Panda Rosa

September 12, 2017

Panda Rosa

“I’d play drums for 5
seconds, take that tiny loop, loop it over, play a little piano motif, build
that, and it all turns into a creature of some sort.”
Take a look at his discography and you see an
emerging ambient artist sporting a repertoire evocative of Teengirl Fantasy,
Atlas Sound, Sigur Rós, and Animal Collective. His sound began to blossom as a
kind of avant-folk wrapped in disjunctive guitars and delicate falsetto, but
before long his craft shifted to twirling cello loops and dinner conversation
sound collaging. Most recently Panda Rosa has released, Neochina, a concept
album that straddles the line between shoegaze and vaporwave.

Your Bandcamp bio simply reads, “Im Ben, I’m 18, and I try to make
music.” Is this something you
’re doing full time? Is it more of a side project?
Music is my passion. I consider it my full time
job. After I finished school I didn’t have much else to do, so I’m making a tiny bit of
money from music. I was doing it through high school too. It’s just been
something I feel I’m destined to do.
Could you describe the kind of music you
make? How would you characterize it?
It used to be general indie rock and indie folk,
which I wasn’t particularly happy with. I wanted to do something else and really
break into the post-rock sphere. My influences are really wide, but I’d have to say
Mark Kozelek’s work with Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters. And then on the
other end of the spectrum there’s this electronic group from the UK, Underworld.
They both showed me what was possible. There are also ways in which the people
behind the music make an impact—people who seem to be outsiders making music
just for themselves. There’s this guy called Jandek who’s made 70 or 80 albums, and they’re all completely
unlistenable. He plays an extremely out of tune guitar and sings in monotone
for hours on end. But it’s great. I love it.
My music is basically just everything that I
like all squished up together. For some tracks I think, ‘I want to sound like
this or that band,’ but overall I do try to sound like me. I feel like my combination of
weird influences is at least a little bit unique, which makes me feel good. But
I do want to put an emphasis on the post-rock part because that’s where my heart
Where does the name Panda Rosa come from?
Normally for interviews I have a prepared
response where I say, “oh, yeah, I’m really into Panda Bear.” But I actually have no
idea. I was just putting random words together and it came up. That’s also how I come
up with a lot of my song titles. I come up with a song title first, and the
song comes from that. It’s like the first seed of the idea is the name.
You’ve released 6 albums in
just 2 years. I feel like for anyone as young as you that
’s pretty
Well, thank you. For me, the longer I work on an
album the worse I feel about it. My album The Opposite Direction took me
almost a year to make, and I actually kind of despise it. Whereas my latest
one, Neochina, took a month to make, and it’s the happiest I’ve ever felt about an
album. The longer you work on something, the more you lose track of that
original idea. So it becomes about getting it in a state where it sounds
exactly like what I originally envisioned.
Do you try to put out as much as you possibly
I wouldn’t word it like that because there is an element of
quality control. It’s kind of like putting out a really long series of books. It’s just ‘The
Chronicles of Ben.’ Also, the idea of a discography is a really cool thing to me. I’ve always been in
awe of people like Buckethead, who’s made hundreds of albums. It’s this huge body of work
where you have so much to search through. You can find little gems.
Is there a lot of stuff that never makes the
Yes. Before my first album, there were actually
3 more albums before that, which no one has ever heard, except for me. For
every album that’s on Bandcamp, there’s at least twice as many songs that are like
B-sides to that. And then there’s the endless amount of those 30-second little
ditties that never see the light of day—those tiny little songs that every
artist has. Bedroom producer stuff.
It sounds like there may not be much of a
story, but could you talk a bit about your newest album,
Actually, this one’s different. I recently
have gotten into vaporwave—particularly ambient vaporwave stuff. Many ambient
vaporwave releases are very dystopian, and describe a futuristic city or
metropolis. You can see that in the album cover. It’s this thing I assembled
out of little pictures of cities. I came up with this idea of a futuristic
China, where the country is advancing so fast that in 20 years it will be quite
a different environment. While the album itself didn’t end up really following
that theme, bits of it are there. The ambient tracks—the ones that begin with
the word “Neochina”—those were really my main focus. The other songs are ones I added
in that were built around those ambient tracks.
A lot of Neochina is actually
sample-based. There are tiny little 2-second samples that are repeated over and
over. Little string samples, little recordings from classical music. I copy and
paste them, put tons of reverb on so it becomes ambient, and then add stuff on
top. I didn’t do this with my previous albums because I kept thinking, ‘oh man,
is this cheating? Is this what you’re allowed to do?’ But it’s great. I can
finally make music that I’m happy with. A lot of the sounds on Neochina are
manipulated in my DAW, which is a cool way of doing things. I never realized
how much you could get from just the program itself.
When I listen to The Opposite Direction
I find it to be a lot more spacious. There
’s a lot more sound collaging
and ambience. But when I listen to
