Interview: Gold Panda, “I’m Inspired By People Doing Everyday Stuff”

With his debut album Lucky Shiner being released almost six years ago now, Gold Panda certainly isn’t a newcomer. Where his debut albums introduced his sample based, electronic sound, his recently released third album Good Luck and Do Your Best, has taken this and built upon it masterfully. Citing Japan and classic hip-hop some of his major influences, we spoke to Gold Panda to talk about his recently released albumhis inspirations, his process and everything in between.

To start off, I absolutely love your new album, it’s just such a comforting, relaxing and for me inspiring project. Can you tell me a little bit about how it came together?

Well originally I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a third album, I didn’t know if I wanted to do something more abstract. I decided to do some field recording in Japan, basically any excuse to go to there really, I go there quite a lot. I was introduced to a photographer called Laura Lewis, who I invited to go with me. She took photos and I made field recordings, and the idea was to do a book with an mp3 link or something. We’re still going to do the book, with all original photos. I just ended up making music again because I didn’t have any pressure to make a record. It came together really naturally and organically, so it was nice.

In regards to your production, how do your ideas normally come about? Do you spend all day crate digging looking for samples or do things come more naturally?

Yeah I buy lots of records, especially when I’m travelling for gigs. Playing the records I’ve bought and finding little bits here and there and thinking that’d be a good sound. That’s the way I started making music, because I’m used to hip-hop. All the records I was into were using drum breaks, with loops here and there, and I just started to get really into sampling.

Taking very small little bits of sounds from records, and to remove the copyright infringement, making a new sound. Then it’s just putting that sound into the sampler, pitching it up and down, playing another record over the top, pitching it up and down on the record deck until I find something that achieves what we’re into, and then pitching it down over the top, and uhm. That’s it really.

*laughs* You say that so casually! You mentioned you love hip-hop and the sampling behind it, and you’ve mentioned before that you would love to collaborate with 90s emcees like De La Soul and Jeru the Damaja, how much does classic hip-hop influence you?

Quite a lot I guess, it’s what I listen to the most. If I’m travelling I’ve got a playlist on my phone called Fat Beats, and it’s got some powerful classic tunes on there – I never get bored of those tunes whether it’s Mobb Deep, Jeru, Onyx or Naughty By Nature. I guess it’s nostalgic for me, and that’d have to do with it being from my youth, my childhood. It’s never seemed dated to me for some reason, and I don’t know why. It’s just gained a sort of special place in my heart because of the time. All your emotions are in these records, your teenage anger or whatever.

Yeah I completely agree. So Good Luck and Do Your Best is your third studio album, how do you feel it relates your earlier work? Do you feel there’s been an evolution in your sound?

With this album I feel like I’ve cemented my ideas about what an album should be. With the last two I was trying to make a record that I don’t cringe at when I listen to, and in the last album I can still hear things that I don’t like about it. With this one, I just feel like I’m happier in the final result, and now I have three records that have a similar theme; similar in the sense that they’re all quite song structured.

I think on this one I was more expecting of what I was making, I came to terms with the fact that I couldn’t make banging hip-hop beats, and I can’t rap, and I can’t make cool futuristic electronic shit, because that’s just not where my head is at. I feel like by doing these three albums, that I’ve kind of completed what I wanted to, to make a record, and now I have three to move on and do whatever I want.

Seeing as they have a defined sound, are you planning to move on to something new?

Yeah hopefully, I don’t want to be stuck making the same album every time. If people don’t like what I make next then it’s fine because I’ve already got three records they can make use of.

That’s very true. In an interview a while back you said that you actually feel quite guilty and uncomfortable performing on stage with simply a laptop and a drum machine. Is this still the case, and does this ever work its way into the creation of the music itself?

