Behind the Moon Gazing Panda Face with Brandon McKenzie

My live blog of Moon Gazer resulted in some questions I wanted to ask Brandon, and he indulged me in the email interview below.

One thing I felt about the album is that it seems fully realized, like you recorded exactly what you imagined or intended or wanted. How do you feel in that area?

with this album i had some specific rules. i knew what i didn’t want to do. with the first two albums, i was obsessed with having as many different sounds as possible. with maybe only one or two consistent threads going through each tune. for Moon Gazer i kept a lot of the sounds uniform. like i might have the same guitar with the same effect going through the same amp through the whole song. i also was steering clear of the high-end sounds. less high hat and cymbals and such, and more emphasis on the bass and mids. i was looking for a warmer / darker sound. i also decided to let the album just be slow and creepy all the way through, instead of trying to throw faster or more sunny tunes in to break it up for variety. i think those things had a hand in making it seem more fully realized and cohesive. besides that, it’s possible that i’m just getting closer to whatever the Panda Face sound is.

What is your writing and recording process like? (This is something that fascinates me, because people’s processes can be so different, and I usually learn a trick or two.)

i usually wait till something hits me these days. like a chorus will just pop into my head or a vocal melody of some sort. or i’ll be messing around with the guitar or keyboard and a song will just kind of spring up. once i have a decent handle on how i want the song to go, i start right in on recording it. that’s when the obsession kicks in. i find a beat and starting layering on the sounds. i spend hours searching for the right effect or perfect melody. i edit tracks like a madman. i keep going till i feel like it’s complete and then mix it down. after that i wait for the next tune to hit.

It seemed to me like the guitar/synth sound balance tipped a bit more toward the synths this time out. If so, was there a purpose in that?

i think you’re right. “King of the Sun” is the 1st tune i’ve recorded that’s completely void of any guitars. it’s not something i did consciously though. Panda Face has always been me sort of riding the fence between the guitar rock that i’ve always been a part of, and the more pop, electronic, and ambient influences that i’ve gained over the years. it’s been slowly evolving and this time the synths finally won out.

What are you doing with this record? Shows? Art stuff? Second Life? Anything weird?

not any shows to mention just yet, but i do plan on getting out there and performing the album sometime later this year. for now i’m just trying to spread the word as much as possible via the internet, and through the local record shops, media, and radio stations.

Are there any films that sync up to this record?

not any specific films, but i did watch an awful lot of animation during the recording of the album. mostly the stuff from my youth like GI JOE, Transformormers, HE MAN, and ThunderCats.

What’s next for you, and for Panda Face, musically?

i’m pretty much always recording a Panda Face album, so there will definitely be more of those coming down the pike. already got a couple of new ones in the can. stay tuned …

Notes on my first Moon Gaze

Along with releasing Moon Gazer, Brandon asked me to write something about the album.  A review didn’t seem quite right, but what happened is that I ended up live-blogging my first listen.  -h

1 – Moon Gazer

  • starts off with a block-rocking sleep-beat!
  • it sounds like shooting sunbeams from one’s eyes is commonplace in this world
  • love the space at the end of the first verse/chorus
  • i feel like this is going to be my favorite panda face album

2 – Lofty Eye

  • yeah, i think so!
  • this feels like all the things i like about panda face – sweetness and creepiness, the vocal stylings, weirdness and pop… ness – all cranked up four notches at once
  • i’ll have to ask brandon how his musical adventures since the last record – renfields, millions, burns – have influenced this, and what order all that stuff happened in
  • really proud this is going to be on MFR. brandon just emailed me out of the blue, “hey, i have a new record out, will you post it?” that is exactly what i hoped MFR would be!

3 – King of the Sun

  • ooh, i wanna dance a bit. i’m doing kind of an egyptian neck movement thing
  • AND HE JUST SANG “EGYPTIAN FANTASIES…” we have some connection going on
  • is that “cesearian?” probably, there was a roman thing, too. fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck weareintrouble. i think i might get cut open, somehow.
  • whew

4 – White Hawk

  • i have been listening to brandon’s music since the blane “blair” EP, so, about ten years. i think we’ve only met once, and it was at a dark satellites/renfields show, and i’m terrible at hanging out at shows because i’m super-focused on my performance and my gear
  • the sounds in this song are really cool, but the song doesn’t rely on them. i think brandon could make this work acoustic. that is a compliment. but i’m glad he didn’t, for this version, at least.
  • another sort of unexpected, tight ending. i’m loving these arrangements.

5 – She Fell

  • another great sound, that rubbery bass. it could almost be cheesy in someone else’s hands, but since it’s panda face, i know i’m going to end up hiding under a blanket, so it’s already kind of ominous
  • sick deep filters, deployed very subtly. nice touch.
  • is anything still sick when it’s cool? i don’t know. i might be out of touch. i didn’t start saying “snap!” until 2006.
  • and i still do sometimes :-|
  • this is def my fav panda face album. it seems fully realized; like brandon accomplished exactly what he wanted to, and i love hearing that. that’s what i always aim for, and only rarely, partially ever achieve.

6 – Mysterious Danger

  • nice interlude. kinda british educational film strip-y. death is probably coming around the corner…

7 – The Down Low

  • or not? this is funky and kind of twangy. two great tastes that i’m listening to right now together and they sound good.
  • first line = perfect
  • the little high keyboard on the chorus is making me laugh in a good way. with joy. that happens to me sometimes when a riff is just perfect and overwhelming. here, it’s like the musical idea is spot-on, kind of like something out of a ’90s Dre production, but it has this cracked kind of Pavement, played-it-wrong-but-left-it-in-whatever quality, too. both of those at once is magical.

8 – Lame to Try

  • maybe we won’t die after all. i predict this will be a bit of a love jam.
  • cool instrumental part under “i think you know exactly what we should do” (might have gotten the pronouns wrong)
  • over the whole album, is this the least amount of guitar brandon’s ever had? might be. not good or bad, just observing. what guitar i’ve noticed has been well-deployed. and you know by now how i feel about the various synths.
  • nice come-down ending