Panther Ray is the Twin Cities' new psychedelic rock hope
Photo by Jamie Moncur
With so many bands in the Twin Cities recording great psychedelic rock, it's hard to keep track of them all. One that may have been lost in the purple haze is Panther Ray, who quietly released their first EP, Parallel Motions, last spring. The disc combines classic psych sounds with '80s jangle and modern shoegazin' rock, all held together by nuanced studio craftwork. On Daily Season, their new EP out this week, Panther Ray has captured some rich guitar shredding that sounds like a lost recording of Arthur Lee and just the right amount of trombone.
Gimme Noise just had to introduce you to these guys, so we chased down their mystery machine to ask them a few questions about the new disc.
Gimme Noise: The last time I saw you guys play it seemed like you were having a hard time deciding who was going to play what instrument.
Joey Johnson: It has always been a way that we collaborate. From the time we started playing together, we definitely recognized that everyone has the tools to be creative on each instrument. As we've gotten more serious about what we do, we've made an attempt to solidify the lineup a bit but we have no intention of setting aside that aspect of our creativity altogether.
Daniel Ries: In most songs these days we're sticking to the layout of Andy [Rockwood] on bass, Joey on drums, and Evan [Kramer] and I on guitar, but there are definitely some songs where we prefer to deviate.
Andy Rockwood: I think that everyone has different musical ideas and therefore not keeping a standard lineup all the time keeps the songs unique from each other.
GN: Daily Season sounds a lot more confident than your first EP to my
ears. Are the new songs ones that were written and rehearsed at the same time as Parallel Motions, or did they come later?
JJ: Daily Season is a collection of songs that have been in our proverbial pocket for a long time alongside others that have come into being during the recording process. "Ought" and "Beasters" are two of the first songs we ever wrote, but it took until this release to have recordings that we were satisfied with. "Caterpillars" and "Bubbles" are much newer and were written around the time of our first release, Parallel Motions.
GN: There's a lot of studio effects on both EPs that are hard to re-create in a live set. How does a song like "Green Lake" change when it's performed in a club?
DR: That is definitely one of the trickier ones to arrange for the live
setup, similarly to the track "Soar" on our last EP. We don't really try to play things exactly as they're recorded on most songs, but when the song is pretty reliant on certain sounds like those two, we definitely do try to replicate some of it. It contains some reverse tracking and such, so we just try our best to approximate the feel and dynamics of the recording by using guitar pedals and different techniques of playing.
GN: Do you think there's a second revival of psychedelic rock going on in recent years? It seems like there are a lot of bands that into '60s psych records and also the jangly indie rock of the '80s.
JJ: I think that's true. For us personally, this is the music we love. I feel like the popularity of these styles has certainly had a renaissance, but the influence that it has on our music is more subconscious than intentional.
DR: Yeah, I think it's definitely an accurate assessment about '80s jangle pop as well. It seems like a lot of modern psychedelic bands,with ourselves included, are located on some point between the shoegazey, jangly indie stuff from that era, and the stuff from the heyday of psychedelic music in the sixties.
GN: I guess the follow-up question to that is what do you guys love to listen to?
Evan Kramer: Lately I've been really digging Donovan, Guided by Voices, and Pink Floyd... Unfortunately I missed the last Dan Deacon show, but I've been listening to a lot of his stuff lately.
AR: I don't really keep up with new stuff aside from a few local bands.
Some of the biggest influences for me have been American and Brazillian psych rock bands -- specifically Novos Baianos -- and lots of doo-wop stuff.... and Creedence.
DR: Just off the top of my head, I've listened to a lot of the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, and Van Dyke Parks this last year, but that's a lot of old stuff. As far as new stuff goes, I think Tame Imapla have been really great, and locally, I've been pretty floored by some sets I've seen from Magic Castles and Leisure Birds this year.
JJ: My musical tastes are probably the most different from the rest of
the guys, as I mainly listen to jazz, but we definitely find common ground on some bands like the Kinks and the Beach Boys.
Photo by Troy Williams
GN: Any bands in the Twin Cities you've really enjoyed playing shows with?
JJ: We have an enormous amount of respect for the bands Wizards Are
Real, and Puppies and Trains. We had an opportunity to play with the Wizards in the Clown Lounge at the Turf Club a few months ago and really enjoyed it. We've also really had a good time playing with Bollywood and Umami.
GN: You mentioned that you're thinking about putting the EPs together and making each a side of an album. Do you think they work together or are they different animals in the end?
DR: That was definitely a concept in mind from the start, so it's certainly intended to be a sort-of weird double EP. If funds allowed for it, we would pursue pressing a vinyl compilation of the two, but currently we only have them available separately on CD and digitally.
JJ: I think they work well together because of how diverse the sounds
are on each release. Each release is a collection of songs that Dan and Evan have brought to the table and though the style may vary from track to track, I feel like the overall sound translates well between the two EPs.
GN: "Beasters" is sort of epic for Panther Ray. You've recorded sixteen
tracks but only a couple that clock in at over three minutes. Where do you get the inspiration for something longer like that?
JJ: If you picked one track out of our docket of songs, "Beasters" is the
one that will get all four of us talking. It was the first real song that we ever wrote together. In high school, we would get together and jam and in all honesty, just make a lot of noise. I remember Andy started playing the main riff that is now the centerpiece of the song and we all took it from there. Without exactly noticing it, we had created our first song. I feel like it is so much longer than the rest of our songs because when we were working on it, we didn't quite want it to be over.
GN: "Beasters" also sounds pretty amazing. The only information about the recording of your first EP was that it was recorded "in and around St. Paul". Do you have a secret home studio?
JJ: We converted our doomsday bunker into a makeshift studio where Dan does all of the engineering...
DR: Thanks for the kind words. Most of the recording has been done at
my house, but some of this new EP and a lot of the first one was recorded at our old practice space at City Sound.
GN: What is it that keeps a song like "Green Lake" so lightning fast and short?
JJ: I think a lot of our songs are very compact and dense because of the influence of pop music over the years. We don't go into the songwriting process with the intention of making short, concise songs. That just tends to be how the process works out.
AR: I sing and play rhythm on it, and since I'm still kind of new to that, I have a tendency to get a little nervous, so I generally end up playing it fast. I also think that the main riff sounds better played kinda quick.
GN: This isn't really a question but I want to get it in there somehow. I
love the trombone. One of the best parts of your sets is when Joey takes center stage with it. Please say this will remain a part of Panther Ray shows.
JJ: Personally, I'm flattered. I grew up playing trombone and that has
always been the creative color that I've added to our sound. While I am almost exclusively playing drums on our new material, the trombone isn't going anywhere....
Panther Ray will perform at the Triple Rock Social Club on Sunday December 30 to celebrate the release of Daily Season. Also performing will be the Lazy Kids and Holographic Sands. 18+, $6 cover.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.