Noah Lennox on Panda Bear vs. Animal Collective and 'Painting With'

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Animal Collective
Animal Collective's 10th studio album, Painting With, releases Feb. 19, 2016. (Courtesy of the band)
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Interview: Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear of Animal Collective
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Ahead of their tenth studio album's release, Noah Lennox aka Panda Bear of Animal Collective sat down for a chat with The Current's David Safar about Painting With, the logistics of cross-country collaborating and their Baltimore airport stunt.

David Safar: Noah, how's it going?

Noah Lennox: It's going pretty good. I'm kind of just getting my morning going here so apologies if I'm a little woozy.

Where's the band at now that your 10th studio album Painting With has a release date and the first single "FloriDaDa" is out there?

At the moment we're trying to figure out how we're going to do these songs live, having some discussions about that. And setting up the logistics for getting ready for the tour, which starts early next year. Otherwise, just sort of that anxiety you have, a slight nervousness when you finish something but it hasn't gotten out there yet. We've played it for friends but I'm kind of cautiously excited to see what people think.

Well, you've played it for more than just friends. You've played it for strangers, too. You debuted the album at the Baltimore airport on Thanksgiving.

We thought it would a cool thing to get the album out there in some sort of special environment, just something different. We thought of ourselves as younger guys and how excited we might be to come across one of our favorite bands' new records in a weird space. The airport wasn't the only space we had discussed. I think we talked about malls. We really hoped to do it in a mall, but the airport was the venue where we had someone we knew who could get in contact with people responsible for the music in there. It became the default spot.

Were you in the airport? Did you get to actually hear it in that setting?

No, no. Kind of a fingers crossed situation. Brian [Weitz (Geologist)] from the band, some of his family members actually work at BWI so we had confirmation that it was actually playing, though.

I want to go back to something you said earlier about getting together and playing the album live and how that is something you work out as sort of a logistical challenge. You guys are located at different parts of the country now, so how do you come together to make a new Animal Collective album?

Well really it starts out for us with a lot of discussion and in this case it was mostly by texting. Just kind of saying that, "I got this new piece of gear and I've been making stuff that sounds like this and I'm excited about doing something like this." Sort of just bouncing ideas off of each other and talking about stuff that we might want to get into doing and seeing if our ideas match up, where they link and where they don't. Not this past summer but the summer of 2014 we were doing a lot of that, getting into a lot of talks about that kind of stuff and then we had decided that Dave [Portner (Avey Tare)] and I would try to write – I think originally it was nine songs a piece, make nine demos a piece, just sort of individually on our own, and wound up with eight and called it there. We figured we had enough at that point. So January of this year we started getting going on working on those demos, recording demos. I think by early March we were sending them around to each other and starting to see if we could figure out our parts on each other's songs.

How does it feel 15 years in, 10 albums. Is there a sense of you guys have done it all and you're trying to break down new barriers?

Well, to be honest, it's always – I mean, part of it is that it's a job and you gotta take care of business. But I think the bigger thing, for me at least, is the feeling that I get when I'm working on something or I'm making something and I listen back to it and it feels exciting on some level or satisfying, that process is really exactly the same as it's ever been for me. So I think the biggest part is the fulfillment from doing that that keeps us going. I don't want to speak for the other guys but I'd assume it's something similar.

You put out a pretty great record last year performing as Panda Bear. Talk about switching gears, going from your solo work to Animal Collective. What changes as you're writing?

Ah, really, I feel like for a while there I thought I could do both at the same time but it never worked out. I always felt like I was being half of myself in both places, or spreading myself too thin. These days I know where the song that I'm working on, where the target is. I kind of feel like I have to in that when I'm making stuff for myself, as you're making the thing, you have the finish line in mind for the song and you work in a linear fashion towards that vision. But when you're playing with a group you gotta leave it unfinished, or leave it so there's space for the other guys to put their spin on it and make it there's as well. Usually I know where the song is going before I get started.

Can you tell us about "FloriDaDa" and why it was the first song to put out to the world off Painting With?

That's not one of mine, that's one of Dave's. But I think that was ultimately a label decision more than anything. I mean we were pretty psyched on all the songs. We didn't have a specific favorite that we thought should go first but we're happy with that choice. I feel like it does have a welcoming, fun energy to it so I like that it's the first one in that respect.

Animal Collective play First Avenue on Sunday, Feb. 28 with RATKING.