TDOA: Apparently, thereʼs a story floating around about Panda Riot and Michael Stipe at the Athens Popfest in 2009. Letʼs hear it!
Brian Cook: Athens is a beautiful little town with a deep musical history. When we played the Athens Popfest we would we bobbing our heads next to Apples in Stereo or we’d go out for a smoke and start talking to someone and realize that they were part of Olivia Tremor Control. Its has a really unpretentious vibe. So getting back to the question, we were in the middle of a 2 week tour and we played a show with Twin Tigers which was really fun. As we were getting ready to play our set someone whispered to us “Michael Stipe is here.” So we played our set and he later came over to our little merch table and bought both of our CDs (She Dares All Things and a CD-R of what was roughly to become the Far and
Near EP) It was really an honor to know he dug our music and to meet him. He hung outside for the next bands set, but we were still way too intimidated to go up and talk to him.
TDOA: Where does the name Panda Riot come from? I imagine a sweet parade of attack pandas.
BC: The name Panda Riot actually came from a friend’s band at the time. They had recently formed and decided on a different name. We were talking to them and they rattled off a list of rejected band names that they didn’t go for and Panda Riot was one of them. On a side note the band name game–where you come up with new band names and
imagine what the band might sound like–is a game we play a lot, especially when stuck in the car on tour (like our friend Christian’s imaginary German electronic band, Sex Ox). Panda Riot just felt like the music we wanted to make. I don’t even think we had written a song at that point.
TDOA: Iʼm sure you guys (and girl!) have been talked to death about your cover of “Paper Planes,” but I just have one question: what was your vision for that song? I mean, you managed to make the catchiest damn song around catchier!
BC: We had never really done a cover before Paper Planes. To us the best covers use the original version as a jumping off point. The Paper Planes song had become so saturated with remixes and covers that we decided if we did it it would have to really be ours. We wanted to really slow it down and take out the club aspect but still make it bouncey. That’s all we had in mind before we made it. The version that you hear on the internet is just from a live session we did with WOXY radio. We have never properly recorded it, but i think the spontaneity of the recording is fine with us.
TDOA: Speaking of girl, Rebecca, whatʼs it like being in a band with two dudes and a drum machine?
RS: Well, now Melissa is in the band so we’re 50/50. That drum machine can be really sexist, though, always shooting down my ideas, telling me I’m too emotional, and yelling at me to bring it beer and chicken wings.
TDOA: Can you talk a bit about the much ballyhooed “shoegaze” scene in Chicago? From whence did it come and do you perceive it as a “movement”?
BC: Well Rebecca and myself (Brian) started out playing as Panda Riot in Philadelphia. When we moved to Chicago we added Justin on bass and later Melissa on aux percussion, which made us dancier and more beat driven. As far as the shoegaze scene in Chicago goes, we weren’t really aware of many bands into that type of music at first. But now we’ve been beginning to hook up with other ‘shoegazey’ bands like Apteka and Sissy Mena. Up until recently, it’s like all of the shoegaze bands have been working in parallel without really connecting. But, we’re hoping to change that.
TDOA: How did you come to use a drum machine rather than a live drummer and are there thoughts of adding a drummer at some point?
BC: We’ve always loved early hip hop like EPMD, Rakim, and things like that. So when we started Panda Riot we new we wanted to have that drum machine feel to it. We didn’t want to be a “rock” band in the traditional sense. We were more excited about making people dance. From time to time we consider adding a live drummer, but we’ve found that programmed drums and live drums don’t really compliment each other the way we’d like them to. That being said, Melissa has added a really nice organic feel to our live
sets. She plays various tambourines, Bells, shakers and the occasional snare which really blends in nicely.
TDOA: Most of the reviews Iʼve seen have called your music dreampop. Do you agree, or is there some combination of genres you think better describes your work?
BC: It doesn’t really matter to us. If people hear aspects of our music and want to label us dreampop or shoegaze that’d fine with us. If you wanted to know what we consider ourselves i guess you could call it swirl-pop.
