“When an al­bum is liked as much as was, you feel they’re wait­ing to bring the ham­mer down on what comes next”

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

RAN­DOMLY, in the mid­dle of in­ter­view­ing Noah Len­nox aka Panda Bear aka An­i­mal Col­lec­tive’s front­man, we start talk­ing about lap­tops, sam­plers and live per­for­mance. Len­nox is not a fan of their lim­i­ta­tions, but knows per­form­ers must do what they can when it’s just them on stage. “I’m not into the idea of a lap­top as a per­for­mance in­stru­ment. I used to use to sam­plers, but now I’ve down­graded – or up­graded, de­pend­ing on your per­spec­tive – to just one sam­pler, a gui­tar and this weird se­quencer ma­chine.”

I’m re­minded of a Four Tet gig in Dublin some years back – watch­ing some­one who makes amaz­ing al­bums, with their head stuck in a lap­top, barely glanc­ing at their au­di­ence – be­ing dreary. “Some peo­ple can pull it off and make it sound in­ter­est­ing.” We agree on Kraftwerk and Hot Chip. “They don’t use lap­tops, but they’re at their sta­tion and there’s so much en­ergy to their shows, which I re­ally like.”

The same could be said about An­i­mal Col­lec­tive, who, thanks to last year’s mas­sively lauded Mer­ri­weather Post Pavil­ion, are one of the most revered bands on the planet. Per­form­ing to­gether in var­i­ous line-ups since their teens, the band re­leased their first al­bum a decade ago. Len­nox’s own out­put stretches fur­ther back, with a self-ti­tled release when he was 20. Young Prayer, its fol­low-up, show­cased his sonic ex­per­i­ments, but it was sin­gle Comfy in Nau­tica and 2007’s Per­son Pitch al­bum that fi­nally launched his solo ca­reer.

Lis­ten­ing to both al­bums, there is a def­i­nite sense of Len­nox con­sol­i­dat­ing a sound while con­stantly mov­ing for­ward. “It’s about try­ing to push my­self into a dif­fer­ent place, be­cause it’s more ex­cit­ing. It’s more in­ter­est- ing to try to work with new in­stru­ments, ways of singing or writ­ing songs. It yields more in­ter­est­ing re­sults. Even if it’s a to­tal fail­ure, that’s more of an in­ter­est­ing thing for an au­di­ence to see and for me to ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Per­son Pitch was crammed with sounds, sam­ples and styles. Much of it feels sur­real, as if the sounds were recorded un­der­wa­ter. “It just came out that way be­cause it was very in­flu­enced by the in­stru­men­ta­tion I was us­ing. Rep­e­ti­tions and loops would cre­ate this hyp­notic sound, and I’d try to build melodies on top of it – but the foun­da­tion still feels very trance-like. The new songs still have that, but there’s some­thing dif­fer­ent about them, some­thing a lit­tle more se­ri­ous.”

Th­ese new songs (“some­where be­tween nine and 11 tracks”) will make up a new al­bum, pro­vi­sion­ally ti­tled Tomboy, due for release in Septem­ber. At the time we’re speak­ing, Len­nox is about to start record­ing and ad­mits a level of fear about it. “I’m right on the cliff looking down on that and I’m a lit­tle in­tim­i­dated by it.”

Sam­ples have fea­tured widely in his work, but this time, Len­nox wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. “For the last al­bum, ev­ery song was built upon sam­ples. It was a very con­scious de­ci­sion to try to not use any sam­ples on the ini­tial parts of th­ese songs. I wanted to write songs that had lots of chord changes; more move­ment melod­i­cally speak­ing. So I dropped the whole sam­ples thing on this record.”

In­stead, Len­nox wanted to cre­ate a lot of the sounds him­self, ei­ther by mak­ing them up or go­ing out and record­ing them. “A bunch of pi­geons used to con­gre­gate on the street I used to live on. In the morn­ings when I walked out, they would all take off at the same time – I love that ‘woo-woo-woo’ sound so I recorded it and used it.”

For the past six years, Len­nox has lived in Por­tu­gal. The dis­tance from his band­mates may suit his solo record, but it can present prob­lems, not least be­cause the Col­lec­tive all very good friends. “We’re all still in touch on a daily ba­sis. When you’re tour­ing, you’re around each other ev­ery sec­ond, so I feel the dis­tance has been a re­ally pos­i­tive thing. But when the real work [of An­i­mal Col­lec­tive] starts, we all have to phys­i­cally get to­gether, but as soon as we’re all in the same room to­gether, stuff gets done re­ally quickly be­cause we've been play­ing to­gether for 10 years.”

I won­der if he has ever asked the guys to con­trib­ute to his solo work, or would he fear too much over­lap be­tween the two projects? “It’s a good ques­tion, be­cause that’s never occurred to me. I’ve thought about it in live terms, as I can’t play ev­ery­thing my­self, but it would have to be a case of me ask­ing them to write some­thing them­selves – I couldn’t start telling them to just ‘play this’.”

How­ever, Len­nox ad­mits that be­fore work­ing on new ma­te­rial, he makes a con­scious de­ci­sion as to whether it’s for Panda Bear or An­i­mal Col­lec­tive. “It’s a de­ci­sion I feel I have to make be­fore I even start. When I’m mak­ing some­thing for the band, it has to be re­ally ba­sic and sim­ple so that there’s space in song for the other guys to put them­selves in there. With the solo stuff, I just have to get from point A to the fin­ish line and pro­duce and ar­range it as much as I like.”

The suc­cess of Mer­ri­weather pro­vides a very vis­i­ble plat­form from which to launch this al­bum. The flip­side is that it’s a daunt­ing work to fol­low-up. Does he feel that? “Oh yeah, this record is bit like a mu­si­cal guinea pig in a way. When an al­bum is liked as much as Mer­ri­weather was, you feel they’re wait­ing to bring the ham­mer down on what comes next. I’m pre­par­ing my­self for that. I feel I’m in the bulls­eye. For me, mu­sic is like golf, in that I'm al­ways com­pet­ing, but I’m only com­pet­ing with my­self. If you’re not ner­vous about putting out an al­bum or play­ing a show, that’s a bad thing.”

Panda Bear may be his solo project, but Len­nox also fun­nels per­sonal themes into his work with An­i­mal Col­lec­tive. The song My Girls refers to his wife and daugh­ter, and he talks about her love of singing, ad­mit­ting his mu­sic is “a lit­tle too in the clouds” for his fouryear-old. “Nat­u­rally, what I like to write about is quite self-cen­tred – I know that sounds bad – but if I start with some­thing that’s per­sonal and im­por­tant to me, it gives me the juice to work on the songs. If it’s not im­por­tant to me, I of­ten run out of steam. Some­times I’ll start with some­thing that’s al­most so per­sonal to me that it makes me un­com­fort­able singing about it. I like lyrics that are opaque, and I have a con­stant bat­tle with that. Of course, I wrote the songs for peo­ple to un­der­stand what’s go­ing on, but at the same time when peo­ple at­tach their own mean­ing to a song, that’s a pow­er­ful thing.”

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