anda Bear, the drummer of Animal Collective, has finished his third solo album, entitled Person Pitch. It’s different than 2005’s Young Prayer. Lots of loops and such. We like it. Some of us like it a lot. So we asked Andrew Gaerig to ask him about it. Little did we know that we’d learn about the psychological climate of Portugal, a bit of what it feels like to have a baby, that Panda’s proud of the Shins, and the importance of keeping your small, tidy place in the world.
What’s happening in Tucson?
Panda Bear: Not much, man. It’s pretty mellow. It’s, like, 70 degrees outside.
Are you on vacation?
PB: No, we’re, ah…Animal Collective, the band I play with, is recording a record.
Let’s talk about recording in different locations and recording in different environments. It seems like Animal Collective often get stuck with the tag of “Big-city adults making music like little kids in the forest”…
…Which may or may not be apt—Sung Tungs was recorded up here in Colorado and you recorded Campfire Songs on a porch in rural Maryland, so it’s not as if you’re making music on top of a high-rise. How do you decide where to record and how does it affect you?
PB: I feel like environment’s a huge influence not only on what comes out of you, but on what you think about and the way you react to certain things. It really dictates a mood. I feel like we [Animal Collective] recognize that force and try to pick a place that’s going to influence us in a way that we feel suits the music that we’re trying to do. Like, for this one [new Animal Collective record], we thought a desert-type atmosphere would be really appropriate.
I guess we did Here Comes the Indian in a city. I guess we did it in Brooklyn, and it kind of makes sense because that record’s kind of the most hectic and sort of fucked-up. Danse Manatee, too, was for the most part recorded in New York, and that definitely is the most city-like record we’ve done. We also don’t like to have the same kind of sound record-to-record, so I feel like that’s why we jump around so much.
So it is a premeditated decision, then….
PB: Oh yeah, for sure.
How does being in a desert affect Animal Collective’s sound?
PB: This time especially has been…the environment has been particularly potent in that the way we’ve done it is, we’ve rented a studio that’s kind of downtown in Tucson, but we stay in a house that’s like a half-an-hour drive outside the city, like, in the middle of nowhere—there’s just mountains and desert all around. In a way, all we’ve been able to think about, every second, is the album and the songs we’re making. It’s been really nice to totally zone in and focus on what we’re doing. There’s no distractions…for the most part, there’s very little people-calling. We all call our wives or respective girlfriends or whatever….
Do have a plan for exactly how long you want to record for, or is it open-ended once you arrive somewhere?
PB: We knew we were going to record for a month. The last record [Feels] took about the same time, and we had, more or less, the same amount of songs to work on, so we went with another month of tracking.
Well, you live in Lisbon now. Is that where Person Pitch [Panda’s upcoming solo record] was recorded?
PB: That’s where it was done.
You’ve been living there for a couple of years—how did it affect the recording?
PB: That album’s another one where I feel like the environment especially comes through. To me the music is really casual and relaxed and kind of sunny, though there’s a real sense of water. Sorry to get so, kind of, “out-there” with this. But Lisbon’s a place…have you ever been to California before?
PB: Have you ever been to Europe before?
Never been to Europe…
PB: Well if you combined Europe with California, that’s kind of what Portugal feels like, to me. There’s a shitload of sunlight. It’s really kind of a mellow atmosphere—nobody really wants to rush around. It’s the kind of place where if you make an appointment to meet somebody at one o’clock, you’re kind of making an agreement to meet at 1:30 or 2 o’clock, you know what I’m saying? I think like the music really has that sort of feeling to it for me too, it’s all kind of…unaggressive and unassuming. I’m really psyched about music, that when I listen to it, kind of takes me out of whatever I’m thinking about or whatever I’m doing and puts me in this other place, so I hope the album does that. And I think that’s kind of a reflection of Lisbon, too—it’s really hard to feel hyped-up in Lisbon because it’s such a mellow place.
I feel like I know more about your life than I should, but I know you married in the last couple of years. Has that affected the mood of the music at all?
PB: A little bit. I also had a kid with my wife over the past year-and-a-half or so. And although I can’t really trace how that’s affected the style or the mood of the music I’m doing, I definitely have been noticing how much more diligent and focused and willing to work on the stuff now than I used to be. I think I feel like I can’t really make any mistakes or I can’t fuck around with anything, because I’ve got two people that are really depending on me to make things happen for them.
That doesn’t mean that I’m trying to make music that’s going to sell a lot of copies—even if I could do that—but it does mean that whatever I’m doing I feel like I’m trying a lot harder to make it as good as I possibly can, making sure that I’m covering my bases.
People often say your music is very child-like anyway—would you ever record an album for your kid?
PB: Sure! I kind of wish I’d done it in the artwork myself, but I’ve mentally dedicated the album to my daughter for sure, because she’s been such a major part of my existence over the last few years.
It’s funny that you’re talking about being so much more driven and focused now. I want to talk to you about humor in music because when I listen to Person Pitch or Animal Collective records they don’t sound like big, serious, rock records. You don’t crack up while listening to them, but there are things that seem funny—like the cover of Person Pitch for instance. How do you approach humor? Is it something you aim for? Is it something that just shows up in your music?
