Indietronica trio Panama has just put out their Always EP. It's a dreamy batch of groovy, lustrous dance songs that are reminiscent of fellow Australian synthpoppers Cut Copy. Panama's sophomore EP is also their most buzzworthy: the title-track has been played over a million times on Soundcloud and its music video has over 500,000 views on YouTube. Check out Scene Point Blank’s email chat with Panama’s Jarrah McCleary about the EP, SXSW, and T Bone Burnett.
Scene Point Blank: What's the story behind the name Panama?
Jarrah McCleary: I was working in Los Angeles with Eric Broucek and I hadn't come up for a name for the new music I was writing/recording. I feel like band names are sometimes the hardest things to come up with, especially if you're trying to force one, so I guess Panama kind of just evolved whilst I was over there. The music I was writing seemed to suit the name. I've always liked names that evoke a sense of what the music might sound like and to me the nostalgic synth sounds and percussive elements conjured up a portrait of an exotic South American experience.
Scene Point Blank: I love the angelic synths and saxophone solo on “Strange Feeling.” How’d you come up with those musical elements?
Jarrah McCleary: I did a lot of work on the synths at home with a few different sampling programs. I became besotted with a program called Omnisphere which is kind of like a sampler crossed with a synth. I was using this particular program for a course I was studying in screen music at the time, so I was comfortable enough to bring it into my songwriting process. As for the saxophone, that was actually a live take from a local San Franciscan artist I hired to work on a bunch of songs I recorded over there. He had a really deep emotional tone to his playing and I admire what he contributed to “Strange Feeling.” There are a few songs that we still haven't been released (as yet) that feature his killer skills.
Scene Point Blank: Which artists/bands were your biggest inspirations on the Always EP?
Jarrah McCleary: As much as I endeavour to write music that doesn't replicate what other musicians have done, it would be arrogant to say that the Always EP wasn't influenced (unintentionally or otherwise) by music that I was listening to at the time/artists that I am and have always been passionate about. “Destroyer” in particular combines my passion for ‘80s new wave artists such as Icehouse and The Human League. Some people have said that “Destroyer” sounds influenced by Cliff Martinez's soundtrack from the movie Drive, which I guess it could be. It's funny how you can write songs that you think are really different-sounding and then you realise that "Hey, maybe it's not and it actually sounds a bit like that movie I saw last month?".
Scene Point Blank: What did you guys do differently on the EP compared to It’s Not Over?
Jarrah McCleary: I suppose I spent a fair bit more time working on the EP myself this time. When I worked with Eric in L.A. on It's Not Over, he was pretty integral in shaping the sound of the music. By the time I sat down to write Always, I had been working on Panama for a year and a half and felt confident in my ability to take the EP in the right direction myself. I still worked with Eric on “Always” and “Destroyer” (and a bunch of other unreleased tracks) in San Fran though as I really wanted to include his expertise in sound and mixing. I am pretty proud to say that I recorded and mixed “How We Feel” in my home studio on my own. It's my first song to date that I haven't worked with Eric on.
"I am pretty proud to say that I recorded and mixed “How We Feel” in my home studio on my own."
Scene Point Blank: What were your favorite albums of 2013?
Jarrah McCleary: I enjoyed the Mt Kimbie Cold Spring Fault Less Youth record and also Blood Orange's Cupid Deluxe. Both albums were pretty stand out for me.
Scene Point Blank: You guys recently did SXSW. What were your favorite moments from the festival?
Jarrah McCleary: I really enjoyed all the shows that we played and it was great to share it with Tim and Tom (who make up my live show) as well as our soundie Matt. We all agree that our favourite show was the Soundcloud one as the vibe was amazing. The energy that we received from our audience was incredible as they were so enthusiastic--which is what you always hope for when you get out on that stage.
Scene Point Blank: What’s your favorite Panama music video?
Jarrah McCleary: My favourite Panama clip would definitely have to be the one we had made for “It's Not Over.” The first cut that the guys from A Nice Idea Everyday sent us was exhilarating to watch as I really felt like they understood the energy and feeling that I tried to create in the song.
Scene Point Blank: And lastly, who’s your dream director to score a film for?
Jarrah McCleary: That's actually a great question and something that I have pondered as I have studied screen music in the past. My girlfriend and I just finished manically watching True Detective (we finished it over a weekend) and the score that T Bone Burnett wrote for it was incredible! What I like about screen music in such TV dramas are the ways in which the composer uses the main theme of the series to explore different emotions and points of tension throughout episodes. It really adds another layer of depth to what you're watching. T Bone Burnett does a fine job of it in True Detective as does Jeff Beal in the US version of House of Cards.