Random Rules: Animal Collective's Panda Bear

Random Rules: Animal Collective's Panda Bear

The shuffler: As a member of the unhinged art-rock band Animal Collective and as a solo artist, Panda Bear crafts mesmerizing sounds that play like ritual music from a wild, woodsy world. He's been on the radar this year, from his current home base in Portugal, with his solo album Person Pitch and the new Animal Collective record Strawberry Jam.

Basement Jaxx, "Good Luck"

Panda Bear: I like Basement Jaxx a lot. They're cracked out, really intense and hectic. It's hard for me to choose between Basement Jaxx and Daft Punk—I wouldn't say they're doing the same thing, but they're coming from similar places: pop music and dance music together. Rooty and Discovery came out around the time I was working at [New York record store] Other Music, and as soon as we got them in the office, I thought those jams were so awesome.

The A.V. Club: Had you listened to much dance music at that point?

PB: Some, yeah. I really liked Orb when I went away to high school. I lived with this family that went to an alternative education school, and the eldest son of the family left all these CDs when he went off to college. UFOrb was one of the things I got really into as soon as I put it on. That was my introduction to music that was really mechanical-sounding, monotonous but in the best way, with trance-inducing rhythm. People talk about it as "psychedelic," but I don't even really know what that means, as far as music goes. I don't know how to define it beside "Something that moves in an organic way, with blurring edges." I'm not like a psychedelic virgin, but I'm not really a psychedelic warrior, if you know what I mean.

Erik Satie, "3éme"

PB: This is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Satie has written some of the saddest pieces of music I've ever heard, but in a good way. For me, he's pretty massively influential. I used to do a lot of little piano songs, and Dave [Avey Tare] from Animal Collective was like, "Do you know this guy?" I remember talking to my mom shortly after that, and she said he was my grandmother's favorite composer ever. I think she got into the bittersweetness of it. Maybe it's in my genes. It's happy about being sad, which is also really big here in Portugal. There's a whole genre of music called "fado" where almost all the songs are these bittersweet songs of longing, very nostalgic jams. It's overwhelming, in a way. I can't listen to Erik Satie all the time.

AVC: How has he been influential for you?

PB: It's really difficult to use his jams as a point of entry—they're a beginning or an end in themselves. But I've moved around every couple of years since I was 14, and I think that's made me this weird person who has an easy time feeling at home in a place really quickly and getting my bearings wherever I am, without thinking too much about where I've been. I have a hard time grasping bad memories from events that happened years ago.

Can, "Spray"

PB: And this is another one of those bands that people call "psychedelic," and I'm like, "Yeah, I guess." But I don't know. This is on Future Days, totally my favorite Can album, by far. There's a lot of Can jams I don't really get that into, but this is the one that if we're in the van on tour and this comes on, I get pretty psyched. I should say that I don't listen to music throughout the day very often. I don't own a record player. I don't really have a stereo system. Most of the music I listen to these days is on the web or on MySpace pages, stuff like that. I don't mean to make it sound like that's good. I wish I did listen to a lot of music; I feel like I'd be happier in some ways.

AVC: Do you spend more time making music than listening to it?

PB: I guess so. It's mostly like, "Maybe I'll fool around with the sampler today—that seems like a fun thing to do." When I worked at Other Music is when I gained my vocabulary for music. I worked up in the office, and there's a lot of guys up there who knew so much about music, all kinds of music that I'd never heard before. It was record after record all day for like three years, or five years.

AVC: Going back to the chugging rhythm in Can: You started off as an antic drummer in Animal Collective, especially live, before dialing down the past few years. Was that a conscious change?

PB: When I was playing drums back around Danse Manatee, the thing I was really psyched about was trying to play really short rhythms really fast, to the point where it just sounded like just another sound in the music, and not so much something that carried a rhythm. It was more these shaky, sharp noises I was into. But I saw a lot of other drummers who were way faster and way better than I was, and I sort of extended that idea to a point where sooner or later, it's not going to sound like anything. So rather than make my kit bigger, which is the logical thing to do, I thought it'd be fun to go the other way and simplify, to try to do more with less. I thought it would make me better, or maybe smarter, to really hone in on what I wanted to do, which was to complement whatever the music called for. There was a period where I wanted to sound like a drum machine, really simplistic but really exact. Then I got into putting delays on the drums, miking them myself and putting them through my little sampler. I got into playing locked rhythms and tried to practice that a lot.

The most inspiring drummer for me is Stewart Copeland from The Police. The Police are the first band I can remember really liking, and Copeland is a guy who was playing in sort of a rock band, or a rock-pop band, but he didn't want to do the traditional kind of rock drumbeat. He was doing all these kind of reggae rhythms, and the reggae style is almost an exact opposite of the rock mold of drumming, in that the hits of the bass drum and the snare drum are kind of switched. A lot of reggae drummers play the snare drum on the side, clicking the side of the drum. I got into that sort of thing a couple years ago, playing on the rims a lot. Although a lot of the clicky-clacky kind of minimal house music got me into that sort of thing, too. And hearing a lot of African music—those are like the most complex, crazy rhythms. You can't really copy that sort of thing. They're just sweet, sweet jams.

S.E. Rogie, "Advice To Schoolgirls"

PB: He's an African dude. It's just him and a guitar the whole time, pretty much. I got this from Eric [Copeland of Black Dice]. He gave me another record by this guy, called Dead Men Don't Smoke Marijuana. It's ripping, man. I remember playing it for Ariel Pink when I was on tour with him, and he said, "This is what you guys sound like." I was like, "Thanks!"

AVC: What do you respond to most in the African music you like?

PB: I don't know the technical words for it, but the most immediate thing is the kind of scales used. Whereas Erik Satie's music is like instantly sad, African music, just in terms of the kinds of chord changes and melodies that are used very often, makes me happy right off the bat. I'd really like my music to be like that.

Phil Collins, "Sussudio"

PB: Phil is the same way in terms of just trusting an immediate response to the music. I feel like the way people react to music is the same way they react to people; you either respond to the person and trust them, or you don't. I can't put my finger on it, but I get into guys like S.E. Rogie or Phil Collins—even somebody like George Michael—whereas there's a lot of similar music that I won't get into for whatever reason. It's really difficult to for me to say why. The fact that [Collins] is really into what he's doing comes through somehow, and that resonates with me very well.

AVC: Do you listen to a lot of pop music now?

PB: Yeah. I get really into radio. My favorite stuff in Portugal is this boy band called 4Taste. They play simple rock songs, almost like Blink-182 but more subdued, not so rowdy. But the songs are really well-written, so you only have to listen to them once or twice, and every time after, you just sing along. That's a really difficult trick to pull off. I don't think just anybody can do that sort of thing. I can respect something that's done really well. The singer from that band came to a show I did here in Lisbon, I think because I mentioned them in an interview or something. So the kid came to the show and he was up on the stage afterward. I was talking to him, and there were all these photographers taking pictures of him and stuff. He came with his mom, which was pretty ripping. And he was like, "Yeah, your music is weird."