WORKING BACKWARDS Panda Bear

With news arriving this week that his album Tomboy gets
the deluxe box set treatment in Oct., will 2011 turn out to be the Year of
the Panda?

 

BY LOGAN K. YOUNG

Before Animal Collective’s acclaimed Merriweather Post Pavilion, there
was Panda Bear’s Person Pitch – a near perfect record, itself, by A.C.’s
own Noah Lennox. If you strode anywhere inside indiedom’s gates, from March
2007 henceforth, you had to have heard it. Lennox’s
tenor timbre and studio-as-instrument creations had most of us convinced that
he was indeed the next Brian Wilson. To wit, it’s been ages (specifically: four
years) since last we heard from Panda Bear proper. And in that time, the
basement band Lennox and some other Waldorf kids started in a Baltimore suburb has since become the biggest
little band in the world.

 

Blurt caught
up with Mr. Bear at two in the morning, Portugal time – he moved there in 2004,
eventually marrying and starting a family – where he had plenty to share about
procrastinating, self-doubt, and, most importantly, his latest record Tomboy,
out via his own Paw Tracks imprint. (See
below for details on the
Tomboy box
set.
)

 

***

BLURT: I guess the first, most
pressing question is: What the hell took so long?

PANDA BEAR: Honestly… [pauses] it was
mostly a matter of pulling double duty between the band and myself.

 

I would
imagine, seeing as how you guys are scattered throughout the globe now.

There’s certainly that, but maybe there’s a bit of a
timing aspect, too.

How so?
Like I wanted it to be the right time, and on my own
terms. Then again, I think that probably just hearkens back to being pulled in
all these separate directions. I can say, definitively, that making [Tomboy]
was a slower process for me..

Speaking of process, you
made this one like a true working stiff – going into the office, as it were,
everyday there in Lisbon’s old Interpress Building.
That’s a markedly different regimen than the one that wrought Person Pitch.

You’re right, my approach was completely different. But you know, it felt good
to have that kind of routine. Some days you can tell aren’t going to be
productive, however. And in that regard, it’s a lot like work. Everybody has
those moments.

Ah, yes, the do-nothing doldrums. Appropriately enough, they seem to happen
the closer you get to the finish line.

Glad it’s not just me then, I suppose. [laughs]
Even if I wasn’t getting actual, concrete results, I’d still fiddle around with
the guitar or read one of my synth manuals. As long as it was semi-constructive,
I felt okay. Whereas before, I might waste the entire day.  

In essence, Tomboy is your “guitar album.” And yet, it’s not exactly
guitar-like in the way you’ve treated it, what with all the signal processing
and post-production. I’m curious as to how a six-string actually influences the
songwriting process versus, say, a laptop and a set of keys.

For me at least, it’s a much more tactile sensation. There’s a greater
physicality to playing the guitar. When I’m lucky, a song can often just write
itself. I’m not all that great of a guitarist though, so a lot of the time I
have to figure out a way to play the chord I want to hear. Truth be told, I
guess I only know about seven or eight chords.

Was there ever a time you didn’t record a guitar lick for fear of having to
recreate it live?

Yes, actually. There’s this part in [new song] “Alsatian Darn” that I haven’t
been able to execute on stage. I mean, maybe if I worked at it, I could. In the
meantime, I’ve figured out a good alternative to make it happen.

Necessity’s a great inspiration.
True. I can still catch the overall vibe I want on that one.

 

It was initially reported
that Deakin and Avey Tare were lined up to mix Tomboy. In the end,
however, board duties fell to Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom. What made you make the
switch?

I’m not one of those people that listens to music all day, all the time. I
usually just have sports radio on. What I do like about Peter [Kember’s]
production is precisely what I strive for myself. You can tell it’s him, and yet
there’s no overtly large footprint of the familiar, no easily pegged
touchstone.   

 

As with Person
Pitch
, you’ve lived with a lot of these songs for a while now — releasing
some as limited run singles, playing them live at various places. Why such the
long gestation time? Is it simply a matter of polish, or is there also a need
for a little affirmation?

There’s definitely a bit of both. Doubt’s a big thing
for everyone, of course. But I can’t say it’s held me back in any real way.
I’ll admit to not being the biggest fan of the touring game.

 

Because of the
wife and kids back home?

Because of a lot of reasons. But the more I play a
song live, in concert, the more I learn about how it should go. From pacing to
the arrangement, the more familiar I get with something, the more obvious it
becomes.  

Sounds a bit like focus-grouping.
I’d never say that, but touring a set of the same
songs for an extended period of time can really show you how they ought to be.
It’s more like working backwards. I do it, as does Animal Collective.

 

[Photo Credit: Brian DeRan]

 

***

 

The Tomboy deluxe box will be released Oct. 31 on Paw Tracks as a 4-LP
set featuring the original album plus selected mixes and unreleased tracks,
plus a 16-page booklet. It will be limited to 5000 copies, with profits going
to benefit the American Cancer Society.

 

Tracklisting:

 

LP 1:

1 You Can Count on Me
2 Tomboy
3 Slow Motion
4 Surfer’s Hymn
5 Last Night at the Jetty
6 Drone

 

LP 2:

1 The Preakness
2 Alsatian Darn
3 Scheherazade
4 Friendship Bracelet
5 Afterburner
6 Benfica

 

LP 3 (Single Mixes):

1 Drone
2 Tomboy
3 Last Night at the Jetty
4 Surfer’s Hymn
5 Scheherazade
6 Benfica
7 Slow Motion
8 Friendship Bracelet
9 Alsatian Darn
10 Bullseye
11 You Can Count on Me

 

LP 4:

1 Alsatian Darn (Instrumental)
2 Slow Motion (Instrumental)
3 Friendship Bracelet (Instrumental)
4 Drone (Instrumental)
5 Last Night at the Jetty (Instrumental)
6 You Can Count on Me (A Cappella)
7 Alsatian Darn (A Cappella)
8 Slow Motion (A Cappella)
9 Afterburner (A Cappella)
10 Drone (A Cappella)

 

 

 

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