For an electronic musician, Londoner-turned-Berliner Gold Panda doesn’t use too many electronics. “I don’t use a laptop,” he says. “I’m very limited by the equipment I use, which is good because some software has such endless possibilities that I’d just keep on going and going and then never finish anything.” Three years after his debut LP, Lucky Shiner, Gold Panda has finished his sophomore record, Half of Where You Live. Using vinyls collected from across the globe, an Akai MPC2000xl sampler, and a drum machine, his new album is an atmospheric joy ride from familiar destinations like Brazil and Hong Kong to abstract places like “Junk City.” It’s effectively a travelogue of the last three years of touring. Chiming bells and Chinese strings meet complex beats and snapping samples. Unable to be composed on the road, it’s exactly what the title promises—half a real place and half an imagined one. Ahead of the record’s June 11th release, Ghostly, we spoke with Gold Panda about first records, composing, and an off-the-cuff track for Brooklyn.
Why do you call yourself Gold Panda?
I just picked two things that I liked and put them together. There wasn’t much thought. It was like, “How about a color and an animal?” It just kind of suited a couple of tracks that I’d made. Sometimes I regret it and sometimes it’s really good.
Why do you regret it?
I feel like it’s not a very serious name. I think it’s a cool name until you’re 30 and now I’m 32. I want something a bit less cute.
Let’s go further into the past. What was the first record you bought?
The first record I bought was a vinyl by Soul II Soul, Jazzie B’s group. It came out in 1989 so I was 9 years old. I knew about vinyl because my dad had records. I went to the local store in Peckham, like a High Street store, but they didn’t have it because at that time it was like a club record, a specialty thing. I knew there was another record shop in Peckham so I said, “Oh, c’mon dad it has got to be in here.” We went in and there were big Rasta dudes behind the counter playing this really dark, heavy reggae stuff. I was like, “Excuse me mate, do you have Soul II Soul Back to Life here?” They were like, “Yeah, mon.” And from then on, I was just very interested in music.
It’s a shame those record shops are such a rarity now.
I was in The States for two weeks recently; I went record shopping in pretty much every city. I bought about 80 records. I spent $500. I buy more music to make more music to buy more music.
How did you transport all those records back to Berlin?
I took all my clothes and my girlfriend’s clothes out of one suitcase and bought another case from Macy’s.
You played at the Knitting Factory when you were in town. How was that?
The States are quite different to Europe. I feel like it’s mainly focused on rock music and live music and bands, so venues are more geared towards that kind of music. The crowd is brilliant in the States. It’s one of my favorite places to play.
What’s the ideal electronic music venue for you?
It depends. I just like small venues with a low ceiling. I played in Italy recently at a really small club. It’s in Turin and I think you can only get 200 people in there. It’s under a restaurant and the ceiling is really low so that makes the bass sound amazing. I prefer small venues where people can get close to you and see what you’re doing.
Do you prefer composing or performing?
Definitely the writing. I hate performing. If I could do music without performing and make money, I wouldn’t perform at all.
Why do you dislike performing?
I just don’t feel comfortable doing it. I mean, I’ve had really good times and it has made me a lot more confident in life in general, but I hate being the center of attention. I prefer the process. Actually, I’m not too keen on the finished tracks. I much prefer making the music. When the tracks are done, my relationship with them is a bit strange. I’m a bit cut off from them, really. It takes about a year or so for me to be able to go back and listen to them without hating them.
What’s your relationship like with the latest record?
I’m a lot happier with this new album. I made this album because I wanted to make a record that I could play live a bit more. I’ve just been playing the same album for about 4 years.
Where did you write this record?
I only compose music at home. I don’t do anything on the road.
What’s your composition process like?
Basically that’s the reason why I make stuff at home, because I’m surrounded by old records. I always start with a blank machine with nothing in it and I slowly fill it with sounds. I don’t use a laptop at the moment just because I learned without a computer. It’s actually easier for me to not use a laptop. I’m very limited by the equipment I use, which is good because some software has such endless possibilities that I’d just keep on going and going and then never finish anything. I like the spontaneity and the ease of just recording a sound into my sampler.
If you had to make a track for New York, what would it sound like?
It would have a lot of piano in it and I’d make it about Brooklyn Heights, because my girlfriend has family there and we stayed in Brooklyn Heights. It would be quite free and I don’t think I’d put a beat on it. I made a track that I thought was kind of like Brooklyn, but it became something else. It’s not released. I have a label called NOTOWN and we’re thinking of doing a sample CD to come out with my album with some other artists on it. I might put it on there. It became a track called “Cancelled Shows.”
Can you tell me about your father in Hong Kong in 1961?
There are a bunch of pictures in my parents’ house of my father when he did service for the army in Hong Kong. Basically he didn’t have to do anything apart from usual military drills – polishing your boots, I assume, and then going out and drinking. When I was younger, I used to tape a lot of late night television. On Channel 4 there used to be these late night documentaries with lots of stuff on Asia and Japan, which was my main interest. This was pre-Internet. I wanted to make a track that was almost stereotypically Asian sounding from a Westerner’s point of view, so you’d see like a travel show or a documentary about how people in Hong Kong live.
What’s the best part of travel?
Record shopping in different countries and eating.
What’s the worst part?
Flying. I hate flying.
Do you have any musical guilty pleasures?
TLC? That’s not really guilty, though. I don’t know. I don’t have any. There’s no embarrassing music. My girlfriend is nodding at me. [Backstreet Boys] Everyone loves the Backstreet Boys! No, there’s nothing. All music is good really. There’s good music everywhere.