Over the course of two decades, Noah Lennox has been influencing the music scene in small, but noticeable, ways. Better known by his moniker Panda Bear, he first rose to fame as a member of Animal Collective, the experimental pop band your college roommate wouldn’t stop gushing over. And throughout the band’s shapeshifting era, he’s dropped a handful of solo albums. On his sixth, this year’s colorful Buoys, Lennox goes in a new direction that feels almost completely new.
While Buoys has Panda Bear’s trademark splish splash of electronic synths and otherwise playful sounds, the overarching theme feels different. Both Lennox and his producer and collaborator Rusty Santos were drawn to the production techniques of hip-hop records. With a modern stylistic twist but equally vintage instrumental choices, Lennox turned his latest effort as Panda Bear into one that’s as decisive as it is delightful, a bout of hypermodern production that’s delectably glossy—especially with good headphones on.
“[This album] was about things I wanted to stay away from,” says Lennox. “There were aesthetics I was trying to distance myself from not because I thought they were bad, but because they were things I’ve done a lot. In the absence of that, I wanted the new thing to sound different. The sonic architecture of this reminds me of trap production: It’s really loud vocals, a bunch of high hats or percussive elements in the high-end frequency range, and then a bunch of deep notes at the bottom of the subspace. Those are the pillars of the sound. In that context, I think Bouys is reflective of trap production. I can’t say it sounds like a trap album because that’s a rhythm thing more than anything, but if I remove the other aesthetic, just the sonics of it remind me of a trap album. It’s an extension of dub music production, and that’s my favorite production aesthetic. Everything I’ve done is a reflection of dub.”
To get to know Panda Bear better, we interviewed Noah Lennox for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With Buoys as the prompt, his answers are vivid and dreamlike—qualities that will appear in his live renditions when he headlines the Paradise this Tuesday.
DIGBOSTON: What’s the most memorable thing you’ve ever witnessed while out in nature?
LENNOX: Oh man. [Long exhale] It’s probably when we did this one tour in Australia as Animal Collective. Two of the guys in Animal Collective are licensed scuba divers and two of us aren’t. Dave and I aren’t. So we took a boat near Byron Bay way out, where we couldn’t see the land any more. Those two guys went scuba diving. Dave and I just snorkeled around. There was a very specific, visceral memory I have of jumping off the boat into the water, looking down, and just seeing the vastness of emptiness that was below me. It kinda took my breath away. It was really terrifying. It was like being in space and seeing nothing below you. This was back in 2012 or so. That was certainly a memorable experience in nature for me.
DIGBOSTON: When’s the last time you were in a really foul mood? What prompted it?
LENNOX: Oof. Gosh. It was maybe the third day that we had our dog. She was two months old and very small. She was sleeping on my lap, but she fell off and hit her rib on one of the spokes of the chair. It was obvious that she was really hurt. I took her to the hospital. I’ll never forget the look they gave me at the vet. I’m happy to say the dog has totally recovered and she’s doing great. But that night at dinner, my son was being difficult about something, as young kids often will be. I just couldn’t put on a good face. I had no patience and I was so tweaked out by the fact that I had almost killed our dog. That was a pretty rough night, that one. She’s a French bulldog, but she’s really small. She’s almost like a mini. French bulldogs get fat and stout, but she’s really slight. We’ve had her now for about two and a half years.
DIGBOSTON: In your opinion, what’s the most underrated arcade game?
LENNOX: Could it be a console game? Yeah? Because then I’m going to go with the first Ape Escape game, the one for the first Playstation. You don’t hear about that one too much. But oh man, so great. The music was super good, the little worlds were rad, and it was a fun game, I thought. That game is wicked. Really good.
4) “I Know I Don’t Know”
DIGBOSTON: What’s something you choose to be willfully ignorant about?
LENNOX: So many things … for better or for worse, I suppose. If I had to choose just one, it used to be politics, but not now. I don’t think I can justify that position anymore. Politics kinda forced everyone to be engaged now. So I won’t say politics.
