Gold Panda interview: “I don’t know where music fits in. But it does, somewhere.”

07.01.11 Words by: Charlie Jones

A few months ago, I sat down with Gold Panda over a bad steak in a rotten part of London before he played a show supporting Caribou at the Corsica Studios. Because he’s a nice bloke, and a fairly stunning musician, it wasn’t too unpleasant. This was a few weeks before his album, ‘Lucky Shiner’, now one of the best of the year, was announced, and he seemed in good spirits. Quick to joke, quick to laugh and self-effacing to the last, he spoke with the steady yet sensitive purpose of a man who’s had more than a brush with the blues, a guy who’d spent his time being a bit too brutal about the way he was. He talked about his black dog fairly frankly, and Derwin’s struggle with depression is worth mentioning here, because his music is so sensitive, and so alive to his own, restless mind and the experiences that shaped him and a man and a musician.

Recorded mostly while Derwin was living with his Auntie in the home counties, ‘Lucky Shiner’ is an album full of tension and release, a record mark by twin desires to knuckle down and drift away, between mistake and purpose, between self-frustration and satisfaction. Like many records this year, it was recorded at home, but unlike many, its delight comes from the fact it sounds like it stayed there. It’s a parochial album, fascinated with itself and the minutiae of life, but underneath the subtle, sleepy modesty, underneath that agitated hmmf home gives you, there’s metallic yearn for more, for the world and everything in it.

It’s an observational record, an interior record, and a record looking for action and place, and if I had to guess, that’s why it’s struck a chord with so many people, that and the fact that it sounds really, really good. We did this interview when he was supporting Caribou – now he’s a headliner. He’ll be bringing out the last single from Lucky Shiner, Marriage, in February and is working on new music in between touring.

How’s it all going?

Wow, what do I say to that? Yeah, it’s going all right. Been playing live quite a bit recently.

Oh yeah? How is that?

Yeah, good. Still seem to get a lot of weirdos coming along.

What do they say?

“You’ve got a stupid hat on.”

How horrible.

Yeah. Got that a lot in Nottingham.

What did you make of it?

To be fair, it is a pretty stupid hat.

But what did you say to them?

I said, “Where’s your fucking hat?”

Good comeback.

They’re not allowed to wear hats indoors, see.

I see. How do you find touring?

Terrible. I hate it. It’s not the travelling I mind, I just don’t like playing live, but it’s the only way I can stay alive.

Financially?

Yeah. I just don’t like standing in front of everyone playing my tracks. Just tracks I made in my bedroom, not intending on releasing out into the world, never thinking they would reach a wide audience. It’s strange people expecting you to be amazing. How do I make it amazing?

It’s surprising that. Because you are very good live.

Oh? Thanks!

I must admit that it wasn’t until I saw you at Fabric ages ago that it all clicked into place.

Yeah, I was scared it was shit. Maybe I’ll never get over that. I just need to practice. I always have so much to do, and only get round to it in the last hour before leaving.

Do you procrastinate a lot?

Yeah.

Me too.

I’ll just sit around watching films and playing computer games. Actually, I’ve been pretty good with computer games lately. I’ll just walk around. Walk around my room. When I’m making a track or I have a great loop it’s difficult, because it’s hard to work out how to make it into a song, I guess that’s why people say that they have a strange structure, it’s because I don’t plan it out beforehand, I’ll just make it, then edit bits I don’t like out, add a random sound here and then.

Is that how you work then? Steady accumulations?

Yeah, it’s just a mess. I’ll just muck around until there’s a mistake that sounds good, and I’ll keep that bit.

So, improvisation is important to you?

Yeah, totally. With Infinite Livez, we used to perform together totally improvised, him freestyling and me making it up as I go along. Still get terrified there though. It always gets to about ten minutes through and I wonder what else I can do for the next 40 minutes.

It’s always struck me that rock musicians have a set list of Moves To Do On Stage, whereas electronic musicians don’t, not really.

Yeah! I’ts a shame I can’t put my foot on the monitor and shake my hips with a guitar.

You should come up with a set of moves. Devise them.

I should! But I always break stuff.

I wanted to ask you about Japan, and how Japan influenced your music.

The Akira soundtrack totally influenced my music. But indirectly, probably the feeling of living in Tokyo – it’s such a lonely city, such a huge city with a lot of people, but still really lonely. Part of it is being a foreigner and not really being accepted, but I think it’s the same for Japanese people too. Actually, I feel the same in London, but I don’t feel that in the countryside.

You moved out of London recently, right?

Yeah, to a little village called Coggeshall in Essex, between Colchester and Chelmsford.

I heard something about that place. Isn’t there a phrase about the daft things that happen there?

Oh, maybe! It’s apparently the stupidest village in the country. There’s stories about people chaining a wheelbarrow to a gate after a rabid dog bit it to stop it biting anyone else. Or grazing a cow on a thatched roof, or something.

I love that! It’s what I love about the countryside. Everyone thinks that rural life is sleepy and boring, but villages are a hundred times crazier than cities – vendettas centuries old, customs that go back to the ice age.

Yeah, and you see such non-sensical stuff in the countryside. Fields empty, or full of porno mags. Or lampposts on their side, just weird stuff lying about.

Fields are always full of pornography. So strange. I always wondered about the mental process that leads a man to deposit a porno mag in a hedge.

Country hedgerows are where weird stuff ends up. I went walking the dog over Christmas and there was a field full of surgical gloves. Hundred, thousands of them in this hedgerow. And you’re looking, thinking “What happened here? What on earth took place? A massacre? A massacre of surgeons?”

Did you ever get to the bottom off it?

No. The next day they were gone. It’s the thing I like about the countryside actually, the way you’ll just happen across something in forest totally out of place, because there’s no-one around to rectify it.

[pause]

I think I tend to notice those things more. I always like repetition, and when you notice something out of place. Like in Japan, you have these huge flower pots that are outside everyone’s house, and when you see the landscape, full of buildings and these odd flashes of colour, it seems similar to the way you make music, the way music is sequenced.

What else did you like about Japan’s landscape? Or cityscape?

It’s usually the houses I notice – this vast sky, and just these tops of house under the sky. I don’t know why, but I loved how that looked. My friend lives in the next prefecture along from Tokyo, as Essex is to London I suppose, and just walking around the streets at night, you get a real sense of loneliness, of emptiness. Every asleep, alone.

Is loneliness important to your music? Is it solitary music?

I used to get depressed a lot when I was younger. I’m still dealing with it, I just don’t want to see anyone, don’t want to do anything. And I guess I made music that soundtracked how I felt – I didn’t want to hear anything with lyrics, just music. My friend says it sounds happy, so maybe it’s me trying to be happy. I don’t know.

Does it sound happy to you?

Maybe. A lot of songs are made up of one sample, pitched up or down and looped – so even though the original sample might sound melancholic, together with the rest, it can sound comforting. So maybe more like a happy sadness. It’s a strangely comforting thing, feeling sorry for yourself. Maybe that’s why people get stuck in it, in a way. You’re scared of being happy, in case that happiness disappears, so you extinguish it yourself.

Where does music fit in?

[Laughs] I’m not sure. But it does, somewhere.

Wichita will release Gold Panda’s Marriage in February. His album, ‘Lucky Shiner’ is out now.

READ GOLD PANDA ‘DIVINE INTERVENTION, INNIT.’

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