At first it was simple pop-rock songs. Well, lighter on the rock, really. "Then things got progressively weirder," says Noah Lennox, a.k.a. Panda Bear of the Animal Collective. AC members have known each other since grade school in Baltimore, but it wasn't until they all found themselves in New York for one reason or another that things got serious—and weird. If tape manipulations, sound collages and a genre commonly defined as "acid folk" are unfamiliar, "weird" might be a good place to start. Actually, the Collective is unconcerned with defining itself by genre and instead focuses solely on not repeating itself, bringing in elements of modern classical composition, prog-rock, jazz—you name it.
Though audiences often thought AC's set was improvised, most of it was planned in advance, with only mood and transitions between songs happening in the spur of the moment. This time around, Lennox and Avey Tare are performing a set of entirely composed material, with no improvised elements. In Lennox's mind, the songwriting "keeps things fresh." Don't expect to hear tracks from the forthcoming album due out in September. "The songs we're playing now are beyond that," he says. "We're way ahead of ourselves."
So did they set out to make nontraditional music, or is it just what came out? "It's a little bit of both," Lennox says. "There's not a lot of thought or chin-stroking put into the whole process." Lately, this is the Animal Collective formula: Someone comes up with a skeleton, the bones of a song. The other members add to it, until it's very different. Then they take it on the road, getting feedback from the audience and gaining a deeper level of familiarity with it. "There comes a point where I've played a song so much that I'm not thinking about it so much," he says. "Weird little things start to happen. You play a part different, and you realize, 'Oh, it's actually much sweeter that way.'”
Sweet, like AC's rise to fame. "When we were first starting out, I was like, ‘Man, if I could play in another country someday, then I would know that I've done it.'" The Collective's toured Europe a couple of times now. Even in Albuquerque, early buzz began about the show a couple of weeks ago. Three days before our interview, Lennox performed in Iowa City—and lots of people showed up. "I feel like our music is pretty weird still. The level of success has been shocking. Although, I feel like we've worked really hard. At least in some way, maybe we deserve it a little bit. Probably not, but maybe we deserve it."