Some facts about New York’s incomparable Bloody Panda are basically indisputable. To most people they are scary as fuck. They are experts at plumbing the psyche and examining the tumultuous range of nature’s frenzied color wheel, a full spectrum of emotion ranging from beauty to atrocity. They talk about music with reverence and mention influences that even make a music nerd like me feel outclassed. Not that they are so hipster it hurts and trying to be cooler-than-thou, this is just how the band ticks. They forage deep into the waters of the avant garde and as such could be as comfortable at a seedy, beer-soaked rock pub as installed as the house band at Hell’s private art gallery. More fitting, however, would be if they performed a concert in the Windswept Depths of Pandemonium from the Dungeons & Dragons’ Planescape setting, a large, evil maze of a cavern that never ends and is full of howling winds that drive people insane. Sounds just like Bloody Panda!
The most common tag the band gets is “doom metal”, but am I weird to find their music a relief? I used to only be able to fall asleep to Reign In Blood a long time ago in college while going through drug withdrawal, and while my nerves were certainly backwards at that sad point, I still find aggressive or bleak and ominous music comforting. This stuff is like a balm versus all the sonic crap accumulated throughout the day from overheard television adverts, dumb conversations, and bad pop songs!
Is it fetishist to be drawn to a band with a moaning Japanese female singer (Yoshiko Ohara) who incorporates objective Buddhist chants and yet rides the waves of heavy emotion induced by her executioner’s hood wearing band mates? Probably. I don’t fucking know or care. Sign me up! All I know is that when I woke up this morning the coffee I bought from a local convenience store was burnt and totally bland and all the papers and web search sites were buzzing with news of Republican Scott Brown’s Senate upset in Massachusetts. Not that Obama’s “reform” wasn’t already much compromised, as Howard Dean thankfully had the guts to point out, but this kind of shit makes me wish everyone would just choke on a huge dick sandwich. How fucking stupid are we, America? Is every other country that has a better working Health Care System wrong? Do you all want to line up and get your picture taken with Sarah Palin for $250 a pop, or what? It’s times like this where I am extra thankful for groundbreaking and blistering art-rock acts like Bloody Panda or the wound-up political grindcore of Landmine Marathon. Landmine’s front woman Grace Perry recently told me, “Sarah Palin is not a woman. She is a mutant creature from another dimension and so I give you permission to smack her all you want.” Amen. It’s times like this when I wish I could wake up with the power to fucking blast Mayhem’s Ordo Ad Chao directly into the ears of the sleeping masses, or (maybe) better yet, make everyone watch The History Channel documentary The Brain every day.
Bloody Panda’s latest record Summon (on Profound Lore Records) is more than just a fitting follow-up to their acclaimed Pheromone release and their split with Kayo Dot. It is, to my mind at least, vital resistance to banality. Bloody Panda are a welcome relief sure to make you wet your pants and pray to be saved. [Editor’s note: And the only heavy band I’ve seen yet to have a member that does live overtone/harmonic/throat singing!]
MORGAN Y. EVANS: Summon has a lot going on. How was it working with Jason Marcucci to get the sounds you wanted? Any recording preferences. Did you sacrifice anyone or anything during the sessions to help summon the demons that sound like they are whirling around inside these songs? Did you at least summon some take out food?! It sounds like you could have gone into serious trances and doomed out until physical collapse! I’m worried about you.
BRYAN CAMPSHIRE (Bass,Vocals): Jason had avocado sandwiches a lot, extra avocado.
