From retina-singeing graphics to a bold, experimental interactive website to stunning, sometimes heartbreaking music videos and visceral live visuals, all things Panda Bear of late have blown us away. While he’s not created these things single-handedly (he’s collaborated with Marco Papiro, Pattak, SEEN Studio, Encyclopedia Pictura and Danny Perez respectively), you don’t surround yourself with such brilliant visual content without having a very deft eye and a soul that’s as resolutely creative as your hair is resolutely ruffleable, in the case of Panda Bear.
Throughout the artist’s career, Panda Bear (Noah Lennox, to the taxman) has always had one foot in the visual camp, working with artists that make his musical output sing all the more ethereally for their eye-pleasing counterpoint. From his band Animal Collective’s experimental visual album Oddsac (which they worked on with Danny) to the more simple way he got his name (from doodles of panda bears on mixtapes, apparently), art and music are inextricably linked. “I don’t draw much anymore but I used to really love it,” Noah tells us. “I’ll think a lot about imagery and colours when making music but rarely make those visualisations explicit.”We’d beg to differ, having seen the sometimes confrontational, sometimes beautiful, always deliciously psychedelic visuals at his live shows, which are influenced in no small way by Brooklyn-based experimental nutcases Black Dice. It was seeing Danny’s visuals for the band that made Noah want to work with him. “Danny and Black Dice both have a very colourful and aggressive tone to their video which I like a lot,” he says. “For the most recent songs I feel like Danny has made imagery that brings out elements in the music that are submerged or sometimes kind of hidden.”
“I don’t know that thinking about death is necessarily a negative exercise. I think it’s fair to label me a curious person.”
For all its breezy melodies, sweet, almost whimsical vocal lines and gorgeously hazy delivery, there’s a more sinister tinge to Panda Bear’s most recent album, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. Though it’s not really about death, he hints – more about change. “I had been thinking about a group of intense events in my life that triggered change and wanted to give a character or an image to that experience,” he says. “I don’t want to be a negative person and I feel like I have a choice to a large extent in that. But I don’t know that thinking about death is necessarily a negative exercise. I think it’s fair to label me a curious person.”
To temper his fears about death, change and what-not, Noah likes to keep himself busy. He has a young family and a prolific career, and explains to us that in his working life, he only ever plans one year ahead. “I have been thinking that way for a bit now,” he says.
Noah’s currently keeping himself busy working on new Animal Collective songs, which he reckons the band will get together to record some time this year. “I’m looking forward to that,” he says. “I don’t have any specific changes in mind for the future but I’d like to feel like I’m improving at least in some way.
“I try to stay busy, always working on something, so I suppose I feel I have a bunch of stuff just kind of hovering around. But I like having a singular focus or aim. Staying busy and active certainly gives me less time worrying. But I find it difficult to stave off fear completely.”