Music & clubs

Personal pitch: Panda Bear

INTERVIEW. Animal Collective's Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear surpasses mere beat manipulation as he tours his fifth solo release, the Sonic Boom-produced Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. He plays Berghain on Tue, Mar 10.

Image for Personal pitch: Panda Bear

With his 2007 album Person Pitch (Paw Tracks), Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear found himself in competition with Animal Collective, the psychedelic mothership for which he drums, for album of the decade.

It was apt, then, that Daft Punk recruited his voice for the track “Doin’ it Right” off of 2013’s Random Access Memories (Sony), which makes claim for album of the current decade, particularly as both Panda Bear and his animal brethren made considerable kinship with electronic musical forms in ways that surpassed mere beat manipulation. Which should be evident when the celebrated Baltimoron, touring his fifth solo release, the Sonic Boom-produced Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (Domino), plays Berghain on Tuesday, March 10.

Your new album is on Domino. Why not Animal Collective’s label Paw Tracks, like previous releases?

We stopped doing Paw Tracks for a variety of reasons. You’d probably get a different perspective depending on whom you talked to in the band, but I just felt like I didn’t have enough time to fully devote and put something into the label. We talked about it for a while and we felt like we had a good run with it and it was time to move onto something else.

Even though the new album’s title seems like the sort you’d only get away with selfreleasing.

I had it for a while before making any of the songs, actually. It was inspired by a bunch of dub records from Jamaica in the 1970s – there’s a couple of them I can think of that feature one musician or producer “meeting” another musician or producer and it was a way of signifying some collaboration with the two. For me it’s kind of like playing golf, making music – I’m always playing against myself, you know what I mean?

Title tag-teaming.

I often stockpile titles for albums and songs because sometimes when I wanna come up with something, it takes me a while to hit on it. So anytime I think of something that I feel could be cool for something, I’ll write it down. So I’ve got this long list of stuff. In the end what I liked most about how the title fits with the songs is that I feel like in a lot of the songs there are really sort of darker, more intense and embracive elements, mainly on the lyrical side of things but also sometimes with the sounds – but on the whole, the album has a kind of fresh, playful sound, so I kind of like that the title reflected that relationship.

The darkness is literally feral, in that I can hear dogs or wolves throughout the record.

Yeah, we manipulated a recording of someone out in Alaska recording these wolves calling, and that kind of runs or weaves through a lot of sounds on that song “Mr. Noah”.

Do you often draw influence from nature?

Everything – I try to be open to inspiration from everywhere, whether it be architecture or art work, relationships with people, weird people you see on the street, experiences that I’ve had, like having kids, video games. I feel like the more open I am to observing cool little things, the better stuff I can make.

And then what?

It’s about the reaction that I have to a particular sound. For example, the call of a seagull sort of instantly transports my mind to a beach-y type big open space atmosphere, so really it becomes about injecting that spirit into the song. It’s mostly an instinctual thing. There’s a lot of trial and error – it’s not like I blueprint the thing in my mind and instantly it works. It’s about testing things out and seeing how they feel. And more often than not they don’t work.

But your Daft Punk single did. How did it come about?

[1997’s] Homework (Virgin) is still one of my favorite albums. Animal Collective had a song called “My Girls” and we were looking for a remix, and at the time somebody that we knew, knew somebody that they knew, so there was some kind of thread to get in touch with them. We asked them if they would want to do a remix of the song, and they said they liked the song but that mixing wasn’t something they were really interested in doing anymore. A couple of years passed, then I did [2011’s] Tomboy (Paw Tracks) and I figured I’d ask again. I’d never assumed that it would happen, it was just sort of, “Why not take a chance?” And again, they said they weren’t really interested in doing remixes but uhh, maybe in the future we can think about doing something together, and then it happened really slowly after that. We were writing to one another once in a while, at least one of the guys – or I should say, one of the robots – came to a show I was doing in Paris, then a couple of months later I got this email saying they had made this thing that they thought would be really cool if I sang on it, and off I went to Paris for a couple of days.

Home of Notre-Dame. You majored in religious studies at Boston University. Are you religious?

I wasn’t. I was just interested in how it’s this really strong force in people’s lives. What I really wanted to study was theology, the study of God – God as a concept – but the school I was at didn’t offer an undergrad theology degree, so I kind of had to mix-and-match religion courses and philosophy courses. I often compare spiritual – especially ritual – practice, and musical creation or performance, even. I feel like they’re both kind of aiming towards the same place, and hearing people talking about strong religious experiences and musical experiences, I feel like I can trace correlations.

Speaking of God, who is sleeping on the job these days, what do you like to do to relax?

Between music and family there’s not a great deal of time left. I’m looking forward to hearing the Björk album, more music from Death Grips and Black Dice. The wife and I watch a lot of TV. The last P.T. Anderson movie [Inherent Vice] was really cool – that’s the kind of movie I feel is tailor-made for me, it’s kind of confusing, stoner-y humour.

I take it that cannabis also figures into your methodology of relaxation. But is pot a gateway to creating good music?

It depends on the person or the artist. It’s dangerous saying there’s only one way of doing things – it’s not gonna work for absolutely everybody, but I found it can be helpful for me. I enjoy smoking weed and making stuff. Maybe for mixing, I’ll think of things in a different way, or see things in a different way, or see something in a piece of music that I might not have seen otherwise. I like that sort of shift of perspective that I get when I’m stoned. But again, it’s dangerous to generalise: you could say a drug like caffeine could be carrying the same weight. Those people who might condemn drug usage in the working environment, I would argue that caffeine makes a pretty big difference – it certainly works for me. Weed might work for one part of the process, but not another.  

CERTAIN PEOPLE #20: PANDA BEAR/ JIB KIDDER/GALA DROP Tue, March 10, 20:00 | Berghain, Rüdersdorfer Str. 70, Friedrichshain, S-Bhf Ostbahnhof