Since his debut album, Lucky Shiner, was released in 2010 Gold Panda has achieved the not-easy status of remaining at the sharp edge of electronica without being lost in a world of hype and overstatement. Having released two album this year, Good Luck And Do Your Best, and Kingdom the artist is once again proving that he doesn’t consider the rule book or regular commercial approach to things like an album cycle.
Exhaustive touring and a prolific approach to craft have contributed to making Gold Panda one of the year’s most compelling artists to catch live. It was during this year’s FYF that ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with the electronic artist to discuss a broad scope of topics, from the life and influence of Japanese culture to life on the road to just how to be a decent neighbor in this sometimes difficult, modern world.
Christopher Friedmann: You’re just starting a tour and have released two albums already this year. How are you feeling? Exhausted yet?
Gold Panda: I feel alright ‘cause it’s not as grueling a tour schedule as I’ve done before, so we just did six shows in a row – well we had three days off in the middle, so that was easy. I think I put a lot of work in in previous years and went to a lot of place that are maybe not-main cities, so yeah it’s good. This time I’m just doing key places or whatever, I guess.
It sounds like a cop out, but it’s really just… I don’t know, touring is really tiring. It takes up a lot of time and it makes me really tired. I just want to make music. I feel like I want to spend most of my time making music, that’s where I’m happiest.
CF: As stated before, you released two albums this year Good Luck and Do Your Best and Kingdom. Good Luck and Do Your Best was planned out far in advance, while Kingdom seems to have just come to you in a moment. That being said, what are the similarities between the two projects?
GP: What are the similarities? I don’t know. I thought they were completely at odds with each other. That’s why I thought Kingdom would be good to release. I think when I was making Good Luck and Do Your Best there was overwhelmingly positive and happy and that really worried me, so I wanted to make stuff that was a little more free and a little more improvised, and less… I didn’t have to mix it so I just recorded stuff very freely and just stereo takes and then sent it to someone who gave it like a stereo mix… Just to get away from that album format, making an album.
CF: Initially you went to Japan with a photographer to start putting together what you thought would be an audio and visual piece, which turned out as Good Luck and Do Your Best. What is it about the landscape and culture of Japan that draws you to it?
GP: It’s a bunch of things, but I remember being on trains and just looking at scenery, and you get all these buildings – they’re all the same – like flats basically, lots of flats, apartments, they’re all the same, all the same, then every time there’s like one that’s slightly different, someone would have left their washing out or something, so I always thought that was a good way to approach arranging music. You get repetition, repetition, and then one thing’s out of place, and you never see it again, so like something will happen once in a track and it never repeats, so that was a visual aspect of it. It’s completely abstract to our life, I don’t know, there’s no explainable way, I just like the feel of it. It’s just an inspiring landscape.
CF: You describe Good Luck and Do Your Best as “quite motivational, quite positive.” How do you translate these thoughts sonically through your music and when you think of motivational positivity how do you see it and think of it?
GP: I think the main reason was to motivate myself to do something. It’s more about sample choices, sound choices, sound palette. At first I was embarrassed about making a happy, pop record, but I don’t think you can really control what you make. It’s more like, “This is the music I just made over a period of time and it sounded this way.” I think it depends also on the title Good Luck and Do Your Best, which was something a taxi driver said to me, and after that I was like, “Alright, I making this kind of happy music, I should continue this path,” that was a natural thing to do, rather than trying to make…
I really wanted to make a dark, abstract techno record, by the end of it I was like, “I guess I made this pop album,” pop for me, I think it’s this really melodic happy pop record, so I think it’s all arrangement and then sample choices, sound choices, maybe sound palette choices that give it a positive feel. It’s also the way you name your tracks.
CF: You recorded the album back in Chelmsford, but much of it comes from looking back on your trip. Do you feel a certain sense of longing exists in the spaces within your record – a desire to return or for times passed – or is it solely positive, and just a warm feeling of the present through your memories?
GP: I think it’s more of a nostalgic thing because my music is made in a sort of outdated way, like an old sampler, like an old MPC sampler that’s from the mid-90s. I don’t have anything really modern to make the last three records, so I guess, it’s kind of like looking back to 90s hip hop era that I was influenced by the most growing up.
The way they were putting tracks together by getting old records and chopping them up, so I guess it’s more… the sound of the record is kind of warm and that comes from the vinyl sampling. It has this crackle and these sound frequencies you can’t reach with modern. It just has this kind of warmth, this weird fuzzy feeling, and that was the idea behind Gold Panda, back to that kind of warmth.
CF: You describe Japan as having pinks and greens in the Spring, and you’ve have spoken of that L.A. dusk and neon feeling. We’re sitting in the L.A. dusk right now, what does it feel like, what are the colors most visible in your palette?
GP: We had it last night when we were driving in from SF, and just coming in there were all these clubs with neon signs about 20 miles out, like fast food restaurants and stuff and bodega signs and Coors beer signs. It kind of has this glow like an artificial glow from it. I can’t really explain it, but has this kind of relaxing…
CF: Luring you in…
GP: … Yeah, yeah. I guess I feel the same with Japan, but Japan’s earlier, way before it gets dark. Everything gets bathed in this kind of this I don’t know, some people said, “Maybe it’s smog.”
CF: Synthesia is a common discussion in the world of music. Do you always translate sounds to colors?
GP: I think it’s more of a natural thing. People seem to talk of it like it’s this remarkable phenomenon, but I think a lot of people experience it, more than we think. I can definitely put sounds to colors, which might… I think some people see it more vividly than others, but imagine the colors more. I guess maybe “Pink and Green” that track felt like pink and green to me. But I also think that maybe there’s a lot of people who are lying and they don’t see anything.
CF: Kingdom is quite different from Good Luck and Do Your Best. You were inspired to “write the EP by the recent EU referendum and an incident that happened to [your] Afghan neighbour.” Can you tell us a little bit how these two incidents affected you?
GP: I think it was just like I felt I made this really positive record with Good Luck and Do Your Best in the way it sounded. The arrangements are quite poppy, there’s a chorus, and I think I wanted to get away from that and do something free, and feeling darker, being into darker music, and that’s the way it came out.
Also, I used the money to buy my neighbor, who got his phone stolen, he wanted a phone basically and didn’t have much money, and he ordered this smartphone, so he could do emails or whatever and get his life back together and someone, the delivery driver maybe, stole it. So I used the money to buy him a new phone. I guess I just made something different to Good Luck and Do Your Best. As soon as you make something you want to do completely the opposite.
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