|lingering in lisbon
Ryan Henriquez - August 6, 2007
It is easy to like Noah Lennox, a.k.a. Panda Bear, of the NYC homegrown band Animal Collective. Not only is he "lawful good" to use an old Dungeons & Dragons term, but he likes who I like. I know this from reading the liner notes of his second full-length release, "Person Pitch" which shouts out to those whoíve inspired him over the years. The Police. ODB. Tom Jobim. The Beach Boys. Basement Jaxx. The Dead. Whether at a rave, a summer camp, riding shotgun in Dadís cobalt blue stick-shift Camaro, or working some crap summer job and needing some release, weíve all been inspired by these peopleís art at some moment in our lives. And so has Panda.
Panda is clearly an optimist. Amidst these times marred by strife and disillusionment, we hear his voice, drenched in echo, reminding us to always seek out and be nurtured by lifeís goodness. Pandaís solo debut, 2004ís "Young Prayer" was a cathartic exercise in grief management; in Pandaís case for his recently deceased father. His followup released earlier this year on Paw Tracks Records, reveals an artist who has turned a corner and can stand on his own. Completely self-recorded and inspired by a recent move to Lisbon, Portugal where he, his wife, and 2-year old daughter currently reside, "Person Pitch" is a pitch perfect revelation. Channeled through Panda, the artistic pillars break free of the liner notes and burrow deep in your consciousness. The magical, warm vocal tones of Brian Wilson. The tripped out dub beats of King Tubby. The pop flourishes of the Everly Brothers. The operatic peaks of Maria Callas. The albumís loops swirl until the tornado has picked you up and spun you in an otherworldly trance, forcing you to quit trying to decipher the lyrics and surrender yourself to the sound of the sun; the joy of repetition.
Panda absorbs and adapt to his environment, which compels him to move around a lot in a quest for fresh good vibrations. After growing up in the Northeast and attending Boston U., Panda made the move to NYC where he and Baltimore childhood friend Dave "Avey Tare" Portner founded the seminal experimental rock outfit Animal Collective, whose big avant garde sound and freaked-out euphoric translations of modern rock might be best compared to the innovations of the Talking Heads three decades earlier. (Time will tell.) You didnít quite know what to make of them, but neither could you turn away.
During his four odd years dwelling in our fair city while the animals were collecting, Panda worked at Other Music on 4th and Lafayette, the epicenter of indie rock. You probably missed him though, since he preferred to manage inventory from the computer upstairs above the retail store. Here he immersed himself, not only in the sounds of the artists to whom he pays homage, but also in the primal rhythm of the city itself. Heís a sponge in the purest sense. Much like the Polish family who housed Lennox while he attended boarding school and looked with cockeyes at the boy who steadfastly refused to remove those huge headphones, one might not first suspect that inside the unassuming store clerk lurked a talent of prodigious proportions.
On the eve of two sold out solo shows at the Bowery Ballroom to be followed by an Animal Collective globe trot ending with a Webster Hall residency in the fall, The Deli chewed bamboo with Panda about what he misses most about NYC and his Lisbon home when heís on the road, and about the music that puts him in the same trance "Person Pitch" has had me stuck in for weeks.
What was your initial reaction when you learned Avey Tare & Kria Brekken's new record ("Pullhair Rubeye") would be released entirely "backwards"?
I didnít think about it too much I suppose, and Iím into the jam for sure. I figured it might turn off some people but I donít know that thatís a good enough reason not to do something that youíre excited about.
How old is your daughter, Nadja?
Sheís almost 2 now. Sheís a big little guy Ė sheís built for toughness and can intimidate all the other kids at school.
Have you played her "Person Pitch"?
The "Person Pitch" jams might be a little too mellow for her. Perhaps Iíll try and play it for her again now that sheís matured in the mind a little bit. She threw a soup ladle out the window the other day.
The albumís repetitions can be trance-inducing.
Yes, although I tried not to let things get too monotonous or boring. I tried to keep the sound moving along as best as I could but I was certainly going for a sound that stole your attention and I wanted the jams to take you to a nice place.
Which album these days, more than any other, has the ability to put YOU in a trance?
I like "American Beauty" by the Grateful Dead. I know the songs really well because Iíve listened to it for a long time, so when it comes on, Iíll sing along at least in my mind the whole time and Iíll forget about other things.
"Person Pitch" features some of the most organic-sounding music I've ever heard that employs computer-generated looped samples.
I tried to make sure every recording was based off of some kind of performance and I made sure I could play all the songs live first of all in the hopes that it would guarantee some kind of natural experience at the end. I never want anything to be too scripted or sequenced.
You recorded the album completely on your own. Was it a conscious decision not to allow any outside influences?
It wasnít so much of a conscious choice although Iím glad that I did. Iíve never thought I was much of a producer, but I think "Person Pitch" is produced in a nicer way than anything Iíve done before so at least Iím progressing somewhere.
"Person Pitch" seems to have more room to breathe than its predecessor, "Young Prayer."
"Young Prayer" for me was about trying to keep my chin up amidst a shit load of grief, and "Person Pitch" was more about me trying never to let my chin down. "Young Prayer" was more about trying to capture a very brief span of time. The scope of "Person Pitch" is much bigger. After "Young Prayer," I wanted to make something that didnít take itself seriously at all and I felt full license to make things that were really goofy.
You've played several NYC area recently - both solo and with Animal Collective. Which do you more look forward to playing?
Itís hard for me to say I like one more than the other. Iím pretty burnt on myself right now; I think these east coast solo jams will be the last for me for some time. The [South Street Seaport show] that the band did was fun, although no one told me they were going to do video close ups and I was pretty embarrassed about that, but itís no big deal. Someone said they tripped it all out too and I wish I saw that part of it.
Do you have any "pre-game" warm ups you do before your solo shows?
I pace around a lot and sing to myself so that my voice doesnít crap out totally while Iím going. And I drink beer and Red Bull if Iím a little tired.
What do you miss most about living in NYC?
I miss really good, cheap food, especially the burritos from Tacos Matamoros [in Williamsburg], and pizza. Iíd like to have a New York style pizza place in my neighborhood in Lisbon. I think people would be totally stoked for cheap slices.
On the road, other than family, what do you miss most about your home in Lisbon?
Really good fish. And the sunlight, especially in the early evening is very peculiar and warm and so orange. I miss that and think about it a lot when Iím gone.
What U.S. city has a vibe most similar to that of Lisbon?
If you could put Nashville and San Francisco together it would be something like that. And youíd need to make them really old too. Like scraggly old.
This latest Animal Collective tour is a few weeks old right now. Any "highlights" or "lowlights" so far?
The lowest point was definitely in Marfa [Texas] when a major piece of equipment broke right before sound check and that enormous feeling of "weíre fucked" set in deep. But we kept on and re-recorded a bunch of samples in the hotel room the next night and had a really, really good show in Dallas. Dallas totally ripped in every way.