As Derwin Schlecker, aka Gold Panda, casually answers my phone call, I can hear the unmistakable din of cafe chatter in the background. I picture him sitting in his local coffee shop in Chelmsford, Essex with his friend as he makes time for various interviews relating to his new album and subsequent tour. Shortly after I’m connected I can hear a muffled exchange between himself and the waitress at the cafe, and he informs me that he has just ordered a fish-finger sandwich to snack on before the radio slot he’ll be doing in twenty minutes time.
Gold Panda’s most recent LP is in part an homage to his home-from-home Japan, a country that captured his heart from a young age, and a source of invaluable inspiration for his music. “Originally I didn’t know what to do in order to make the record, so I decided to go to Japan again, which is a place I always go. I’ve been interested in Japan since I was about 15 and I watched some anime, so, yeah, I decided to go back there. I can speak, read, and write Japanese and have a lot of friends there who have kids now, so I went to see them and their families really, and I decided to do some field recording. I took a photographer with me called Laura Lewis, and she was taking photos.”
Derwin jokes how they were trying to find those ordinary, middle of the road places, “the Japanese equivalent to Chelmsford Essex” as he puts it, and while an album was not the initial goal of the trip, he explains how it accidentally became the catalyst he needed to begin one. “The original idea was to do a book, with a free download or a CD. I actually only ended up using one field recording [from the trip] on the album. It was from the headphone jack on a British Airways in-flight entertainment system, which became the first track ‘Metal Bird’. That was the jumping off point really for what I needed to start a new record, so it all came from there really. And I had the title [of the record] from a Japanese taxi driver whose parting words were “good luck and do your best”. That was it really, it went from there. I’ve still got the field recordings and hopefully I’ll get to use those at some point and we’re still doing a book which should be out later in the year. It’s just photos. It’s got the same title Good Luck and Do Your Best but it’s Laura Lewis’ photos and I’m just credited on it cause it’s related to the album, but there’s no audio material on that.”
The resulting album is possibly Gold Panda’s most cohesive and mature work to date, and while it lacks some of the punchier, upbeat tempos fount on his second LP, it tends to echo the melodic sentiments of his earlier work. Speaking on the creative process he recounts how it all came together. “I didn’t have any pressure about this record, I just took my time. I ended up making hundreds of tracks and then picking ones that I thought went together. I was being more accepting of the music I make, more confident in it, refining the good elements about the tracks and what was good about Gold Panda and making those things clearer. I feel that it’s a more direct record. It’s more the pop end of electronic music.”
“I make music as a hobby”, Derwin continues, “so doing it every day or every other day you end up with a large volume of work pretty quickly. If I work on anything for more than a day it loses its appeal and it feels really contrived, so all of the tracks that ended up on the album were just made in a day, or a couple of hours as basic sequences set up on the MPC. I hit record and do a live take and then I go back and try to replicate the live track with the individual stems of the track so that I can mix it later. It’s quite a natural process really.”
The Akai MPC is one of the most popular sampler/sequencers favoured by hip-hop producers and beat-makers the world over, and it’s an indispensable piece of kit in Gold Panda’s studio. It functions both as part of the creative process and in his live set up, with any live instrumentation pre-recorded, sampled and then chopped up in the MPC. “It’s always sampled into the MPC,” he explains. “Well there’s a track called ‘Unthanks’ that was just me playing a keyboard and the idea of that one was for me to use it later, but it just went on the album as it was. There’s a guitar and a hammer dulcimer on ‘Time Eater’, they’re both sampled into the MPC with a really rubbish mic just hanging off a chair.”
The album was finally mixed over at Luke Abbott’s studio. I wondered what it was like to work with Luke and how much of his production style ended up on the record. “It was just good to have someone else’s opinion really, and someone who I trust and am friends with. The main thing is just to work with friends. So working with Laura, or working with Dan, who did the layout and artwork, getting mastered by Shane from Finyl Tweak, who’s a great mastering engineer and just really fun to hang out with, and just to spend time with Luke really, and put the world to right and make music. He plays synths on a track called ‘I Am Real Punk’, which was a really old track that just found its way onto the record because it had a similar sound to it. I don’t want to tell you he did too much because he’s got a big ego and I don’t want it to get bigger,” he chuckles.
For his live performances, Gold Panda again relies heavily on the MPC, with the samples sourced from both the original stems and from elements of the final mix. “I think I’m using a mix of both original stems and some that have been mixed. It’s difficult because once you put a record out you have to start playing [those tracks] and work out how you did them in the first place, and whether to make them sound the same or make them sound different, or whether there are limitations and you have to say ‘well I can’t do this bit so I’m going to have to change it entirely’. It’s basically just me with a couple of MPCs on stage, jamming. A lot of it is improvised and I can change various sequences at any point, and I can record stuff in and let it loop. It’s quite free but I do have to have some outline of what I’m going to do.”
Not wanting to keep Derwin from his fish-finger sandwich for too much longer, I ask one final question of the globe-trotting beatsmith. What’s next on the cards for Gold Panda? “Hopefully I can release some more stuff this year,” he surmises, “although no thanks to the major labels. It takes ages to press a record now, you need about six months before you can get your record out of the actual pressing plant. So that’s difficult, and it means that you can’t have your track ready and hope that it turns up in a month. You need to plan ahead. So I’m not sure how that will go. But hopefully I’ll tour this record until the end of the year and then start on the next one, because I don’t want it to be three years for the next one and that’s what happens if you do lots of shows. So I’m just gonna try and get it all done this year and it’ll take maybe a year to write the next one.”