Interview: Gold Panda

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Just a couple of weeks out from his trip to Australia for Golden Plains, Gold Panda is learning how to make curry with his Indian grandmother back in his hometown of Essex, UK.

“I’m not good at just reading a recipe but she’s been showing me first hand so it’s been working out alright,” he says after admitting to being a terrible cook.

After all Gold Panda is actually Derwin Schleckler and despite keeping his real name to himself at the start of his career, he now just wants to be known as a ‘real person’.

“I hate being held in high regard, I just want to be the same as everyone else.”

The success of his debut album Lucky Shiner, released almost four years ago, means he’s no stranger to a bit of fame – though it has been an adjustment. Amongst a pretty intense touring schedule and a number of festival appearances, including a set at last year’s Glastonbury, Derwin’s learnt how to keep a level head.

“I do like the atmosphere at festivals I just feel slightly exposed. I think I feel slightly self-conscious on stage anyway, like I’d rather not be there. But there’s loads of factors that effect the way you feel about shows, whether it’s a festival or not. [It] just depends what happened that day, or what the crowd’s experienced, or who was before you, or who’s after you, what you’ve eaten – so many factors that effect whether you have a good show or not.”

If you’ve ever been to a Gold Panda show you may have caught a glimpse of his self-consciousness, but by using a fairly simple set up Derwin distracts himself by keeping busy on stage.

“I just have an MPC-1000 and a couple of other drum machines and a guitar loop pedal. It’s quite noisy and messy and there’s a lot of improvisation in there, it keeps me busy basically so I don’t have to think about being self-conscious. There’s no time to think about how I’m feeling or how it’s going, I’m just doing it.”

Don’t assume he’s not paying attention though because when asked about playing his most popular song, ‘You’, he’s not shy about exposing a cheeky side.

“Oh yeah, I’m fucking sick of it,” he laughs. “But people’s reaction to it gets more hilarious every time so I do it for that really, it’s quite funny. And you can kind of mess with them a little bit with it, you can tease them with it so it’s fun.”

At his last Melbourne show (at the Liberty Social in 2013) the crowd’s enthusiasm appeared almost overwhelming, but Derwin admitted to preferring a small, energetic show.

“It’s good when the crowd’s crazy and when you’re close to them as well, it’s really fun because you kind of have a shared moment. With festivals I hate being up on that big stage with light and stuff. I like small places where you feel like a real person and not a pop star or something. I wanna be down there just partying you know, where people can see what I’m doing. I enjoy that.”

But despite expressing concerns about the “disconnect” and the “distance between [himself] and the people” at a festival, he’s looking forward to getting out of the UK winter and hitting the bush for Golden Plains.

“I’m so sick of it being cold and rainy that I can’t wait to get out there,” he says of the Supernatural Amphitheatre. “It’s going to be so nice out in the sun… and just [to] be outside in the fresh air.”

Of course touring has been a big part of Derwin’s life since the first album and his follow up, Half of Where You Live, was heavily influenced by travelling and living in Berlin.

“Travelling a lot really inspired the second album, and also being in Berlin and experiencing the music scene there – getting into a lot of house music that was quite spontaneous and made in a very organic way.”

Living and studying in Japan was also a factor and the first track on the album, ‘Junk City II’, was particularly influenced by Takashi Miike films.

“There’s a certain period of cinema that I like which is a lot of ’90s Japanese and ’80s films. Films that depict a future dystopia and a decline of society and morals. ‘Junk City’ was my response to that. There’s some kind of quality in those films – like a VHS quality – that I liked, and something sleazy about them and very futuristic.”

There was a notable wait between the release of Lucky Shiner ( 2010) and Half of Where You Live (2013), partly because Derwin felt a lot of pressure to create a second album that measured up to the first. Now he’s just “glad it’s done and out the way.”

“At first I tried to make another track like ‘You’ and then I realised that there’d be no point because then I’d have another track like ‘You’ so ‘You’ would stand out less. I just thought that I shouldn’t be covering the same ground again and again [and] it worked out better because if all your tracks are different then they’re going to stand out from one another.

“Now it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but at the time it seemed a really big deal. [But] if you’re not going to make music that you enjoy or the way you want it then there’s not really much point. I mean, it’s good to keep people happy but if you’re not happy with it yourself then you’re kind of living a lie. If that’s your hobby and that’s what you do to keep you sane you don’t want to dilute it or change it for anyone else because then you’re not doing it for yourself anymore – and that’s the reason you did it in the first place.”

Although he’s promised to play some Lucky Shiner on the upcoming tour, this newfound attitude could also mean Gold Panda fans may be facing their last chance to see ‘You’ performed live.

“I think after this year I’m done playing the same music. I know people are going to be mad at me because I know they’re going to want to hear it, but I think I’ve gotta do something else.”

After his tour of Australia and New Zealand Derwin plans to return to Japan to brush up on his Japanese skills, but is otherwise happy to be back in the UK where he hopes to spend more time making music.

“This year I’m going to try and take it easy. Basically I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I can cherry pick the shows I want to do, turn down a few, and spend more time making music.

“I have missed London – I’ve missed the UK really – so we’ll see, I’m not sure what to do next.”

Words: Alix Palmer

Published by Everguide 25 February 2014. Image from Everguide.

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