I use the laptop more like a tape recorder, as if I’m just recording parts into it. Everything I do at home, this whole album apart from maybe one track, was done on an Akai MVP 2000 XL, and that’s pretty much it. When I play live, if was to put it all on the laptop and use a controller it wouldn’t feel right, I have tried it. So my live setup now is two MPC 1000s, one does percussion and drums, and the other does the melodies. One goes to a loop pedal and a filter and then they all go into a mixing desk. So it’s fun and good for improvisation, but I feel like with electronic music, unless you’re really going to improvise and do ambient soundscape stuff, it’s really hard to be completely free. There’s so much work that goes into making it, but when you perform it, there has to be some free set structure, but you simply don’t have enough hands.

Your approach to playing live does sound to be the most organic way possible, as a pose to simply pressing play on a laptop. 

Yeah I’ve got no problem with people that just press play though. The reason I do it is because when I do feel weird on stage, I try to avoid thinking about it, and the way I do that is keeping really busy, so that I’m not worried about looking up at the crowd and I’m more in the moment. If I have time to think about, I kind of freak out. I’d still rather not do it *laughs*

You mentioned before that one of your major influences is Japan. You’ve lived there twice, learned the language and travelled to the country over twenty times, what is it about Japan that gives you such inspiration?

It’s just become this place for me to escape to. The first time I went there was 1999 and I’ve been going back basically once a year, now twice a year. I’m still friends with the people I met on that first trip, and they’ve got kids now, and I’ve seen them grow up. I don’t know why, maybe it’s that same thing with hip-hop, in my teenage years I found something that I liked and just pursued it, and now it’s just become a part of my life, this inspiration.

The videos and artworks behind this project share that Japanese feel and are really beautifully made, reflecting such normality, as if they are simply a portrayal of everyday life. How important is the visual side of your work, and are they a fitting reflection of the music?

Yeah definitely, with this record I basically had more time to get these things made in comparison to the other records, where everything was happening really quick. There was no budget with this one, from doing gigs for years I had a bit of money that I put into the project.

Making a record, I don’t have an advance or anything, I pay for all the videos, the artworks, the mixing and mastering, and I just deliver it to the label. Then hopefully I can get my money back from doing gigs and possibly selling some records. I picked people who I think know me quite well to do the videos. The guy who filmed the In My Car video, he’s actually from the same county as me, the same area the same town. So we got on really well, and he knew exactly what I meant by the area and where I was living.

So as well as being inspired by Japan, I think I’m inspired by people doing everyday stuff; the normal jobs and the normal life. If you look at people’s lives on the Internet they’re all having a great time you know, everything is good. When I was making this record, it was basically ‘let’s get up and go for a walk’, and then I’d go into town and buy a magazine, get something for dinner, and then come back and make records, and then make dinner. Basically I had a working day, that’s what most people do, and I think there is beauty in that, but it’s not really reflected. You don’t see how is not dull until you really look at it from the outside.

Like you said, that’s something so evident within the In My Car video too, I mean at one point you were just making tea with your grandma. There’s something about it that just makes it work so beautifully.

Well actually originally I wanted to make a hip-hop video, have my crew drive around in the car and pour out some beers and stuff. Me being the big hip-hop fan, I thought that would be funny, and then I realised that it would maybe just be a bit stupid. So then I thought let’s just film what I’m doing everyday, normally, and that was the result. 

And it worked out brilliantly! Just finally, what are your plans for the rest of the year? Can we expect to see you over here in Australia any time soon?

Yeah just gigs mainly, and then Australia. I haven’t got any proper information of what’s going on, but probably either at the end of this year or the start next year I’ll be over there. I guess that’s when it’s festival time or whatever.

I’ve kept touring to a minimum this year, originally I would have been going around America for three months and I just basically said no to that, it’s not what I want to do. I just want to hurry up with the gigs so that I can make another record. You know, when you have a good gig it feels incredible, but when you have a bad gig you feel terrible, it’s a real emotional rollercoaster. So I’m trying to do less so I have more time to do music.

Make sure you have a listen to Gold Panda‘s full project below.

Image: The Astral Plane