I first met noise-pop newbies Panda Panda, after their rocket-fuelled, jet propelled set at trendy Trondheim venue Blaest (which I can confirm was the best of all the Trondheim music venues I visited!), as part of the amazing line up for the Norwegian music showcase that is the Trondheim Calling Festival. Armed with just the faded memory of a solitary track that kept beating a distant drum at the back of a fuzzed up brain, I felt compelled to forego one of the biggest gigs in town, to see this as-yet unsigned band, with their clear, confident vocals and experimental indie sound brimful of youthful daring and exuberance. My decision didn’t disappoint.
Their performance – self-assured, dynamic, & hugely entertaining – was one of the biggest crowd pleasing energisers of the festival and had the crowd whooping, whistling and generally going crazy. Afterwards, we had a beer, a chat and some laughs – they were warm, friendly, smart, funny and above all, hugely enthusiastically optimistic.
Since that gig at Trondheim Calling, several things have happened. First up, Panda x2 has been signed by independent Norwegian label, Riot Factory, whose current roster, which includes the likes of Gold Celeste and Snøskred, is a veritable who’s who of the crème de l’indie crème of Norwegian music artists.
Secondly, Panda Panda unveiled a self-made visual for their musical calling card, ‘New Friends’, receiving enthusiastic reviews from the likes of Musikknyheter and Panorama.no. If this track, with its kooky vid, provided the ideal introduction to the band and their music, then the just released second single, ‘Halcyon Years‘, which you can hear below, is the perfect follow on.
Where ‘New Friends’ has a wistful, dreamy quality, albeit one blown asunder by a blaze of insistent guitars, ‘alien’ synth sounds and bursts of energetic, adroitly nuanced percussion, ‘Halcyon Years’ is a sparky, propulsive melee, a riot of sonic opposites which the band seem to have had a lot of frenergetic fun knitting together. With this punchy, feisty and zesty track, Panda Panda are clearly embracing their rockier, edgier side. Indeed, ‘Halcyon Years’ highlights the ‘beyond their years’ musical talent of this band not to mention a clearly voracious hunger for experimenting with divergent sounds.
Curious to know even more about both band and their music, I popped them some questions about making their video, future plans and who’s currently spinning on their decks. First though, a quick intro –
Panda Panda is Ragnhild Fangel Jamtveit – vox/synth, Håkon Brunborg Kjenstad – vox/guitar, Herman Wildhagen – vox/guitar, Jonathan Fimland Kleven – bass, and Oddbjørn Sponås – drums.
Guys, how did you get signed to Riot Factory and more importantly what did you do to celebrate? Did you have a signing party?
We started talking with Riot Factory back in 2015 after we released our first self-produced single, but only signed to them after making our EP, which we’re really excited about being released through their label. The guys at Riot are really cool, and it feels really good to be on the same roster as a lot of our fave Scandi bands.
As for celebrating, well, the plan was to go somewhere for a beer, but as it’s next to impossible to find a bar in Norway open to serve beer at 10am, we settled for some hot chocolate and ice cream at a local coffee place.
You’re only together a year! Wow. Do you feel that everything has happened rather quickly?
In a way none of us expected things to move as fast as they have. We basically started out in a basement a year ago with some noisy tunes, though in a way that feels like a really long time ago now. We’re extremely grateful for the things we’ve had the chance to do as we’ve had some truly amazing times, both in the studio and, at concerts and festivals, like Pstereo, Trondheim Calling and UKA.
Some of you guys are still in college/university. What will you do study-wise if Panda Panda takes off? Will your studies be shelved?
It’s impossible to say right now, but it would be cool if we did have to drop out of school because a world tour beckoned. 🙂
Ha ha, I bet. When we met in Trondheim you guys told me that both your influences, and original sound, were 90s Shoegaze. How would you describe your sound today, and who are the main references the various band members bring to the PP table?
I guess we were kind of a shoegaze band in the beginning, mind you only our two guitarists actually knew what shoegaze was to be honest. The music we make these days is quite different than when we started as we’ve been consistently evolving our sound through experimenting with different elements of noise and, a lot of improvisation.
What makes the process of creating songs with Panda Panda so interesting is that we all listen to, and play, completely different music outside of the band, which means each one of us brings something different to the table.
Håkon: Nowadays I listen a lot to acts like The Flaming Lips, Sparklehorse and Grandaddy, but for some reason I always make my way back to the legendary Motorpsycho. There are also a lot of cool new bands from the US, Alex G for example, I just LOVE his new record. 2015 was packed with great Norwegian music with new albums by Jenny Hval, The Megaphonic Thrift, Bror Forsgren and Maribel*.
