Gold Panda’s debut full-length, “Lucky Shiner,” draws upon emotional connections to friends and family to spin a pulsing, textured set of portraits, crafted from flattened sampled textures in tiny slices. It’s a journey through a series of musical screens. The artist, out on Ghostly International, has already made a name in singles and remixes, but the full-length gives him room to tell a story. He spoke to us from the road — after a failed connection as he traveled through the communications blackouts of America’s Western deserts. We got to talk about how he assembles his music, why albums still matter and how he put together the narrative, the emotional connections behind the tracks, and even why having a dog as a distraction can be a good thing. So, as you listen to the record, thank Gold Panda – but thank his friends, family, and Daisy, too.
You can hear the full album stream before you buy, so you know what we’re talking about.
CDM: We’ve known your music through remixes and EPs, so it’s great to get to know you through a complete album. How did you conceive building that longer story?
I’ve always loved albums to be albums, really. I know it’s a bit cheezy nowadays. People are just making a collection of tracks that come together as an album.
But I wanted to have a story and a narrative. I wanted a beginning, middle, and ending for the album, and the same with each song.
It was made really quickly — in three weeks, in total. I did most of it in two weeks over Christmas. I went to stay at my aunt and uncle’s house, and they live in the countryside in Essex. There’s nothing to do. It’s a little village; there’s a few pubs, and there’s a local supermarket. It’s not far from London, but when you’re there, it does feel like it’s a million miles away.
I looked after their dog over Christmas and had my whole studio set up there. I have a really short attention span, so most tracks are done in a day, and then I’m bored with them. And if they turned out good, then they’re good, and if I think that they’re not really finished or whatever, then they get rendered to the hard drive and put into iTunes and sit in there forever.
I was never really a big fan of dogs before, so I kind of had this bonding with this dog called Daisy. She’d wake up really early and wake me up, and I’d take her for a walk, come back, start making tracks. And then after an hour or so, she’d want to go for a walk again or play. Every time I was getting into it, she’d kind of stop me and we’d go for a walk. It stopped me from overworking things, and I think that’s what made it — [the album's] more simple and more direct. It was good to have a distraction while I was doing it.
It’s all about relationships that I’ve had, and people that I know, and family. They’re the most important things to me in life — for finding out what I wanted to do in life. And Lucky Shiner is my grandmother’s name.
How did you get from the idea of family and loved ones to making a track? Was it something that was in the back of your mind, or did you make some explicit connection?
There are two tracks. One’s called “Before We Talked” and one’s called “After We Talked.” They’re about a friend. They’re all made with this really bad Yamaha electric organ that I got from eBay for like a pound. There’s loads of these ones. They’re all ex-church organs, school organs. And no one wants them any more, so they stick them on eBay. And then no one can pick them up, because they’re too big. So unless you’ve got a van, no one wants them. I won it for a pound, and then I got a mate to go and pick it up with me.
It’s this old wooden thing with pedals. It looks amazing, but it’s actually pretty rubbish. I like rubbish stuff.
My friend who was making music at the time, and the guy who had the van, he passed away.
I had always been making music. Before that, I was like — I’m not very good, and it’s just a hobby. And after that, it was like, well, maybe it’s something I could do. And I just gave up trying to get jobs. I said, okay, jobs don’t make me very happy. I’ll just live with my parents for a while, make a bunch of tunes and see what happens. It worked out good. And those tracks were just made with that one organ. And all the kind of glitchy sounds — it’s filled with dust, and it makes these crackly sounds when you turn it on or change the settings. So I just turned those up really loud to make the percussion sounds. Everything.
The other tracks, it was just in the back of my head. My family’s really close. It’s quite important to me.
I started getting that feeling, and then I immersed myself in it. Because I like albums to be albums, I thought — that’s a good feeling to have and to be experiencing. And then you get lost in it and think about it quite a lot.
Hopefully the next album will be about something completely different. Then it will turn out different, but still be Gold Panda.
It must have helped to be in this retreat, and work quickly. I know sometimes if you pick up an old track, it can feel kind of foreign if you’ve let it sit for a while. It must have helped to have everything in that compressed space of time.
Yeah – for me, if I’ve made a bunch of tracks over the course of the year, then they’d sound pretty varied, which is how the EPs were. They’re all quite different. I wanted to capture a certain sound or emotion at one specific point.
If I had made it over a year, it might have been more varied or in some people’s minds even better, but I think as an album, it wouldn’t work as well.
