Thursday, May 14, 2009

Death Sentence : PANDA! Wreak Havoc Amongst The Townsfolk

DS:P! in Kyoto

A few months ago I got into a discussion with a young music nerd who claimed to only listen to 21st century music. I smiled and nodded and kinda pulled away slowly , unsure if he meant music that was created in the 21st century or , more radically , music that did way with the tropes of the 20th.

Death Sentence: PANDA! would probably please him in either regard as they formed in 2004 and make multi-textured avant-pop with very un-rockist instrumentation (look mom , no guitars!), and some rather unorthodox influences creeping in and out of the mixture. Their music is lovely , weird, playful and haunted. Sometimes just a bit violent.

These guys are one of my personal favorites in the current bumper crop of awesome bands and were good sports with my barrage of inane questions.

Death Sentence : PANDA! are::::
Chris Dixon - Drums / Percussion
Kim West - Flute / Vocals
Paul Costuros - Clarinet

Chloe: You guys have pretty unusual instrumentation , did you go into this with a specific intent?

Chris: Prior and concurrent to the formation of Death Sentence: PANDA!, Paul has
led an improv/ "mock" free jazz group called Murder Murder with whom Chris has played with many, many times. (Mrdr Mrdr is a revolving cast sort of operation involving multiple drummers, horns, electronics). DS:P! kind of came out of that group with the idea of writing actual songs but using that kind of instrumentation. I think Paul started using the clarinet because that the only functionally playable instrument he had at the time. Kim was still in Crack: We Are Rock and had played flute on couple of recordings by them. To us it just made sense: flute, clarinet, drums and Kim's vocals.

In Kobe

Chloe: How much , if any improv makes it on a DS:P! album or live performance?

Chris: Not much, perhaps none. Every note is deliberate. Each nuance is analyzed for efficiency and impact.

Kim: We tend to record early in the process so a lot of improv does happen
as far as my lyrics and nuances within the song. Structurally it is pretty set.

Paul: It's pretty much all improv.

Chloe:Is genre pastiche something you are  actively engaging in?

Chris: Are you asking if we are purposefully weaving a tapestry of varied influences? A quilt of sound based on ideals passed on from times and lands far and near?
No, we are not.

Kim : I guess I wasn't purposefully thinking of creating a hodge-podge of different
sounds, but just something different sounding as far as how the instrument are
being used. I didn't want flute to sound too "flute-y". I don't think Paul wants his
clarinet to sound too "klezmer-y". etc.

Paul: Not intentional or premeditated at all. I think it's hard not too sound like we are mixing genres and style because of our instrumentation and all of our varied influences which really does run pretty wide. We are pretty much all record nerds, dj's and collectors in some way shape or form.

Chloe: So , who has the biggest record collection in the band?

Kim: Chris and Paul will have to duke it out for that title.

Chris : I think it's Paul. I've lost count of how many records I have....

Paul: Last time i was over Chris you had 13 LPs and 6 45's and this weekend i brought my collection up to 15 LPs (with the recent addition of Rappin Rodney ) and, count them, 9 45's!!!

Chris : Ha!I went to the record store and now have 25 LP's, six of which are dance music 12"s,8 45's and 276 cassettes!!!!!!!!

Chloe: The Bay Area has a long standing tradition of  art and  music that is often playful and quirky.  Is your geography an influence   , stylistically or spiritually??
Do you feel it is a nurturing environment for more leftfield artists?

Chris: While the Bay Area, and San Francisco in particular, is a wonderful place to live, this concrete jungle with it's breath-taking views offers nigh a breast to suckle upon, delivering the sweet nectar of creativity. NO! It is a town of drunkards, of namby-pambies and of degenerates with one thing on their minds. Bawdiness and carousing. Entertainment is number one and those on the inside are cast outside. Therefore, so called left-field artists are not nurtured by the city but, in fact, activated into rebellion by the city. The true "quirkiness" of this area's music scene, or perhaps any location's music scene is a result of seeing what's out there, being completely dissatisfied with it and reacting totally against it.
The idea that you do not go to your audience but your audience comes to you is a cold hard truth. For real entertainment value, however, there most likely a Troggs or
David Bowie cover band playing on any given night.

