Glaswegian duo The Gastown Panic has been making music together for a long time, but as a duo since 2017. They won best indie pop act in the radio Wig Wam online radio awards 2020. Time time sit down with Martin and Gordon to learn a little more about them.
“We’re self-financed and self-produced and do this all for our own enjoyment. We’re great friends, enjoy a laugh, are proud Scots and we’re very, very sorry about Brexit.
How did you get into music, and what is your musical background?
Martin: “My earliest musical memories involve listening to my Dad’s vinyl on a big pair of over sized headphones – ELO’s ‘Out Of The Blue‘ was a big favourite – then you find your own things but the early stuff shapes you. My first “own” music was by Madness & The Beatles, so I think melody has always been the thing for me really.”
Gordon: “Watching my older brother’s friend playing a Status Quo song on his guitar. I was very young (around 8) and I was mesmerized. He gave me a guitar, and I’ve been tinkering ever since. Marc Bolan, Bowie, Beatles were my first loves. I think you can hear that in our music, especially If we sing in a Liverpudlian accent.”
Regarding the music you listen to, what artists are on your playlist? Are those also the artists that have influenced the music you make?
Martin: “My big favourite is Radiohead, but I have a ton of bands that I love to listen to – some new, some old. On the newer end of the spectrum Spoon & The Phoenix Foundation really stick out – I love them both and I think the way they approach their music has really inspired us. Both have a great blend of the traditional band structure and the electronic thing that we’ve been trying to explore more recently. I wish, sometimes, that we sounded more like Radiohead and that I could write lyrics like Nick Cave can – but I hope some of it seeps in here and there.”
Gordon: “We both have very similar tastes and large playlists. I enjoy having it on shuffle mode, so I can get John Cooper Clarke, then Turin Brakes, then Bauhaus. If I could go to a live show of any band tomorrow, it would be The Phoenix Foundation.”
What inspires you to write music?
Martin: “We joke a lot that Gordon writes the love songs and I write the hate songs! You can imagine how that goes down in my house! I find writing about things that make me angry very therapeutic, so from a lyrical point of view that’s where a lot of my inspiration comes from. I do try to get creative with that though – ‘The Shun‘ started off as a rant against a UK tabloid and morphed into an imaginary dance routine – somewhere around the third pint of beer!”
“We’ve also been finding that writing & creating with keyboards and beats as our kick-off point is completely changing how we work and what we can achieve – that’s certainly been a real inspiration in terms of the way our more recent songs have evolved.”
Gordon: “I’m one of those annoying people mixes up words and comes up with some pretty strange phrases. “I’ve forgotten you more than I care to remember” being one of them. It doesn’t always work. I have loads of throw away lines that I collate and throw them at a new song idea and see what works. It’s usually emotional.”
What can you tell us about your creative process?
Martin: “It can vary. Some of our stuff comes out of jamming together with the bass & guitar on a Friday night (when we’re not in lockdown!). Some will come in from either of us fully formed and ready to go, or we’ll often come in with parts of songs and work on them together. One of the ones we are working on next is actually two songs that we worked on independently – when we played them to each other we realised they had similarities so we’ve just put them together. I really like happy accidents like that.”
Gordon: “‘Roman Soldier‘ was the first time I took a step back and tried to write about something, not me. But it ended up being about me in a round about way. I’ll take that…”
When creating music, what is your personal purpose or goal?
Martin: “I think we used to get bogged down, particularly in previous bands, with what we thought other people might like or what might be a topical thing that would grab attention. What we aim for now is something that excites us, personally, and if that translates and lands with others then that’s a huge bonus. I think when you start worrying about what others think, it can blunt your own creativity. That’s the Barcelona ethos isn’t it? Concentrate on your own game and the results will come. Even if that result is just that we’re happy with it.”
Gordon: “I always write to get Martin’s foot tapping. If I pass I’m happy. On a personal point, I try to create something different to what I/we last worked on. I usually stumble head over heels into completing a song, and the buzz that it gives is my motivation. The fact that other people like our music is a bit surreal. It has always been about having fun and doing what we like, when we like. It will be interesting to see how that changes us. If at all….”
You’ve released your debut album ‘Panther Milk Bar‘ in 2018. I was intrigued by the name. Was it named after the bar in your hometown Glasgow? What can you tell us about your debut album?