PB: I think it’s a little bit of both. I do think it’s something that just sort of shows up because that’s sort of my attitude about it; I can’t help that it comes through. But, also, I guess I don’t really believe in taking oneself so seriously. There’s actually a sign on one of the doors at the studio that I’ve been so psyched on. It says “Don’t Take Yourself too Seriously—You’re Expendable.” I’ve been really, really into that since we started working. Any time something kind of serious comes up or if there’s a problem with the recording I just think about that sign and it makes me feel a lot better.
I don’t want to make music that’s campy. I’m serious to that point—this really means something to me and I hope it means something to you who’s listening to it—but on the other hand I don’t want to be preachy or I don’t want to be overbearing in any way. Trying to have sort of a casual, not-so-serious attitude about it is kind of nice.
Sure, but one of my favorite aspects of your music is that there’s funny sounds, rather than something in the lyrics or something in the artwork….
PB: Like kids screaming, or something like that?
Or a keyboard patch or loop that sounds like a duck honking.
PB: I get psyched about music when I hear something that really kind of surprises me and comes out of nowhere, so I think that’s the inspiration for those kind of sounds. I like to sort of throw in weird curveballs.
You mentioned earlier that you’re not going to ever try to make music that would appeal to a lot of people.
PB: I wouldn’t say that I’m trying not to do that, I just would say that it’s not that I am trying to do that. If there were a million people that bought my record, I wouldn’t be like, “Fuck! That sucks!” But at the same time I’m not like “What are these other people selling millions of records doing? OK, I have to be doing that.”
Sure, and that’s getting at what I’d like to ask you about. By most definitions you guys [Animal Collective] are a fairly successful group of underground musicians.
PB: I feel like for the type of music we play we’re so far beyond the level of popularity that I ever felt we’d reach.
Is there a limit to the popularity you can achieve playing the type of music you do? Is it possible that you’ve reached that limit? Will your audience keep growing?
PB: I don’t know. I almost feel like it’s not up to us. If you look at a band—and I’m not saying we’re like this at all—like Nirvana, who would’ve guessed that that would’ve suddenly become the most popular thing in the United States? I was just talking with Scott [Colburn], who’s producing the record with us, last night about this. He was like, “I was driving down the freeway in Los Angeles and I heard the DJ come on and say ‘This is the number one song in America,’ and it was Nirvana, and he said ‘I just stopped my car and was like, What happened?’” I feel like maybe popular music reached a saturation point and there was a big shift in peoples’ tastes. I feel like something like that is sort of happening again these days. I don’t know quite where it’s going to go, but it does feel like things are suddenly kind of shifting over, somehow.
It seems to me it would take a real sea change in popular taste for Feels to be the most popular record in America.
I think I can understand the new Shins record being at #2…
PB: Really? Because that kind of blows my mind too. I think it’s awesome for those guys. It’s certainly not that I think that the record or the music is bad, but I have to say, when it was like, “Beyonce…The Shins…,” I was like “Whoa!”
The Shins don’t seem to me as…
PB: As weird?
Well yeah, it’s sort of like Nirvana—Nirvana wasn’t doing something that was light years removed from some of the things that were popular before them in the same way that I don’t think the Shins…the Shins are making great pop music, is what they’re doing.
PB: It’s like it’s familiar enough to what people know that you don’t have to go that far.
Whereas I think people would have to drill down another level to get you guys in the Billboard Top 100.
PB: [laughs] Yeah, I know what you mean. I should say I’m not expecting it by any stretch of the imagination but like I said, I don’t know if we can get any more popular. It’s really hard to say. Like I said, I never thought we’d get to this point. Every day it’s just kind of, “Oh, wow, that’s crazy.”
When I turned on the radio when I was 15 and heard Nirvana, Kurt Cobain wasn’t singing like you sing. Was there a conscious attempt to develop your own vocal style? Is that just what came out when you opened your mouth? Maybe the better question is, do you think your vocals are weird?
PB: I don’t think my vocals are all that weird. I do care a lot about being technically proficient at singing. It’s 90 percent “I sing and that’s just what comes out,” but I did a lot of singing in choirs when I was in high school—not religious style—but recreational singing, like singing Mozart and Bach and those kind of guys. I really really loved it. We’d all kind of practice…each section of the choir would practice their part and then when it would all come together, my mind would be so blown how something like that could happen. But, definitely, I feel like that was the starting point for me as far as singing was concerned. I feel like I noted what things about singing that I liked and what things I didn’t like so much. I’m not taken to super-dramatic-style singing…I feel like I try to keep my stuff pretty. I don’t want it to be stale; I do want it to be true. That’s the best word for it.
Back to Person Pitch. Some of those songs have been floating around, obviously a few of them [“Carrots,” “Bros,” “I’m Not,” “Comfy in Nautica”] have come out on singles over the past year, so this record’s been fermenting a little bit longer than, say, the month you’re going to spend down in Arizona [recording the new AC album]. Why did you decide to take songs from previous releases and how did you go about fleshing out the rest of the album?
