Animal Collective move past the stress and into the fun

By Colin Gallant
Animal Collective’s Panda Bear teases new projects and tour changeups. Photo: Tom Andrew

Animal Collective’s Panda Bear teases new projects and tour changeups.
Photo: Tom Andrew

CALGARY — Ten albums and 16 years into their career as a band, Animal Collective make their first ever live appearances in Alberta this month (and will do a Vancouver stop, as well). The band has been called one of the most influential acts of the first decade of the 21st century for their experimental works in the realms of freak folk, noise, psych and pop. Their albums Feels (2005), Strawberry Jam (2007) and Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009) are some of the best-reviewed releases of that decade.

More recent albums haven’t been met with quite the same enthusiasm, but this deep into their career they’ve still found ways to keep things fresh. While the band was known to develop new material onstage long before recording took place, February’s Painting With was written in-studio, the result of sketches brought in and jammed to life. The result is one of Animal Collective’s most straight-forward pop albums, with not a single slow burner on the record. The spontaneity of the process was complemented by a certain level of serendipity.

“We didn’t have a game plan – we didn’t blueprint it like that. We just said ‘here’s my eight songs, here’s my eight songs’ and saw if they kind of fit together, but there weren’t conversations about themes that we were writing about or topics, but it did sort of turn out that Dave and I had wrote the words for the songs, it seems like we were sort of linked up in a way in talking about current events,” says Noah Lennox, better known by stage name Panda Bear.

Lennox came into the sessions not long after completing the excellent Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. That release and Painting With both balanced morose subject matter with pop accessibility, with Lennox stating the works contain “brother and sister songs in a way, topically.”

Throughout our conversation, lyrics came up quite a bit. While Lennox feels “like it’s one of [his] favourite things to talk about and think about in interviews,” it’s difficult to properly explain in hindsight. This leads him to an idea for a future project.

“At some point I’ll take an album and – probably not one of the older ones but maybe for a new one – and maybe part of the project will be sort of expounding on what I was thinking when I was writing this stuff. Writing a song-by-song breakdown of all the decisions I felt like I was making so maybe I won’t feel like such a jackass,” he says. “I doubt it would be super straightforward, I’m sure I would go off on weird tangents and stuff, but I feel like sort of like a record cover colours the music in a way… it’s almost like memoirs of making the album.”

That chance may come soon. Lennox revealed that he’s begun work on the next batch of solo Panda Bear songs.

But before that comes to fruition, Animal Collective continue on a heavy tour schedule through Asia, Europe and North America, as well as their own festival taking place this month in Big Sur, CA. Lennox is looking forward to all of it, noting that preparation for the performances had been some of the most difficult to date.

“I had never sang and played the bass lines at the same time, and they’re often really kind of different rhythms… And I feel like some of these songs are some of the most verbose songs we’ve done… It was a stressful couple of months for me, I’m not going to lie.”

For anyone who followed the first leg of the tour’s setlists, you can prepare for a few surprises.

“There’s going to be a Merriweather song that we’re adding, there’s something off of Water Curses and maybe I’ll leave it at that. Those are some hints! I’m not giving it all away. I hope the other guys won’t be mad at me.”

Animal Collective perform in Vancouver at the Vogue Theatre on September 27th, in Calgary at the MacEwan Ballroom on September 29th and in Edmonton at Union Hall on September 30th.

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