In the inner sanctums of the Oran Mor of Glasgow’s West End, amidst heads of wild game and portraits of stately women from an era long gone, I sat with Noah Lennox talking about fruit spread. Strawberry Jam to be precise.
The sweet stuff inspired Noah while on a flight during a past tour. He examined the small packet provided with his regulation meal and found himself quite attracted to it as a concept. He thought, “It would be so cool if we could get the music to sound like this stuff looks – gelatinous, with a weird sharp sort of futuristic quality to it, yet sweet and synthetic.” His aim then became to get listeners into that same head space.
Animal Collective, Noah Lennox (Panda Bear), Brian Weitz (Geologist), Dave Portner (Avey Tare), and Josh Dibb (Deakin), merged to create Strawberry Jam, their sixth studio album.
While pleased with the results, Noah couldn’t say that every song had strawberry jam smeared all over it. Peacebone has the highest jam factor according to him. Track nine, Derek, holds certain jam elements, with it’s contrasting sharpness and sweetness. Noah also cited Fireworks as having captured the concept of jam with it’s cutting sounds, and nebulous points.
This must sound strange to anyone unfamiliar with the oeuvre of the collective. A group of pioneers to many, merely masked men behind equipment to the unenlightened, Animal Collective stands on the precipice of the future of music. The quartet of friends from New York, by way of Maryland (and now partially of Lisbon), have been working together for seven years.
Although a recent tour through the UK saw just two steady members (Deakin didn’t make this tour, and Avery Tare came down with a throat infection towards the end) the collective still delivered an aural pummeling.
Noah Lennox, aka Panda Bear, and Brian Weitz, the Geologist, performed the last few dates as a duo. They didn’t want to disappoint ticket-weilding fans, and decided it would be better to put their efforts together rather than scratch the last two shows.
As the audience was enraptured throughout the set, it was evident that nobody was disappointed.
A dark, crowded room that reeks of alcohol and wasted youth just doesn’t seem like the environment to do justice to the music of Animal Collective. With the countless directions their music leaps, there isn’t an appropriate setting, however, rather just a blur of color and texture and any other sensation your senses could grasp. In Noah’s opinion, their music doesn’t require any certain environment. He explained: “I’d hope it could be enjoyed on any level or in any setting or environment. I wouldn’t want it to just be the kind of thing that just sounds good when you’re sitting in your bedroom or just being alone.”
If you were trapped on a desert island, with the sole intent of recording an album, would you need any manmade instruments (aside from a recording device)?
“No. You could do it, I’m sure just with your voice. There’s lots of ways to make sounds. You could use wood and make instruments of all sorts; record birds and the sea.”
What impact do you hope to have on music in general?
“I guess I try not to think about that too much. I just want to keep my focus on making music that I’m excited about. I feel like you don’t really have too much control beyond that, what happens with it and how it’s received or what other people are going to think of it so much. I feel like it’s best for me to focus on trying to make music that I think is good.”
Is there anything that you wish you would be asked during an interview, but never are?
“I wish there was time to like have them be much longer and more in-depth, where it wasn’t like, okay you have 20 minutes, go go go with all these questions. I wish it was more like, spend a month at my house, or something like that where we would see each other all the time and have more intense conversations. I feel like that would shed a lot more light on what’s going on, but the logistics of the situation don’t really allow for that.”
Your visual work, and the videos, how much input do you have with that?
“Dave has done quite a lot of the cover art. He did Feels, he took the picture for Strawberry Jam. His sister Abby, an artist in New York, did Sung Tongs, and a whole bunch of fliers for us; she does posters for us still. We were involved pretty intensely with the Who Could Win a Rabbit video, the Grass video not so much and the Peacebone video even less, that was more of Tim Saccenti’s thing than ours although though we saw the treatment for it and we’re into his ideas. I think all of us would say that the visual side of the packages and fliers is definitely an important thing for our music.”
Do you have a favorite place to record?
“Probably my little studio in my house (in Lisbon, Portugal). At least when I’m recording my music there are no deadlines and I’m not paying for studio space. ”
Do you have a favorite place to play?
“I like playing in California and France. Those are probably the two places that spring to mind quickest. Has a lot to do with the audience and the atmosphere at shows. ”
What makes a good audience to you?
“It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what happens. It’s usually when I feel like everybody is kinda of going through something together. I can’t really explain how I know that or what that feeling is exactly. It’s not like people are freaking out dancing necessarily, because there’s been shows in the U.S. where there’s been a shit load of movement and I haven’t been so excited about the shows. There’s definitely movement in these shows in France that I’m referring to. It’s just this weird sensation of feeling like something is going on for, hopefully everybody there, I’m sure there’s people who are just sipping their drinks and think it sucks.”
Thus far journalists have found it hard to write about your music. Why do you think that is?
“I would guess because our music is a mixture of a whole bunch of different things. The fact that it changes so much I’m sure has a lot to do with that, and the fact that the members of the band kind of shift here and there. Even though there’s really four of us, sometimes it’s two or three or four. And the fact that we switch around equipment and instruments sometimes.”
Why do you think there isn’t more music like yours out there?
“I think we try to make our music something that is very particular to us and is this sort of expression of what is going on for us on a very personal level. So the fact that nobody else is us, nobody’s experiencing things just like we do I guess would mean that they can’t. If we’re really doing something that’s purely us, nobody else could really replicate that.”
What are you looking forward to, after tonight, your last show on this tour?
“It’s been a really long year of touring. I did more touring and more of all of this, it’s partly my fault because I put out a solo record to, so it’s kinda been like double time for me this year. I’m really looking forward to not doing much of anything for a while. Just relaxing and being with my family is what I’m most excited about.”
Animal Collective’s eighth album Strawbery Jam is out now.
By Sara Nowak
Also appeared on isthismusic.com