Panda Bear

[MUSICIAN/ANIMAL COLLECTIVE MEMBER]

“IF YOU TALK TO ME ABOUT WHAT I’M DOING I’LL BE LIKE, YEAH, IT’S ALL RIGHT, REALLY CASUAL, BUT IF I THINK HARD ABOUT WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, THERE’S NOTHING I HOLD MORE SACRED.”
Unacceptable behavior in Lisbon:
Walking around with a paper cup full of coffee
Rushing through your dinner
Doing anything in a hurry

Only with the release of Animal Collective’s last full-length album, Feels, did the public witness a transformation of the nicknamed band members, Avey Tare, Panda Bear, Geologist, and Deakin, to their individual selves, David Portner, Noah Lennox, Brian Weitz, and Josh Dibb, who for seven years have been broadening folk music’s horizon to include electronica, noise, drone, and pop. From their previous recordings like Here Comes the Indian, up through their new release, Strawberry Jam, Animal Collective aims to barrage the senses so that music heard is also seen, tasted, and felt. This makes Animal Collective, as a concept, a psychedelic endeavor and a descendant of the 13th Floor Elevators. Animal Collective relies on aural discord, new technology, and has international influences that vary with each album, making them more akin to Black Dice and Wolf Eyes than new folkies like Devendra Banhart. Years ago, speaking with band member Geologist (Brian Weitz) about his collection of recorded field samples, it struck me that Animal Collective is an anthropological team who struggle to define culture musically. If they express cultural identities, Lennox, still better known as Panda Bear, is the ursine ambassador of friendliness. His contribution to the band often leaves the listener awash in a luxuriant bubble bath of notes.

Panda Bear is one of my musical heroes, more so than ever following this past spring’s release of his third solo album, Person Pitch. Made from his home studio in Lisbon, where he lives with his wife and child, Person Pitch is a harmonious sanctuary of oceanic lullabies and chants reminiscent of Brian Wilson’s masterpieces. Enchanting rhythms, from Caribbean to industrial, keep the listener in motion, minus a couple of tracks that provide an ambient retreat. Vocals loop and echo, folding in on themselves like taffy. Backstage at the Bowery Ballroom in New York, Eric Copeland of Black Dice warmed up downstairs while Panda Bear and I chugged beers, chatting on a gigantic sofa that would have accommodated the entire Animal Collective.

—Trinie Dalton

*

THE BELIEVER: As for layering, spectrums, and collaging, I read somewhere your mention of controlling chaos, or taking a massive amount of information and turning it into something comprehensible, something audible for an audience or for your own ears. I’m reminded of Brian Eno’s mid-career ambient work. What do you think of his music? Do you consider your work ambient? Do you get a pile of ideas and then try to tame them, or do you get sounds in your head and then make the music song by song according to your imagined sounds?

PANDA BEAR: The only album I really know well by Brian Eno is Music for Airports. I do love that album quite a lot. It was one of the first ambient albums I heard. It has this very sad quality, which makes it difficult for me to listen to, but I don’t want to say anything bad about it. Next, do I consider my music ambient? I think there are elements stolen from ambient music or ambient composers, particularly from a lot of the guys on the Kompakt label in Germany. They have that whole pop-ambient series that I’m a huge fan of. And, about controlling chaos: I did try to tame it, with this last album, in that the initial phases of all the songs just came to me kind of randomly. I flipped through my computer files or CDs and sampled little bits here and here, then tried to fit certain things together. I would pitch things all over the place, speed them up, slow them down, maybe chop them up a little bit, or play them manually instead of looping them. Then I’d have this moment where I got a group of samples together that I felt were mine, when I didn’t feel I was totally stealing somebody’s idea. After hearing those repeat and repeat and repeat, the melodies would instinctually enter, and I’d start humming along. I set words to match those melodies. In songwriting, if I work for seven days, during six of those days I’ll despise everything I do. But one day something will just happen, and it’s usually in an hour or so. Maybe I’ve just eaten the right things.

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Trinie Dalton lives in Los Angeles. She is the author of a short-story collection, Wide Eyed. She also coedited Dear New Girl or Whatever Your Name Is, a book based on notes she confiscated as a high-school teacher. Her children’s book, A Unicorn Is Born, will be out from Abrams next month.

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