TDOA: The Motown Glass video is absolutely incredible. Like, best Iʼve seen in a very long time. Where did the concept come from, and who did all the drawing?
RS: Brian and I originally made films together, and we knew we wanted to do a video for one of the tracks from the Far and Near EP. When our first record, she dares all things, came out, we never really had the time to do a proper video for any of the tracks, so there’s just a couple fan-made videos floating around.
We started with the idea of us in front of a green screen with random images behind us.
At the time Brian was working on the cover art for the EP drawing images with a tablet.
BC: It was weird but I hadn’t drawn anything since I was a little kid, but I was really enjoying it. Looking at the cover art we decided to combine it with the idea of the green screen. We went to a fabric store, bought $25 worth of green fabric had everyone come over one day and just filmed ourselves playing. Then I drew all the buildings, trains etc and used Apple’s Motion to composite it.
TDOA: Your Myspace page and Website have different lineups – who exactly is in Panda Riot currently?
BC: Brian (guitars and drum machine), Rebecca (vocals, keys, and guitar), Justin (bass) and Melissa (auxiliary percussion and backing vocals)
TDOA: What do you want TDOA readers to know about Panda Riot? Some good, quirky trivia would be nice!
BC: Hmm…quirky trivia:
- The earliest Panda Riot songs (really pre-Panda Riot songs) can be found in a YouTube video called “Dolphins and Porpoises” that stars our friend Dante and a bunch of paper airplanes (way before the MIA song).
- We have a 0 tolerance policy when it comes to panda imagery
- 50% of the band are getting PhDs (Justin- Psychology, Rebecca- Philosophy)
- We often use a William S. Burroughs style cut-up machine for lyrics.
- Our cat Seymour is the secret dictator of the band.
TDOA: What’s next for the band? Aspirations of signing with Sub Pop, Warners, etc.?
BC: Our plan is to keep putting out EPs as often as we can. We could have put out a full length instead of an EP, but we really enjoy the format of an EP. They are like little novellas. Doing EPs gives us more freedom to experiment and make each one have a distinctive feel. We also recently finished our first film score for a short film called “Apocalypse Story,” which should be hitting the Festival Circuit by mid-summer. We’d love to do more of that in the future as well. I’d say we’re more focused on making music than on getting signed, but if someone approached us and wanted to put out a record we’d be all for it
La música de Panda Riot es algo así como un caramelo envenenado, es la misma fórmula utilizada por gentes como The Pains of Being Pure at Heart o School of Seven Bells, con ligeros retoques: voces angelicales, bases sonoras profundas, teclados más o menos envolventes, ruidismo y distorsiones a tutti-plen para acompañar las melodías perfectas perpetradas por estas dos parejas de Chicago, que añaden ritmos secuenciados en todos sus temas. Una fórmula que no es nueva, ciertamente, pero que lleva funcionando desde los buenos tiempos de Cocteau Twins o My Bloody Valentine. Los seguidores del sonido Shoegaze estamos de verdadera enhorabuena desde hace tiempo, y vamos a seguir estándolo, a tenor de los buenos discos con los que nos vamos encontrando últimamente. Éste segundo lanzamiento de Panda Riot no es una excepción, y tiene todos los componentes que adoramos en el género, ciertamente. Motown glass, Julie in time, Streetlights and you and me, Parallax, When you said/When I said, 16 Seconds son temas que no deberías perderte, como buen devorador de Shoegaze que seguro que eres.
“Panda Riot, a four-piece out of Chicago (well, technically a five-piece – they consider the drum machine a member…), recently released their latest EP, Far & Near, and it’s some sunny (I know, as if you needed MORE sun) dream pop, closely aligning itself with the sound of much-hyped School of Seven Bells.
The delicate, chilling voice of lead singer Rebecca Scott holds down the ethereal fort and weaves in and out of consciousness along with each song. We tend to exaggerate the word “dreamy” when discussing music these days, but I’m currently looking out the window of a train and my imagination has instantly sprung to life. It’s kinda hard to type coherently, actually. So, just listen with me” (knoxroad.com)