and I will hang out and then she’ll go to bed, then I’ll hang out and go to bed.
Sounds like a sweet life dude, what are you working on in those four hours? I’m doing new solo work, the Panda Bear stuff.
How’s that sounding? I know that you’ve mentioned being tired of the sample based stuff and the need to change your song writing process and sound by incorporating different instruments… Yeah, it’s going pretty good. It’s been a long process. I’ve thought about it for a long time while we were doing the Merriweather stuff, so I had a long gestation process in my mind but only really started cracking on it in September. It’s kind of scary doing something totally different, like I’ve been working in a sampler zone for five or six years now. It definitely feels like a new zone, its scary but also exciting as well.
I guess it’s liberating because you’re forced to approach it differently, what sort of sounds and instruments are you exploring? The rhythms are really basic and kind of raw and simple and are electronic. It’s not live instrumentation, I’ve been playing guitar but I feed it through the same thing that the sequences are on. It’s a very electronic sound and very voice heavy. A simple arrangement of drums, the guitar and singing. Really there are only two or three elements to every song. It’s pretty raw sounding for better for worse.
What do you see as the main difference between what you’re writing now and Person Pitch? The tone is a lot darker and it sounds sort of dramatic or romantic to me. But I’m in still in the thick of the thing so it’s really tough to be objective at this point. So I have no idea, but hopefully people like it. I hope its good.
The phrase “sounds like Animal Collective” gets bandied about quite a bit these days. What are your thoughts on music journalists using Animal Collective as a sonic reference point when your music isn’t that easy to classify to begin with? It feels good for sure and that other people actually like what were doing. It’s exciting for others to take us a flavour in their palate in their cooking so to speak. It’s very flattering I’m sure no one is going to rip stuff off so for me there is no negative side to that.
And what can we expect next from Animal Collective? We’re going to do the tour in Australia, but then that’s the end of Merriweather stuff, so then that’s a pretty big deal for us.
Are you going to stay back after the shows for a little holiday? Anyone bringing the family over? I’m not going to, but I’m psyched about coming to Australia but it’s a long way and my daughter is pretty young so it’d be a pretty gnarly plane ride for her. But I think one of the guys is going to have a holiday there after the tour.
Does having a family now affect what you do? Like the notion that your family’s well being is dependent on your success? It affects so many things, I don’t want to act like it’s a simple thing. Certainly the scheduling of everything is heavily affected by it in terms of trying to balance everything out and making sure I’m doing everything I need to do for the group and being a family guy.
Does having a family influence your music all that much? Has having children changed anything? I’m wary of hitting that vibe too much. You know those guys that have a kid and then that’s all they talk about and you just want them to shut the fuck up. Well I don’t want to be that guy. But it was an important idea for me. I remember thinking even the house thing that there is that weird sort of contrast. I once thought there was something kind of noble about it but at the same time sort of vulgar about it. That’s why I thought it was a good idea to write the song. Because of that weird sort of contrast.
What is Josh’s involvement going to be in the next Animal Collective record? I don’t know. There hasn’t been any talk about the next one, we’re thinking maybe when we’re in Australia we’ll start to talk about it. But it’s going to a little while before we really start getting working on that because I want to focus on this solo thing for a bit. And after five or so years or how ever long it’s been, of constant solid touring we all need to tone it down a bit. It’ll be a little bit before we get fully charged again
What has been the highlight of 09 for you? First thing work related is when we did two shows in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. It was outdoor, which was sweet, the energy of those shows is awesome and it was a lot of old friends and people I haven’t seen in a while, it was a really positive experience. It was two shows, one right after the other and we had a couple of friends do a stage set up, so it was a pretty elaborate production. I don’t think I’d like to do that all the time, but for a special event it was really special.
Where do you source your samples from? I don’t really have a singular source, a lot of the time I’ll know what sound kind of sound I want and I’ll search for it somewhere in stuff I already have, look on the internet to find what suits my needs. Other times they’re tracks or things I’ve heard and stayed in my mind for a really long time and I know it’s going to work. In saying that, that sort of mentality, I’m trying to ween myself off it, because I’ve done that process so much that to keep doing that would be lame for me.
Is that the same ethos Animal Collective go by album to album? Yeah totally, it not even something we think about its just natural way of thinking about our creative process. We just get bored doing the same thing so we’ll be working in a certain style and do something different because it’s more exciting and we can more invested in the thing if it’s new and fresh.
The songwriting method has also changed due to Geography. Is it difficult with all of you living in different places? How does it stack up – writing songs and sending them to one another as opposed to being together in a room and jamming stuff out? I still think the bulk of a song really gets done when we’re all together in one room. We’re really fortunate that it hasn’t really affected us that much living apart. When we were in the same city we would do some of the writing together but predominantly it was Dave and a little bit of me that would bring in a skeletal idea of songs to the band. But even then it was when we were all in the same room and we could all inject our little parts into the song that is when the song really took shape. It’s still like that though. Dave or I will send demos of songs around to get an idea of what the thing is about and to figure out the logistics to the song. The song becomes itself once we’re all in the same room.
Has it been hard in Portugal, where English isn’t the native language to get everything logistically right for you to make the solo album that you want to? Yeah that’s one of the biggest downsides of being here – a) I’m like a shy person and to learn the language has been really difficult and b) it’s the blessing and the curse of the place that it’s free, easy going and mellow. But at the same time if you need equipment you’ll have to put in some work for that, to make it happen. Definitely on the equipment side of things if you want repairs or a specific piece of gear it’s really hard to organize. That’s been tricky, so I’ve learned to take what you see as what you get. You can’t be too choosey about what you want to do.
Can you tell us about your movie? What is the title and when is it out? We still haven’t decided on a title, I’m thinking it should be out sometime mid next year. It’s definitely done.
What titles have you speculated on? I can’t say, if I tell anyone that information I’ll get spanked.
What is the vibe of the film? It’s really intense – it’s dark. To me it’s super dark. It’s definitely a vibe that I feel like I’m not so close to, it’s more of the other guys who are the horror movie guys.
So is it scary rather than trippy? It’s hard to say, it’s complicated. It’s not a really obvious concrete sort of thing. Saying it’s out there is selling it short. Let’s just say it’s intense.