Martin: “That’s a good spot! Yeah, Panther Milk Bar was a cocktail place in Glasgow that you entered through another bar called Tabac – Gordon and I frequented Tabac regularly and were particularly taken with the neon lighting in the bar. We’d used a picture of one of the window signs “Please God Make Tomorrow Better” as the cover for our single ‘Remains‘ and had taken another picture of the Panther Milk Bar sign. Naming the album was a direct result of the picture really – we just wanted that for the cover. In terms of the album itself, it was a mixed bag of styles. We’re really proud of it, and the songs on it, but would probably do some of it differently now.”
Gordon: “After discovering the neon sign in a Glasgow bar, I now only bathe in Panther milk. It keeps my skin lovely and … erm … spotty… The album is years of ideas blended together, as most first albums are. I love it for it’s naïve mish mash of styles and techniques. I wouldn’t change a thing, well maybe a few things….”
‘The Shun‘ has a different dynamic compared to the songs on your debut album. It’s more electronic orientated and has less guitars. Although ‘Roman Soldier’ was also slightly more electronic compared to the other songs on your debut album. Is this a new direction?
Martin: “I think it is, yes. That’s certainly been a conscious path we’ve been on. Interestingly, ‘Roman Soldier’ was one of the first songs we wrote and it started with some loops and beats on an old Roland MC303. It took us a while to find the way with it but, yeah, that was one of the early moves away from drums, guitar and bass structure. ‘The Shun’ is an example of kicking off the songwriting process on keyboard – it changes the whole dynamic and then forces you to think about the guitars afterwards. We love that it all kicks in at the end and we get to throw the shapes again!”
Gordon: “As Martin said.. It’s exciting learning new techniques and we will see where it takes is. I think we will still have an open mind going forward. A good song is a good song, no matter what it’s played on.”
You are hoping to have a second album ready this year. What can we expect?
Martin: “We’re excited about it – there are about 6 songs recorded and in the bag, another few nearly there and one or two that we’re piecing together. Our hope is that we get back to some sort of normality soon and we can get back into the recording studio. We record at a great studio in Glasgow called Chime, so assuming we can get in again soon we should be on track to get the album out this year. I think you can expect more keyboards – big keyboards noises! – and a batch of great tunes. We’re calling it ‘Panic!’.”
Of your own music, do you have a favourite? If so, can you pin down why it is your favourite?
Martin: “Mine is ‘I’ve Forgotten You (More Than I Care To Remember)‘. I think it’s our slickest sounding track, and certainly the most dance orientated – which was exactly where we wanted to go at that time. It’s also probably the song I’m proudest of in terms of production & mixing.”
Gordon: “My favourite is ‘The Shun’. Before we added the vocals I would just listen to the music over and over, and imagine what it would sound like with a full orchestra behind it. The vocals are amazing too. We just need a choreographer to come up with the dance moves for the song.”
Do you have any hobbies outside music?
Martin: “I think this is my hobby really – we certainly haven’t been able to give up the day jobs! The last year has been really special – even at a time of real upheaval in the world – as we’ve managed to get songs released, some radio play, won an online award and even hosted our own radio show. Not bad for a couple of chancers navigating lockdown.”
Gordon: “My love is cycling, on my own, through the Scottish countryside. It’s where a lot of my song ideas come from. I’m constantly pulling over and singing into my phone, so I don’t forget. When I get home I try to decipher what I said through the puffs and pants.”
What recording facilities do you have at home?
Martin: “We both use Ableton Live to create tracks – drum loops and keyboards and sometimes guitar & bass. We do have the ability to record vocals and guitar through the digital workstations on our laptops, but one of the things we really enjoy is getting into a proper studio singing our lungs out and playing our instruments loudly.”
Gordon: “I also use an acoustic guitar and acoustic bass to try things out, but our strength is working together.”
What’s your favourite song from the Cool 20 playlists?
Martin: “For me, it’s ‘These Depths‘ by DrEw. The song is just beautifully realised – minimal, great playing, the tune is great and the vocals fantastic. I read DrEw’s spotlight interview recently and found it hugely inspiring – it made me listen to that song in a whole new light.”
Gordon: “I also love DrEw , but my favourite is ‘Antidote‘ by Utopiates. I love the big, chorussy 80’s vibe to the song, I love the weird guitar solo at the end, destined for the charts…”
What song would you like to add as a bonus track to our chart and why?
“We’d like to suggest Tobisonics with ‘Military Industrial Complex‘. We love everything about it and have shared some messages recently on social media. Really clever and an absolute banger!”
More about the Gastown Panic:
You can find all of the Gastown Panic music here.