Emcee Q & A : Giant Panda
Black, White and Japanese all over.
Giant Panda Interview at Voodoo Doughnuts May 29th, 2008
Good morning! How're you guys doing?
Newman / Maanumental : Excellent! Splendid!
How're the donuts?
N: They're amazing.
Newman, what're you having?
N: I'm starting simple with a maple bar.
M: Real live bacon?!
N: I'm scared, that's like a level of bacon I'm not familiar with. [takes a bite] Now I'm really curious because this is maybe the best maple bar I've ever had in my life. [takes another bite] Oh my god, it's got like the perfect consistency.
M: Of maple to bar.
N: I'm saying, the bar to maple ratio is amazing.
Ready for This Or That?
Skittles or M&M's?
N & M in unison: Skittles.
Nikes or Adidas?
N: Adidas. Adidas all day.
Trefoil originals or new-era three-stripe?
Nintendo or Sega Genesis?
N & M in unison: Nintendo.
Blackjack or Poker?
N & M in unison: Blackjack.
M: Or as I like to call it, "21".
N: We're colorblind, ha ha.
1982 or 1992?
N & M in unison: '92
Chikara's not here, he's coming in later tonight so maybe you two can answer these in his absence - Japan or USA?
N & M chanting in unison: USA! USA! [pause, then seriously] Japan.
Japanese dimes or American dimes?
M: USA because there's some Japanese girls here.
Electric Laser just came out last week. What's the response so far?
N: So far, so good. The one thing is, it's a lot different from our first album but I don't think it's insanely different and it's weird when people say it's this complete departure on what we usually do. Because it doesn't really feel that way.
M: [in a critic-mocking voice] Now you have something to say.
N: Yeah, I mean I know it's different but I don't feel like it's drastically different and it's always interesting to hear that people think it's significantly different.
Have you heard any similarities to Common's Electric Circus situation?
N: No no no. Not yet. No one's mentioned that.
What would you say if someone did bring that up?
N: I mean, I don't think they would simply because we don't really have singing and…
M: Sweater vests.
What’s with the exclusive Japan releases?
M: I don't think we had a lot of that but they want that so…
N: Yeah, it's sort of what you’re going to have to do to do business with them. It’s like, in order for them to put out your record, they need something extra. And it makes sense because it’s a smaller market so they need something to compete with imports so you’re going to have to give them a bonus child or something like that in order for them to promote your album.
There’s a quote from you guys that goes, “The new album is a much more futuristic musical landscape. In many way it’s like its predecessor and yet it isn’t.” Can you elaborate a bit on that because [Newman] you were saying how you felt like the two albums really aren’t that different from each other.
N: There is this sort of electronic movement thing going on these days and that honestly wasn’t our intention at all to be a part of that. Chikara came up with the name Electric and that kind of dictated everything but I definitely feel like we’re making traditional music with an old approach but it’s very much what’s going on right now in terms of what we’re talking about. I think it’s very present futuristic in the sense – I think we all share the same opinion and notion of, the future is kind of bullshit. Flying cars are probably like, 500 years away and 20 or 30 years ago it was supposed to be 50 years away. People have phones that can do all these quote unquote amazing things but they’re just fucking telephones. So the whole notion of the future is bullshit to begin with and it distracts from the present and I think that we tried our best to be very present in what we were talking about and having fun making the record.
M: And pretty much any use of anything electric, “poing” [sound] it’s not like because we’re cool and powered up or anything like that.
N: The whole notion of lasers is a bullshit notion of the future from the 60’s and it’s funny to us.
M: Using lasers to wash your dishes or something.
It’s been about three years between albums. Can you fill us in?
N: A lot of touring and growing and…
M: Day jobs.
N: Day jobs. And Chikara figuring out how to run Tres Records as a real deal label. One of our first hurdles was figuring out how to get our first record heard because essentially we put it out ourselves – we had backing, we had people that were helping us.
And this was off the Ukenjam label?