JOSH ROTHENBERGER (Guitar): Jason is a perfectionist, so he fits right in with Bloody Panda. Actually, at times he out-did us. It would be 3 A.M. and we would be like, “You know it sounds good. We’ve been here for 12 hours,” and with bugging, sleepless eyes, he’d say, “No, it’s not right. It’s gotta be right before we leave.“ The actual recording process was interesting at times. Richie, our drummer on the recording, had three different drum kits, each set up with toms and cymbals in specific places to allow him to play certain beats, or to allow him to jump back and forth between two drums/cymbals that normally don’t get tremoloed together. The room we tracked in is a huge concrete dungeon type place. Excello Studios. Because my amps were so loud we had to build walls around them, and stick them in the far corner of the room! Then I’m standing all the way at the other end giving Richie his cues. Richie’s big on cues, he at one point told me to take my shoes off because he couldn’t quite see my toes hitting the floor as I tapped the pulse. But then I have to get the right kind of feedback, which means I have to be standing in front of my amp. So I’m like, "How can I be two places at once?” The solution was to get an assistant engineer to wrangle my 50-foot instrument cable while I ran back and forth, and at times I even stood on this small podium stage, kind of conducting to the other members. It was almost like a movie set at times.
MYE: It sounds very involved and crazy! What gave the band the idea to make a film to correspond with the very long song "Miserere”? What was the pull that brought you all the way to Indonesia to film parts of it? Please wax poetic about what must have been an amazing process/adventure. How did the band get involved with dancer Yuto Kaseki? How did you convey the idea to her?
BC: I was living as an artist-in-residence at CAVE in Brooklyn. CAVE founded and hosts New York’s biannual Butoh Festivals. Allow me to plug them here. I had grown to become friends with Yuko Kaseki, the inimitable. She was in New York for a workshop and we had the idea to shoot a video spontaneously. So, with the help of Shige and Ximena at CAVE and Blake’s roommate Jae, we shot it. The content was an ad-mixture of brainstorming and improvisation. Blake threw in some Super 8 footage he had shot of snow caves in Japan. I wanted to tie in court dancing of the palaces of Surakarta, Indonesia, the town where I now reside. The footage at the beginning is of a rare circular kind of dam, also in Indonesia, which we all felt illustrated perfectly the force we are endeavoring to conjure with Bloody Panda’s music.
MYE: You played in ‘09 with a wide range of artists,Giant Squid to Jarboe to Dark Castle. What were some of the highlights for you of live shows in the recent past? The band has such a strong identity that slips into different cracks. I could even imagine you playing with Enslaved or something as different from you as Black Cobra and the show would still work.
BC: Ever since our first tour, Portland Maine’s mighty juggernauts Ocean have remained our brother band. Dark Castle is now our sister band. Touring with both of these stellar acts, watching their abilities to cave in people’s chests night after night, was unforgettable. Ocean lighting and throwing M-80s at our tour van driving down the interstate, Stevie and Rob of Dark Castle relentlessly trying to go toe-to-toe with six of us Pandas laying limitless libations to waste… the list of terrible tales goes on and on. Getting discounts on breakfasts at diners in the south largely, I’m convinced, on the merits of Dark Castle’s tattoos, must not go unmentioned.
MYE: Does vocalist Yoshiko present lyrical themes ahead of time or do you all sort of aim for a feeling and then she responds? Is there a set method when writing?
BC: Yoshiko stubbornly would not write her parts until the songs were set and laid to tape in the case of Summon. We fought with her on this and she won out. The methods set themselves with a lot of horns locking.
YOSHIKO OHARA (lead vocals): Music and lyrics are completely different things but lyrics decide the meaning of each song.
MYE: Do you ever bother to get worked up over crappy bands or just generally try and ignore/counter it by creating your own worlds, sounds and environments?
BC: On tour we all drink a lot.
MYE: How does it feel to build on the band’s relationship with Profound Lore records? How has the experience been and are there any bands on the label that you particularly admire?
JR: I definitely dig Amber Asylum, personally. Actually, the best thing about being on Profound Lore is Chris Bruni’s taste in music. We love all the bands on our label. Lev, our current drummer, plays for Krallice. We are constantly exchanging ideas with those guys, going to each other’s shows, demoing new recordings back and forth. We love Portal, from Australia, and are in the midst of putting a tour together with them for Summer 2010.
BC: I worship Portal.
