Interview: Shannon, Matthew and Tom - Pandemix
..To start with, can you tell us your earliest music memory? What music were you into before Punk, or was it the proverbial ‘Year Zero’ moment? Was there a specific band or song that lead you down the Punk path?
..Shannon) Listening to my mom’s LP of Prince’s ‘Dirty Mind’ is one of my first musical memories. She also got me into Punk via THE CLASH and RAMONES. She still has a kickass record collection, and we talk about music a lot.
..Matthew) I was into the Eagles and Weird Al as a kid, particularly the song ‘Faster Songs’ really resonated with me. Any song that had a little more attitude and grit to it than the rest of the songs really pushed my buttons. So naturally when I saw bands like THE OFFSPRING and GREEN DAY on MTV I was immediately on board, and more than ready to dive further down that path. My earliest memory of wanting to be in a band was definitely listening to Judas Priest’s ‘Painkiller’ and jumping around my friend’s basement playing air guitar, and the two of us talking about making a band.
..Tom) Grew up on Weird Al and Queen. Constantly. Hearing GREEN DAY and, to a greater degree, THE OFFSPRING really changed everything. ‘Smash’ immediately became my favorite record, and once I figured out there were other bands that sounded like this, it was shoveling driveways and mowing lawns for cash to dump on $3 comps. Earliest memory of wanting to be in a band was my mom suggesting I buy a guitar from a yard sale down the street.
..Can you give us the band’s background?
..Shannon) I met Tom (bass) at a PIST concert in 2007, Ryan (drums) when he played a show at my house in 2009 or ‘10, and Matthew (guitar) at the anarchist co-op house he lived at in 2012. For me, I was asked to join up once ‘Faultless’ and ‘Total Immersion’ were demo’d, and I was very stoked that they emphasized songwriting and melody while retaining aggression.
..Tom) A year or so after we met, Shannon's band, RIPSHIT, and mine, DRAIZE, did a short a tour and a few weekends together. Ryan and I played in a short lived band together called UNPERSON.
..What were you hoping to achieve with PANDEMIX that your previous bands didn’t?
..Shannon) I think a lot of our influences come from this classic era of Punk and Hardcore, ‘77-’85 or so, but hope that we are able to use those tools to make something a little different. My goal is to be the kind of band I would want to see or listen to records by; unrelenting and unhinged live, while striking a balance between our rougher edges and catchy sensibilities, between thoughtfulness and immediacy. The goal is for seeing us, or listening to our records, to be a total experience. It’s a lofty goal, but it’s a good idea to set goals you can’t achieve. Taking the larger view, my goal is for us to make records for a long time.
..Matthew) I really want to see this band grow. Not that I don’t like anything we are doing now, but we frequently step outside the stylistic bounds of what we have previously done, which makes things feel fresh and exciting. I guess you could say I am looking forward to seeing what "weird" songs stick and become part of our consistent sound, and which ones are just the one-off weird ones. I have been in a lot of bands where it feels like you create a stamp of what your band sounds like and each new song is just a result of inking up that stamp again. I’m not trying to make a stamp in this band, but rather draw everything freehand- if you follow what I’m saying.
..You’ve just released your debut album, ‘Scale Models Of Atrocities’ on Boss Tuneage Records. How did you hook up with Aston and Boss Tuneage?
..Shannon) Someone showed him our demo and he liked it. I’m really grateful for his interest and support.
..Matthew) He is the Dr. Dre to our Eminem.
..Haha!! Did you approach the recording of this album any differently from the demo?
..Shannon) Naturally. We spent more money and recorded more songs at a nicer studio. Matthew and I were more hung over. We basically worked two diligent ten-hour days, whereas the demo was recorded by our friend (who makes music under the moniker of PUBE in Philly) in their free time over the course of three two-hour days. We also had working demos of everything before we went in, pretty much. A demo is a lightning-in-a-bottle thing, whereas a 12" is a more thought-out statement to me.
..In what ways do you feel the album is an improvement on the demo you released last year - especially the tracks you re-recorded from that demo for the album?
..Shannon) My singing improved. ‘Total Immersion’ is faster.
..Matthew) I think a few of the songs changed dynamically between recordings. I know the guitar on the second verse of ‘Conceptual Fuck’ has a very different dynamic structure on the album than it does on the demo. And a few other little things that naturally change after you play a song a bunch of times over a year.