PB: Mainly it was time constraints. I had just gotten married, I think, when I was first starting to do the stuff. I knew that my wife was pregnant and that we were going to have a kid and the Animal Collective schedule has just kind of steadily, year after year, gotten more intense. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I kind of knew that I wasn’t going to have too much time in between wanting to be with my family and wanting to do right by Animal Collective, so that was kind of part of my master plan [chuckles] of doing the singles and then sort of like a singles album, at the end.
Also, I really like dance music and the way that dance music comes out into the world, which is to say, like, 12-inches, and getting played in clubs and working that way. So I was kind of psyched on that idea too. And lastly, I kind of figured that working on just one or two songs at a time would ensure that each song on the album would kind of be strong in its own way. So that’s kind of why I went about it that way.
Dance music…are we talking Donna Summer…
Or obscure German house music?
PB: All kinds, really.
What are you listening to right now?
PB: As far as dance music goes?
Or anything, I suppose.
PB: I’m trying to think of what we’ve been listening to in the van. To be honest, I don’t listen to music very much, or at least not in a recreational sense. But I do hear a whole lot of stuff from the other guys who kind of know everything. Do you know Luomo?
PB: Vocalcity is one of my favorite records, probably ever. All the Kompakt stuff, I really like. Villalobos, obviously, is pretty kickass. I would say he’s one of my favorites. I’m a really big fan of Carsten Jost.
I’m not familiar with him.
PB: The whole Dial label is awesome.
Kompakt has some killer stuff coming out this year.
PB: Oh yeah?
I forget his actual name, but the record by the Field is great, and Gui Boratto is around too, and that’s really good.
PB: Sweet. I kind of fell off what was coming from Kompakt a couple years ago. I’d say Kompakt Total 4 was the last Kompakt record I really knew. Those Kaito records I really liked a lot. Have you ever heard Olaf Dettinger?
PB: He put out, I think, two records on Kompakt. They’re not super dancey, but they’re amazing.
If you’re not really listening to it for recreation, do you go to the clubs and dance to it?
PB: My wife really likes to go to clubs. Sometimes she can drag me along. I really love the club atmosphere and I love to be around people dancing. I don’t really dance so much myself. I just love to be around that sort of energy. I love music in that environment too—just really loud and the bass is really heavy and the high end is really kind of sharp. That’s a quality of music that really makes sense to me.
Is that something you would try to bring to any aspect of the Panda Bear or Animal Collective live performances?
PB: Person Pitch was kind of my way of trying to bring dance music to what I was doing.
I certainly understand that you’d want to work alone sometimes, but when you’re sitting in your bedroom with a guitar and you come up with an idea, do you sit there and differentiate between “Panda Bear ideas” and “Animal Collective ideas?”
PB: It depends. If I know we’ve got a practice session coming up with the band and we’re thinking about having a couple more songs for the album, I’ll get in the mindset of writing the songs for the band, which is to say that I’ll try to do something that isn’t fully formed yet or has space for a lot of other stuff going on. But there’s also a certain kind of sensibility I feel like that I have on my own that wouldn’t work so much with the sensibilities of the other guys in the band. So if I start writing a piece of music where I’m like, “This is really ‘too me’ to really work with the other guys,” I’ll just kind of keep it for myself.
How has the experience working on Panda Bear albums changed what you can bring to the table for Animal Collective? Or has it changed?
PB: It hasn’t changed all that much. Maybe it’s given me a little more confidence in doing it, but besides that I don’t know that it’s changed the way I work with the band all that much. Typically with the band, I wouldn’t say I’m the principal songwriter. I feel like in the band I’m more reacting to what the other guys are doing, whereas obviously on my own I’m calling all the shots, for better or for worse.
You all [Animal Collective] are all living in different places now. What is the dynamic? Will Animal Collective ever become a pen-pal band?
PB: I was a little worried about it. I’ll be honest—I was definitely kind of concerned about it when I first moved away, trying to see how it would work. It’s actually worked out with more positives than negatives, in that whenever we get together now, we haven’t seen each other for a month or a couple months and we’re just really excited to see each other and work together. We’re all like really old friends, like ten years or so. So when we’re working together it’s the time we get to see each other, which is nice. We really don’t do too much tape trading or anything like that. I feel like since we’ve worked together for so long we’re pretty good at getting things together fast.
You say you were worried about it but you were the one who moved farthest away. Was it just something you had to do?
PB: Yeah, I guess I kind of felt like it was something I had to do at the time.
Just to get off the East Coast?
PB: It was more just about being with this person who I really, really wanted to be around, who made me feel really good. When I left I was hoping I would kind of be able to have my cake and eat it too, and then I could be with this person but also continue doing what I kind of worked so hard to have with the other guys. It’s actually worked out pretty good, I’m happy to say.
Panda Bear @ MySpace
Panda Bear @ Fat Cat Records