Music 

INTERVIEW: ANIMAL COLLECTIVE’S NOAH “PANDA BEAR” LENNOX

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Noah Lennox (R) being a camera-shy Panda. Photo by Abita Photo
In the recent, affecting rock-doc protest Sound City, Dave Grohl and Co. stress the importance of keeping a human element alive in today’s world of (mostly) digital music production, insisting that music is a channel that not only benefits from, but requires, the presence of others, with all their strengths and flaws. In a time where Pro Tools heals all wounds, City reminds us that a band can, and should, feed off of one another for musical inspiration.

And while renowned experimental-psychedelic outfit Animal Collective didn’t appear alongside the Foo’s front man, that notion of a more collaborative (or, ahem, collective) approach to production was certainly echoed on AnCo’s ninth studio album, Centipede Hz, released last September: With all four members temporarily returning to their native Baltimore for the writing process, Hz marked the first time in a over decade the band composed a record together in one room, previously relying on emails and infrequent meetings to structure their tracks.

Calling from his home in Lisbon, drummer/vocalist/solo virtuoso Panda Bear, AKA Noah Lennox, is a personable fellow to talk to, not unlike a favorite college roommate at 3 AM. We talked more about AnCo’s latest studio effort, as well as updates in his solo work, current tour partner Dan Deacon, and his brief time spent at Boston University.

[Author's Note: Lennox made references to a restaurant supposedly called "Brookline Pizza." The Dig staff thinks he meant Village Pizza House in Brookline.]

Now that some time has passed, what do you think of Centipede Hz in terms of your other records? What’s going to stick out to you the most?
NL: I feel like I’ll take away the feeling of being in Baltimore for three months and we were kind of in a weird zone, musically. All being in the same room, playing every day for three months—just kind of how noisy and chaotic it all was, y’know? It got sort of mellowed out in the studio, and live I feel a lot more’s going on that’s clear-cut, but I’ll definitely remember how chaotic everything was—but in a good way. I feel like we sort of set out to do that; it was kind of the point the entire time, and I guess you can say ‘mission accomplished.’

And that sound’s captured on the record?
Yeah. Some records, you have an idea going into it—some records for us, we had an idea going in, but it turned out differently during recording. But this one was pretty faithful as to what we originally wanted to do.

With [guitarist/vocalist] Deakin back in the mix, does the band want to write together more often like you did on Centipede?
I kind of feel like we’ll go back to the way it was before, maybe something in-between. I feel like it’s actually really advantageous for us just to do some work on our own first. Not like it was bad, like we had a bad time, but I feel like our meetings were a bit speedier when we’ve all done some prep work a little bit. So, just because we live so far away from each other, I feel like we’ll probably go back to doing something like that, but at the same time, we haven’t had any conversations about what we’re going to do next—we’re just kind of in the touring zone, y’know? That’ll probably last throughout this year, and after that, we’ll maybe talk about what we’re going to do next.

That’s pretty reflective of the digital age.
Yeah—I feel that we do, but not everybody has to ever get together. I could imagine making a record with somebody else where I was never actually in the same room as them.

Dan Deacon seems like a very like-minded musician. What prompted the group to tour with him now?
There were two links—One was obviously Baltimore. This guy Greg who used to do visuals for us the past year and a half of touring or so, he was buddies with Dan back in Baltimore, so we kind of got the personal link in that way. Also, Dave and Josh caught a show of his in Miami and were real psyched, and we asked him to do it. I’m pumped to see him—I’ve actually never seen a full set of his. There was one time I got to play with him at a festival, but due to schedules, I didn’t get to see the show.

How was it working with Teengirl Fantasy on “Pyjama”? Do you tend to take any ideas from your solo work into the band, or are they two separate entities?
It’s a little bit of both–I mean, I definitely feel like when someone asks me to do something on a track of theirs or wants to make something together, I want to approach it from their perspective a little bit, y’know? I feel like it’s important to think about it a little bit more than you might making your own thing. But at the same time, I feel like making stuff on my own or making stuff with a group I don’t love so well, or making stuff with Animal Collective, it’s all part of the same kind of creative wave for me.

