The Definition of Pan Am
Author: Richard Thorne
Their debut release 'New Concepts In Sound Recording' illustrated both PanAm's eagerness to take the piss and their lo-fi preferences. The hard rocking 6-track EP released last year caught ears for reasons quite opposite those the title suggests.
Safely shielded from any software manipulation it had been recorded on an 8-track desk in songwriter/guitarist Paul Barrett's bedroom (and much of the rest of his flat). Musical and production inspiration stemmed from '60s icons including Hendrix, Cream, The Beatles and Jethro Tull.
It still does, and on July 10th the Auckland three-piece will launch (through FMR), their very first album which they have catchily titled 'PanAm'.
If, like us, you loved the EP and feel you have waited a long time for the album, then you will be pleased to know that it plays for a long time. Fourteen songs at last count (things are still subject to change it seems), and while a few are tight three minute indie pop rushes, others make it well beyond the four minute barrier. Cigars In The Suitcase threatens to close at the 2 min:30 sec mark, only to morph into a wild two minute live jam close out.
And so they are on stage, juggling the R'nB-based songs that lend themselves to extended improvisation with the fast guitar soloing and hard out drumming of catchy PanAm pop like Interstate Boy and Japanese Girls. Left handed Barrett plays his well-loved standard Strat upside down, long time collaborator Cole Goodley thrashes his vintage Gretsch kit and Jarrod Ross chimes in on Telecaster bass and occasional vocals.
The PanAms, all in their early 20s, share a West Auckland school heritage, Ross's band even supported the others' first band back then. Barrett and Goodley played in and out of various bands, mostly working together for the last decade. Exclusively a guitar player before his audition three years ago, Ross was seconded into the band on bass - primarily because the others knew they could get on with him. The dynamic created is PanAm.
Only two songs (Long Grass and Song One) appeared on the earlier EP. Selecting the songs was a difficult process given Barrett's songwriting productivity. A process of distilling six years of writing and development of the band and about three years of recording, then getting that down to 14 tracks which supposedly belong together.
"The material available could have produced a number of radically different albums," Barrett says. "It was a gradual process of negotiation between what we want and what Flying Nun thinks is appropriate. What they think are the quality tracks and what we think are the quality tracks are sometimes different, but sometimes the compromise works out. It depends on the style of production as well, that varied a lot over the whole year."
"Some songs you'd think we were a completely different band and I reckon that's good," slips in Goodley, though it's Barrett who mostly handles my questions.
"This is our chance to show we don't have only one sound. I find that a stylistically continuous album, one that sounds like it was all recorded together is a turn off."
As with the EP, tracks were made in Barrett's home studio, though the newer ones are recorded onto a 24-track Roland VS-2480 Digital Studio Workstation they purchased with their advance when signed to Flying Nun.
"Everyone uses Pro Tools and that's why I'm not - basically. Two or three of the tracks are the original 8-track stuff. For instance with Natural, try as we might we could never beat the feel of the take on the day and it's really lo-fi so we have stuck with the 8-track. Even the stuff done on the 24-track has been done with the same approach, we want it dirty as hell.