Last summer, Noah Lennox, perhaps better known as Panda Bear, embarked on a tour with his band Animal Collective promoting the ten-year anniversary of their record Sung Tongs. During that time, Lennox pivoted to producing material for his solo career. The result is an even more atmospheric version of the ambient sounds the artist is known to pioneer. On Tap talked to Lennox around the release of his record on inspiration, the importance of how music is physically released and the value of creating in the present moment.
On Tap: You just released a new album as Panda Bear, Buoys, this week. Tell me more about how this record was created.
Noah Lennox: I wrote these songs on the guitar. I was just singing the songs with the guitar and a rudimentary drum machine. That was the foundation for everything. The guitar came from Dave [Portner] and I doing [practice for] the Sung Tongs record – we played a bunch of shows [as Animal Collective] for it this past summer. I hadn’t really played guitar for a while so it took me a couple months to get my hands into shape again, and I think while I was using the guitar a bunch I just started writing little songs here and there while I would practice for that stuff.
OT: It sounds a bit more austere than some of your previous releases, was this a conscious choice?
NL: I did feel like I was a bit tired with the methods I had employed with the past couple records — it was like a system I went to the end of the road with in a way. I was interested in pushing myself into a space I was unfamiliar with. As far as the starkness of the sound, we figured out early on in the process that it was an architecture that kind of worked, as far as the sub-bassy stuff, because that became the pillar early on with pitched 808 samples. [For] his record we went in the opposite way of packing the arrangements full of sounds, which is kind of my move the past few records. I felt like any time we would add more into the arrangement it meant that the deep sub bass stuff wouldn’t represent itself in the room in the same way. We wanted to sort of keep this architecture of the empty.
OT: Although you’re a Maryland native, you’ve lived in Portugal for quite a while now. How has your life there affected your music?
NL: Certainly the environment plays a part, but that’s really hard for me to define. I feel like all the influence is subconscious and implicit in a way. It’s really hard for me to trace the dots on how that colors what I do; I’m sure it does, it’s just hard for me to define. Lisbon is a really different place than what it used to be. When I lived in Brooklyn, it felt like it went through a similar transformation. I got there just after it was starting and I left before it finished but I’m seeing a similar thing transpire in Lisbon over the past seven years or so. Not musically, although there are a lot of younger folks doing DIY-type music, which I really dig. It’s more in terms of [how] Lisbon felt kind of less affected by the rest of the world, or less interested in it or conversation with cultures outside of Portugal. It feels more like any sort of big European metro area than it used to.
OT: Your previous record, A Day With The Homies, was vinyl only. Why did you choose to release it that way?
NL: The original inspiration for that was sort of weird and random. It came from brands like Supreme and Palace and these other streetwear companies that do these releases of new stiff in finite quantities. I don’t like the resale part of it, I think that’s really corny, but it got me thinking about how that rewards the most hardcore people. I was jazzed about making something the people who would pre-order it or be down for no matter what.
OT: Why pivot back to a more traditional release with Buoys?
NL: Doing it [vinyl only] isn’t altogether positive, in that there are people who are left wanting. Ultimately, I preferred this method, which is for everybody. I wouldn’t want to do limited stuff all the time. I also should say that whereas Person Pitch was conceived as a CD as its ideal form, for A Day With The Homies it was the vinyl, and for this one I always envisioned its ideal form as streaming.
OT: Is that something that changes as you record new material or do you start out knowing you want to make music tailored to a specific format?
NL: It’s not always cut and dry. I can’t say that for every single release I have this ideal image of the thing in its particular format. But those three have a specific form that was kind of my most perfect version of it.
OT: Physical editions of music have seen such a resurgence over the past 10 years. Why do you think that is? What makes them maintain value?
NL: I think there’s two things going on with vinyl – one, people are getting less and less CDs so it’s becoming a digital or a vinyl thing, those are the last people standing in the race of the format. And two, I feel like the size or the imagery you can get on vinyl is kind of a big deal. I really like having that big slab for artwork, it just looks nicer in that way.
OT: As you mentioned before, you recently toured with Animal Collective to play your record Sung Tongs front to back for its ten year anniversary. Would you consider a similar tour format as Panda Bear?
NL: I supposed I’m open to it, but I’d have to be really inspired beyond [the fact] I can make a lot of money on this, that’s kind of cheesy to me. It’s been kind of weird, I guess. We agreed to do it one time and it was more fun than I imagined it would so I was down to do it more, but I’m sort of wary of getting stuck in that routine as opposed to the the present day creative things I have going. I’d rather focus on that. It was kind of fun, I have to admit. I just wouldn’t want that to be the driving force of what I’m doing. Even if it has less traction publicly, I’d still rather just keep going with what’s happening today.
Panda Bear plays the 9:30 Club on Monday, February 11 with Home Blitz. Doors are at 7 p.m. and tickets are $25. For more on Panda Bear, visit www.pandabearofficial.com.
9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com