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- Posted on Apr 29th 2011 12:00PM by Theo Spielberg
"I didn't really understand the concept of the album as a piece of music or a group of songs that all worked together in some way, or worked towards some kind of ultimate goal," he tells Spinner of his formative years as a musician. "An album to me was more just like a mix of songs."
In many ways, his 2007 breakthrough, 'Person Pitch,' was the complete inverse of his former view of albums. The blissed-out loops and reverb-soaked melodies blend into each other so effectively on the tracks that it becomes almost pointless to distinguish between songs. "['Person Pitch'] was a big mess of sound, like a big soup that I was hoping would swim around your ears or your head," Lennox explains. "Nothing really stuck out. Everything was just kind of floating around in this world."
In the four years following 'Person Pitch,' Lennox was relatively absent as a solo artist. He busied himself with Animal Collective as they recorded 'Strawberry Jam' and 'Merriweather Post Pavilion,' their two most acclaimed albums to date, and premiered the experimental film 'Oddsac' at Sundance. The melodies that looped and overlapped on 'Person Pitch' reappeared with more driving momentum on Animal Collective songs like 'Chores' and 'My Girls.'
The songs on 'Tomboy' seem to further narrow the nebulous 'Person Pitch' tracks into more straightforward arrangements. "The focus of what I wanted to do with the new songs was essentially take that soup of sound and just clench it in your fist, just compress it really intensely to get short little songs," he says. "I was really inspired by this album called 'Donuts' by J Dilla. The speed at which he'll move from one thing to the next is really fast."
The invocation of one of hip-hop's most influential artists may seem out of left field, but Lennox integrates it masterfully into his work. "I was definitely inspired to make something that felt like it was moving almost too fast, this relentlessly moving thing," he says. 'Donuts' is, after all, an instrumental album but Dilla's influence can be heard directly in the hip-hop beat that forms the background of 'Slow Motion.'
To describe the songs on 'Tomboy' as sparser would be missing the point. While the 'Person Pitch' soup is gone, Lennox serves up an album of small plates with the same sonic acumen as its predecessor. "I wanted to draw out a couple elements [from 'Person Pitch'] to be the structure upon which the rest of the sound was built," he says. "Instead of just having this mass of stuff I wanted there to be this crux to the sound. I wanted to do really simple, basic rhythms. That generally was the blueprint for all the songs."
For that change of gear, Lennox stepped away from the sampler he'd been using for songwriting and picked up his guitar. "I wrote all of these songs on guitar, except for 'Scheherazade,'" he says. "Both the last Animal Collective record and the Panda Bear record both heavily featured these things [samplers] for me. After a while, I started to feel like I was writing the same kind of song over and over again. Generally speaking, there weren't too many chord changes. They were all essentially drone songs."
When we mention that the 'Person Pitch' cut 'Ponytail' seems to fit the 'Tomboy' mold, Lennox goes straight into storytelling mode.
"That was the stepping stone for all the 'Tomboy' songs. That was the one song that is strange because it sticks out like a sore thumb on that album," he says. "It was the song that I came back to a lot, and was always in my head, even long after the album was over. It was the song that I always wanted to play live. There was something almost embarrassing about the lyrical content of it that I liked. It felt really exposed in a way that was really uncomfortable but there was a power to it that I really liked. I wanted to keep going in that direction both lyrically and as far as it being a guitar song."
The leaner structure of Lennox's new tracks allows his voice to stand strongly in the mix, giving the album a feeling of keen introspection. "A lot of the songs touch on the relationship of my life as a musician and my life as a person," he admits. "The way those two things are constantly working with each other, or how I'm constantly juggling those two things. Lyrically, that was big."
The contrast of his lyrical self-discovery and sharp arrangements ultimately informed the album title. "After I'd written maybe four sets of lyrics for the songs, I had this image of a tomboy as representing that whole juxtaposition of forces," Lennox says.
Now that the album is out, Lennox plans to focus his output on Animal Collective. "For me, it's strictly Animal Collective stuff," he says, before making it clear that he didn't intend to leave the record out there without tour support. "We've written a bunch of new songs and we're starting to tour here and there. I feel like the times where I try to do both things at once, the solo stuff and the band stuff, like I'm not giving myself fully to one or the other."
'Tomboy' is available now from Paw Tracks.