Kim: Wow, I think Chris really took that one by the balls. I love this place, its home.
But like any place, it has its peaks and valleys. There has always been a great community of musicians and artists here and I emphasize community because although San Francisco seems like a big city sometimes its a real small place. There's an intimacy here that you may not get in NYC or LA and it very well may be geographic!

Paul: Living here certainly raises the bar and the wealth of so many advanced creative and talented musicians artists and performers really does keep one on their toes.  So much has already been seen heard and done before that I truly do get bored of regular rock bands or a run of the mill noise band that aren't bringing anything new to the table.  It certainly is challenging which I love and is one of the top reasons why I live here.

In Austin

Chloe: Would DS:P! ever take to the streets  and  have a parade?

Chris: I don't think we would ever take the time to organize and coordinate such an endeavor. But if we were invited, we would definitely say yes. I, personally, am not so into huge crowds but I do enjoy parades. Who else is playing?

Kim: That's funny you ask that because I was kind of daydreaming with a friend who does video and film work and she wanted to do a video for us involving a parade. The parade would take place in Chinatown, SF and it would be all children dressed up in different fruit and dessert costumes. We still might do it.
Paul: I like balloons.

Chloe : You can have anyone you like play the parade , you just have to show up , ride your float and play.

Chris : Burmese should play at this parade, they really bring people together. What time do we have to be there? Is the
parade on a Sunday?

Kim: Hmmm. Burmese would probably scare the children but they get my vote too. I also like Bronze and Work (ex 16 16 Bitch Pile Up's Sarah Bernat's project).
Paul: I like balloons.

Chloe : Sunday's kinda short notice for me.. Burmese are scary! Awesome but very scary. My band played with them once and I couldn’t even make eye contact because their set felt like being shot in the face over and over (a good thing!). Would this be a bad vibes parade?

Chris: No bad vibes whatsoever. Burmese is honestly one of the most uplifting bands
I've ever seen. DS:P! toured with them and they melted our faces off. They have
from time to time scared the crap out of me too.

Chloe :I don't see bad vibes and uplifting as mutually exclusive !

Kim: No bad vibes. But I like being scared from time to time.

Paul: Vibes, starring Cyndi Lauper .

Chloe : What kind of float would you see yourselves performing on?

Chris : Float should actually float, held a loft by constant propulsion from airjets on the underside of the frame. The stage should made from bamboo, not because of the association with the name but because it is very durable and hard, yet cheap and easy to work with. It also resonates quite nicely. The float should be adorned with orchids and exotic birds who will not be tethered yet not fly away as they understand that their presence is necessary. OR, a big white cake that says "Eat Me" on it. Then we come crashing through in a modified 62 Lincoln Continental and wreak havoc amongst the townsfolk.

Kim: A Cupcake or Popsicle or a Strawberry. Something along those lines. It would be nice if you can eat parts of the float.

Paul: Probably a giant paper mâché head of Eric Landmark .

In Paris

Chloe: What do your parents think about your band(s)?

Chris: My mom says that I should stick with playing guitar and what a great guitar player I am and she remembers when I was in 8th grade and my first band played "Message in a Bottle" for the talent show and how that was really good.

My dad says "so wait, is this punk? What is this? It's definitely weird..that's what you wanted to do right?"

Kim: My dad likes it. He actually sang a song once with us. I think it was "Animals Hate You". He's glad I'm still using the flute he bought for me years ago. He actually came on our Euro tour with us for a few days where we introduced him to Men's Recovery Project . Now he's a fan. He drove some of us crazy after a while. He has a lot of energy. My mom thinks that Chris is too loud when I'm singing and we need more "peaks and valleys" which is a huge step from not liking any of my other musical projects.
Paul: Both my parents are incredibly supportive and I think my Mom has seen us.   This band is perhaps the most easy to listen to compared to some of my previous bands that she has seen.  "As long as your having fun" is a common quote from her.

Chloe: What do you enjoy least, large crowds or tiny crowds?