I do get the sense of different colors on the tracks, or that there is a palette – lo-fidelity sounds, somewhat exotic samples… is it the samples that provide that impression?
I think it’s from the samples. There’s a big Asian influence, or world music influence. You can sample anything, but I guess if I’m looking for old records, then stuff from the Middle East or Far East are really interesting. They’re stuff that I’d listen to anyway, and then just through listening to those records you find samples.
The tracks are quite varied, but I think they have a similar sound throughout, and a narrative.
You lived in Japan for a time – was that what kindled the interest in Asian music?
I saw the anime Akira when I was like fifteen. And then from there on it was just — anything, just more. Computer games like Street Fighter, and spending loads of money on the imports. And then finally getting to go there and being really inspired by it all. It’s a great place, and I think – just how it looks, the topography is really inspiring for me. Sorry, my girlfriend is yawning at me on Skype saying my interview is boring.
I should talk about sex, decay, and marijuana.
That’s okay, we’re all boring people, musicians and producers — this is stuff we geek out about. You certainly can talk about sex and drugs.
Well, sex and drugs — not really. I wish there was; it’d make it really interesting. I was single at that time, and I was in the middle of the countryside, so there wasn’t much sex going on. And drugs — I drink a lot of tea.
Ah — that’s the Asian influence there, large amounts of tea. So, aside from the tea, are you willing to reveal the sources of any of the samples, or do you prefer to keep them to yourself?
Maybe I’ll tell someone where my samples came from. I think at the moment, with this album the samples are so much smaller that it doesn’t really matter, because you’re not going to be able to hear them really clearly.
Well, to me some of the quasi-Asian aesthetic sense is the way you assemble the textures as much as it is the content. They become micro-sampled into a texture.
I know that you’ve said sampling is something that’s been important to you for a long time. So you had started using a sampler as a teenager — do you recall which sampler it was?
I think it was an Akai S950 — and then a 3000XL later. And then an Atari with Cubase 2 or something.
My uncle was making music. He was a producer — or he thought he was. Now he does music publishing. He set up one of the first MIDI studios in London with a friend. It was called Strong Room Studios. A lot of people record there now. It’s really funny when you get the brochure for the old place — it says state-of-the-art recording and sequencing, and then it’s just like a black and white Apple Mac computer and an Atari sitting there, and it just looks so dated now.
So he let me use his stuff, and I’d just sample all my Dad’s records, basically try to make sounds like Puff Daddy or something — really obvious loops with a drum beat.
We all go through stages like that, I think. Do you feel like there was a moment that you were past that, that you were more mature as an artist?
It’s probably just by sitting in a room and sampling. You start to realize that it doesn’t have to be this four bar loop, that you can do whatever, that what the technology can do change stuff totally.
You find you sample a lot less and make a lot more. You can take a little sound and make it something completely different. I like that. And I didn’t know any other way to make music. I don’t play an instrument.
You’re truly a samplist — or whatever we’d call that.
Yeah. And I just want to keep on doing that. I just love the sound of the vinyl crackle and buying old records, and then enjoying them, and taking them apart and putting them back together.
What’s your studio looking like now for this record?
It’s terrible. I haven’t bought anything. I’ve been doing a lot of live shows. I wanted to do it without a laptop. I had an MPC 2000, a Korg [ElecTribe] ES-1, a Line 6 pedal, a [Korg] KAOSS Pad, a mixer, and some other bits. But it was just like, I was loading every track off a Zip disk. And I’d make a lot of noise in the middle to wait for the next track to load. That was fun, but it came to, “hey, do you want to do a show overseas?” And I’d say, oh, well, I’ve got to get all this stuff there, and I don’t have a flight case, and how do I not break it?
And then I got a laptop, and put all the sounds in the laptop. All the sequences were in the MPC anyway. Now I can just trigger everything from the MPC. And I trigger a bit, and play a bit, and trigger a track and take away drums and put them back in. But it’s still really badly set up. I’m coming out of the headphone jack. I haven’t got a sound card. The main outs are coming out of the loop pedal, which is at the end of the chain. It’s just really bad.
But people seem to enjoy it. They seem to think it’s good. And that’s probably the most important thing.
I’d like to expand it. My studio’s just the same; I just sample everything into Ableton but have it MIDI synced with the MPC and the MPC does all the sequencing, and every time I push a button, it triggers the sample.
So the MPC is doing all of the sequencing, and Live is just slaved to the MPC and playing samples when it’s told to by the MPC?
