French / American music duo, Panda Transport recently released their album “Songs We Used To Hate”, a playful turn on what is essentially a collection of covers. Since a member of the band is one of our frequent contributors, it was not hard to nail down some of their time to find out more about what sparked the concept album.
NHP: Tell us about you came to create an entire album of songs that you used to hate. Didn’t that present a challenge in the way you treated the material since you were not fans of the originals?
Thierry Holweck, French panda:
It actually started out by us doing covers of songs we liked. But the problem is that when you like a song, it makes it much more difficult to improve on the original. It also felt a bit sacrilegious. The artists had already done a great job. So we decided to turn the concept around.
Kathy Compton, American panda:
Over the years, I realised I was finding new appreciation for songs that used to have me turning the volume down or fast forwarding through songs which in the past I could not tolerate. Many of these happened to be songs I would have to listen to sitting in the backseat of my family’s Vega on the AM dial. The band Chicago, some overplayed Motown hits. They occupied a time in life where I felt like I had no choice in what my ears were exposed to. Then one day, these songs dropped by (on much better high fidelity equipment) and bam! Not just a feeling nostalgia hits for long lost childhood memories, but the melodies, the harmonies and the production captured something I did not have the capacity to hear at that young age. “I wanna sing and record that” started signalling in my head.
When we started considering these older songs, we heard that there was beautiful musicality somewhere in some part of the song. Maybe it was just a single element, like the vocal or the vibe that was the big turn off. It became an interesting exercise to take these songs and strip them down to their basic structure- the chord progression and the melody. We built the songs back up from there. Often we did not listen to the songs more than once or twice once we began to create our own productions. The other thing was that we felt there was no pressure in disrespecting the originals. It became easy to adopt them for our own.
As original composers, it is often a daunting task to aim to make something perfect in every way- from lyrics, to vocal, through production and tempo choices that must be made. Singing someone else’s songs is very liberating. Almost like playing a character. “These aren’t my thoughts or words, so I can play it any way I want.” That feels good.
And for this reason, I would say that this might even be our most personal album to date. We had to apply our style and approach and treat this collection as a whole in that way, as our own. It helped reveal those qualities that are uniquely Panda Transport.
And how would you describe those qualities?
It’s a little bit of joy and sadness. It is that in between. Like life.
It covers the genres between rock, electro, pop, jazz and lounge. Where we like to hang out resides in the overlapping of those sounds.
And which songs and artists made it onto the album?
The ultimate song I used to hate was “Saturday in the park” by Chicago. We turned it into a quirky acoustic track. The Beach Boys “God only knows” used to drive me to madness. I hated that song. It was so precious. But the harmonies are delicious. That is a major perk in being a vocalist with recording gear. Getting to layer your own vocals to make chords is like heroin for singers. I speak for myself but I think I’m not alone in this.
There are honestly a couple of songs that we may not have hated, but we didn’t like aspects of it- For example, “Furry Friends” by Unknown Mortal Orchestra. I saw them open for The Flaming Lips and they were great but the singer acted like a jerk. The rest of the band was great though. So we made room in our concept to accommodate for these types of non-love.
That might be my favourite one. I really like Nancy Wilson’s version of “Guess who I saw today”. The lyrics are a story, a sad one. One featuring a businessman arriving home late to his wife who fixes him a quick martini. Our friend Justin Chinn in LA, a film editor who has made some great videos for us still hates the song “You get what you give” by New Radicals. He’s our mate so his venom was the stamp of approval for making it onto the album.
You have “Songs We Used To Hate” issued as volume One. Does that mean there might be future editions?
Yes. We love the concept and it’s cool that it resonates with other people. You can check it our yourself. We prefer if you listen and buy if you like it on Bandcamp because money. Musicians making money from their work is a great thing when it happens. We love to know we’re making a contribution. Contribution for a contribution, ya know?
NHP: Panda Transport is setting our readers to challenge- post the songs you used to hate on their Facebook page and let them know what turned your heart around. Yours may get selected and produced for their next release!
Listen and visit with Panda Transport on these links:
Photo credit @laurencebosc www.laurencebosc.com