interview by Billy Jones, FYF photos by Chris Juarez
Panda Bear @ FYF Fest - Sept 4, 2010
"Noah Lennox (born July 17, 1978) in Baltimore, Maryland known as Panda Bear, is an experimental musician and a founding member of Animal Collective. He chose the name "Panda Bear" because he drew pictures of pandas as artwork on the recordings he made as a younger musician. Lennox grew up in the Roland Park section of Baltimore, Maryland, and had attended high school in Pennsylvania. As a child and teenager, he played sports, mainly soccer and basketball, and had studied piano until he was eight and then cello. He later sang tenor in his high school chamber choir. At the age of 17 he began to listen to electronic music styles like house & techno and artists such as Aphex Twin, all of which became a huge influence on his later work" [Wikipedia]Panda Bear is currently making his way to NYC for a big headlining show happening on Governors Island Saturday night, September 11th (tickets are still on sale). On this past Saturday, September 4th, he played a set (that he wasn't too happy about) at FYF Fest in LA (pictures from that show are in this post).
On Monday he played the Fox Theatre in Oakland. Live Music Blog was there and said, "I left the concert speechless, completely in awe of what I just experienced. One of the best shows I've seen in a while." That's good news for those who were scared away by what they heard about the Pitchfork Festival.The Fox Theatre setlist is at the end of this post.
And it was right before that Oakland show (at the venue) that BrooklynVegan interviewer Billy Jones was able to get Noah, an ex-Brooklynite and father of two who currently lives in Portugal, on the phone for a few minutes. Their chat is transcribed in this post.
They talked about when Panda Bear's album is coming out (if you haven't heard, it's called "Tomoby"), whether Animal Collective is still a band, FYF Fest, 9/11, Governors Island opener Gala Drop, and much more. Read it below...
BV: How was L.A.?
Noah: Ahhh, It was alright....The festival that we played I had some problems and I played really bad. But then the next day in Pomona I thought the show was really good. So it was kinda of sweet and sour experience I would say.
BV: Was it technical difficulties or just a big festival mess?
Noah: It was that and they ran out water and they ran out of food and everybody just seemed like pissed. So it didn't feel very good most of the day and then I had this like crazy, monster feedback and it just sort of sucked.
Panda Bear @ FYF Fest - Sept 4, 2010
BV: Did you see anything there you liked?
Noah: I was there a lot of the day. Ariel [Pink] was really good. I had seen him a little bit before in Norway though so I knew he would be kinda sick.
BV: Yeah, I caught a recent set at the Mercury Lounge. He was pretty amazing, playing stuff off the new record...
Noah: It rips.
BV: Speaking of new records, don't you have one coming out this Fall?
Noah: No, I mean singles will be coming up periodically but I probably only recorded about half the songs at this point. As soon as I record them I give them to the people to put them out usually it's like a month or two turnaround I would say. So I don't know, I can't give a specific date.
I was shooting for like around a September release date and I was probably talking to people about that. Then I feel like it kinda of become a rumor or something. And once I felt like everybody was expecting it, I thought I should really try to stick to that, but it took too long. I don't think I'm gonna meet that September deadline now.
BV: Kinda like how you did for Person Pitch, you are just going to release a series of singles and 12"?
Noah: Yeah, exactly. I think the second one is coming out in October but I think they sold out of it so they'll release it early or something. The third one is almost done so I would expect that in another 2 months or so.
BV: Are you planning to do remixes or just B-sides from the record?
Noah: I was thinking about the 4th single just being one track and a remix on the B-side. That's not set in stone just yet but I think that might be a good thing to do.
BV: Do you have anyone in mind to do the remix?
Noah: Yeah but I don't want to tell you because then I might jinx it.
BV: When did you start working on the Tomboy stuff?
Noah: I started writing the songs, in earnest I would say, this time last year.
BV: Wow, that's quicker than some of your other records.
Noah: I tend to go pretty slow.