Neochina, it feels
similar to shoegaze and electronica.
I’ve always wanted to have this wall of noise
effect, so I’ve just been trying different ways to achieve that. With The
Opposite Direction
the ambience was a lot denser, and the folky songs were
full of a lot more instrumentation, which is something I didn’t like. Whereas
in Neochina, I tried to pull that back and have the ambience built into the
songs—and that’s how you get shoegaze in a way. That’s how I see it.
What kind of software and instrumentation do
you use to create your work?
The DAW I use is Studio One by PreSonus, which
is fantastic. I would really recommend it. It’s a very visual program.
If you’re a visual kind of learner, which I am, you can figure it out
The process changes so much between albums,
though. Neochina is a lot more stripped down instrumentally. I have an upright piano,
a synth, a drum set, a guitar, and a bass. But with The Opposite Direction I
only had one microphone, so I recorded each drum individually. I’d come up with a
drum beat, and then work out how to play each drum separately in a separate
track. Then I’d record that in a microphone, and do it with all the other
instruments too. That was laborious and horrible—I’d have to listen to each
song so many times. Whereas with Neochina, I’d play drums for 5
seconds, take that tiny loop, loop it over, play a little piano motif, build
that, and it all turns into a creature of some sort. It grows more organically
and I enjoy that so much more.
I saw on the Panda
Rosa Facebook page
you might be offering an insider look into how
you put together
Well, I don’t want to sound
narcissistic, but I think I did it in a pretty different way compared to how
most albums are made. I’m self taught, and I’ve only ever really known my method. I think it
would be cool for people to see how I did it, because a lot of it is just a
weird way of doing things. A ‘Making Of’ kind of thing. I’d go through the
production because I attempt to mix and master myself.
You’re completely self taught?
Yeah, I started with drums. I convinced my
parents to get me a drum set at the age of 10 because I had this music in me. I
was tapping on things and making beats in my head. As a kid I used to beatbox
all the time—just getting songs out in one form or another. We also had this
old upright piano in our house. Then I slowly was like ‘hey, I want to get a
guitar for Christmas.’ And then it all just went from there.
The very first album was made when I was 14. We
had an iPad, and I used GarageBand and the little microphone that comes with
earphones. I recorded all these songs and thought, ‘this is great.’ More albums
followed, until Cascades came along, which was me first realizing I freaking loved ambient
music. It was basically just crappy songs drenched in reverb with ambient
I’m already four tracks into my next album, which is
great. It’s called “Earth with Wings,” and it’s about a giant spaceship
that humanity’s last survivors are on, and they’re searching for a new
solar system. It’s got a prog rock vibe to it. And believe
me, it’s going to be so much more pretentious than Neochina!
Can you talk a bit about your evolution as an
This is going to sound dumb, but before I
finished The Opposite Direction I was pretty convinced it was going to
make me famous. That stressed me out a lot because I was thinking about this
mass audience—how they were going to perceive the songs, whether the verses,
chorus, or intro was too long, and all that bullshit. And now it’s just songs, man. It’s great. There’s no pressure. I also used to feel like I had to work on a song for
a certain amount of time before it was legit—before it deserved a release. But
now a lot of the freshest ideas come from really quick production. They’re the equivalent
of demos—basically everything I do is a demo. I don’t make demos before I
make the final product. I do it all at once.
How do you envision your future? Melbourne
has a big psychedelic music scene. Do you ever perform live?
Besides one or two acoustic shows a few years
ago, I’ve never really played live. I have a lot of anxiety. As for any
kind of large scale fame—for me it’s a pretty spooky thing to think about. I like to
try and ignore it. What I really desire is a small cult following on 4chan or
something—becoming a cult artist. And Melbourne’s got so many little
scenes going on at the same time, so me and my friends are trying to revive the
90s post-rock scene—bands like Bark Psychosis and Talk Talk. Those sounds are
coming back through us, which is awesome.
I noticed you have a pretty active social
media presence. Do you find it easy getting your music to people?
Getting it out there is really easy, which is
fantastic. Getting it onto places like SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and even
Spotify—you’re in line with the professionals, which wasn’t always the case. Big
name bands used to dominate the market with their records. Nowadays you’re up there with
Taylor Swift. The problem is that everyone’s up there with Taylor
Swift. Although, getting people to actually listen is something that I still
haven’t actually worked out—but that’s okay. I’m very happy to have people
stumble across me.
In terms of social media, it’s pretty funny—I
think about what I’m going to post on there for hours before I do it, even if it’s just a
sentence. But it’s really exciting—getting one more ‘like’ than you did last week,
or having two people comment on your post when a couple of months ago no one
did. It’s growing really slowly, but it’s so rewarding.
-Gabe Kahan
© Copyright http://www.psychedelicbabymag.com/2017
One Comment
  1. chloe

    hey thats my boy ben!! go ben!!!

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