Panda Bear: Interview
Postive Sounds from Lisbon
Person Pitch, released on March 20 (Paw Tracks), is the third solo album by Panda Bear of Animal Collective. The album is already gaining much praise, and Panda Bear (real name Noah Lennox) was nice enough to answer some of my disturbing and convoluted questions. He really is a nice guy, and just another one of your run-of-the-mill animal-named performers. From living and adapting to life in Lisbon with a wife and daughter, Panda Bear explains how his personal life transcends into songs. Panda Bear was also humble enough to “turn up the AC” and discuss the up-and-coming AC affairs. This writer was also vain enough to pitch his own slogan for the AC. So sit back, relax, don't worry about being cool (I assume you only read TMT's interviews to impress people who walk by you while you're on the computer), and enjoy the authenticity that is Panda Bear.
I'll start off right away by asking if you're excited about the release of Person Pitch. You've worked on the album for a year so I'm sure you'll be relieved to finally see it released.
Yes, I'm super psyched for sure that it's finally coming out. I did work hard on it and I'm pretty happy with how it came out and so I'm hoping people like it and have a good time listening to it.
I saw you with AC about a year ago when you were in Chicago and I picked up the I'm Not /Comfy in Nautica EP. Before I heard Person Pitch, I had also heard the other EP releases. One thing I noticed while listening to Person Pitch is that those songs I heard a year ago somehow felt reborn in the album. Though many of the songs were recorded at different times, there seems to be a certain persistent mood throughout the album. Was it a particular goal of yours to mesh the songs together for an album?
I had the idea of doing a singles album about 2 years ago or so. I used to have an album by Maurizio (one of the basic channel guys) and it was like an album of compiled 12"s and I was really psyched on that. So I suppose in retrospect I was really inspired by that album. I also knew I wasn't going to have a whole lot of time in between my family and the Animal Collective so I figured working in little bursts would work well. Also I figured working on just a song or two at a time would make sure that every song was good on its own or as good as it could be anyway.
I'm glad to hear you say that the songs feel new again. I wanted the album versions to be at least slightly different as I thought there might be people who had both the 12"s and the album. I brought my friend Rusty Santos who's really good with sound over to help me mix it and I knew he'd give it a different sound and I think he helped me out a lot with it. Like the whole thing sounded a lot more cohesive and powerful once he got involved.
I know you've mentioned how your new life in Lisbon and other changes went into the making of Person Pitch, but were you also inspired in any way by the music in Portugal when making the album?
It's hard to say but I'd like to think so for sure. Club music and club culture and dance music is really big over here so I'm sure that made its way in there. I've always really liked techno and house but it wasn't until I heard it on dance floors and in clubs in New York that I felt like I really understood the whole attitude of it. It was interesting and exciting for sure to see how the whole thing that started there (NY, Detroit, Chicago) has made its way over here (EU). There's a Portuguese guy named Antonio Variacoes too who's really awesome. He was making jams in the 80s I think and made really sophisticated half modern half traditional Portuguese pop music. I don't understand most of the lyrics but all my bros talk about how amazing they are too. I'd like to think that he was in my mind while I was making these jams too.
I don't want to be overly cheery or fake if you know what I mean, but I think just putting a little effort into trying to be positive and smart really helps as far as feeling good goes.
Lyrically, Person Pitch is sometimes repetitive and to-the-point from “Comfy in Nautica” to “Ponytail.” Did you make it a point to be direct with the lyrics? Do the lyrics reflect how you were feeling at that time?
The words I write always tend to be very straightforward and I don't get much into metaphor or poetry or that sort of thing, not that those things are bad, but they're just not ways of expressing myself that I find effective, I suppose. I can't help but talk about things that I'm thinking about or problems that I'm having. And typically all of the stuff I write concerns my relationships with various people and usually my closest friends and family. I'd say they're the most powerful influences on me and the way I feel so I'd like to talk about them if I can, and people in general tend to be endless sources of inspiration for me.
For instance, in “Ponytail” you sing, “I am as I want to be and I know I never will stop growing.” As these lyrics end the album, it seems you have a very positive outlook on life and where you are right now. Do you consider yourself an optimist? Have the experiences since you recorded the almost opposite and drearier Young Prayer changed your outlook on life in general?
I wouldn't say that it's a trend that began after Young Prayer. Even on Young Prayer my outlook on that whole situation was positive to me. I can remember thinking that I didn't want to be overly sad or depressed and I wanted to try as hard as I could to accept what was going on and to move beyond it in a way that I thought was good for myself and everyone else. I was a pretty sad and depressed person when I was 18 or so and I was fighting with that kind of attitude for at least 10 years and these days I'm finally feeling like I've changed the simplest habits of my mind. On the most basic level I feel like I've changed my mental instincts from negative to positive. It's like when something happens now my reaction is to try and understand it and take advantage of it in a positive way whereas ten years or so ago I would instantly become negative about it. I don't want to be overly cheery or fake if you know what I mean, but I think just putting a little effort into trying to be positive and smart really helps as far as feeling good goes.
Now that you have a family has the demanding schedule you have ever made you second guess your career? Have you ever contemplated working on something outside of music?