Chris: If it's a show, tiny crowds. If it's the grocery store it would be large crowds. It depends on the overall mood.
Remember, it's not the size of the boat, it's the motion of the ocean.

Kim: I agree with Chris. One of my favorite shows was in Chicago and there were only a handful of folks there. But people were so down. Jail was there from Coughs and I ended up handing her my sax. She ran around the room playing it with us. There is a certain spontaneaity that happens when you play to smaller groups of people.
Paul : Yeah depends.  For show I like small/medium room with a big rowdy crowd.  For a dance party I like big crowds and small crowds.  Grocery store or record store, unexistent crowd.  

Chloe: I'm interested in your crowded grocery store comment , 'cause I get very upset in crowded supermarkets myself and they often makes me really sweaty and nervous, I'm wondering if your supermarket issues are similar to mine.

Chris: Supermarkets can be problematic as they offer 2 sides of the same coin. Everyone is there for the same general reason, everyone is in an accelerated state of mind: Mob Mentality. 2, everyone is in it for themselves; what they want and they want it now. This leads to an almost mercenary mentality. So while you have people moving in a generally similar direction towards a common goal, you also have a very individualistic, "out of my way motherfucker, I'm shopping" approach. Observing this, not only does it appear as utter chaos but also impractical.

 Kim: I try to avoid shopping at supermarkets at peak time. I mostly enjoy open air markets and luckily SF has three of them within the city. You don't get the same kind of mob mentality. People are taking their time a little more. Also , depending on what kind of farmer's market, there is more variety of shoppers (race and class).

Chloe: Do you get panic attacks in supermarkets?

Chris: No panic attacks but I must avoid the detergent isle. It stinks.

Kim: No panic attacks but I do get angry sometimes especially when someone's being selfish. Most of time these people don't realize it. If I try to keep that in mind, it will prevent me from getting too pissed off.

Chloe: Do you suffer from social anxiety?

Chris: No, yes, no.

Kim: No only real anxiety I feel while in public is the fear of some parking lots. Its true. I get claustrophobic in parking lots.
Paul: I don't have many fears, one is driving on freeways, two is balloons.

Chloe: I've read interviews with you guys where you explain your name as  someone being sentenced to death  by  panda. Now , I've seen Planet Earth  and the narrator tells me that pandas are totally lethargic animals that are so weak from their bamboo diet , they can  barely  move. So how would these lazy beasts kill?

Chris: They roll over on your ass and squash the shit out you.

Chloe: Are you interested in violence as an aesthetic? As a prank?

Chris: Pranks are funny. Violence in a non-malicious way can be a mere amusement or a complete uplifting experience. The act of destroying something man made can be hilarious; violence as a method of control is bullshit.

In Prague

Chloe: Why do you hate Canada?

Chris: We hate Canada? Who told you that?

Chloe : I figured you might hate Canada  because y’all never seem to come here.. Maybe  it’s personal and you just hate me? Are you guys ever gonna play Montreal?

Chris: We don't "hate" anywhere or anyone...We haven't toured North America that much. It's hard work and we are babies who need to be led around by hand.
We ever got anywhere near Montreal, we would totally play there. 

Kim: No way! I love Canada. I grew up on the border. Detroit/Windsor. I was buddies with Ritchie Hawtin ! I grew up watching DeGrassi High! I've been to Quebec City - in the winter and survived!!! I used to party in Toronto! I used to party in London, Ontario! (Don't even ask me why) What do I need to do to prove that I'm a fan?
Paul: I can't fathom why this assumption was made.  Canada is responsible for about 1/3rd of all the happiness in my life by producing some of the funniest motherfuckers on the planet!  Strange Brew was one of the first VHS tapes we rented in 1984.  Back when video stores had like 46 videos to choose from.

Kim: It's true. We haven't really done a US tour let alone a full North American tour. But we are thinking this fall might be a good time and we WILL make it to Montreal.

Paul: Confetti is pretty good, but I do prefer balloons. I like them.

 Chloe: If you do make it here I’ll make you a white “eat me” cake, I make pretty god food . Will you be bribed by the promises of cake from someone you don’t even know?

