As both Panda Bear and a founding member of Animal Collective, Noah Lennox has been responsible for some of the most celebrated and influential indie music of the last decade. His latest album, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, is another dense dose of his colourful individual palette. Despite the continuing successes of his solo work, catching up with Noah made it clear how highly he values collaboration.
Throughout our conversation, as we plotted the formative moments in his life as a musician, the community of artists and friends around him play a tangible and ever significant role. Starting with his childhood, hearing his mother’s classical ballet waft through the house, Lennox’s constant mentions of the people around him made it clear he truly is part of a collective.
1986: Meeting Deakin (Josh Dibb)
Josh and I went to the same school and met each other when we were eight. I still have an image in my brain of one of the teachers escorting him into the classroom and saying, “we have a new student in our class called Josh.” Meeting him, and then the other guys Dave (Porter, Avey Tare) and Brian (Weitz, Geologist), was probably the most influential occurrence for me both career wise and just in terms of music. Some of the first times playing with Dave I remember as well, we were both such shy and awkward dudes we just wanted to start making music so we didn’t have to talk.
2000: Forming Animal Collective
We all arrived in New York at various times, Josh and I were studying in Boston but the four of us had continued to trade tapes of what we were working on. I went there one summer to visit my then girlfriend and just never went back to school. I didn’t really have a plan at the time, unfortunately for my parents – it’s not really what they wanted to hear! I think we shared a lot of important moments early on. We had our first tour with Black Dice and for me it became a model. Seeing the way they set up and roadied for themselves was really inspiring. We also recorded a track with Arto Lindsay in 2002 which was our first time recording with an established artist in a proper studio. That was a big moment.
2004: Moving to Lisbon
The move was a big deal, both moving away from New York and away from Animal Collective as a band. We were wary of it, but pretty quickly we realised it was only going to be a positive force. It allowed us to take a breath and now every time we do get back together we haven’t seen each other for a while so we know we are super invested in it. It also meant I had more time by myself, which was certainly helpful recording as Panda Bear. It allowed me the time and space to pick my own battles.
2007: The release of Person Pitch
The reaction was a total surprise. I liked the album but I felt the same way as I have with everything I’ve made. You work on a thing, fine tune it, and then let it go. Typically I’m pretty excited, but everything that came after that one was a particular surprise. I made the whole record in Lisbon, right after I moved there and it was only using what was available to me. I had just flown over from New York and was working with this little bag of stuff. Just my laptop and a sampler I brought over. I could only work with these limited resources, but I guess it worked out OK.
2012: Working with Daft Punk
I feel like working with Daft Punk was a bigger moment for me personally than it was publicly. If you told me 15 years ago I would be making a song with them it would have seemed totally crazy. We had asked them to remix My Girls as a shot in the dark, they replied saying they dug the track but remixes weren’t really their thing anymore. We kept in e-mail contact and they eventually said they were working on new stuff. Later that spring they said they had this track that maybe I’d like to sing on. It all panned out pretty slowly over a couple of years, which has sort of been a theme of my career. For the most part it happens gradually but I think that’s better, to take things as they come and keep the engines burning.
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is out now via Domino