..If we can just talk a bit about some of the songs, starting with the opening track, and one of the album’s best, ‘Exit Strategy’. There is a vague Dick Lucas (SUBHUMANS) feel about those lyrics. What is the ‘Exit Strategy’ that, according to the last line of the song, is already here?
..Shannon) That song and the last song on the record were the two written after the US election, and are kind of flip sides of the same coin. The underlying point of ‘Exit Strategy’ is how everyone’s suddenly worried about this dystopian nightmare future, but it’s already here, in the guise of a society organized by all these oppressive logics. ‘Pornography of Hope’ is about the liberal belief that there are brighter days ahead, and we just need to wait for sex, race, and class-based oppression to naturally dissipate. I think there are very good reasons for them to bookend the record musically, and I kind of structured the lyrics accordingly. I think both are songs about being proactive.
..And what about another highlight ‘Always Alone’? That seems to focus on someone who is easily lead, following trends and not thinking for themselves...
..Shannon) I think ‘Always Alone’ and ‘Twisted Thoughts’ kind of work together lyrically. Both are explorations of the ways that media and consumerism interact with mental health. I’m almost never asking questions of anyone but myself - same goes for ‘Rank & File’ and ‘Faultless’. I’m an extremely self-critical person who has a hard time being kind to herself, when it gets down to it.
..Where do you draw influence for your lyrics?
..Shannon) I think about what scares me, what I’m worried about, what I’m angry about, what brings me joy. I try to draw inspiration from a ton of sources, not just from Punk bands. Hopefully I’m doing something that is meaningful to me and plumbs my fears, without being so didactic that there is only one way to interpret the lyrics.
..I note that on both this and the demo/flexi there is no mention at all of who is in the band or even how many band members there are. Any reason for that?
..Shannon) For me, it’s a deliberate decision to avoid participation in the cult of personality that has become so intrinsic in how music is talked about. Bands seem to get coverage in the Indie Industry inasmuch as they have a marketable frontperson, a readily-available angle for the press to play up, and a general willingness to step on other people and talk about how great they are. It’s about not wanting to see my identity supercede my ideas in the way people talk about the band.
..The aesthetics of both releases certainly draw parallels with a lot of the old Anarcho/ Peace punk bands and graphics. I believe you do most of the artwork for the band. Are the graphics directly linked to any of the songs?
..Shannon) Tom did the cover of both the cassette and flexi versions of the demo. I drew, collaged, or typewrote everything for the 12". There’s not much separation between the kind of work I do for the band and my personal work. Connections to songs end up being a result of my own preoccupations, rather than setting out to illustrate a song. I don’t think I have very much technical skill, but I do have ideas and patience. I think the reason we’ve ended up doing all the art ourselves so far is that the fewer people involved, the fewer chances for it to get jammed up. Have you ever worked with an artist? They’re fucking awful!
As a sidenote, I fought pretty hard against doing the circular framing on the record cover, because I felt like it was too directly referential of Crass Records bands, but other people preferred it and I just wanted it to be done.
..Tell us a bit about your label, Nervous Nelly Records. What’s the criteria you look for in a band when thinking about releasing their material?
..Shannon) My partner and I do the label together. We’re always toying with ideas for changing it up, and making it look pretty different. We get approached by friends’ (or friends-of-friends) bands about putting out their records, generally. We have to think their band doesn’t suck, and we increasingly attempt to prioritize working with a broad variety of people, getting different viewpoints in the cultural conversation.
..Coming off the band a bit, what’s life like for a Punk in Boston, MA? From my experience there, it seems to be a rather expensive and affluent city. Is there much homelessness, unemployment, violence etc?
..Shannon) It’s expensive and there are a lot of terrible people, but keep in mind that it’s a majority people-of-color city, and the housing market and cost of living here are really out of control. A lot of neighborhoods are gentrifying really quickly and basically becoming a giant Apple Store, which only makes the inequality that much more noticeable.
..It’s a city with a massive reputation of great bands from the likes of early Hardcore bands like SSD and JERRY’S KIDS, through to MOVING TARGETS and LEMONHEADS, TOXIC NARCOTIC and DROPKICK MURPHYS and onto more experimental but equally stunning bands a’la MISSION OF BURMA (a personal favourite) and THE PIXIES. Does the city’s history influence you in any way?