MYE: It’s too simplistic to describe your live show as confrontational, because it is so much more of an all-encompassing mass of feeling than a simple interaction. I mean, a hardcore band can confront an audience, but Bloody Panda sort of swallows up the room. Thoughts?
JR: We aim to effect people both emotionally and physiologically. I think “confrontation” would be too direct. What we do is create a world, both audio and visual, and – you said it – envelope the audience… but the important distinction is that we try to leave a lot of room for the listener to interact with the music, interpret, write his or her own story set in the world that Bloody Panda has authored. Over the years, I’ve really enjoyed seeing how writers describe our sound, or the emotional resonance of our sound. Such description usually includes slaughter, slow torture, and/or setting churches aflame.
BC: Confrontation is a thought-provoking word choice for describing our live show. Yoshiko insists on looking down with her hair in her face when she performs. Yet, that can become a sinister way of confrontation. Sometimes people’s power comes most strongly from out of their backs. We do aim to permeate the room like a gas.
MYE: Yes, and the entity of the band is a presence! Let’s talk NYC. What venues or even bars do you still think are worth a damn these days? Everything constantly changes but it seems the last decade the face of the city and the underground have warped drastically. Union Pool is still cool, I think. NYC is full of artists but not the easiest place to “make it” in rock’n'roll. Then again, it depends on your goals. My friends run Pass Out Records in Williamsburg and do free shows. They don’t always sell a ton of records out of the shop, but it is a passion that offers many different rewards.
BC: Pass Out is down the street from CAVE. That place seems cool for that aesthetic. Around the corner on Kent is Paris London West Nile, a great spot for avant-garde acts, sort of a much more casual Brooklyn version of Manhattan’s Stone. Union Pool puts on some great shows, true. Issue Project Room has a good thing going on.
MYE: I was always fascinated with the sex lives of Pandas. Not in a Furries way like I dress up in a bear suit to get laid or anything. But… like, seriously. Male panda bears do not have it easy as there is only a small window, like two days of the year, for them to have any action at all – not to mention the climate change and encroaching environmental threats. But really, aren’t female pandas a little bit to blame for holding back the love so many days of the year?
MYE: Any literary reference points or external forces that may have influenced any of SUMMON? How much of it is creating character aspects of Yoshiko’s persona and how much of it is biographical in a metaphorical or any other way, if you don’t mind?
JR: “Miserere” is a not so subtle reference to Psalm 51: “Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar.” But just as important as the psalm itself is the legacy of composers who have written compositions titled “Miserere”. Pendrecki, Arvo Part, Gorecki. These are some of the composers we find most inspiring.
MYE: My dad is from Estonia and loves Arvo Part. That’s cool.
BC: Also Huysmans' Le Bas; Lautreamont's Le Chants De Maldoror; Leland's Aradia (orGospel Of The Witches); Schiller's Ghost-Seer; Lewis' The Monk; Hogg's Private Memoirs And Confessions Of A Justified Sinner; all of these were really inspiring me during the composition of Summon, as well as the work of dance necromancer K. Murobushi.
MYE: What’s next on your horizons? It was very cool when you did a split with Kayo Dot. Think you’ll ever do something like that again or any Sonic Youth-esque collaborative series?
BC: We hope to try to do some tour dates with Portal.
MYE: Do you think there is such a thing as the perfect riff?
JR: Hmm, being a band that is more known for our sound than our riffs, I actually do love me some classic riffage. Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine’s “He Who Accepts All That Is Offered”; Bauhaus’ “All We Ever Wanted Was Everything"; Earth, anything from the last two albums.
BC: Can’t deny: “Funeralopolis” by Electric Wizard; “Fucked Upstairs” by Grief; “Fuck You” by Bathtub Shitter. The perfect riff begins with F.
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For those of you into the heavier stuff, here’s some bands I can’t get enough of right now: Mares of Thrace, Obscure Sphinx, Bloody Panda, 13, Undersmile, Herem, Windhand, Demonic Christ, Saturnine, and Why She Kills.
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