Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
“The music we make is kind of like the feeling where you’re drunk, and it’s after the party,” explains PANES’ Shaun Savage when we meet on a rainy winter afternoon, “It’s that bit. The drums sound like you’re outside a club – a nostalgia for the club, contextualising what are essentially love songs.”
“More of the comedown,” offers bandmate Tyson McVey, “That bit where you’re just about to go home.”
PANES make music that belongs quite unambiguously to London, a twilit pop music informed by house parties, smoking areas, and night buses home. It’s fundamentally rooted in the world of R&B, but the duo bring a pointed, electronically-charged energy to their sound, contrasting Shaun’s jagged production with Tyson’s assured vocal delivery.
“We started with songs,” Shaun says, “And they are essentially songs, with words, trying to convey a broad emotional crux. Framing these songs in the aesthetic you want is important, because if you produced the songs in a different way, it’d have an entirely different meaning – even though it would be the same words and structure.”
Shaun and Tyson had known each other for about three years before they even started considering making music together. “It’s not like we were great friends beforehand,” says Tyson, “It’s not like we’d hang out together. We became good friends through writing – which is a really nice thing.”
And they do seem to be very good friends: barely a sentence passes without one or the other interjecting with a jibe, a sarcastic comment, or even a compliment. It’s a sibling-like rapport.
“We spent a lot of time talking about how we don’t like things,” Tyson says, “We’ll text each other like, I hate it when… We hate all the same stuff.”
“I think having a good grip on what you don’t like is pretty important,” Shaun elaborates. “If you’re working on music by yourself, then having an idea of what you like is cool. But if you’re working with someone else – say if Tyson was into a certain strain of popular music that horrified me, that really upset me to listen to – then that’s a lot more challenging. If you’re collaborating, having a similar taste of what you dislike sounds like a negative thing, but it’s positive.”
Thankfully, both their tastes were up to scratch. “We realised that we had the same kind of…” Shaun pauses. “'References' is a bit of a shit word, but I guess we listened to the same kind of things. So we decided to write a couple of tracks – and they turned out to not be totally shit, so we decided to write a few more, and they turned out to be a bit better. And it feels like they’re always getting a bit better.”
“Yeah, I’m glad it’s not downhill from there,” Tyson says.
“I’m glad we didn’t peak at the first session,” Shaun replies, “That would be terrible.”
Good taste in music maybe shouldn’t come as a massive surprise. Tyson is Neneh Cherry’s daughter, and she grew up surrounded by “soul, Motown, and punk” from her mother’s side of the family. “I had a really good taste in music when I was little,” Tyson says, “And when I turned nine I got over that and it was just R&B and garage and hip hop for years. I went through a phase of liking really bad things. I got majorly into Christina Aguilera for a bit; I’m glad that’s over. What else? I liked really bad poppy dancehall bashment.”
SHAUN: “Poppy dancehall bashment? That sounds fun.”
TYSON: “No, the really bad stuff. Really poppy dancehall. I love dancehall and I always have and I always will. But I mean more like Wayne Wonder.”
SHAUN: “Wayne Wonder?”
TYSON: “There’s some really cheesy stuff.”
SHAUN: “I only know that one.”
TYSON: “It’s not that one. That one’s legitimate.”
SHAUN: “That’s a great record.”
Shaun grew up listening to drum’n’bass and hip hop before graduating onto UK garage and indie music. “I always remember having a really fundamental dislike of UK rap,” he says, “All that Braintax shit. I really didn’t like that. And then obviously grime struck me pretty seriously. I didn’t get any of the pirate radio stuff, because you obviously can’t get Rinse or Deja in Bristol. I had to pick up tapes.”
Shaun always played music – something that led to his involvement with the Hackney-based studio collective Flesh & Bone – but, perhaps surprisingly, Tyson didn’t. “I don’t play any instruments, which I think is really embarrassing,” she says, “A lot of people think we’re a really disciplined, musical family, which we’re not.”
“Yeah, but you are musical,” Shaun counters, “There are loads of instrumentalists who are shit musicians. You have a really nuanced grip on sound, rather than pissy guitar solos.”
“I was in a band with my mum and dad for three or four years,” Tyson continues, “It was totally different because I didn’t write any of the music. It didn’t feel like mine at all. I was really young and really nervous, and I didn’t really let go on stage – I would spend the whole time thinking, ‘What should I do with my feet that’s gonna look good on stage? What do I say that’s gonna sound good? Where do I look?’ Whereas now, slowly, I’m getting to the point where I’m not thinking, and I don’t really give a shit about what I look like.”
They admit that their working relationship is quite ad-hoc: PANES sessions generally have to be fit in between Tyson’s postgraduate studies, Shaun’s day job as a studio engineer, and Tyson’s habit of disappearing abroad on a whim. “We did one day a week every week,” said Tyson, “Until I went to Sweden to do an internship. It was meant to be two months, but it ended up being four and a half.”
Shaun and Tyson have the bones of enough material for “two or three EPs”, or maybe the start of an album. “I’d like to make an album,” says Shaun, “It’s something I’d like to look back on – ‘Yeah, I made an album.’ Even if it’s just the one. It doesn’t even have to be four or five.”
Admittedly when you’re a DIY band in London, it’s easier to think about a long player than it is to actually make one. “It’s about not having the time or money,” Tyson sighs, “[But] that’s something I look up to. When we get a chance to make an album, then we’ve possibly made it.”
“We’ve spoken quite a lot about the kind of record we want to make,” says Shaun, “It should be super fucking noisy, but then with these really beautiful R&B songs on top. Like a Suicide record, but an R&B Suicide record.” He pauses. “The least commercially viable record out there.”
Brown Rice released the 'Stills' EP on December 7th 2014 (buy).