BV: Young Prayer and Person Pitch are both really different records in a way. When you start making a record do you have a vision in mind or is it a step by step process where it sort of develops over time as you start to make the stuff?
Noah: I'd say it's a little bit of both. You kind of have an initial vision of the thing and then I feel like I stayed pretty true to that but there is always that 20% that I couldn't have foreseen, kinda like veers a little bit as you go. And I like that it does that. You end off somewhere you didn't think you would go.
BV: Does what you discover inspire what you do next?
Noah: A little bit. Or sort of like what's working and what's not working. As far as the way I am doing the singles and everything. Once I record two songs, the next group of songs will be somewhat informed by the two songs that I've already done. In terms of like trying to fit all the songs together; it's sort of like putting a puzzle together.
BV: Would you say that each set has a different vibe than the last because they are relating more to each other?
Noah: I think this group of songs themselves are a little bit more individualistic compared to the Person Pitch songs. These are all kinda like their own beast in a way.
BV: You have mentioned before that you were moving away from Boss 303's and samplers, maybe less samples in general. Those elements had such a large impact on a lot of the music that was made after the release of Person Pitch. I'm curious what instruments or programs you find yourself working with more when creating Tomboy?
Noah: It's pretty much strictly this white box made by a company called Korg. It's just this little white box that is supposed to have a keyboard attached to it but I just use it as a little box cause I thought it would be kinda be fun and interesting and weird to try and make music with this really kind of rudimentary sort of input method because you can't really like play it per se. I sequence stuff by inputting notes and hits and stuff like that. Than I play a guitar, like I wrote all the songs on guitar first. But everything runs through this machine, this box and it's all kind of affected, the guitar is really mutated and tweaked by this thing. Then there's these kind of simplistic rhythms that I have programmed into the thing. That is the basic blueprint for all of the songs.
Panda Bear @ FYF Fest - Sept 4, 2010
BV: Does that add an element of chance or improvisation? Like once something goes into the box something comes out that you weren't expecting?
Noah: There is a certain amount of that in terms of the effects and just the way the box is setup. It's so complicated that it will tweak stuff in weird ways sometimes.
BV: I read somewhere that there was a more minimal based approach to the these new songs, with "just 3 or 4" basic elements...
Noah: Definitely, especially compared to the last one where I would be trying to sort together 5 or 6 little loops or repetitions or whatever and each one of those was like I was sampling a record so you know. Each sample contained a fully produced piece of sound. I was adding to that and combining 6 of those. That compared to just a drum, a guitar and voice I feel is way more stark this time around.
BV: Was it a challenge keeping it "stark" with so much technology at your fingertips or was it a relief having that sort of boundary?
Noah: The boundary was already there because the machine was so complicated that it took me a while to wrap my head around it. I was learning while I was writing the songs trying to learn how to use this machine. Trying to develop this weird kind of relationship with the box. It was the same with the sampler. I feel like I developed a system of making songs with the thing.
BV: How does that speak to your live show playing these songs that you've written with this method?
Noah: It's all really sequenced on there in terms of the rhythms and when the parts change and when I've brought in certain sounds and stuff like that. I feel like it comes off sounding really like spaced out and random but it's actually the opposite. I am constantly checking the measure counts to make sure I am switching at the right times and stuff like that which can be a little stressful. It's fun but can definitely be a challenge.
BV: I know with Animal Collective you often play stuff that you are working on or haven't recorded yet. I know you do that as well with your solo stuff. Does that ever effect the process of writing when you are performing it in front such a large audience and get a reaction. Does that inform the piece in where it's going or are you pretty much set in what you're going to do?
Noah: I change things a little bit or it can change things a little bit. I don't think it effects my decision on what songs I am going to use and what songs I am not going to use. I feel it's like whether it feels good to perform. I feel like if I get psyched playing the song it's a keeper, you know what I mean? It's all just a matter of playing the songs like 100 times or something like that. Certain things just stick out as being good or bad; sometimes you feel like you need to add something or take something away. It kind of becomes more obvious the more you play the song.
