How Panda Bear Completes a Triangle



Tomboy, out tomorrow, is the third album from Panda Bear, musical alter-ego of the Lisbon, Portugal-based musician Noah Lennox. In recent years, Lennox has become as recognized for his solo efforts as he is for playing in the band Animal Collective, and we spoke with him about his solo record while he was busy in New York finishing up a new Collective effort. Despite being in one of the most influential and innovative bands of the past decade, he learns a different lesson with each new record—and was happy to share those lessons with us.

KEN MILLER: When you’re making a solo record, how do you avoid making an Animal Collective record?

NOAH LENNOX: Working with the band, we’re pretty good at being a democratic creative unit. There’s a pretty good mixture of idea, attitudes, and personalities in the band. So more often than not, Animal Collective songs end up being the product of all of us. Whereas, when it’s just myself, it’s very saturated with my perspective on things.

MILLER: Do you think your songwriting role within Animal Collective has changed because of your solo work?

LENNOX: For sure. I didn’t come to anyone else in the band with a full-blown song until after three albums or so. I was doing songs on my own, but I just never figured it was a good idea until Sung Tongs. Just like anything else, the more you do it, the more you gain confidence and figure out your own way. But I’d say all of us are doing that.

MILLER: Has using more electronic instrumentation affected the way you write songs?

LENNOX: Definitely, especially for the solo stuff. I’ll often kind of think of the gear setup before I think of the song. So the gear and the setup often dictate what kind of song I’m going to do. For Young Prayer, I wanted to use just guitar and voice, and everything developed from there. For Person Pitch, I wanted to use a sampler and voice, strictly those two things, and let the songs come from there. So I’ll want to set up these foundations. I’ve often thought of it as this weird sort of triangle, with voice at the top, guitar on one side, and these really basic rhythms on the other.

MILLER: It almost seems like you treat your vocals as another instrument.

LENNOX: On the last one, I felt like my voice was sort of this thing floating around in the middle of all this stuff, like it was a soup or in water or something. For this one, I wanted to bring the rhythms and guitar out of the mix, to be featured rather than just floating in the mix with all of this other stuff. But because of the way I write words and the way I pronounce things to hit certain rhythmic points, often the words can come out kind of blurred or difficult to understand.

I’m into the voice being another part of the sonic picture—I’m usually drawn to sounds where there’s connections between things. With the last three records, I’ve gotten really into having someone or a group of people take the last steps with the records, mixing and mastering it, sort of being a filter on it. With Young Prayer, it was Rusty Santos and the other guys from Animal Collective, with Person Pitch it was just Rusty, and for this one, it was Sonic Boom [from Spaceman 3]. He brought in this old reverb multi-delay thing and slapped it on every song. Not every song had the same settings, but they all have this sort of atmosphere around the vocals. It totally finished the record for me and brought everything together.

MILLER: Most people begin writing a song with a rhythm or a guitar line. But it seems like you don’t work with those basic building blocks.

LENNOX: The songs on the album came about in different ways. But I would say the typical way is that I would write the song on a guitar and be crafting the guitar sound as I was going. Once I had a basic structure, I’d add a rhythm and go from there. But there are also songs where I made the rhythm first. I was really interested in creating forms that felt unnatural, but in a natural way, if that makes any sense. I didn’t want to just do verses and choruses, I wanted to make something that just flows from point A to point B.

MILLER: Are you aiming to induce an ecstatic emotional state through your music?

LENNOX: I wouldn’t use those words, but music is definitely something where, if it’s going well for me, I’m not really thinking about being in a room somewhere playing a song. I’m not thinking about normal things, so it is sort of another state of mind. I would be really excited if the music that I make takes people to other places like that. I feel like music and dancing, it’s all part of the same thing, where the focus is to get out of yourself and get out of your everyday routine by focusing your mind in a particular way.

MILLER: Do you experience that while writing music?

LENNOX: If it’s good! If it’s bad, it has the opposite effect.