..Shannon) We’re all die-hard DROPKICK MURPHYS fans. It’s nice to be part of this larger historical continuity of Boston Punk Rock, but frankly, we’ve only ever played Boston like six times or something. I personally think it’s one of the better contemporary Punk scenes, and there are a lot of Punk bands there I love playing with and love seeing. Since there is a strong Proper Punk Scene, the weirdo influences and mixed bills of smaller cities I’ve lived in are pretty forfeit, which is a bit of a loss. I drummed for a LEMONHEADS cover set with some friends from WORRIERS back in February, it was cool.
..Would you say that coming from a city like Boston has been a positive or negative in getting the band exposure? In what ways do you think PANDEMIX might be a different band had you all been from, say, Minneapolis or Los Angeles?
..Shannon) Pretty positive. There are just a lot more opportunities to play shows, and play different types of shows, in Boston. Plus it’s a short drive from a lot of other cities. Having done bands in New Haven and Nashville for years, I think it’s both a lot easier because there are more opportunities, and that people take more notice simply because we’re from Boston. Like, it’s automatically linked to a musical lineage and a current scene in the way that a band from a smaller city isn’t necessarily.
..I realise you, Shannon, moved to Pittsburgh late 2016. Why the move? Any regrets? What are the most apparent differences between life in Boston and life in Pittsburgh?
..Shannon) My partner got a job here. I’m living with him and our two dogs, so my life is a lot quieter than when I lived with five people in Boston. It’s easier to keep my mental health in check, easier to be productive in many ways; the only thing that’s harder is PANDEMIX stuff, but even then, it just means that it’s an event anytime we play - even if only for us. It’s nice to not have the chance for gigging to get routine, for us to get too comfortable.
..Going onto more personal matters, I believe you, Shannon, are transgender and transitioned to female in 2014. I think that’s an incredibly brave thing to do. Have you experienced much stigma from the Punk scene about it?
..Shannon) I don’t feel that I’ve experienced much out-and-out stigma within Punk. I often only feel included to the degree that people feel comfortable either tokenizing me or treating me like a man, which is not a great feeling. I’m much more involved in feminist and queer scenes in Pittsburgh than the Punk scene (although obviously there’s overlap) - spaces where trans folks aren’t such a rarity. One of the defining, and common experiences of being trans in public for me is being fag-bashed and hit on by two different men in the space of a few minutes.
..Were you always aware that you didn’t feel comfortable as a male, or is it something that amplified itself as time progressed? Do you feel that AGAINST ME’s Laura Jane Grace brought some much needed awareness of transgender people?
..Shannon) Laura, whatever else she is, is a public figure. Experiencing that degree of scrutiny on your every move must be exhausting. Awareness and visibility are pretty much things I’m not concerned about as political goals in-and-of-themselves, because they are always filtered through the lens of a cis (i.e. non trans) writer and audience. Seems like a chance for other people to pat themselves on the back over your vulnerability and your pain.
..You’ve told me in the past that a number of your lyrics come from your experience as a transgender woman. Can you elaborate a bit on that?
..Shannon) That’s more true of the stuff that hasn’t been released yet. However, the songs about mental health, about feeling like one is watching one’s own life rather than being an active participant in it, tie in there. ‘Conceptual Fuck’ is about womanhood generally and how there’s not a choice you can make that you won’t be denigrated for, which obviously is filtered through my experience as a trans woman.
..Thoughts on the Donald Trump administration so far?
..Shannon) What a farce.
..A fun question... You can star in as the lead character in any film in history. Who would the character be and why? And, in a biopic about PANDEMIX who would play each of you?
..Shannon) I’m not a big movie girl. I’m gonna kick this one to the band mates.
..Tom) I can't really see how the PANDEMIX biopic could be anything but animated.
..What’s next up for PANDEMIX? Tours, EPs?? Are you already working on the follow-up album? In what ways do you think, or hope, the next album might be different from ‘Scale Models Of Atrocities’?
..Shannon) We have a 7" single we recorded at the same time as ‘Atrocities...’ coming out on Dirt Cult Records (Portland, OR). I’m always reticent to talk about our plans, because putting them in writing is the first step towards failure; I’d rather keep it close to the chest. We do have 6 new songs already. The new material kind of goes in a lot of directions, and what excites me most is trying new things, so I think stretching out and seeing what we can do keeps us all engaged.
..Anything you wish to add?
..Shannon) Thanks for the questions!