Totally. It’s not like launching clips or anything; it’s triggering really small samples. And the MPC is just sending it signals to tell it when to play.
The samples are just sitting in Clips, then, in Session view?
Right, the samples are sitting in Clips. I’m really not tech savvy. I have no idea of what I’m doing. I learned with Cubase 2 on the Atari, and that was before audio. When Logic was around, I just didn’t understand what the hell was going on. I still don’t know what I’m doing.
There are certain advantages to that.
I think if I knew how to work everything, I’d just get lost. And I’d never finished a track, because there’d be so many ways to change it. I like to be limited.
I don’t have a studio. I just make it in my room, next to by bed. I really like that. I like there to be a window and light. I couldn’t work in a studio. I’d hate it, and the tracks — well, I’ve tried, and it just doesn’t work. I’m not really a person who’s into the studio thing. I like it to be a living room with a studio in the corner. I can just go and get a cup of tea or watch a bit of TV when I’m doing something.
So you’re working on these tracks, you’re getting interrupted by the dog. How did you decide these tracks were done — was it sort of, at the end of the day, that’s it?
It’s usually like, at the end of the day, you bounce it down. It’s really funny — when I first made those tracks, they didn’t sound finished. You think, I could do this, I could do that. And then you don’t do it — and a few days later, you’re like, ah, okay. And now, listening to them, they sound finished, but at the time… I think you’re just too close to it, because you’ve just made it.
Sometimes you can hear something in the arrangement, and say, that is really not right, I don’t like that bit. And so I’d come in and edit it out. But I don’t remember doing that too much.
I make sequences in the MPC, but I don’t really make a song often. I usually just press record and play through the sequences in an order. Sometimes you get the wrong sequence, but then when you listen back to it, it actually sounds good, so you leave it in there. And then that’s the track done, really. Arranging the track is really hell for me. It means sitting down, looking at the screen, and deciding, when shall this drum stop? And it’s rubbish. I hate that bit. I just make loads of sequences on the MPC and cycle through them in the order that I think will be right. And then I do some edits afterward, and maybe take away a drum or reverse the sound.
There is a sense of a song structure in these tracks, but it’s sort of playing around with the MPC until it sounds right?
Yeah, totally. That’s it.
How do you determine the order of the album?
The order was completely different at first. I was scared to put “You” first, because everyone had heard it. I was originally going for a long, drawn-out intro to the album. And then listening to that track now, I’m really glad I didn’t do that — it’s just straight in, like the sound of a disc loading. The rest just came together quite easily after that.
It’s funny, as we talk about albums, because you’ll hear people pronounce the album dead, or say they don’t listen to albums any more at all, only singles. When you think of albums that inspire you, what do you think of? What’s just one you’ve listened to lately?
One of the main ones is Manitoba — “Stop Breaking My Heart.” I just feel like that one is just brilliant, beginning to end, a cohesive album. Every track is just the same but different, the same sound or feeling. The artwork’s great… I think if I had to pick one that I can think of recently, that’d be the one for me.
The album is not dead, in other words.
Yeah, it’s not. And it won’t be for ages; I don’t think it’ll ever be.
Do you think that there’s a length albums should have, given in the age of digital it can be anything you want — 12 hours long, 12 minutes.
We had a rule when I started and I was mixing the tracks with James. We had a joke that any album longer than one side of the C90 cassette was too long. And I’ve just gone over; I’m at 47 minutes. But then we decided, oh, it’s all right — tapes…
Right, on the C90 you’d get a little bit of extra tape.
Yeah, [or] you just have to cut out the gaps when you’re dubbing it.
Well, it was just a joke we had.
I think a half hour is great, as well — half hour, forty minutes, forty-five. They’re all good. I’m just a sucker for numbers. I couldn’t have ten tracks on my album; it’d drive me insane. It would have to be nine, or eleven. Eight’s cool. I don’t know why that is; I can’t do ten.
That could be another Asian influence — the numerology is there.
Yeah. But I’m terrible at math, unfortunately. I’m just particular about some things.
Buy the album, find more here… and apologies to your girlfriend, Gold Panda; entirely my own fault, that’s a somewhat abrupt and boring way to end an interview. Perhaps I need a dog to go walk. But happily, the music is great.
http://www.luckyshiner.com/ [with a free MP3 with mailing list signup, as well, see below]
Official Gold Panda site: http://wearebrilliantlydifferent.com/goldpanda/new/
Gold Panda Live
From our own Primus Luta, here’s Gold Panda live last week at the Decibel Festival.