Panda Bear's Noah Lennox on Parenting in the Pandemic, Tomboy at 10, and Dreaming of a Better World

Panda Bear's Noah Lennox on Parenting in the Pandemic, Tomboy at 10, and Dreaming of a Better World
Painting by Hugo Oliveira, photography by Fernanda Pereira

I wanted to talk to Noah Lennox for this newsletter because he’s one of a few musicians I’ve been in contact with over the years where, during the pandemic, I’ve found myself thinking about how he and his family are doing in Lisbon. Also, he’s one of my favorite living musicians, and his work as Panda Bear and in Animal Collective has captured my—as well as an entire generation’s—creative imagination and emotional way of being. He recently did a lovely remix of Angel Du$t’s “Never Ending Game,” and we talked about that remix via email as well as how he’s felt about living in this world lately.

What's the last year been like for you?

The last year has been tough. I haven’t had it as hard as many, I’m sure, but it’s been tough all the same. COVID went off like a bomb, and I’d wager the dust won’t settle for some time. Sometimes I get a sneaky feeling, like we’re on the brink. But like everyone else, we’re just trying to keep trucking. Working has helped me keep from getting too down, so I’ve stayed busy.

As a resident of Lisbon, how has the city and the culture changed in the age of COVID-19?

The city feels similar to how it was when I first got here, because the tourists have mostly vanished. There’s been moments where it’s been a ghost town, but they haven’t lasted long and were mainly right at the beginning. I worry sometimes that the most difficult times are ahead, but I don’t know. It feels like COVID set a bunch of things in motion, and I’m not sure where we land yet.

What has parenting been like for you and your wife?

It seems parenting a teenager is typically tricky, but the pandemic has brought some unique challenges. We’ve had the most difficulties navigating when and how she can hang out with her friends. People need people. At the same time, we don’t want to put anyone in danger. My son is kind of just coasting, but he’s a homebody like me.

Is there anything you particularly miss about pre-pandemic life?

I miss the admittedly false sense that there’s some kind of order to things. It’s not real, of course, but it helps me get on with stuff — like the brain tuning out a frequency it doesn’t find meaningful. This past year, I’ve often had a sense of blurry images coming suddenly into focus — or waking up. I’m hopeful for the future and feel as though we’ve crossed some threshold and theres no going back. Because it’s all slowly crumbling, I spend a lot of time thinking what a new vision of the world could look like, and how I might infuse that vision into some music.

This spring is the 10th anniversary of Tomboy. What do you remember about making that album?

More than anything, I remember the room and the dimness of it. I remember being in the states with my family right before it came out, and what a cold winter it was. We were there so Animal Collective could work on new music together (eventually Centipede Hz). My nose bled a lot. That spring was the first time I met Pete Kember. We’d been writing online but hadn’t been in the same room yet.

I remember you saying in an interview about Tomboy a few years back that you have mixed feelings about how it turned out, and how it was received. Do you still feel that way?

I suppose I do, but I think I feel that way about most of the music. I don’t know that it’s worth dwelling on that kind of thing. Feels kind of silly especially these days.

During previous conversations we've had, you've sometimes expressed uncertainty about the quality of your own work. Why do you think you feel that way sometimes?

I just want the stuff to be good, and there’s so much out there. I don’t think that being relevant and being good are the same, and I can live with something not making such a big splash — you move in and out of synch with people — you just want enough return to go and make the next one. At the end of the day, I feel like the work itself has to be enough.

Tell me about the remix you recently did for Angel Du$t's "Never Ending Game."

I met Justice before a Panda Bear show, and he seemed cool. Jack Babnew, who I work with, manages Angel Du$t and asked if I’d work on the remix. Being home all year, I’ve been able to take on way more stuff than usual. I did a bunch of collaborations, mostly vocal stuff. We’re nearly done with a new Animal Collective record, and I’ve been making stuff with Pete.

I've always loved your remixes and think you have a unique approach to making them. Tell me about what goes into remixing a song for you.

I usually like to make my own song from pieces of the O.G. track. Sometimes that doesn’t feel like the right move and I’ll go a more traditional path, but usually I feel like it’ll be more exciting to make something new rather than recompile.

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Jamie Larson