Animal Collective - Animal Planet
Animal Collective’s critically acclaimed latest album might just be happy accident according to Noah Lennox. 3D’s Scott Henderson caught up with the songwriter and discussed the serendipitous harmony of the band’s ninth album…
Animal Collective have pulled a neat magic trick with their latest album, Merriweather Post Pavilion. Before you’ve even clicked play their record has you tripping out, staring at the cover art trying to make sense of the undulating sea of green, blue and pink, which endlessly strafes back and forth. Unconsciously you hit play, still starring in wonder at the cover as the sound of opening track In The Flowers begins to fill the room, immersing you deeper until finally the rhythmic rolling drum strikes; you are Alice in Wonderland, except you’re never going to want to leave.
“We saw this optical illusion in a magazine article whilst waiting at the airport on our way down to Athens, Georgia where we were going to mix the record,” says Noah Lennox (AKA Panda Bear) calling from his home in Lisbon, Portugal, kissing his daughter goodnight as our interview gets underway. “I think it was a Scientific American and it was all about the neuroscience of optical illusions, and it was one among many – but this one stood out to us and became this iconic image of the music over the course of that week… It has this weird magical quality to it and I was hoping it would give the impression that there is some kind of a supernatural thing inside of it.”
It’s hard to know what is more interesting about this, the decision to use some obscure optical illusion by Japanese psychologist Akiyoshi Kitaoka or that someone in the band reads Scientific American. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise from the Animal Collective of Lennox, Brian Weitz (AKA Geologist), David Portner (AKA Avey Tare) and Josh Dibb (AKA Deakin), who have never made for your everyday band.
Merriweather Post Pavilion represents the band’s ninth studio album in a history and a friendship that goes beyond their debut long player of 2000 right back to high school and a little indie rock band called Automine. When a band is as experimental as Animal Collective have been through the years, that perfect balance of all the elements needed to make a truly transcending album is not something that occurs easily. As Lennox recognises, it’s not exactly something that you can plan for either.
“I feel like the creative process has remained pretty much exactly the same throughout,” begins Lennox. “I think there is a cohesion to this one, but I don’t think that is a result of us being older or having done it a whole bunch of times. There were a lot of serendipitous things that kinda helped it come out that way. The fact that the songs I was writing and the songs Dave was writing at the time fit together in a really harmonious way. It was just the luck of the drawer more than anything.”
Then there was engineer Ben Allen, who they had never worked with before but was chosen specifically because he knew how to record bass and low end through his experience with hip hop. Lennox had been listening to lots of dubstep in preparation for the new album having made the decision that in the absence of Josh Dibb and his touch with the guitar that the music would have a much greater focus on bass. “Working with Ben turned out to be this sort of immediately positive experience and I don’t think he’d worked on music like ours before. But he understood what we were going for immediately. I just feel like there’s a lot of little things like that that helped to make this album feel quite a bit more together than our others.”
Lyrically things have come together in Post Pavilion also, and while far from being more simplistic than on previous albums such as Here Comes The Indian, rather they have become more relatable to. Lennox says that they are made up of “reflections of things we have experienced directly.” They are the everyday experiences of love, relationships, growing up and curiosity. “Lyrically speaking we didn’t have a unified theme that we were going for, but in retrospect certain things come out – certainly the relationship between our lives as musicians who are traveling pretty much all the time; the relationship of that to this sort of home life we have all been growing, or have been over the past two years.”
For Lennox, the responsibility of family and home has become the dominant factor in life. And while a song like My Girls, about wanting a house and apologising for seeing the world through materialistic eyes, betrays the everyman’s growing pains of life, it is also a reflection of changing values and of what is important. He speaks of it as his “safe zone” when he is not on tour or working. Lennox moved to Lisbon some four and a half years ago and says it is a perfect fit: “My life here is super mellow. The city and the people here are pretty tranquil; when I am home it is an isolated place, but in a good way.”
One thing that’s missing from Lennox’s life at the moment is his friend Josh Dibb, on an extended leave from the band for personal reasons. Lennox says he hopes that Dibb will return to the band in the near future. “Besides the musical side of things I just miss him on a personal level,” he says. “Not being in the band means I see him a whole lot less otherwise. If only for that selfish reason I hope he is part of the next project. There are certain things that overlap in terms of what we get into or excited about, and depending upon who’s in the group, the influences and attitude of the music drastically changes.”
There is a quiet philosophical outlook on life that Lennox embodies in body and words, a forward-thinking and progressive view of the world encapsulated by Merriweather Post Pavilion. “The feeling of reaching for something that isn’t quite there in front of you is an expression that we’ve been interested in as a band ever since we started making music.” Life, after all, is not an optical illusion.
WHO: Animal Collective
WHAT: Merriweather Post Pavilion through Domino / EMI
WHEN: Out now