N: No, that was our first 12” that we put out and that definitely was us, in our old house in LA, mailing out records and crossing our fingers but with Fly School Reunion it was still sort of the same thing but we just had access to more resources. The first year of the record coming out it was like, fuck, are people getting it? How do we get it in the right hands and then once we figured that out it was this huge sigh of relief and then we were touring and…
M: It was like, are we done with this one? On to the next!
What was the motivation for the new album?
N: We had been loosely working on it but then it just got to a point where it was like, okay, we need to sit down and get this thing done and the first thing that we did when we reached that point was, well maybe if we come up with a title, it’ll dictate the direction that we need to go.
So the title came before the tracks?
N: Yeah. We had a couple of songs done but I don’t think any of those made the final record. Chikara was like, “I want something with ‘Electric’ in it.” He was talking about how in the 70’s there would be records like, “Switch On Electronics” and these move records or like the Electrifying Ed Harris and things like that and we were like, “Electric is hilarious” and Jamaan said, “What about laser?” and then we were like, “Well, that’s hilarious” and then we put them together and it was twice as funny. Our general rule is that if the three of us think something is stupid and funny, we should probably do it and Electric Laser pretty much fell into that category.
With Fresh Donuts, this was a sampler that you guys sold for $3 a pop while you were on tour [and our visit to Voodoo Doughnuts this morning is in homage to that], which is pretty cheap. What was the thought process behind that because obviously the point wasn’t to make money.
M: It was tour support.
N: The first 12” that we put out, the back cover was a photo of us at the donut shop across the street from our old house…
M: That we used to go to all the time.
N: It was open 24-hours a day so if you’re working on a beat at three in the morning and you’re like, argh, I need a donut, you know.
M: And we were doing the photo shoot that day and going into the donut shop and seeing people and having marginal relationships with people in certain shifts and what not and we were like, let’s see if they’d be down to let us shoot in there. And they were like, “Okay. Hurry up.” [laughing]
N: Yeah so then we realized that only so many people buy records, even in those days and we wanted to be able to sell music to people who only had CD players and also to be able to hand out CDs to people and so just to give it a concept – a CD is a donut-like shape and so we decided to call them fresh donuts.
M: So pretty much, we were giving away donuts for free!
So we’re at Voodoo – I don’t know how it compares to the donut shop across the street from your old pad…
N: It pretty much crushes LA Donuts, as much as LA Donuts has a spot in my heart.
[pointing to a donut in the box in front of us on the table] This is one of my hands-down favorites, it’s called the Mango Tango. It’s filled with mango gooeyness and has crushed Tang on top.
M: Mango Tango.
Lemme know what you think.
N: [mouthful of donut] Wow. That’s really good.
M: Hmmm! I mean, if you’re going to overdose on sugar, there’s no better way to do it.
Both of your facial expressions right now are priceless.
N: Good god, that second one had a lot of kick to it.
M: This place is off the chains.
So how is Tres Records treating you? Does it feel like home?
N: Absolutely. With Chikara running the label obviously gives us – I mean, it’s a give and take you know, because it’s not a huge label, it doesn’t necessarily have a lot of resources that bigger labels would have but we also have a lot of freedom and we also have a lot of leeway that we wouldn’t get at other labels so the trade-offs are definitely worth it in the long run. And also, me personally, I really believe in pretty much every single project that Tres puts out so whatever deficits there are in certain areas, there’s more than enough to make up for it.
Do you get to interact with the other label’s artists?
N: Yeah – Lightheaded and Ohmega Watts, he’s a good friend of ours. I’ve got nothing but love for that dude. DJ Alibi, he lives all the way out in Toronto but I get to talk to him every once in a while. Insight – we did a festival out in Atlanta, it was great to meet him and hang out with him and definitely we can see he’s on the same page. And then Ta’Raach and Blu – I’ve known Ta’Raach ever since he moved out to LA and it’s like, not only am I a fan of these people as musicians, I’m a fan of them as people too.
