“Don’t say you’re in ‘a psychedelic experimental band’ when going through customs,” says the artist better known as Panda Bear, a member of veteran psychedelic experimental band Animal Collective. No matter how accurate the description may be, it’s not worth the puzzled looks and extra searches. “Always say you’re in a rock band.”
Lennox should know: He does quite a bit of traveling these days. A long-standing fan of the European way of life, Lennox moved to Lisbon, Portugal, eight years ago. He’s now 3,500 miles from Baltimore, where he and bandmate Josh Dibb, aka Deakin, first met in elementary school. The entire quartet is now spread throughout the world, with families, side projects and record labels to tend to. Naturally, that makes getting together to record its hyper-hallucinogenic art-pop a lot more difficult.
“The way I’m feeling right now, I wouldn’t want to do the same thing again,” Lennox says of the recording process for its last album, 2012’s Centipede Hz, which saw the group reuniting in Baltimore under one roof. “It was enlightening on a bunch of different levels, but the pre-planning and logistics were tedious.”
At this point, though, distance might be the only thing keeping Animal Collective from breaking apart. Over the course of 15 years, the band—rounded out by David “Avey Tare” Portner and Brian “Geologist” Weitz—has turned out to be far more influential than anyone could’ve guessed when it first emerged from Maryland, playing noisy, acid-damaged freak-folk abstractions that contorted even the most avant-garde notions of songwriting. Across its first eight albums, the group shifted musical paradigms until, by 2009’s critical milestone Merriweather Post Pavilion, it achieved something resembling pop.
Never content to stay in one place very long, with Centipede, Animal Collective returned to the chaos of its earlier work, though that may have been less of a premeditated choice than a result of the circumstances of its creation: Listening to the album, you can sense a newfound friction, of four brilliant musicians, now all with individual concerns of their own, forced to spend two months crammed together in the same room.
And so, the ability for the members to put some miles between each other when not on the road or in the studio might be the best thing for the group’s health. Lennox, for his part, seems built for Europe. He gathers ideas on long walks or drives through town. He is concerned about more than just songwriting. He focuses on things that will help the band in the long run, like, say, mastering a new instrument, or finding use for a new piece of gear.
Recognizing each other’s roles and accepting certain responsibilities is a big reason Animal Collective has managed to make it this long. Maintaining that democracy is crucial. Much of the band’s music has collaborative origins, including the new material they’re exchanging now, remotely.
Animal Collective will always be the sum of its complicated parts, even if those parts have more commitments now. And if an ocean of separation helps them keep it together, well, then, so be it.
“Being in a band is like being in a serious romantic relationship,” Lennox says, rehashing that well-worn cliché in a tone indicating just how true it really is. “You really see the best and worst of each other, especially on tour.”
Tickets and official site: musicfestnw.com
SEE IT: Animal Collective plays Pioneer Courthouse Square at 8:30 pm Friday, Sept. 6.