Images and Interview by Shaughn Crawford
Video by Shaughn Crawford & Tim Maloney
Sound by Alex Reeves
“We are a super geeky band, so I get a lot out of 80’s cult movies –
I incorporate the music from those movies into my
aesthetic and it becomes popular music, which is kind of weird.”
— Jarrah McCleary
An Australian electronic band spearheaded by Jarrah McCleary (lead vocals, keyboard, guitar), and now including Tom Marland (keyboard, guitar), and Tim Commandeur (drums). Panama’s second EP Always (2014) earned the band spots on BBC Radio 1, Triple J’s Iconic Hottest 100 and has received millions of plays on Soundcloud.
Born in Oregon, Shaughn Crawford is a LA-based photographer who studied at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Shaughn’s work can be seen in several notable publications including Rolling Stone, GQ, and SF Magazine. He maintains his work in advertisements, album artwork, music videos, editorials and documentary projects—explore it here.
The members of Panama spent their youth along the rugged coasts of Australia, and distill those golden days into songs that are bright and refreshing, yet still recall the nostalgia of summer passing. When frontman Jarrah McCleary came to Los Angeles to record Panama’s EPs, he found a similarly sun soaked atmosphere that helped him pare back some of the wildness in his music, to find a balance between live instruments and electronic beats without losing their big, anthemic call to sea and sky.
Back in LA for a poolside performance at Skybar by Mondrian, Jarrah and bandmates Tom Marland and Tim Commandeur talk to us about California, film music, and a more authentic live performance.
Shaughn Crawford: How did Panama come together?
Jarrah McCleary: We started playing together since the start of the year. As far as Tim, Panama’s drummer, is concerned he sort of came about early on.
Tim Commandeur: About two years ago we played a show together with another band and their drummer at the time couldn’t play a show so they asked me to fill in and I ended up playing a little bit more and here we are.
JM: Tom came about in October of last year, and that’s been really cool because he brings a few more things to the table. He plays guitar, synth as well and keyboard like I do… and does a lot of stuff on the tech side of things. Tom has helped the live show a lot as far as getting that dance music crossed with the live music aspect and making it work live, because in the past we sort of struggled with that. He’s helped Panama be what it needs to be. So right now I feel that this three-piece thing we have going feels right for the first time… it’s taken a couple of years but it feels like this is it.
We try and bring across that intimate kind of thing where it sounds big but what you see is what you hear. We want to keep the performance real and a bit raw, whereas in the past we weren’t as stripped back. But it’s been a great step because we have had to rely on the performance whereas in the past we were more focused on the layering of sounds. When we make mistakes now it feels kind of… better… you know what I mean?
TC: Yeah it’s more real.
SC: It seems like you guys are really hitting your groove… And what about the name Panama?
JM: I came up with that concept around the first EP. I had a few different names and I was also looking at film music because I’m into score writing for films. The idea occurred to me that I could call upon visual elements and incorporate that into the music… so that it’s just a way of inspiration.
SC: How did you end up recording your EP in Los Angeles?
JM: The first EP was just me… These guys (gesturing to Tim and Tom) are like the touring unit. As far as Panama creatively, it’s just me writing the songs and recording those first two records in LA.
“We want to keep the
performance real and a bit raw,
whereas in the past
we weren’t as stripped back.”
— Jarrah McCleary
Los Angeles native Eric Broucek is a record producer, mixer, engineer and composer. After working as house engineer for five years at DFA Records’ Plantain Studios in New York, Broucek founded his own recording studio in 2008, producing music with !!!, Classixx, Hercules and Love Affair, Holy Ghost!, and many more.
I met a guy named Eric Broucek. Eric mixed a lot of different DFA-type hits like Midnight Magic, Classixx, and LCD Soundsystem, I believe. We came about via a Skype chat one time. I was talking to a bunch of producers for the first EP and Eric was one of them. He happened to be the same age as me and we really kind of clicked. We both had similar ideas about what we wanted and the direction I was going at the time… that combination of push and pull of real instrumentation with electronic music.
SC: What has been your favorite part of LA?
JM: I have been here a few times and its starting to feel a lot more like home. I really like California – the vibe and laid-backness. It’s kind of like Australia until people start talking to you.
Tom Marland: We only got in yesterday but Hollywood has been really cool.
TC: It’s just a fun vibe… It’s so different going across America when you go to Middle America to small towns and then into this. It’s nice to soak up different vibes.
SC: What has been your favorite show you’ve played thus far?
TC: Earlier in the year we came to SXSW and played a bunch of shows and there was one gig we played at the Soundcloud house – we hopped on stage and when we played the first chord there was just such a connection with the audience and us on stage. It was just electric the whole set.
An independent record label, touring agency, and music publisher based in Sydney, Australia.
JM: Yeah it was awesome. We had the Future Classic guys come up and celebrate with us… Those guys are doing really well right now so to get the thumbs up was really encouraging for us.
SC: And you guys are signed with Future Classic.
JM: Yeah that came about, I think, when they heard our song on the radio, a song called “Magic” that I did right at the start of Panama. It was the first song that went to the radio and they heard it and contacted me on Soundcloud. It was rad—we sort of had some chats and talks over the next six months.
It’s been fantastic as far as having them involved you know? They are genuinely fans, serious fans of music. It’s been fantastic for Panama.
TC: Everything they do is just so well executed.
