Rochester, NY’s Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad don’t seem to slow down, and who’d blame them? Hot off of two new, vastly different releases in 2012, Country and In These Times, fans of G.P.G.D.S. can’t seem to get enough of the jam/reggae band, and that is exactly what this talented quintet wants. Persistent, dedicated, and entertaining, PANDA! shows are flowing with positive energy and happy movement.
With a host of releases, several taped live recordings, and a spotlight on NPR, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad represents one of the best examples of the modern day reggae scene, in all its glory. Alongside other notable acts such as The Green, John Brown’s Body, and Tribal Seeds, G.P.G.D.S. captivates audiences wherever they play. It kind of gives me an idea for a touring new school reggae festival… Any takers?
But before I go spending money I don’t have to make it happen, if you like to have a good time bouncing along to Jamaican rhythms and mellow vibes, you should get yourself to a PANDA! show as soon as you can. I managed to speak with guitarist-vocalist Dan Keller to discuss their latest releases, their massive touring schedules, a wee bit of politics, and their hometown of Rochester, NY.
G- Hi there and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five! Introduce the members in the group for our readers who may not be familiar with you… Who is everyone, what do they play, and does everyone still call Rochester home? How has everything been going with G.P.G.D.S. lately?
D- James Searl: Bass, Vocals, Chris O’Brian: Drums, Vocals, Dylan Savage: Guitar, Vocals, Aaron Lipp: Hammond B3 Organ, Fender Rhodes, Clavinet, Harmonica, Vocals
Dan Keller: Guitar, Vocals
Aaron and I both play some additional instruments too (banjo, saxophone, others).
We all live in and around the Rochester area. We’ve been taking some time off from touring to record a couple new albums. Hope to release those later this year.
We’ve got two shows this week with Umphrey’s McGee. Come rage!
January 16: Buffalo @ Town Ballroom
January 17: Syracuse @ Landmark Theatre
G- Dig that… I’ll be at the Landmark, but it looks like Town Ballroom sold out, though. Now, I’ve been watching you guys play for several years and needed to ask… Where did the name come from? It demands attention, and I’ve always wanted to know the back story behind it, but then I found it on your website. So instead, how many times have you had to tell people about the birth of the name, and how much does it drive you absolutely crazy at this point?
D- Don’t believe anything you hear. The name came from an ancient oracle in which we had to traverse the thickest of woods and the highest of mountains to reach. It’s a tale greater and longer than any Lord of the Rings or Hobbit. Wait for the movie.
G- Hahaha right on! So, tell me a bit about your hometown of Rochester and the reggae/jam music scene in 585… How is the jam and reggae scene and how are the responses at your shows? Additionally, where do you think is the best place to get a garbage plate?
D- I came to Rochester via Buffalo about 5 years ago. I was surprised at all the reggae and world music that was happening out here, because Buffalo seemed to be lacking a lot of that. There are so many rootsy bands in Rochester that it’s a huge inspiration and support system to one another. We are all brothers and sisters in music and I think that’s good for everyone involved. I’ve only had about three garbage plates in my life, but I hear that Marks Red Hots is bangin’.
G- Back to touring for a minute, you guys seem to spend most of your time on the road touring, and really shine in a live setting. How do you guys maintain yourselves and stay healthy while traveling, and how do you occupy your time when you’re traveling between gigs?
D- It all starts with the food you’re putting in to your body. Stay away from shitty gas station snacks! We try to stay healthy on the road by requesting only natural, organic food on our tour rider. We also like to grocery shop while on tour at local co-ops or natural grocery markets. To fuel your body and performances, go with the good stuff!
G- Good advice, for sure! So, you released two albums in 2012 on Controlled Substance Sound Labs, and they are completely different offerings. How are your fans been reacting to each of the two albums, and how well do they each translate in the live setting? Can you tell us a bit about which album you personally prefer, or do you feel one album is superior to the other musically?
D- We released Country first, which I think kind of freaked people out a little bit. I think at first a small portion of our listeners might have been a bit hesitant to embrace it. But once you realize there are no rules in music and a good tune is a good tune, it’s easier to warm up to it. It translates beautifully to the live show. We often play mixed sets of electric roots reggae and the acoustic roots stuff. It keeps it fun and interesting for us as well as fans. The Country and In These Times albums are so different that I think they really compliment each other. I consider them siblings…no rivalry involved.
G- What should your fans, both old and new, expect of the performances when you guys hit the stage? You have featured several guests on your latest album, In These Times… Do you often feature special guests live, and can we expect any on the road in the near future?
D- People can expect energy and love vibes. It is our goal to connect with the folks at our shows, and also to rage right along side of them all night. It’s a two way street really, the transfer of energy is what is most important to us. We don’t want to just play our music and leave, we want to have a conversation and build relationships with everyone at our shows. As for special guests, when the time comes and the right people are around, we love having someone new on stage to bring another flavor to the set.
G- Many reggae and jam artists have strong positions on the state of politics and considerations for personal ethical beliefs. Does G.P.G.D.S. support any particular message or political affiliation, and what do you think the most pressing issue facing our nation is at this time?
D- Personally, I stray from talking politics. But I do believe music is one of the more powerful tools we have to shed light on certain situations politically or socially. Dylan and James have written great songs that touch upon politics, unity, and civil rights.
G- To lighten it up a bit after the last question, since it’s a reggae band, are you guys into the weed? If so, let’s call this “The Stoner Chronicles” for a moment… When was the first time you got high and what did you do? How do you feel about the current marijuana laws, and do you think the U.S. should strive for legalization?
D- I’d rather not go in to my own history with marijuana, but I do feel strongly that the federal legalization of it would be nothing but a good thing. It’s blatantly obvious that it is less harmful than most substances that are legal, including SODA!
G- Fair enough. At this point, you’ve shared stages with a multitude of amazing acts, and toured with some high rollers in the music industry at this point, but are there any bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future, or any areas of the world you haven’t hit yet that you are looking into?
D- We are very blessed and thankful to have been able to play with some legendary acts. I’ve gotten to share the stage with musicians that I listened to as a kid, and that’s just crazy to me. Obviously, we’d love to play all over the world. More specifically, I would personally love to play in France or the UK.
G- Does any one show particularly stand out as the craziest or most memorable show that you have played to date, or can you tell us about one that you’ll never forget? Where was it and what was it like?
D- I feel that any show we play in Colorado ends up becoming a magical experience for me, especially when it’s an outdoor venue. There’s something about the elevation and the mountains all around you, it’s just so right. One of my most memorable spots to play was on a ski hill in Aspen. The back of the stage was open to this beautiful panoramic view of the mountains.
G- Lastly, as road dogs and full-time musicians, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming reggae and jam bands out here who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
D- Don’t be a party animal, always be pleasant and easy to work with but stand your ground. If you truly believe in your cause and the people around you, the rest will come.
Make sure to catch GPGDS in Syracuse and Buffalo, NY on 1/16 and 1/17 respectively with Umphrey’s McGee!!!