Panda Bear is the alias of Noah Lennox, one of the members of Animal Collective. Person Pitch his third solo effort is out today. Pick it up, its amazing. Probably one of the best releases in 2007 so far. Without futher ado here is my interview (unedited) w/ Mr. Lennox. Enjoy.
Can you talk about the impetus of Person Pitch? What does Person Pitch mean? What are the certain themes that come out of Person Pitch? Where did you record the music? (Your bedroom, living room, bathroom?) I also want to ask about the album cover, who designed it because I think its one of the best covers I’ve seen this year, probably the best one I’ve seen so far.
the album came about real slowly over about two years. when i moved here (lisbon) i didnt bring much with me because there wasnt much room in the bags and stuff and it was too expensive to ship everything. so i wound up making music on the sampler that i brought. and then i got another of the same samplers thinking it would be sweet to do dj like mixing in between parts of my songs rather than just cutting from one part to the next in the songwriting process. i was going to call the album perfect pitch because i think perfect pitch is cool and i wish i had it for sure. but then i thought perfect pitch sounded arrogant and i thought using perfect in any title sounds kind of haughty and i didnt like that. but then my mind kind of hiccuped and said person pitch and i liked the way that sounded. its supposed to mean the sound (pitch) of a person and that person is me in that the music is about me and comes from me but its also my daughter in that she was born while i was making the jams and theyre all kind of dedicated to her. i wrote and practiced and produced all the songs in my little crappy studio in lisbon. its in my house and it faces the river and theres a picture of it on the inside of the cd sleeve if youve got that. my friend agnes montgomery did the artwork for the album and all the singles from it. i saw a bunch of her collages a while ago and right there i was sure id like to use them somehow and she seemed down for that. she samples images like i began sampling sounds if you know what i mean and her work is very personal and symbolic and i feel my music is that way too so it really made sense to me to use her pictures if i could. im really glad you like it and i like it a whole lot for sure.
Young Prayer had a ton to do with location and with this record you did it in Lisbon, Portugal. What made you decide to move to Lisbon? And in a sense how much of an effect did Lisbon have to your music and primarily in Person Pitch. Has it dictated 100% how your music sounds like nowadays?
i moved to lisbon because i met a girl here that i really liked and wanted to be around even though that meant id have to leave home and leave behind my family and all my closest friends. its been really good i think and ive learned a lot from it for sure. its very sunny here like california and i like to describe it as a european california. its a very relaxed feeling place for the most part and nobody seems to be hurrying anywhere which i like especially coming from new york where most everyone seems like theyre hurrying somewhere. i think its impossible not to be affected by your environment when youre making something so id say this place has really dictated the sounds ive been making.
The biggest difference between Young Prayer and Person Pitch is definitely the sound. It definitely has a casual nature about it and is more rhythmic. It’s also a very happy record. Was it primarily due to the fact that you were living in Lisbon and in a sense has that relaxed type atmosphere? Also was it important to give the album a sort of band/concert feeling and not feel like a studio recording? Is that what you were setting out to do?
yes id say the more casual feel and attitude of the album is due in large part to where im at physically. but being happy or happier is something ive worked very hard at and i imagine most everyone is like that in their own way. and after young prayer which was so heavy and not something youd put on all the time i really wanted to do something more easy going and less serious. i wanted to make sure i could play all the songs live before i recorded them because i wanted all the studio versions to be based on a performance of some sort and for the most part i did that. the comfy\im not single is the exception in that i only played those songs live after id recorded them. i knew i was working with lots of looping sounds and repetitions so i think i wanted to make sure that the performance would be a part of it and sort of make it organic and natural on some level.
Listening to the record I got a sense that your voice became secondary to the music and samples and in essence your voice became a facilitator for the music becoming an instrument itself? Is that a fair assessment?
to an extent id agree with that but i dont know that i could say i feel the voice is less important than the sounds. i tried to keep everything more or less equal at least in a general sense. theres times when the voice takes over a little bit and times when the sounds come to the front a little more. but i feel like that whole thing is just an aesthetic that i have about mixing. i dont like it when anything has too much highlighter on it if you know what i mean. its a sensibility about sound that definitely comes from working with the other boys in he band (ac). i like music that makes me dream while im awake in a way and i would mix these jams with my eyes closed and if i opened my eyes or starting thinking about the mix in any kind of direct way i knew something wasnt right. theres something that happens with music to me when its right and the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts if you know what i mean and thats what i was going for for sure. i brought rusty santos over who really knows what hes doing with sound because i knew i was being a little closed minded and couldnt be entirely objective about the jams. i figured hed bring up the vocals on my mixes and for the most part that was the biggest change we made. but im glad for that and i think all the songs sound better after bringing him over.
