Talk Talk: Panda Bear

Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox), showing his old-school Baltimore pride.

It's hard to think of too many people in the music world who had a better 2007 than Panda Bear, aka Noah Lennox. It was the best year yet for Animal Collective, the forward-thinking, avant-garde, indie rock quartet that he founded in 2000. Their album "Strawberry Jam" received critical raves and helped the band reached its widest audience yet. But those critical raves couldn't compare to the ones given to "Person Pitch," Panda Bear's third solo album. Its Brian Wilson-inspired sound collages made for some of the year's most gorgeous and otherworldly listening, making Lennox an indie star on two fronts. After his hectic 2007, Baltimore County native Lennox took some time to answer questions about his creative process, Animal Collective's artistic evolution and why he lives in Portugal.

David Malitz: Between "Person Pitch," "Strawberry Jam," a brief solo tour and a couple of big Animal Collective tours, 2007 was quite a busy and banner year for you. Have you had time to reflect at all?

Panda Bear: No, not really, but I don't think I'd really like to. I kind of feel like the moment I stop to think or analyze the music then I'll be dead creatively, if you know what I mean. I'd like to always be moving forward as far as making the music goes.

DM: There was a dramatic change in sound from the acoustic-based "Young Prayer" to the sound collages on "Person Pitch." How did this come about?

PB: Mostly because I was just psyched to use new or different equipment and was psyched about trying to make songs in different ways, if I could. I had trouble getting my guitar into the country (Portugal) when I moved and that was part of the reason, too, I should say.

DM: In an interview from 2005, in response to being asked if working on "Young Prayer" was different than working with Animal Collective you said: "Yes it was very different. I don't have the patience by myself to stick around and get something really sculpted and polished." It seems like that's not the case at all on "Person Pitch," wouldn't you agree?

PB: Yes and no. I did work harder and spent so much more time arranging the sound than on other solo jams. But I also moved pretty fast most of the time and the whole experience didn't feel as refined in some ways compared to making music with Animal Collective.

DM: What's your creative process for a song like "Bros"? (video below) There are so many layers and sections and different sounds. How does it start and how do you know when you're done?

PB: All the songs on the album started really messy and in many parts. I spent a lot of time at the beginning of each song just trying to fit together sounds and samples until I had something that I liked and something that felt like it was mine. Well, there were a bunch of stages to the songs but they all went more or less in the same way: messing around with sounds and samples, setting up repetitions of the groups of samples, finding singing parts to the repetitions, playing the songs live, recording the live versions of the songs and then adding on to those foundations, mixing it all together. It was also a lot different from other things I've been a part of because it was done sporadically in Animal Collective breaks. Maybe that's part of the reason it felt kind of less intense as well.

DM: I saw you play at the Ottobar back in June but couldn't really tell what you were doing behind all those samplers and keyboards. What were you doing exactly?

PB: The live versions are stripped down and typically consist of a lot less sounds. I think sometimes I mix the songs better than others and it's not always the same thing. I'd say the room and the system have a lot to do with that, though. Generally speaking I'm just triggering samples or sample groups and singing along with that. I'm also affecting and manipulating those effects on my voice and the samples. It's not super complicated but it takes some kind of precision to get it right.

DM: How would you describe Animal Collective's evolution? It's a long ways from "Spirit They've Gone" to "Here Comes the Indian" to "Sung Tongs" to "Strawberry Jam."

PB: It's been a little all over the place. I suppose it follows whatever we've been excited about at a given time and it follows who we were and who were becoming as people. The four of us can get into pretty different kinds of things so the results sometimes end up scattered a little.

DM: It used to be that you would only hear new, not-yet-released material at Animal Collective shows. Why'd you do that and why'd you stop? As the band got bigger did you feel more pressure to play songs people actually paid to hear?

PB: Yes, a little bit, for sure. I think we realized after a while that there would be people at the shows who'd only heard one album or just one song from one album and we didn't want to give them a bad time. We like to see music that we haven't seen before from bands that we maybe have seen before but certainly not everyone feels that way. So I think lately we've been trying to do most of the new with some of the old. I'd hope it's some kind of balance, at least. Often we'll try and do the old songs in new ways with new energies so that it's somehow fresh for us as well.

DM: Why Lisbon? What's it like there? Do you ever get any "bad American" vibes?

PB: I moved to Lisbon to be with a girl, for sure. It's nice and easy and slow moving during the day. It only gets energized Thursday through Saturday nights mostly and I'm not usually out then so much, I should say. There's distaste for America in a lot of places, I think, but its pretty mild and sparse in Portugal as far as I've seen.

DM: Do you read much of your press? It's been a pretty good year to do so. Isn't it almost inescapable not to see some stuff in this media saturation age?

PB: Yes, I think it's pretty tough unless you're not a computer person at all and don't really have any friends or family. I don't know that it's really useful, though, and I'd say it's dangerous to pay too much attention to the negative or the positive. Either way it will freeze you in your tracks.

By David Malitz |  January 15, 2008; 4:08 PM ET Interviews
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Heck of a tour bus to travel from Lisbon. strange guy, but good music.

Posted by: T.M. | January 16, 2008 10:35 AM

i love panda bear.

Posted by: paddington | January 22, 2008 2:00 PM

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