Panda Riot son viejos conocidos en The JangleBox (Julio 201o). Desde entonces, algunas vicisitudes han pasado principalmente por su formación e incluso por su sonido. Mudanza a Chicago, cambios de formación que han desembocado en un cierto cambio de sonido. Incorporación de un batería -aunque no participa en todos los cortes-, lo que indudablemente dota a su música de una calidez, contundencia e inmediatez de la quizás antes careciera (Good night, rich kids).
Pero principalmente, Panda Riot han madurado hacia un sonido decididamente más cercano al Dream-Pop más Shoegazer (Amanda in the clouds, In the forest, Encrypted wilderness, Camdem line…), trazando un puente ideal (como señala la reseña de All Music) entre la distorsión de My Bloody Valentine y los ambientes y los juegos vocales de Cocteau Twins (Serious radical girls, Northern automatic music, MTWN Glass -regrabación de un tema de su Ep de 2010-, Black pyramids).
Un disco aprovechable pero en el que echo a faltar algo de la calidez de sus primeras grabaciones así como un más alto nivel compositivo en sus temas, que quizás pequen de una cierta uniformidad en su sonido y lastren algo una escucha y una valoración general más positiva.
“One listen to the first song (“Amanda in the Clouds”) on Chicago shoegaze combo Panda Riot‘s debut album, Northern Automatic Music, is enough to see that they studied their My Bloody Valentine records very closely, with time thrown in to absorb some lessons from the Cocteau Twins as well. From the Valentines they took the glide guitars and basic songwriting techniques, from the Twins they took glittering atmospheres. Though the template is well worn and many bands have used it to make really lousy records, the quartet does a fine job of creating a wall of sound that is impressively enveloping, but also bolstered by dynamic shifts and livened up by the occasional surprise (like piano dropping in here and there). They show an impressive level of craft and imagination within the tight shoegaze format, never allowing themselves to sound stale or merely nostalgic. Songs like “Black Pyramids” and “Mtwn Glass” have a surging beauty that a band just looking to rip off a sound couldn’t easily knock off. The one place the record stumbles a little is in the vocal department, not that Rebecca Scott‘s vocals are bad; the opposite is true. She sounds perfectly fine, but she needs to be buried deeper in the mix. Otherwise, it’s terribly hard to be swept away by the undulating guitars and woozy tempos when you can hear exactly what Scott is saying. Fix this on the next record and everything will be better, maybe even great. As it is,Northern Automatic Music is a fine debut that fans of shoegaze music should find quite enjoyable” (All Music)
Todd: The new record is brilliant. How long did it take you to write the songs on this album?
Brian: Thanks! The basic composition (voice, guitar, drum machine) for these songs came pretty quickly. The parts for ‘In the forest’ were written in about 30 minutes for example. But the whole album from start to finish took about 2 years. Most of the time was spent on getting the sounds right, adding little parts, taking stuff out, recording and re-recording guitars and drums, etc.
Todd: When we interviewed you back in 2010 (!) you indicated that you eschewed using a drummer because you didn’t want to be a “rock band in the traditional sense”. What made you change your mind?
Brian: I realize now that I was talking about the approach to the rhythms and drumming style. The addition of real drums was intended to give the songs a more powerful feel. As we started experimenting with José we found that a less is more approach is best with the live drums. He stands up and only plays a floor tom, a snare and a ride. Sonically, we spent a long time playing around and seeing how the electronic and acoustic drums could compliment each other. I always hated the sound of a real kick drum, so the album is all drum machine kicks, where as the tom sits above that frequency in a nice way.
Obviously replacing a drum machine with a real drummer makes a difference in the sound of the band, but how did it impact the songwriting approach on the new record?
The songs still have a hybrid of programmed drums and real drums. All of the songs still start with a guitar track and a drum machine. Songs like Serious Radical Girls and Amanda in the Clouds are a really good example of having drum machines and real drums playing off of each other. In the Forest is actually a blend of programmed drums and real drums as well, although you would never really know that by how it sounds.
The most exciting thing that we started doing on this album was treating live drums the same way we’d treat a drum machine. For a lot of the songs, José would listen to an unfinished song, play various drum parts for about 10 minutes and then we’d sit back and cut them up and essentially sample and re-arrange them. We both found it interesting to work that way because it allowed us to come up with parts that we would have never thought of if we just did straight takes. We like to take elements of electronic music and try to pull them off in a more organic way. The song “Someday” for example has José playing 2 different drum fills that we then sped up and layered over a 3 drum track. Rhythmically it gives it that real/unreal feeling.
Todd: Where’d you record the new album and what were you trying to accomplish sonically?
Brian: We recorded this album in a warehouse by ourselves. Its a pretty raw, totally acoustically untreated space. I recorded everything and then mixed it all on a laptop in Logic Pro. Because of this, we were free to experiment and do whatever we wanted. Sonically, I wanted everything to be as clear as possible. I didn’t want that smoke and mirrors vibe of a lo-fi recording. Because it was me alone recording everyone and mixing it did take some time, but it was necessary for the way we worked. A lot of the songs evolved and were written as we were recording. There was no plan or projected date of when something was going to be done. A lot of the demos for these songs in no way resemble the final versions. We’d maybe start with a guitar and a drum machine part, record real drums over top, cut them up, drop the original drum machine and add a new one, etc. So songs we’re being built up and stripped away throughout the whole process.
We spent a lot of time on the details–what tambourine sounds better on this part, where the mics should be and which ones sound the best on an amp. Everything was recorded with multiple mics. For one guitar part there’d be 8 mics on 2 or 3 different amps. The same is true for everything else, handclaps tambourine, shakers etc would be mic’d and recorded with at least 4-8 mics.
Todd: You’ve brought the vocals up in the mix for this record. Would you rather explain why you were burying the beauty before or just explain the decision to bring it to the front, now?
Brian: I think our approach to vocals varies from song to song. Maybe it’s just the way the songs are composed this time that make them feel this way. There was nothing conscious about that. Sometimes we treat them more like an instrument and sometimes they pop out of the mix because of the nature of the song.
Todd: Your videos have always been a great artistic vehicle for the band. Can you talk about the Black Pyramids video?
Brian: Rebecca and I started out making films. We don’t really have time to do that much anymore, but when we get the chance we’re all for it. We shot that video in the same warehouse where we recorded the album. We used this discontinued Fisher Price toy camera from the 80’s. It records these really pixelated, ghostly, noir-ish kind of images. I modified the camera so we could record it onto flash memory. The lack of detail of the image makes it very interesting to work with. Once you get used to working with what the camera is showing and not whats actually there its pretty fun. For example, in the video Rebecca is singing into a lightbulb! But the camera makes it look like some kind of awesome glowing microphone.
Todd: You did a split single with SPC ECO with Dean Garcia. Did you get to meet/talk to Dean?
Brian: We were briefly on a label called XD, and Dean’s band SPC ECO was also on that label. We had heard that Dean really liked our stuff and since we are fans of Curve, we asked if he would take a listen to a track, Serious Radical Girls, and do a remix for it. Thankfully, he said yes, and the remix he did was so spot on, everything we thought it should be. He’s a genius.
(An interview to The Dumbing of America)
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)