Chris : Food is a very important factor in travel plans. We can be bribed by food for certain but in general, our tastes lay more on the side of savory than sweet.
Although, who can resist a delicious cookie now and again?

 Kim: That's one great thing about touring in Europe and Japan and one bad thing about touring the US. Unless we get a home cooked meal or lucky with some great BBQ place in the south, most food in the US (while traveling) is not that great. And we ARE food lovers. Pickling is my passion actually. I love anything pickled. Saurkraut, Kim Chee, Dill pickles. . . I always wanted to open up a shop called "Tickle my Pickle" and have pickles from all around the world.
Paul: Kim is really good at pickles.

Chloe: When you come to Montreal I swear to tickle your pickle.I make it all , kimchi , krauts of all kinds , sour dills I even make my own tempeth and stuff.

I actually just had salad that had sour turnips AND kale from my crock. And fall is the best time for pickle making (even though I throw caution to the wind and do it all year).

So screw the cake, we’ll do sour/salt , put it on fresh basked sourdough rolls and wash it down with homebrew kombucha.

What kind of pickles do you make ?

Do you have a prefrance over vinegar or fermented?

Kim- Wow, you're probably a lot better than me at pickling. My favorite to pickle is those Lebanese pickled turnips that come out real pink cause you have to put like one beet per 3 or 4 turnips. I LOVE those.I tried doing saurkraut- but it came out awful. I'm still learning.My kim chee is pretty good. I like putting scallions in there.

I don't have a preference i like both vinegar and fermented.

My grandma on my Taiwanese side pickles a lot - mostly black bean paste. ITs like the
Chinese version of Miso paste but a bit stronger. I'd like to think that's where I inherited the love for all things pickled. Oh have you had pickled mustard greens? So Good!

I would take pickles over cake any day!

Chloe: If you each had a super power and would it be and why would you use it for?

Chris: Mind control. I would make people take off their clothes in public for no good reason. Kind of a "level the playing field" tactic.

Kim: I would like to fly. Kind of predictable but its true. I would be even happier if I could be strong enough to carry some of my friends too while I flew. But if not then I could make a little basket to bring a little doggie friend with me.
Paul: Probably a robot that could shoot hot oil out of his orifices into peoples faces and onto other stuff I disapprove of like the city of Atlantis.

Chloe: Do you have a song stuck in your head right now ?

Chris: A song by The Dreams , I don't know the title. Earlier, while I was doing the dishes, I had Rape is War by Burmese in my head.

Kim: I had a Malaria! song stuck in my head I'm not sure what the title is and earlier I had the Sensational song stuck in my head called Freak Styler .

Paul: just a series of buzzes and mechanical failure sounds usually.  Which may explain some things.

Chloe: What are your day jobs?
Chris: Systems analyst
Paul: Political analyst
Kim: Eye doctor


Puppy, Kitty or Both              2004
Tour 2004                             2004
Festival of Ghosts                 2005
Festival of Demons               2006
Dynamique Festival du Bete  2007

Puppy, Kitty or Both 10"        2005 Upset The Rhythm
split 7" w/ Silver Daggers       2005 Not Not Fun
Festival of Ghosts/               2007 Upset the Rhythm
R`out 4,002 12"
Split 7"                                  2008 Rock Is Hell
Insects Awaken LP                2009 Upset the Rhythm
Insects Awaken split 10"        2008 Bibimbap
w/ The Dreams

Texas Pt 1 & 2                      2005 Folding Cassettes

Insects Awaken                     2009 Upset the Rhythm
End Times comp                    2006 End Times
Rough Trade Shops               2006 V2
Counter Culture v. 5---
Jerk Off Records comp          2006 Jerk Off records (japan)
Insects Awaken                     2008 Central Plaza (Japan)
Age of Reason and                2008 Central Plaza (Japan)
Obliteration (early tracks comp)


  1. well. when you come to minneapolis, there will be a big cake waiting for you...cuz that's what I make. CAKES! your fan, danimal

  2. I've eaten his cakes and they are glorious.

    Dan----- I'm so excited for our show together!!

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