BV: Speaking of Animal Collective, was touring off the last record the most you have ever done as a band?
Noah: I think that was the longest period of touring for any group of songs we did. Yeah, probably 3 1/2 years...
BV: With so much going on in your personal lives with making records and having kids, was that a huge challenge to get through that amount of intense touring?
Noah: It wasn't always easy but I think all of us were really especially excited about those set of songs so we felt good going the extra distance with it.
BV: With everything going on individually and the band taking a break from touring does the band have any plans for a follow up or anything for the next year or so?
Noah: Yeah, we started talking about it a little bit. One of the ideas is to maybe try and write something all in the same location for the first time in 7 years. We haven't had any conversations as to what it might sound like or even what we are gonna play, no conversations about the style or anything like that. I think we definitely all want to do it in the same place for once.
BV: Where do you want to do it?
Noah: Definitely somewhere in the states. Logistically speaking with the kids and stuff I think it's probably smart to have our families around and stuff.
BV: You are playing September 11th on Governors Island. I know there must be some mixed emotions, especially with returning to New York and playing on that date...
Noah: Yeah, it's pretty intense.
BV: Where were you living when that happened?
Noah: I was living in Brooklyn, right on the edge of Brooklyn Heights, right near Red Hook over there. I was walking to work actually and walking towards the subway and I didn't know anything about it. The first plane had crashed when I was walking and everybody was walking the other way from the subway towards somewhere else. It just felt weird and smelled weird and I guess a women saw me going towards the subway stop and she was like, 'The subway isn't running right now.' And and I was like "What happened?" She just pointed up in the sky and I could just see a really big pillar of smoke and you could see the building on fire.
BV: Where were you working at the time?
Noah: I was working at a record shop called Other Music in Manhattan on 4th street.
BV: That is where you worked with Scott Mou who you did Jane with, right?
Noah: Yeah that's right..
BV: He is actually doing some of the artwork for Tomboy right?
Noah: Yeah he's doing all of it.
BV: How did that come together?
Noah: I did a similar thing with the last one. My friend Agnes [Montgomery] did all the singles and then we put all that artwork together to make the book for the actual album. I just liked how it kind of tied everything together in a way. It's just one more thing that kind of unified all the songs. I thought it would be a good idea to do it again with a different person this time
new single artwork by Scott Mou
BV: I saw that you invited Gala Drop to open for you at Governors Island. I had never heard of them but I was pretty blown away when I checked out a few songs on their myspace. They are also from Lisbon where you live now. I was wondering how you came across them and invited them to play?
Noah: Nelson is in the band and he is a promoter around Lisbon. Him and this other guy Pedro Gomez were the ones that brought Animal Collective there for the first time in 2003. So I just see them around. We share a practice space as well. So I see those guys quite a bit and I like their music a lot. I knew they would be really psyched and I thought it would make a sweet show.
BV: Is that the only show they are playing with you?
Noah: Yeah, just that one.
BV: Besides them, is there anything that you've heard that you've been into recently?
Noah: I've been so buckled down trying to mix the song I feel like I've had blinders on and haven't really listened to anything. Brad (Maddux) and Dave (Avey Tare) hooked me up with this Robert Lester Folsom record. I really like that a lot.
Robert Lester Folsom "Music And Dreams"
Tickets for Governors Island are still on sale. Teengirl Fantasy and DJ Avey Tare are also on the bill.
Panda Bear @ FYF Fest - Sept 4, 2010
Panda Bear - 2010 Tour Dates
9/8 - Crystal Ballroom (Portland, OR)
9/10 - Hopscotch Music Festival (Raleigh, NC)
9/11 - Governor's Island (New York, NY)
9/12 - Ottobar (Baltimore, MD)
10/29 - Moogfest (Asheville, NC)
Guys Eyes ("Song for Ariel" style)
At the Jetty
Comfy in Nautica
You Can Count on Me
E: Alsatian Darn