You two met in the 4th grade – You’ve been friends and hanging touch since then?
M: We pretty much reconnected around the end of high school and tried to do something – a talent show, me, you [looking at Alex] and Raphael and my brother was producing and what not.
What’s Sir Kado [Jamaan’s brother] up to?
M: He’s still doing rock stuff – I call it Two Live Cure. Very emotional but a lot of programmed drums. He’s doing his thing.
Where’s the tour taking you?
N: We’ll do the Northwest, Midwest and then down through Nebraska and Colorado…
No East coast?
N: Not this time. We’re realizing that the more work Tres has and the more opportunities Giant Panda has just creates this big conundrum for Chikara because he runs the label and he’s the third Giant Panda and…
M: If only we could duplicate him with a laser!
N: If anybody has any cloning technology, email us at Tres Records.
So that’s where he’s at, playing the balancing act? Do you think something will have to give?
N & M in unison: We’ll see! Yeah, something’s got to give.
But he’s doing okay?
N: Uhhh….[laughing] It’s definitely difficult but he’s also a very focused person. He doesn’t really let shit get in his way so if there’s anybody who has the wherewithal to handle it, it’s probably him but something will definitely have to give. Sooner or later. And I really like this Captain Crunch [donut]!
M: That is pretty good. But it’s like Captain Crunch and something else, right?
N: I think it’s Captain Crunch Berries.
M: I mean, I’ve had Captain Crunch Berries and that’s not the same Captain Crunch Berries I used to have.
In a Giant Panda water balloon fight, who’s winning?
M: Chikara, yeah! He’s got a knuckleball.
In a Giant Panda electric laser taser fight, who’s winning?
M: Alex. He has the home field advantage with the laser tag place he used to go to.
N: There used to be a laser tag place where I lived in Seattle. I’ve got some skills. I’ve got a couple of tricks up my sleeve when it comes to laser tag.
What’s the future plotting and scheming look like?
N: Definitely getting the album out to people. Getting the tour done. We try to tour as much as we can and we like the record a lot so trying to make sure as many people hear it as possible. And I have another album coming out in October with our friend Shawn Jackson.
M: It’s good stuff.
Alex: Yeah, it’s great stuff. So that’s pretty much all I can think about, at least until October. But hopefully we’ll be on the road for most of the rest of the year.
M: I’m just figuring out ways to get my opinion out.
Do you like being on the road?
M: It’s good but I think it’s a double cliché because being on tour you miss home and when you’re at home, you miss touring.
N: The only thing that bothers me now is that I’ve been trying to be really healthy but then it dawned on me that it’s really hard to get sleep on the road. I mean, you can’t go to bed at 10pm when you have to perform at midnight.
[to Maanumental] But you’re good sleeping on the road?
M: Snoreaga is what they call me. Snore Righteous Teachers. And Chikara’s probably better than me, but without snoring.
N: I think we can all agree on Grand Daddy I.U.
M: Oh yeah. The Diamond Show.
N: It’d be great to get a beat from Eric Sermon.
M: Yeah, pretty much.
N: I want to get Sir Mix A Lot on a track. No bullshit.
M: I want to hear him start rrrrrripping.
N: He had his own style and us being form Seattle you know, I definitely have a soft spot in my heart for him. [looking into the box of remaining donuts] I want to devour them all, man. I can feel the sugar rushing through my system.
M: I want to make a track with Bones Brigade or someone like that. Old school.
N: Do some skate videos?
M: Yeah! One of those dudes makes beats.
What’s your advice for all the young cats that hope to make a living out of writing and producing in today’s environment?
N & M in unison: Be yourself.
N: Pay as little attention to what’s going on as possible.
M: But pay attention to what has gone on. Study up on the history and why people have done certain things.
N: But be yourself. Any artist that’s had a successful career, at the end of the day, has definitely done it from being original.
M: And stay in school. And don’t use drugs.
Thank you so much for your time and I wish you guys nothing but the best with this new album.
Newman & Maanumental: Thank you.