Ragnhild: My influences range from Beyonce to Bob Dylan lots in between.
Herman: I’ve been getting a kick out of playing free improv and have just discovered a great guitar player called Derek Bailey. I’m also into Josh Homme’s “anti-solo” approach to playing guitar solos. I listen to a lot of soul, blues and jazz music, especially Ray Charles and Etta James. Queens of the Stone Age are a favourite.
Jonathan: I grew up listening to a lot of punk and rock bands like Black Flag, Dead Kennedys and Pixies, bands I still hold very dear. I generally like artists with an uncompromising f**k you attitude and sound, bands who are true to themselves in developing their sound, with a strong ability to communicate. This includes a large variety of artists, from Charley Patton, Son House etc. in the 30’s through to bands like Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth and The Replacements.
Oddbjørn: Bruce Springsteen!!!
You said before that your songs are like small stories about your lives. What story is ‘New Friends’ telling?
‘New Friends’ was written by Håkon during a transition from a quite chaotic period to a really good one. In its essence it’s about being bored and tired of routines, while waiting for something cool to happen, about observing human relationships while searching for some kind of authenticity. It’s also about good times.
You’ve made a video for the track. Where was it filmed and who came up with the ideas?
We spent most of our money on recording the EP, so we put on our best DIY shoes for the music video. We ended up borrowing a camera from Håkon’s mom and shot the video ourselves in a gymnasium at a local primary school.
Ragnhild came up with the initial idea for shooting the video in the gym, and then we figured out the rest together. None of us has any experience with video editing, so we asked Ranghild’s brother, who luckily was happy to help. He took some liberties in the editing process though, which resulted in some unexpected craziness.
You look as if you enjoyed making it. Was it a lot of fun?
Yeah, it was a LOT of fun. None of us had been in a primary school gym for many years, so we spent a lot of time just playing around. Synchronized dancing in burgundy tights was definitely a first, however it felt surprisingly comfortable. There were some kids outside the window that gave us the finger and then ran away. When they came back to do it again Ragnhild gave them the finger back. You should have seen their faces, haha.
Okay, so when everything has fallen into place musically, is there a timeline for going into studio and do you have any idea who you want to work with?
Hopefully we will finish an album sometime in 2017. We haven’t decided on the details yet, but we really enjoyed recording with Karl Klaseie** from Snøskred behind the mixing desk. We think it was a very constructive collaboration, so who knows, maybe we’ll ask him to work with us again. If one of us wins the lottery we’ll consider recording the album with Timbaland! 🙂
Ragnhild, you made the costumes for the Trondheim Calling gig in Blaest. Why was it important for the band to be androgynous on stage? Does it help detach your personal selves from your Panda Panda selves, or are they indistinguishable? Will you continue to make them?
I’ll probably continue making costumes for the band yeah mainly because it’s really fun. I made the costumes we have now a bit androgynous, not to detach our personal selves from the band, but simply because being gender neutral feels kind of liberating. And because it looks cool of course!
You’ve just released another single, ‘Halcyon Years’. Can you give us some insight into the background?
Sure thing. Halcyon Years has two thematic inspos. On the one hand it’s a bittersweet tune about a turbulent relationship, on the other it looks to the stories of the old testament. In the beginning we had huge issues trying to play it together because its tempo was just so fast it literally ran away from us, but once we got into the studio we slowed it down and added some piano and strings to give it more texture.
You mentioned an EP earlier. What exactly is the plan regarding future releases through Riot?
Our 4-track EP is out on the 15th of April. We’re twirling with excitement! We’re also buzzing about making another video for our next single. Right now we’re writing some new songs and when we have the material we need and it feels right, we’ll start to record an album.
Is a promotional tour on the cards in the months after the EP release!!
Exciting times then for Panda Panda. On the back of the two singles they’ve already put out, I have absolutely no doubt that the rest of the tracks on the upcoming EP will be firecrackers!
‘Millions’, the debut EP from Panda Panda will be released via Riot Factory on 15th April, put the date in your musical diary! Meantime, you can stream/download/through some cash at ‘Halcyon Years‘, here iTunes: http://bit.ly/236gPZL here Tidal: http://bit.ly/1X2Q2d3 and here Spotify: http://spoti.fi/1oq7PyN
*Maribel’s latest album has not yet had its international release.
**Klaseie runs Greener Studios in Trondheim. Snøskred is an indie outfit also signed to Riot whose debut album, ‘Empty House’ has received rave critical reviews from the likes of Best Fit, Clunk Mag and Norwegian mag, Gaffa.