Interview with Panama Wedding
Written by Lanny Lieu on November 29, 2014
Glassnote Records recording artist, Panama Wedding, took the stage at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland, Oregon last Sunday night, opening up for Boston triumphant synth rock band, Magic Man, and indie dance quartet, Smallpools. In the past year or so, Panama Wedding has played at festivals such as CMJ, SXSW, and Bunbury, as well as toured with acts such as St. Lucia, Dan Croll, and RAC. Before their killer set, I had a chance to go backstage and chat with the genius behind Panama Wedding, Peter Kirk.
This is Peter from Panama Wedding.
How’d you get your start in music?
I first got my start in music playing piano in my house. I didn’t get good at it til I was a little bit older. I think the first instrument I ever felt in love with was the guitar. I think there’s a certain accessibility to playing music on the guitar versus the piano. I started playing guitar, over the years and got more into the piano and did all my skill set there and that eventually bled into recording, production, more intense songwriting.
What is it about music that appeals to you?
That’s a really good question. I’m not sure. I think I’m just one of those people for whatever reason has this weird obsession with song writing. There was never a time where I said I’m going to song write. Ever since I was a little kid I always had these melodies in my head and I wanted to play music.
When you first started, how did you get out the word out about your music [before Panama Wedding]?
It was mostly Gmail. I would record songs in my studio and send them out to my friends. It started out with a few friends and then as the responses got better, I sent to it to more friends. Eventually, I got a website and got a mailing list set up.. It was exciting that people would respond my music but I felt like I definitely hit a wall at one point. I probably had a mailing list of 200 people and that was it. I did it because I loved doing it. I just started getting addicted to it. For a good two to four years, I would just put out music under my name.
How did you manage to find a studio to record in?
I got really lucky. A friend of mine wanted to start his own mixing and engineering business. He was looking for studios in midtown Manhattan. Of course space in Manhattan is expensive so he was looking for someone he liked and trusted to have a share in the studio, to help effectively subsidize monthly rent. I just got lucky because that was perfect timing. For me, having a place, a dedicated place to go to after work that wasn’t my apartment, was really key for me. Home recording can be fantastic when you have an inspiration and you have an idea and quickly go to your laptop and work on it. Recording in your home space can, however, get distracting. There isn’t a sense of discipline. You want your home to feel relaxed and care-free. I was lucky enough to have that space and I was lucky enough to have it for four years.
Where did the name, Panama Wedding, come from?
Panama Wedding was a song I wrote under my own name. The song dealt with a mutual friend that I knew living in NYC who was from Panama, who after a string of failed relationships, wanted to move back home to Panama and find a husband. My roommate at the time and I used to joke about how there might be an upcoming wedding in Panama. Panama in my head is this fantastical, strange tropical place that only exists in my mind in the context of fantasy and resorts and vacation, which is probably not what it’s like. I liked the name Panama Wedding and when it came time to put my focus on what I was doing and when I got a manager, he said you should pick a name that’ll closely reflect the kind of music you’ll make or you’re interested in making. Panama Wedding was the first thing that popped into my head simply because I already had a song named that and my friends and small coterie of fans knew it already so I wanted something from my older work to bridge into my future. There wasn’t too much to it. I think it’s pretty good.
Panama Wedding’s Parallel Play EP came out this summer. How long did it take for you to write it?
Before we even started working on Parallel Play, I already wrote Uma and Feels Like Summer, then All of the People. When I finished All of the People, I was getting mixes back from my producer, Andrew Maury. The recording and arrangement of it was… we started in August and finished it in February. It did take a long time but for four songs, we definitely took our time on it.
Last week, I spoke to CRUISR and they also dropped Andrew Maury’s name in their interview. They happened to record their EP in the studio right after you guys. Jon from CRUISR mentioned how you guys had left behind some of your backup vocals and he turned that into his ringtone! Anyways, what’s it like working with Andrew Maury?
Oh really? That’s so funny. I love those guys and their new EP, it’s great. It sounds like they’re doing really well touring with The 1975. We both worked with Andrew Maury. He used to be part of RAC and then he sort of got bigger and better work. But he’s worked with everybody. He’s a really smart guy. Just very cool.
If you had to describe your sound to people who have never heard of you, how would you describe it?
It’s a hybrid of adult contemporary pop from the 80s meets Katy Perry. This is always the hardest question.
Is the sound influenced by what you typically listen to?
Not so much. Myself and the band we listen to everything from top 40 to classic rock to hip hop. There’s not one single thread that runs through our music.
You’re approaching the end of tour. What’s it been like?
We’re tired. We did a tour in the UK in October and immediately got back the states and did a headlining tour on the east coast and then met up with Magic Man and Smallpools in Houston two weeks ago. It’s been great. Especially this Magic Man and Smallpools tour. These have been the biggest rooms we’ve been in and crowds we’ve played to. We’ve been really lucky to tour with a lot of great musicians like St. Lucia and Dan Croll and RAC but we’re like really big fans of Magic Man and Smallpools. To tour with two bands that we would normally buy tickets to their shows is crazy for us. They’re such cool guys and great musicians. It’s been a wonderful learning experience for us to watch and learn how they run their lives shows every night. Overall, it’s been great but we are also very excited to go home and get the holiday seasons started back in New York.
Just because I’m a Magic Man fanatic, I have to ask, what is your favorite Magic Man song?
They have a lot of good ones but I have to say Chicagoland. I love seeing that one live.
Do you have any plans after this tour and the holiday season?
After this, I have to head back in the studio and working on my songs for the record. We’ve done about eight new songs. We want to get about 12 or 13 new ones before we submit a draft to the label.