How much of an impact did being a new husband and father have on the record? What does your daughter think of the album?
it had a major impact for sure and i feel like im still trying to understand the ways in which im changing. getting into really intense routines and responsibilities with the little girl definitely allowed me to be way more diligent as far as work ethic and focus was concerned. i would work sometimes for a month or so on the longer songs and id never worked that hard on anything before at least not my own jams. i think shes into the songs but they might be a little too weak for her. she seems to get more into music with really heavy rhythms and things that really slam. but ill keep trying to get her into it. or maybe ill just try and do something shell like more the next time. shes a tough girl for sure.
There’s a Youtube video circulating of you performing Bros. I must say that it’s a thrilling performance. What is it like for you to perform your own music live, considering you’re by yourself and you might just have a couple pieces of equipment (i.e. samplers) Also can we expect a huge U.S. tour from you later in the year?
its a lot of fun for the most part although ive started to get pretty intense about playing correctly and not making mistakes and getting the mixes and crossfades and stupid crap like that just right. it can be a bit intense sometimes too because theres certain samples i need to trigger at just the right time or it throws the whole song off and i cant really start over so i try and practice as much as i can to make sure ill get it right. its not the end of the world if i fuck it up but id like to be psyched about what im doing because if im not stoked how can anyone else be? if you know what i mean. im sorry to say i dont think ill do any kind of massive tour for the album as the ac keeps me super busy and all the time i have left outside of the band id like to be with my family and to make sure im there for them and not letting them down. i feel bad about it and ill try and play shows here and there where and when i can for sure.
What are your thoughts when people compare the music (Person pitch) to that of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds? And really compare you to Brian Wilson?
i suppose i can see why someone might say that (harmonies and classical tendencies and reverb mostly) but its not something i would say principally because i think its arrogant. its obviously really flattering to be mentioned with a group like that and someone like brian wilson but its really important to me to make sure that im doing something thats really mine and is coming from me. so the more i hear about brian wilson and the beach boys and pet sounds the more i get disappointed in myself for not making the thing mine enough.
How much fun was it for you to be really stripped down in terms of instruments on this album? Also do you just enjoy working with samplers instead of playing acoustic guitar, drums etc?
it is awesome for sure to be able to carry around my whole show in a little case for sure. and the setup is quick and easy and for the most part the sound is pretty easy to get good. sometimes the monitor situation can be a bit tricky with the voice and the heavily decayed delays and what not but sometimes it just takes a little work and moving around the monitors a little bit. its nice too just to have a setup im not totally used to and i like to try and change equipment every so often so as to be moving forwards always if you know what i mean.
Were there any influences per say or music that you were listening to that influenced you when making Person Pitch?
i couldnt say there was anything super specific that i was like yes i want to do something that sounds like that. but i tried hard to think about all the things i felt really influenced me to make the kinds of sounds i was making because id always had a little difficulty with that question. the other guys in the band have massive collections of music but i dont listen to music much at home or throughout the day. i worked in a record store for three years or so and it was a store that specialized in not so popular musics and stranger and lesser known forms and that sort of thing and thats where i feel i really got my musical vocabulary in a way. i worked at a computer in a little office and we would pop on record after record all day long. and everyone was into different things so id hear all sorts of music. but also since the album is sample based i thought it was especially appropriate to give respect to other musicians so i put a big list on the inside of the sleeve. it was stuff like luomo and cat stevens and moodyman and roy orbison. its a pretty long list.
How important was Rusty Santos in helping you mix the record? But in a sense Santos was just maybe the only person that helped you on this record, so how much do you really enjoy just working on music by yourself?
he was super helpful for sure and helped make every song sound better. he was pretty bummed out about how crappy my setup was but we got on with it. as i was saying up above a little bit i was pretty sure the first thing hed want to do is to bring up all the voices on the songs and thats more or less what he wanted to do from the beginning. but i knew my mixes were strange and probably a little too esoteric and i knew hed help me make them more palatable or understandable if you know what i mean. i do like to work on my own and i only brought in rusty right at the end after id already done mixes of my own. he just helped me tweak it to make it just right. i really like to work fast and its easiest to do that when its just me making it happen.
Why did you decide to release some songs off Person Pitch as EPs? Considering the album really has 7 songs and you released _ of the record already? Also were you bummed out to know that it got leaked on the internet this January? And what your thoughts about downloading music on the internet?
i had the plan about two years ago of releasing a bunch of singles and then collecting them to make an album and i kind of took the idea from maurizio (basic channel) whod done a very similar thing with a bunch of 12"s and then a compiled cd (i would imagine theres plenty of other people whove done something like it). i knew that i wouldnt have much time in between the heavy ac schedule and my wife and eventually my little girl so i figured it would be smart to just work in little bits. i also figured working on just one or two songs at a time would make sure (hopefully) that every song would be strong in its own way and would have its own character and that kind of thing. i also wanted to try and do all the singles on different labels and through different distribution channels and that sort of thing thinking that hopefully the jams would get out to different audiences and different kinds of people. it doesnt really bother me that the album leaked i guess because i feel like theres nothing i can do about it right now. and in a lot of ways im just really happy that people want it bad enough to try and steal it. at the same time i feel like getting a digital version of the album diminishes the experience of it in that youre not getting the artwork and the package and theres no anticipation of it or anything like that. plus the quality of mp3s is crappy so the quality of the sound is way worse too and i dont like that about it. but again i feel like there isnt much i can do about it and thats ok.
