GOLD PANDA is no longer a newcomer. After hitting major sucess with his 2010’s debut Lucky Shiner, he continued his meticulous work with his GOLD PANDA identity with a second album Half of Where You Live, and a third one this year we really liked, titled Good Luck And Do Your Best. This summer he also released a small interesting EP called Kingdom, in which he expresses a story that comes around what’s happening right now in the UK. After publishing an explanation piece about Brexit, we took an appointment with the London artist to speak about all this mess, and to understand where does he feel like he is right now in his career.
How do you look back on you career now that you’ve been doing that for a good part of your life?
It looks… embarrassing. (laughs)
Because you had rough twenties, and suddenly you hit success when you were thirty. For many artists It would be a very violent process, up to losing the ability to be sensitive about things. How did it go for you?
It’s difficult because GOLD PANDA is 8 years old now. You litteraly change when you leave your twenties. My teenage years were quite late and difficult, I was feeling depressed and making music was my way to escape all this. Now that I’m older, I wish I’d done it all differently. I wish I had not sign to a label and do it DIY, all by myself – had more confidence. If your first record is really successful, and people really like it, it’s really hard to do the second one. You’ve got many chances that people will be disappointed, either by doing the same or doing it differently.
Was it what happened around 2010 for you, when you had your major successes?
Yeah. After that record, I didn’t want to make any other records. I was like ‘well I did a record, and It went really well: why should I do another one?’.
Going into crazy tours, did you lose your ability to sense things? To connect?
I think It was the opposite actually. It made me more sensitive, but It did make me want to do less music. If you go on tours a lot, you become too sensitive. I was getting sick of getting on planes. The other night, my parents were watching a documentary about refugees and how they travel from Africa to Calais, hoping to go to the UK. I realised it was literraly the worst way to travel. They travel through the desert by feet, and without water – and I complain about travelling on planes. I’m feeling lucky that I have all these legal documents, that someone is bringing me food and I’m watching movies. It’s really great, and you’re getting paid.
But when you’re in this world where you are forced to do it over and over again, you just get really frustrated. You’re just wishing to be alone and be able to make music.
Is the hardest part to keep a stable mood?
Yeah It gets really hard. And It becomes hard to have a routine. When I’m at home, I have a tight schedule that I like to follow rigorously: wake-up at 7.AM, go swimming, shopping, breakfast, emails, music, tea & cakes at 4 o’clock… But when you’re doing four festivals in a row, you don’t have that routine. You’re tired, you wonder ‘who am I?’.
I guess you’ve been growing up projecting your identity through your music. Especially during the teenage years when you’re not living a ‘success story‘. Everybody find in the arts the way to express themselves and to build themselves. All of a sudden, and way later, you hit a major success and everybody is appropriating your music to make it mean different things. How do you interact with your music in terms of identity? Is it still the inner you?
GOLD PANDA has its own identity now. It’s still part of me, and it’s still me on the videos. But there is also a big part of me I’m not projecting into GOLD PANDA. I know that I want to do a very different new record, because I want to project different things into it. Do I have to choose a new name, and do a different project? Or because I’ve worked so hard with GOLD PANDA, do I keep the same name, risking to disturb people seeing GOLD PANDA as a particular thing. You don’t need to especially project your identity through music, but It happens naturally over the years. There is always a part of you in what you do. Even when I take different instruments and show it to my friends, they’re like ‘yeah that sounds different, but that still sounds you’.
And now you’ve starting to politically express things, especially recently with the refugee crisis and your last EP ‘Kingdom’. Is it a way to go for new things? Now that you’ve accomplished some of your teenage dreams, is it a way to continue going forward?
Before, I didn’t want nothing with politics. Now that I’m older, I realise I can use my music for things. You can do installations, you can raise money for people. You can make a comment on things, without having to say anything, just by making music.
I’m interested in that. Because It’s been nearly 10 years, and you can’t just continue making the same record.
Suggesting a story via electronic music
Do you manage to keep it instinctive? When you become famous and when you start wondering what can you do out of your music, you could also be intellectualizing too much.
Yeah, in the way you make it you have to keep it very instinctive. I guess I’m trying to experiment new things to keep that way. Sometimes I go into places so amazing that I feel really shit with my music. Even looking at how people can create buildings, furnitures; and I’m only doing little tunes. But people like it. When I like things, I don’t intellectualize it, I just like it. I just want to keep exploring things that interest me. Unfortunately for me, I really like Japan. I don’t want it to be my gimmick but I can’t really escape it. I have friends there, I speak Japanese, and I always come back to that country.
But I guess you like having it abstract? People having the ability to see your music in very different ways?