JM: Music that we all like is on that label so it’s a pretty special time for us to be part of it… we just got to make sure we write good songs.
SC: Who has been your biggest influence or inspiration?
JM: Creatively, for me, a lot of inspiration comes from visuals, a lot from movies actually. I religiously watch a lot of different movies. Tom is actually a massive movie fan as well.
TC: A lot of our conversations in the car actually revolve around movies.
TM: Mostly 80’s sci-fi films.
JM: We definitely enjoys those. We are a super geeky band and I am a very geeky guy, so I get a lot out of 80’s cult movies—I incorporate the music from those movies into my aesthetic and it becomes popular music, which is kind of weird. There are lots of sounds that I have picked up from movies I watched as a kid, for example “Lost Boys,” the Terminator movies, John Carpenter’s “Escape from New York.” Great movie!
SC: Your own videos [link] are pretty conceptual. Where do those ideas come from and do you play a role in direction?
A Nice Idea Every Day
A Berlin-based video production company founded by Viven Weyrauch and Fabian Röttger in 2007. A Nice Idea Every Day is represented by Partizan’s commercial and music video division.
The London-based electronic music project of Aaron Jerome, pronounced “subtract,” has released various remixes, singles, EPs, and two self-titled albums “SBTRKT” (2011) and “Wonder Where We Land” (2014).
Named after a 1970’s discotheque, Groove Armada is the London-based electronic duo of Andy Cato and Tom Findlay. Formed in the 1990’s, the band has released eight studio albums and achieved popular success, landing four albums on the UK’s top 50 chart.
Machinedrum is the nom de stage of Travis Stewart, an electronic producer and performer from North Carolina. Stewart is also known as solo acts Syndrone and Tsteward, and as one half of the bands Sepalcure, Jets, and Dream Continuum. He currently resides in Berlin.
20 year old beat maker and musician from Sydney, Australia, who is featured on releases from Finest Ego & Outlier Recordings.
An electronic musician from Australia’s Gold Coast who creates tropical-infused beats.
Best known for his UK television series The Office and Extras, Gervais is a comedian, director, producer, writer, musician, and actor.
A Chilean-born painter and a prominent figure in 20th century abstract expressionist and surrealist art, whose work blends abstraction, naturally occurring forms, and multi-dimensional spaces into cosmic landscapes.
In the period between the two World Wars, Neoclassicism marked a return to the aesthetic aims of classicism—order, balance, clarity, economy, and emotional restraint.
Considered one of the greatest film composers of all time, Williams’ career includes such iconic scores as Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, Harry Potter and many more.
JM: For the videos, we wanted to keep something that was consistent as far as imagery and visuals are concerned, but it wasn’t our concept it was actually a German company called A Nice Idea Every Day. They did a clip for “It’s Not Over,” which was a really deep song off our first EP that had a lot of response as far as it wasn’t really a single, but it was probably my favorite track off of the EP. I love playing it live.
So they had that idea, and we continued that idea for “Always”—almost like a part one and a part two, and there is also a part three coming up for another song. It’s great to rebound an idea with music and be inspired by something that has been done in the past with your own song.
SC: So you guys have worked with some really cool artists, I am personally a fan of the Wave Race Remix of “Always.” Who would be some other artists you would really like to work with moving forward?
JM: At the moment in the car I have been listening to (I think Tom got me into it…) SBTRKT. I think it’s hard to write dance music that still sounds fresh and new and that record sounds fantastic.
TC: I am really a big fan of Groove Armada.
TM: Yeah or Machinedrum! Their last record Vapor City is a great album.
“There is a really big
electronic scene coming out
of Sydney and it’s a
really close-knit community
that’s bubbling up.”
— Tim Commandeur
SC: Any other artists that you’re really excited about?
TC: There is a really big electronic scene coming out of Sydney and it’s a really close knit community that’s sort of bubbling up, for example Kilter, Paces… just a lot of music out of Sydney and I guess Brisbane that’s really on the cusp.
I have been really getting into Ricky Gervais. I went and watched the UK‘s The Office after watching the American version and it’s just hilarious and amazing.
TM: I love this Chilean abstract painter named Roberto Matta. I also like a lot of Neo-Classical music from the late 1800’s.
JM: Yeah I believe you got a Masters in that… He tries telling me about it and it goes right over my head. [Laughs] For me, it’s been screen music—I studied that at a special school in Australia. So like, John Williams and a whole bunch of other composers.
SC: What else do you guys like to do?
TC: We have been discussing this question for a few days actually! Well you guys (gesturing to Jarrah and Tom) like to “game.”
JM: We are gamers! And readers! And we like to have deep conversations.
TC: I enjoy surfing and being outdoors. I live in a place called the Gold Coast, which is a beach town, and I have been surfing since I was like ten.
SC: If you were a superhero who would you be and what would be your power?
JM: That is a question I think about daily.
TM: I would go with flying.
TC: Oh yeah, 100%. Imagine how much fun birds have just flying around.
TM: I would never come back down.
JM: I would have two things—I want to be a vampire so I can live forever and have super human strength. But then I guess I couldn’t go out into the daylight, which would pretty much suck… how would I play a festival?
So I guess I would want to be like Superman so I would have the power of the sun, and I could fly to space because I always wanted to go to space. But Superman is not that cool so you would sort of lose points with the ladies…
TC: You wouldn’t have any problems with the ladies. Who wouldn’t want to be with a guy that can fly?