This record is definitely not freak folk. What are your thoughts on that label considering Animal Collective are always mentioned usually first when that specific genre gets written about?
its strange and i dont feel like its accurate but i understand it and im not bothered by it. we put out a kind of folky sounding record (sung tongs) right around when people like devendra and joanna were getting a lot of attention for their jams and i guess were just added in there and im sure it helped us out in some sense. one of the stranger things about it is we did a way more freak folky album (than sung tongs) called campfire songs a couple of years before the term existed. i understand the purpose of labels and grouping things together and assimilating things but i couldnt say that i thought we were a freak folk band at least not exclusively so. i feel like weve done lots of different sounding albums and im happy about that.
What are your thoughts when you hear the words “one of the most anticipated album of 2007” in regards to person Pitch. Does it put too much pressure on you as a musician to know that but I also hear that you have a very relaxed nature in recording and usually its just maybe three takes of doing a vocal and that’s it.
i try and not pay attention to that kind of thing and i guess it helped me as far as pressure is concerned that when i finished it people really didnt seem to care about it so much. my bros and stuff were into it for sure but it wasnt until it leaked that people started saying things like that. i cant imagine that the interest in it will last very long and thats ok. its certainly very flattering that people are excited about it but i doubt the level of excitement will be strong enough to sustain itself for more than a little while.
In regards to the first track Comfy in Nautica, what is the impetus of that track? In a sense I get the feeling that it is about relaxed and having a good time and that again relates to being in Lisbon but you mention Nautica in the track title and that’s a clothing brand. So are there other meanings to this track?
its about trying to be positive about whats going on and about yourself in particular. i had been thinking about coolness and the sides of it that i didnt like and i wanted to think about what i really thought was cool and that was trying to do good things and trying to do the right thing. i know that sounds goofy and square but i mean it. i like clothes and clothing and i like the power that they can have over how i feel about myself. but i was thinking that i didnt want to feel like i was any better or worse of a person because of the brand or kind of clothes i was wearing and thats where the title comes from.
I feel that Bros is without a doubt the centerpiece of the album How long did that take? If definitely like a everything but the kitchen sink track. Also what samples did you use on this record? I hear you used Cat Stevens.
it took me about a month or so and my daughter was born right in the middle of it and that was intense. sometimes after i had gotten the foundations of the tracks down and was working on the mixes of them i would feel like there were parts of the songs where my attention for them would wane a little bit and id lose my connection with the direction of the songs. when that would happen id try and insert little sounds here and there to spice it up like you would put salt and pepper in a soup or soy sauce on rice. im not allowed to talk too much about specific samples as were still in the process of clearing them i should say and i apologize for that. i spent a lot of time in the beginning kind of randomly gathering samples and trying to fit them together by speeding them up and slowing them down and pitching them up and down and cutting them in specific places and that sort of thing. that was probably the part the lasted the longest for most of the songs.
What is the status of the new Animal Collective record? Last I heard you guys were going into the studio in January. What can you tell us about the album so far? What can we expect? Would it be a departure from Feels? Could you see any elements of Person Pitch in it?
its all recorded and were about to start mixing it. its a little difficult to say how its going to sound because im not sure what songs were going to use quite yet and weve got more than will fit on one album i think. im excited about it for sure though and i think ill like it more than the last two although i dont mean to say that i dislike them i guess this one is just a little more my speed. i was working on the person pitch songs while the ac was working on the new jams and i can see the similarities of my musical habits in both the band and on my own for sure.
In May you’ll be touring with Animal Collective and you’re going to be doing a few gigs here and there in support of Person Pitch. Is it hard to balance knowing that you’re doing two projects that are equally sprawling and take a ton of effort, or is it just music has been your life and it’s just been that easy?
i suppose its just what i do and so its not overwhelming really. i woudlnt say its easy though and sometimes its tough for sure. im always nervous when were about to get into a new period of songs and this time isnt any different. maybe its fear of the unknown or perhaps i just get anxious thinking about how long we can keep doing things that we can get excited about. at the same time as i said its just what we do and what weve been doing for 10 or so years and most of the time i feel like everything is happening as it should and that feels good.