Yeah, with instrumental and electronic in general, I can only suggest a story. Notably with titles and artworks – I wonder what it would be for me, making a record without any both of them. But the audience is doing the main part of the work about it.
When you made ‘Kingdom’, did you know instantly that the story would be about the UK and Brexit?
I didn’t really say it was about Brexit. When I made these tracks, they were darker and more improvised. And it was at a time when everyone was making fun of Brexit, like it wouldn’t never happen. Especially in middle-class white neighbourhoods. I was like ‘We’re going to leave!’
My neighbour was from Afghanistan, and came here with nothing, just his family. Someone stole his mobile phone, and I found the situation very dark. He comes all this way and the first thing that happen to him is to have his mobile phone stolen. With the money I made from Bandcamp I was able to buy him a really great Samsung cellphone. Now he can use my wifi and get in touch with whoever in the world. And that’s cool, I was able to use my music to do something meaningful.
I’ve been living in the UK six months this year. As a French, I stopped by the Calais migrant camp and what you can see there is just awful. Especially to realise that it is happening within my country, that we let people and children live in these terrible conditions. When I arrived in the UK, I felt anxiety about this, everywhere. At that time, Perc released an EP inspired by the pre-brexit politics and debates. His record is a good testimony of how everything was there for Brexit. But yet it surprised everyone, why?
Basically everything above London is left to… nothing. People have to make their own future, there are no investments. London is a different world. Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle, Sunderland, have all great music scenes whereas London feel really sanitized. It’s really two different worlds, that’s perhaps why everyone in London was surprised, because ‘leave’ wasn’t possible in their environment. After my tour I’ve planned to take a few months to travel within the UK with my girlfriend. It’s sad that it is leave but perhaps now is the best time to do it. I’ve played Sheffield, Birmingham, Manchester, but I didn’t spend enough time in these cities. It’s my country. I realised when I was in Japan that I was missing England. It’s good to explore every bits of Japan, but I didn’t even go once in Cornwall.
Do you think this crisis will be a solid ground to create new cultural ideas within the UK?
Yeah, especially right now. Everybody realise that we have to do things. Before we could go everywhere. Of course it’s too soon to understand what it will be after we really leave, but it will change the way we interact with the continent. A few weeks ago I was swimming in a lake near Berlin during a wedding. I was like ‘It would be awesome to have a house here’. In a few years, we won’t be able to do it anymore, or at least it’ll be more complicated.
Get excited to remain the passion
Are you more happy nowadays compared to ten years before?
Yeah, I’m happy. I was gonna say that I didn’t know what I want back then, but I think I still don’t know what I really want. (laughs)
Do you think you could be happier?
Yeah, for sure. I need to embrace change, and not be afraid of it. Because I’ve done three albums that have a similar style. It’s good that I’ve done that, but now I need to change.
Is it exciting to launch new projects?
It feels like I have freedom. And if the public doesn’t like it, then fuck it. You can listen to the three previous albums. I want to explore new ways of making music, because I’ve been doing it the same way for too long now. Unfortunately, it will sound like me. That’s both good and bad. Your dream is to do completely different. I want to be someone else. You want the white page. Kingdom started to sound different, but I want to go further.
Do you want to explore new kinds of arts or lifestyle as well?
Yeah totally, especially lifestyle. The way Bowie made albums, he changed everything each time. You’re reborn at each new projects. I mean, that would be great. I’d love to do that. But whether you like it or not, you’ll still sound like you. I’d love to make albums in futuristic hotels in Singapore or Hong Kong, and do something very minimal.
To explore the way your working environment can reflect in your music?
Yeah, but also on an acoustic level, by doing acoustic sampling in these environments. The sound of where you are. I would also love to work on the way we create a live set. Right now I’m making an album and then we’re creating the visuals for the live set. I would like to embrace both at the same time for example. I’m older now, I’m losing the passion. I need to find new ways to be excited.
Your happiness depends on your ability to feel you’re going forward, no?
Yeah, but you don’t control it and you’re worried about it. At soon as you’ve finished something you have to keep on moving. It’s a good thing, but at the same time you’re never totally satisfied.
What’s the last idea that really changed you? It can be music, arts, politics, family, life.
The last idea? I don’t want to say, because I didn’t realise it yet. An idea can be very small, like changing your socks. It doesn’t have to be grand. Growing a plant can be life changing. I feel like for me it can be that you don’t need a reason to do stuff. My girlfriend is a photographer and I was like ‘I wish I would be a photographer’. I can just take a camera and do it, start taking photos. I could write a book, even if I’m not a writer, a reader. May be people who are not listening to music should make music.
Do you feel you were self-limiting when you were younger?
Yeah, definitely. I’m still doing it, and I want to break up of these limits, just by doing something different. Because you can.