Usually, Animal Collective plays new songs live before the group records them. Inevitably, these songs are then taped, swapped, and pored over by audiences, Animal Collective fans resembling Phish fans in their collective zeal.
The band decided to record the songs on their new release, “Painting With,” without playing them live — a dramatic change in the way it does business — because they worried about fans getting attached to the live versions of songs before the sometimes-very-different studio versions were ever made, and because they’d never done it before and wanted to see what happened.
Noah Lennox, the band’s amiable co-founder (alias: Panda Bear), has already gotten attached to the new system. “There’s something about playing a show full of new songs that no one’s ever heard before that I’d be sad to get rid of completely,” he says.
Lennox, on Skype from Lisbon, Portugal, where he lives with his wife and children, talked about the new album, its surprise debut in November (it played, unannounced, over the speakers at the airport in the band’s Baltimore hometown), and how his children feel about having a father named Panda Bear (spoiler alert: not all that great).
The following is an edited transcript of that conversation:
Q: You first played the album over the speakers at the Baltimore airport. Was there a feed, where you could see people reacting to it?
A: No. I guess people tweeted and stuff like that, but I didn’t see too much of anything.
Q: That’s frustrating, right?
A: It is and it isn’t. Part of me feels like if I was watching what was going on, that dirties the event in a weird way. I know that sounds kind of funny. I think all of us wanted to do it without any announcements. We didn’t want it to be this media event, we liked the idea that it would be this kind of random thing happening, that people would kind of stumble across. We liked thinking about how someone might be going, “I feel like I know what this is.” Part of me feels like if I had witnessed that, it might feel wrong somehow.
Q: A lot has been made about this being your Ramones (style) record. Is that overblown?
A: We’re fully aware that the music doesn’t really sound like that, but we did use the first Ramones record as sort of a launching point, as far as wanting to make a record that had these really short songs, with no extended passages of anything, just this really concise, fast burst of songs. I feel like I can still connect the dots to that record as far as inspiration goes, but we’re fully aware that it doesn’t really sound like that. To mention the Ramones is perhaps a bit misleading, but as far as the creative process, I can make sense of it
Q: Do you look forward to playing that type of song live, because they’re energetic, not just because they’re new?
A: Yeah, it’s definitely quite a vocal workout. Having to learn all the words was a process I hadn’t really done before. It kind of felt like studying lines for a play. I was pretty nervous about that. I only started memorizing everything in late November.
Q: You’ve said that fans of the band don’t tend to age with you, that some of them go back only as far as the past two albums.
A: Yeah, it kind of seems like there’s groups of people that come and go with every record for us. It’s sort of been that way since the beginning. I guess that’s what you get for switching around so much, and being all over the place.
Q: How does it work with your bandmates, for you to live far away? Is it better to have that distance?
A: It’s worked really great for us. I don’t know if it would be for everybody. I think the fact that we’ve known each other for so long and played with each other for so long has made it easy to have the distance. We know what the various people are going to bring to the table, and when we get together, we haven’t seen each other for a while, so we’re pumped up to work together. Having these concentrated bits of work, it’s intense, but it works for us.
Q: Are your kids old enough to realize that you have an alter ego named Panda Bear?
A: My daughter who’s 10 knows. I’m not sure about my son — he’s 5. But they don’t seem to care so much about what I do. My daughter broke down one time and was really upset, she confessed that she didn’t like the music I did. I felt pretty bad.
Q: Did she say why?
A: She didn’t really articulate that. I think she felt bad, like she wasn’t supporting me. I assured her that she certainly wasn’t the only one who didn’t like what I did.