All the time but I've never decided that it's better if I don't do what I'm doing. It's certainly not a perfect situation and I feel like I'm constantly aiming towards that if you know what I mean even though I don't feel like I'll ever get there. I feel like the best I can do is to try and make things as happy for me and the people I care about as possible. I can't imagine that I'll be going like I'm going for another 10 years but maybe another 5. All my wife and I do is work and take care of our daughter but again I have a choice (and its one of the only things I really have control over) to see that as a good or bad thing. I'd prefer to appreciate that anyone gives a shit about what I'm doing and to try and thank them for that by working as hard as I can and touring and doing press and taking pictures and giving performances that mean something to me and hopefully to them too. I can't imagine that people are going to care about me very much longer, and I don't mean that in a negative way at all. There are natural cycles to things and that's ok.
Have you played any of your Person Pitch material live yet? Are you anticipating reworking the songs for the live setting? How is playing a solo set different from playing live with AC?
I actually played almost all the songs live before I recorded them. The “Comfy” single is an exception to that though. “Search for Delicious” is really a heavily produced live jam. When I do them live everything is quite a bit more minimal and simple and I kind of like that about it. I feel like I've got a lot more control over what's going on when I'm playing by myself and that rips but playing with the band and having those moments of confusion and struggle and interplay rip, too. There's things I like about both situations no doubt.
I can't imagine that people are going to care about me very much longer, and I don't mean that in a negative way at all.
Since you've taken the moniker Panda Bear, and along with AC, do you find it easier to make music and play live as Panda Bear? Have you ever thought of making Noah Lennox music or would you say Panda Bear is the Noah Lennox sound?
I think I'd say Panda Bear is the Noah Lennox sound as you say. And that was there before AC was around and the idea of the AC was that all of us could hold on to our musical identities within and without of the band and I really like that about it. I think in our eyes everything that the four of us produce is part of the AC world if you know what I mean. We're all pretty idiosyncratic musical people and I feel like our attitudes about music are very particular. I like having the music persona set apart from who I am as a person and I feel like it helps me on both sides in that when I'm working I'm not thinking about all the responsibilities and hassles involved in being a person. And when I'm just being a dude I'm definitely not thinking about the responsibilities and hassles involved with being a professional musician. And I feel like if I didn't have that split both existences would suffer for it. Sorry about getting a little involved and heavy on this one. I guess I just mean I like that Panda Bear isn't necessarily Noah Lennox as I feel like that separation ushers all sorts of freedoms on both ends.
After playing Panda Bear songs for my friends and especially songs from Person Pitch, I've heard things like, “This sounds like The Beach Boys.” Have you ever agreed with this typical comparison? Do you try to make a Panda Bear track as different from Animal Collective as you can and void of other influences or do you just play what comes out?
I can understand the Beach Boys comparison for sure but it's not a comparison I would make right away or it's not the comparison that seems the most apt to me. I'd mention things like Luomo and Dettinger and The Zombies and Jonathan Richman and Moodyman and Daft Punk as well, but at the same time I could see how those names might not make sense to someone else. I feel like everyone approaches music according to what's in their musical mind if you know what I mean. You judge a song against all the songs that you know. You value music against both the music that you like at a given moment and against the music that you don't like at that same moment. It's also really hard for me to say yes the record sounds like Pet Sounds because I feel like that's haughty and I don't want to be like that at all. Person Pitch is very casual to me and goofy a little bit. “Ponytail” sounds like a Care Bears song to me and I was embarrassed to put it on there, but then I thought that it would be sweet to put out a song that made me feel so naked and so square and uncool especially since the first song is about not wanting to be cool at least not in the traditional sense. Overall it's very flattering to even be mentioned in the same sentence as someone like the Beach Boys or The Beatles or anyone who ripped so hard like those dudes.
So I hate to talk about Animal Collective, because this is your spotlight, but I'm curious if you have any updates that you can give us about the forthcoming album, the box-set, or the film?
I can say that the recording of the new AC album is finished. We'll be mixing it soon and we're all excited about it for sure. I think I'm going to like this one more than the last two once it's all said and done, but I guess that's neither here nor there. I'm hoping the box set will come out soon but I can't say for sure and Rob (Catsupplate) is super busy right now and has more important things going on. But were all stoked for that jam. The film is something we're still in the middle of working on and I think we're kind of just starting the last stage.
Has it been important to keep the fans surprised?
I feel like we're trying to surprise ourselves and keep ourselves really excited first and foremost in the hopes that that excitement will translate over. I don't feel the need to shock or surprise anyone but I do feel the need to make people happy and psyched if I can, and I feel like the first step in that is to make myself psyched and happy if you know what I mean. So I think we're just trying to make music that gets us excited.
Last question, when I saw AC last year, my friend and I talked to Geologist (Brian Weitz), and we pitched our unofficial slogan for AC, ”Let's turn up the AC!” Without the rest of the band's consent do you care if I continue that to be the unofficial slogan and possibly use it on one hand-made t-shirt? I thought since people always shout turn up the heat (I think they do), I thought maybe since you guys are already on fire we need to install a little air conditioner, you know what I mean?
Yea that's cool man and go for it for sure. I remember someone asking Davey to say that on stage and he did. Was that you dudes? That was pretty funny.