Sunday, May 17, 2015

Enigmas - An Interview with Mike Maven of Young Pandas

I would like to think I land interviews because of my literary talent.  It's the way I paint a picture with my words that puts an artist or band in the best possible light.   Bands are lining up hoping I can boost their careers with my large and loyal fan base.

The truth of the matter is I am a thug.

So this is how it went down.


Yes, I am shameless.  Regardless, I will take it.  Mike was willing to sit down and indulge me by answering all of my questions.  I am very proud to present you with this interview.

Fran - I was excited about the concept of Young Pandas.  Your lineup is an all-star team pulling from young established bands in the soul, R&B, and funk genres.  How did you come together?  You're all so busy, how do you even find time for this project?
Mike - As with all things that are meant to be, while there are many details to the story of how this band came together, it really seemed to happen by fate itself. Interestingly, we all found each other through incidents that otherwise could have been looked at as major blunders, but that put each of the Pandas into my musical world and created a group of musicians who had a common idea in mind for the project. 

Young Pandas has a sound that is reminiscent of the 70's and 80's but puts a fresh spin on it.  I hear soul and funk, but I also hear an indie influence as well as so many other things.  I don't know how, but you go from Bill Withers to Dilla to Bon Iver.  It's hard to even label you with a genre.  Is this a result of your range of influences? 
It is without question due to our range of influences. Each member of Young Pandas and their musical contributions can be heard in our sound, and each of us come from a wide range of influences ourselves. When we met Matt, a hardcore drummer who listened to hip hop and had reggae chops, we knew that he was the type of dude that we could make music with. Matt listens to the heaviest punk and hardcore you could ever imagine, and he loves it.   While I come from an R&B Soul background, I listen to folk music regularly.  If you listen back to my solo releases prior to Young Pandas, you already hear that I was writing from a place that didn't favor genre constraints.  Kyle was raised on funk as well as Zeppelin. RP is huge into jazz, but cites Bon Iver as his desert island album. Now, though, I'd say we're all hooked on all of these things. That's been the greatest thing about this project.  When I found three other musicians interested in the same thing, I knew that we had formed a band. 

So are you saying there is a possibility of a hardcore punk song from Young Pandas?
Hahaha man, I doubt it! As much of Covey's influence comes through (peep the drum and bass interplay in the breakdown of our song As If), he isn't the one singing or playing guitar, and I don't think you'll ever catch me using overdrive or screaming. But... You never know. Guest spot from Ben of Such Gold, maybe?

Your sound draws from so many places and blends it into something unique.  Is this collaboration everything that you hoped it would be?  Is it musically satisfying?
Young Pandas is not only the culmination of years of working toward musical satisfaction, but it is also the only project I have ever been fully satisfied with. Making music with these guys didn't happen by accident. This project is the result of years of work in the music business as a group of talents developing in the background and crossing paths. 

What is the songwriting process for the band?  Did everyone bring their own stuff or is it more jam oriented?
Young Pandas is definitely founded on collaboration. Kyle and I are the two songwriters, but ever since this band came together, my song writing process with them became focused toward simply coming up with song ideas and then allowing the rest of the song to be filled in with my bandmates' influence. When I come up with a song idea and bring it to them, if everyone isn't feeling it, and if everyone's natural style doesn't come across in the song, it's not a Young Pandas song.

One thing that I've noticed from artists in this genre is that their sound tends to change from album to album.  Mayer Hawthorne went from Motown, to Philly Soul, to 80's Funk.  I like the new stuff but I end up wanting more of the older material.  Is it hard to keep the sound fresh without it sounding recycled or stale?
We never keep things the same, even from song to song, so we certainly don't from album to album. This is definitely evidenced in our new album Enigmas, which was just released last month. I can't speak for other artists, but I would say that the pressure to maintain a certain "sound" is high, in order to retain your fans. I'm always excited to hear that different folks are receptive to different songs. Personally, I'd like to release another record that mostly consists of songs like "The Lights." And after that, I'd like to get back to making more Soul music.

Enigmas was co-produced by you.  Was that to maintain the bands vision?  Are there any producers that you would love to get into the studio with?
I'm a producer first, so Young Pandas has always been a self-self-produced project. However, despite the fact that I'm the one behind the desk with the technical know-how, I always involve the entire band in making decisions and providing creative input, so I see the album as always being produced by Young Pandas as a team. Personally, collaboration with other musicians and producers is the reason I make music in the first place. "Superwoman" for instance was originally a production by 6th Sense. We then reconstructed the song with live instruments, wrote the song to it, and then invited 6th to come rap on the song. Both of his talents and our long history of working together show in the final production.

You had mentioned to me that Young Pandas are musically focused and anti-image.  Is that a hard place to be in today's music industry?
Absolutely. I would say that's especially true because there isn't really much of a "music industry" to speak of any longer, outside of the pop music world. If you're looking to make music for music's sake, you're already catering to a niche. There is no longer an A&R culture of actively seeking out the next talented and marketable group and getting them heard, mainly because there isn't any money in that anymore. Nothing has changed really, except the consumer environment. We simply don't spend the money we used to on finding and listening to cool bands. We've had a cultural shift toward the free model, and labels need to go where the money is, just like they always have. Only pop megastars make the kind of money these days that supports a major corporation bank rolling them on an international scale. 

How important is social media to Young Pandas?  If it wasn't for Twitter we wouldn't even be talking right now.  Do you think that giving fans access to the band creates a more passionate fan base?
I probably wouldn't keep doing this if it weren't for social media and our ability to converse with our fans. That conversation is so important to all of us in the way we present our music. We always hesitate to say we have fans. I'm always referring to them as friends.

I immediately fell in love with your recent release, Enigmas, which hit the shelves on April, 2015.  How has its reception been so far?  I love it but I am biased. 
From our fans, the reaction has been exactly what I hoped for. Everyone seems to love the album as a whole but gravitated toward a specific set of songs on the album. That's when I know I've been successful - when I reach a group of people with mixed tastes by giving them a range of influences under the umbrella of our sound.

Are you touring to support the Album? (Say you are coming to Philly!!!)
We just returned home from our national tour sponsored by Mercedes Benz to get the new album out to our fanbase, but we are only taking one month off and then returning to the road in the Northeast, from Portland to DC (and yes, Philly!) to get back to our folks in our home region. The dates will be announced by late May and we really hope to see some new and familiar faces out there. 

Is this just the beginning for the Young Pandas?
Not to get all deep, but this is neither the beginning nor the end. I like to think that music just happens and that the rest is simply perception. To say that Young Pandas has been together for two years wouldn't do it justice. We've all been working on Young Pandas for the entirety of our musical lives, but we're just now having the opportunity to make music together. Where we will go from here, I can't be certain. We've already done everything I ever set out to do. All that's left is to continue making the music we want to make for the people who want to hear it. 

See you at the next show!



  1. Yes, congrats on a fine interview with intelligent questions. AND for initially introducing me to the band, as I listened along to each track as it was mentioned. I was a Young Pandas virgin. I like them a lot and they sound like great guys doing music for all the right reasons.

    1. Thank you Rexy! These are the things that make me love music.

  2. Fran, that's entertainment. Great job, you got me to give Young Pandas a spin.

    1. Thank you Popsy! I hope you enjoyed them as much as I do.


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