• About A Band: Panda Bear

    This week’s release of Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper marks the fifth full-length solo album from the Animal Collective musician, Panda Bear. To celebrate this, we take a brief dive into the inspirational risks he has taken both in music and in life, and we chat with him about what went into his new record, what it's like relocating to Europe, and some of the conveniences he misses about his former home.

    Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear, takes his stage name from the animal he used to frequently sketch as a child, and which he emblazoned on his early record covers. He is known for a variety of things: his solo work, his material with the group Animal Collective, and his collaborations with other artists such as Daft Punk (Lennox lent his vocals to the track “Doin’ It Right” on Daft Punk’s 2013 album Random Access Memories, and the song ended up being one of the bigger dance floor anthems that summer, allowing the choir-like vocals Noah is known for make their way into a lot of new listeners’ ears. With the success of his and Animal Collective’s original and experimental sound throughout the 2000s, Noah became the icon he is today for modern indie music.

    One of the things we find most interesting about Panda Bear is his ability to take risks. Originally from Baltimore, Noah attended Boston University for a short time before making the decision in 2000 to drop everything and relocate to New York City, seeing it as a place that allowed the creative space and freedom needed to work on his music. He was joined by his longtime friend and band mate Dave Portner, also known as Avey Tare in Animal Collective. While honing in on their musical skills, Noah worked at a record store in the East Village of Manhattan to pay the rent. 

    In 2003, on the last stop of a European Animal Collective tour, Noah decided to extend his trip to stay and hang out for a few days in Lisbon, Portugal. Spending one of his off nights at a small electronic music show, he fell in with some locals and ended up spending the rest of his time with them, simultaneously falling in love with the people and the city itself. Like most fairytales go, this small group of friends ended up including his future wife. Shortly after returning home to New York, he made the decision to pack a bag and relocate himself to Lisbon, where he currently lives.

    With his new album, Noah delivers more of what he’s known for to no disappointment. Smooth synths and vocal hymns paint the album into a colorful listening experience. A lot of the tracks have a very beachy vibe, so don’t be surprised if you hear this record on repeat throughout the summer months. The lyrics are still Panda Bear—deep, dark, and cryptic, but they're balanced with the flowing and cheerful colors his music permeates, letting the vocals float gently above the sounds to create a very uplifting listening experience.

    We caught up with Noah in his New York hotel the day before the release of his new album to get the scoop on what's going on.

    Is there a meaning behind the new album title?
    A couple things. One was I like that it referenced a bunch of records from Jamaica in the 1970s—mostly dub records. But they would often have a title where it was one record producer or musician meets another. It was a way of signifying some kind of collaboration between the two. I like that there was a lighthearted feel to it as well—cartoony or comic book-y in a way. I felt a lot of these songs had this relationship of something kind of dark, something we wouldn’t approach so easily, and the sound of the songs were kind of light and casual. I like that the album title reflects that.

    What are the pros and cons of writing and recording as a solo artist vs. with a group?
    The pros are that it’s just an unfettered creative process. There are no obstacles beyond the mental mind games you get into. It's just this constant stream. It’s also what makes it a negative: What I find interesting and exciting about being in a band is that since it’s this melting pot of perspectives and a challenge to get everyone on the same page and invested in this thing, you are often forced to push yourself to a place you would have never gotten to on your own. The negative is you are surprised less.

    If you could do the score to any movie ever, which would it be?
    Hmm… "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back." The second, gnarly one.

    Which artist, album, or any piece of pop culture has influenced you the most?
    That’s a tough question—put me on the spot. These kinds of questions are kind of impossible to answer. One of them might be the first Daft Punk record, musically speaking. "The Jungle Book" by Disney. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. That’s probably as literary as I get.

    You’ve done what every person that travels to Europe dreams of doing by packing up and moving there after an awesome trip. What is that like?
    Well, there are a lot of growing pains. You have to find your way in the dark for a little while. Especially when it’s a country with a totally different language. When I had my first kid there I still couldn’t really speak the language, so being in a hospital trying to deal with that whole experience was pretty intense. But yeah, sort of like being in a band where you're forced to find your place.

    How has living in Portugal influenced your music?
    I’m sure it has, but it’s really difficult to trace the lines in any clear or direct way. I’m a big believer that environment really plays itself out when you’re a creative person or when you’re making things. It's sort of impossible to completely hide your environment and your experiences, things you do and think about on a daily basis. I’m sure it makes its way in there, but it's really difficult for me to say exactly how. I feel like my last two albums,Person Pitch and Tomboy, they were made about 100 meters from each other, and they sound vastly different to me. 

    Besides Lisbon, what are some other places you like traveling or touring?
    I had a really good time in Australia the last time I was there. New Zealand is really sweet. I always have good shows in  France. I like Spain quite a bit. The one time I was in Africa I liked it a lot. I like Canada—Canada is awesome.

    You spent some of your youth in Pennsylvania. Do you ever miss Wawa?
    ...Wawa!? Dude we had Wawa in Baltimore. We also had these things called Royal Farm stores, which was a lot like a Wawa. I will say living in Europe I miss convenient stores in general. And then in New York you have bodegas and the delis, which is a step up from the whole convenient store zone—you can have sandwiches at any hour. I miss that massively, just being able to walk down the street and get drinks, sandwiches, or breakfast sandwiches in the morning with coffee.

    Speaking of breakfast sandwiches, what is your ideal brunch?
    I like the more sweet, cakey breakfast stuff. I usually go for French toast or pancakes. I like to have a big potpourri kind of explosion. I like to have a big breakfast explosion. That sounds nasty—but I like to have a little bit of everything for brunch.

    The day before you’re album is released—what’s that like?
    The most intense time is going into the studio until the album is finished. About whether this image you had for this is gonna come to like and work or not. But there is a weird cocktail of emotions, part of it is stress and part is relief that the thing is done. Not even talking about me, a bunch of people put a whole lot of work into it. I’m happy that it’s coming to a close.

    Do you have any plans to tour the US this year?
    Yeah I think I’ll play a handful of shows. I won’t do a whole lot because I’m kind of switching gears to work with the band again. That will sort of be my focus starting roughly mid-spring. I don’t do a whole lot of touring on my own, but I did do quite a bit the past two years. But having said that, it’s always a different experience to play music to a room full of people that know the songs they’re familiar with.