After a run of increasingly melodic and well-received albums, culminating with 2009's Merriweather Post Pavilion, Animal Collective did an about-face on last year's challenging Centipede Hz. The record pleased the avant-garde group's core fans but confused others with its miles-deep layers. It is supposedly about radio waves communicating from space, but it may as well have been telling fans, "Art ain't fun if it's easy." Well, from a band whose sound the past 13 years has influenced countless other experimental acts of the early 21st century, who wants it to be, anyway?
The Pitch recently chatted with Animal Collective member Noah Lennox (who has also made a pretty good solo career for himself under the name Panda Bear) in advance of AnCo's rescheduled October 24 show at the Midland.
The Pitch: You've lived in Lisbon for quite some time. Do you consider yourself an ex-pat or would you consider moving back to the United States?
Lennox: I'd say up until pretty recently, I thought I'd never go back. Not because I don't like it there, just me and my family are really good here. But over the past year or so, we've been talking about maybe going back. And certainly being able to be closer to the band guys would be a nice thing, I think.
You guys do live quite a ways apart. How do you collaborate over the distance? Do you mostly write music when you're together and recording?
For the last eight years, up until the last record, we've just been sending little files and demos and thinking about our own parts or thinking about what we might add to what somebody was sending, and there was always a time before the tour or recording when we'd get together and really try to put it all together. Up until the last record, it was trading files over the Internet and stuff like that, sending little skeletons of songs in e-mails.
The last one, Centipede Hz, was recorded in El Paso. That seems like a pretty good place to record music about communicating with aliens.
Yeah, that was in El Paso, right near the border. It was kind of like, maybe, a 30-minute drive outside of El Paso toward Mexico. It's a cool place. I don't know if I've ever been anywhere else quite like it. We were also on this guy's pecan farm, with rows and rows and rows of trees. That kind of added to the strangeness and weirdness of the place.
You're working on 13 or 14 years or so. What do you think has kept Animal Collective together?
I think it's a willingness to push through the harder things, the harder moments or the misunderstandings. I'd say that comes from some of us knowing each other since we were, like, 8 years old. We kind of set up a foundation, through which to get through the harder times and to push through the difficulties. Certainly being in a band and touring shows you the best and worst of each other.
Do you think it's any easier because you do see each other relatively infrequently?
Yeah, even though, at the time [when I moved to Portugal], it seemed a little bit scary and some of us were kind of dubious about the future of the band, overall it's been a really positive thing in terms of when we're not in those couple of weeks or months between working, we're not engulfed in each other all the time. I feel like it's made us appreciate the time that we do have together and the time we do work together.
You've mentioned before that you like to take your time when you work. Is that a result of just having a busy life or do you like spending time with a lot of little bits and pieces before you're happy with it?
It's more because I think it just takes me awhile to piece things together. The vast majority of the time that I'm making songs, it's culled from seven, maybe six or seven, sort of moments of inspiration or moments where I'd done something that I was really excited about, and then gradually over time I put the puzzle together. It's really rare that I will just bang something out and be happy with it. It just takes me awhile to find all of the pieces.
Animal Collective's music always seems to be so characteristic of the time and place that it is written. Are you always sort of ready to move on to the next thing, or are there songs that you think you'll always enjoy playing?
I'm pretty much always ready to go on to the next thing. When you write the song — and I spend a lot of time in that zone — and then touring with the song, working with the song, recording the song and mastering the song, I'm pretty much ready to never hear the songs again by the time they're printed on a CD or vinyl. It's maybe not the smartest way to do it — we've experimented with doing things a little bit differently with this one. We toured a little bit with the songs on Centipede Hz, but it was super-brief compared to the previous however many records there were. We haven't really worked on any new songs. We've kind of just been playing the last record. But that's been cool. I don't know if we'll do it again that way, but we'll see.
How has your work changed as your family has grown and since you've had kids?
I think the only way, besides kind of providing fodder for songs — like lyrics and the meanings of songs — is how seriously I approach the stuff in terms of not wanting to slack at all. I feel like I'm wary of the fact that, having a family and being more concerned about finances, there's certainly the temptation to make things that other people are really gonna like, so you can support your family in a more comfortable way. But I'm not smart enough to really think that way. I kind of just try to do things that I like but try to do them in the most bulletproof way, in terms of just making things as good as they can be and hope that people like them.