And that’s why it’s cool to do stuff with people you may not know so well–it kind of forces you into context or places that maybe you’re not super familiar with.

Definitely a good place to learn some new things and try things that will hopefully serve you in the future.

I’ve seen them open a couple of times–they’re pretty great live
Really nice dudes, too.

AnCo has always had a certain affinity with nature in its work. What keeps the group fascinated with that more than a decade on?
I feel like it’s such a massive, complicated thing, y’know: Nature, with a capital ‘N.’ Sounds cheesy to say, but–you know what I mean, there’s a crazy, complex universe out there, so it’s just kind of endlessly entertaining and amazing—an endless form of inspiration, you can say. I feel like you’ll get pretty diverse answers depending on who you ask in the band—more than a lot of things, we’ll all have something pretty different to say about that. For example, I’m not much of a camper [laughs]

Do you think the bands’ family lives have impacted the band creatively?
I think I probably do it way more than anybody else in the band, I would say. Not just family, but just kind of drawing from my experiences and sort of writing about that. I’ve just sort of found it difficult in the past to tell story with lyrics—I’m just not very good at it. More recently, I think that they’re a bit more metaphorical. Before, the language used to be super direct, and I feel like I got tired of that a little bit or I want to say stuff that doesn’t feel so inward, if you know what I mean? Having said that, I do feel that I was always trying to talk about things that were useful somehow, or could be meaningful to someone else besides me.

Have you been kicking around any new solo ideas following Tomboy?
I always go in to a tour feeling like I’m going to get a lot of work done, but I never do. I have been working on the next solo thing—pretty steady for about a year, I’d say. I think I’ll play the first show for it in a couple month’s time—and, gosh,

I don’t want to give a definitive date on it, but I hope to have something out by the end of this year.

Any memories of Boston from your time at BU?
Yeah—something I really remember is the Boston Common and walking down–was it Newbury Street? Because I went to BU, I would always walk from the BU zone, down Newbury Street, towards the park and through Chinatown a little bit. I had a lot of memorable walks around there; I always thought it was a really sweet area.

I actually went to Emerson, so I was right across the street.
Do you remember Nino’s Pizza? I know it was near Emerson, that’s all I can remember. We used to always go there—just really monster slices of pizza. We used to go to [Village] Pizza, too; ordered from there all the time. They stiffed us once, though.

What happened?
I remember we went in there—we called to get a pizza and the dude was talking to some guy, who was like a friend of his, y’know? And it was so obvious that it was our pizza…and he looked at us, then he looked at his buddy, and he was like, “Oh, this one’s yours, man.” Me and my buddy Brian were like, “We’re never going back to [Village] Pizza.”

Aw, don’t do that. College kids are the #1 source of revenue for pizza places.
Yeah, we went back like two days later. [laughs] No offense to [Village] Pizza. I’m sure they’re good guys over there.

I remember taking the subway a lot, too. The first couple years I took the subway everywhere, and then the third year–I didn’t graduate–I just walked everywhere. I walked to Cambridge all the time. We kind of lived in-between the Boston University zone and Cambridge that last year, but yeah, I just walked everywhere.

I never went to a Celtics game; I’m kind of bummed.

I actually lived down the street from the Garden last year, but it wasn’t really in my budget to go, unfortunately.
I might go to one; think of it like going to a Neil Young show or something [laughs]. Do it once a year.

For a while there, Boston sports just owned everything. [But] even though I was in Boston, I never really latched on to any of their teams.

I wouldn’t say there’s a shortage of die-hard fans in New England.
Totally–and they like to talk about it. I have some Boston fan in-laws. (Elliot, if you’re reading, what’s up?) So is my sister, actually; they’re out in Jamacia Plain. I remember it was always Fantasyland out there.Ⓧ

——-
ANIMAL COLLECTIVE
with Dan Deacon
THU 3.7.13
HOUSE OF BLUES
15 LANSDOWNE ST.
BOSTON
888.693.2583
8PM/ALL AGES/$25
@ANMLCOLLECTIVE
MYANIMALHOME.NET
HOUSEOFBLUES.COM/BOSTON

About SEAN MCCABE

A self-described melomaniac from New York, he loves Crystal Castles and hates jellybeans.
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