I feel bad saying anything. Any time I think of something, it makes me realize I should pay more attention to it. Maybe social media? I never found a way to engage with that that never felt good for me. I started to tweet a little bit, but I feel like my tweets are super vague and odd. I think that’s the only way I can do it: to engage in this obtuse way. I definitely don’t use it as a form of communication. There was a moment where it reminded me of a video game, actually. When I realized that, I thought, “Yeah, I can do this.” The system of likes and retweets and that kind of thing, that type of engagement, feels like a score in a game. It’s dangerous to think that stuff means anything. So once I equated it to a video game score, which is meaningless in most ways, then I was more comfortable with it.
DIGBOSTON: What’s something you’re bad at but would like to take steps to improve at?
LENNOX: Skateboarding. It’s kinda too late, though; that ship has sailed. [laughs] But I wish I could. I love watching skateboarding videos. I always dream about being able to do that stuff. There’s something about the movement of it all. To me, it’s about achieving these impossible feats. It’s like how a surfer harnesses nature, but a skater gets to harnesses a city in a way. That’s something I’d love to be able to do. The big skate videos are a thing of the past now, or at least it feels that way. Mostly people just upload a few clips to Instagram or Youtube. There was one by Supreme called “Blessed” that came out on Thanksgiving. That’s a recent one that I loved.
People actually ask to use our music or my music in videos, which is cool. We were in “Mine Field,” an Alien Workshop video. I think we had two songs in that? Most recently, I was in Silas Baxter-Neal’s part, which was up on Thrasher for a couple days. That one was really sick. We were in the Skate 3 video game, too, which I was super pumped on. My friend who is a photographer was in the game and he’s wearing an Animal Collective shirt. It’s a real shirt that Abby [Portner] did that has insects on it. That was awesome.
DIGBOSTON: When you’re on tour, what’s the mental equivalent of a buoy, something that helps you remember you’re not too far away from home after all?
LENNOX: Probably FaceTiming with the family. I try to do it once a day. There’s times, like if we’re getting on airplanes, where it can be difficult, but I do it an average of once a day.
7) “Inner Monologue”
DIGBOSTON: How often do you find yourself having inner monologues?
LENNOX: I’m not sure there’s a common theme between them, but I have both inner monologues and outer monologues with myself all the time. I’m working by myself all day so I talk to myself all the time. I’m out with the dog a lot, too. I’m talking to her, which is basically talking to myself, because she doesn’t understand or care. But a lot of my monologues are work related, I’d wager. I think a lot of time thinking about what would be cool to do with music, or I find myself rehearsing certain lines. If there’s a common theme, it’s probably that they’re all work related. Boring, but accurate.
DIGBOSTON: Apart from music, which hobby or interest has grown increasingly important to you over the years?
LENNOX: Hmm. It’s either gaming or watching sports, like the fandom of it. Probably my basketball fandom is something that’s grown over the past eight years or so. For basketball, I played all throughout high school and sporadically played pickup outside, but less over the years. As playing in real life dwindled, my fandom increased. I guess I’m living vicariously through those people. That’s probably the big one.
Although, gaming is gaining steam, though, because my son is into it. There’s this demo called Days Gone that he and I are both pretty stoked about. It’s for Xbox and Playstation, I think, but we’re PS4 dudes. We play Smash Bros. on the Switch, too. He’s so much better than me, though. He’s only eight! I’m like, “Dude, we started playing at the same time. How come I can’t beat you?!”
9) “Home Free”
DIGBOSTON: Where is your favorite place you’ve ever lived, long-term or short-term?
LENNOX: It’s definitely here in Lisbon. It’s the best. The city has changed pretty dramatically in the past six years or so. It’s still my favorite place, though, by far. I was in New York for five years before here. It felt like I wanted to get out of there. As much as I loved it then and still love it now, it just didn’t feel like the right place for me. I didn’t know where I wanted to move to, but we did a festival out here and I spent two days in the city afterwards. While there, I met a girl. We spent a lot of time while I was here, then she would visit me in New York, and then I’d come back. Yeah. I liked Lisbon a whole lot, so I decided to give it a shot. I can speak Portuguese, but I actually don’t have opportunities to use it so often. I’m not fooling anyone into thinking I’m a native speaker. I sound like a caveman when trying, but hey, I can make it work.