Words By: Sam Herriman
Shy Panther are a local five-piece line-up who doesn’t like to put a label on what sort of music they play. I had a chat with keys player Rhien Tan and drummer Ben Santostefano ahead of their set at RTRFM’s Distant Murmurs festival.
So you guys were on hiatus until September last year?
RT – Yeah we had a break for about a year, maybe a bit more. Everyone was busy doing other stuff. Travelling.
BS – It was longer than a year, it was almost 500 days since our last Facebook post.
RT – We had a 500 day hiatus.
BS – 500 days…
RM – Of summer
BS – And winter, and spring, and autumn.
RM – And probably summer again
RT – Yeah it was a long time. But I think it’s good, it’s good to like-
BS – We were all finishing uni and stuff just doing our own thing.
RT – I think it’s good to have a break, rather than just like trying to force something. There’s a lot of us as well, so if one’s person’s busy it just kind of holds up a bit.
BS – I think the original plan was – we were doing OK things were going well and we were like ‘well we’ll take a few months off,’ three months or something just to relax and it turned into a year.
RT – I’d rather have a break than do something we didn’t like anyway.
What was it like getting back in to playing again?
RT – We did three gigs near the end of last year, just trying to get back into it I guess.
BS – Yeah, just getting used to playing live shows.
RT – It was good fun.
BS – It was good fun!
What’s changed since you’ve been back from hiatus?
BS – New lineup. So Chris Wright is obviously killing it with Methyl Ethyl playing drums with them right now so we’re back to a one drum setup, and we’ve added Mitchell Seward on guitar and synth. So is that still five? [with fellow band members Dan Fragomeni and Michael Duthie].
RT – Yeah, we’re at five which is good I think, I don’t think we wanna go much more than five. It’d be a bit of a nightmare.
BS – Yeah. With all the crap we have to put on stage.
RT – But it’s good, it feels normal that Mitch is playing with us. He just started playing with us and it was good. There was no sort of introductory period or anything. He’s just good at what he does.
What about the sound you guys are making now, is it similar to what you were doing in 2013/14 or has it evolved?
RT – It’s definitely evolved.
BS – Our influences have gotten a lot broader since then.
RT – When we started we were just sort of a trip-hop band. That’s what we were told…everyone thought we were. When you they always ask you ‘what genre,’ even now everyone asks what genre, so I dunno. That kind of started us out, but I think we’ve got heaps of different style now that we’re influenced by.
BS – Our influences are a lot broader but it’s still coming through Shy Panther filter. It comes out being a lot more diverse than it used to be.
RT – There’s heaps of stuff we listen to but only but there’s only a couple of things we’d let in to Shy Panther.
RM – So whatever you’re trying to cultivate as Shy Panther, it’s not necessarily everything you’re influenced by but you might take certain parts from something and then add it all together to something new.
BS – Yeah that’s it, that’s a much better way of saying it, for sure.
So if you had to put yourself into one or two genres, what do you think it would be?
RT – I’d say now we’re a little bit more psychedelic. Some bits. If you’re gonna pick any label, like an umbrella term psychadelic’s pretty good cause it’s so vague. Probably the most vague one you can pick but there’s so much different stuff. We’ve been listening to more old stuff, early 70’s stuff but that doesn’t really change our genre I guess.
RM – Early 70’s was sort of the start of what people might consider to be psychedelic music.
RT – Old psych bands or German krautrock bands or soundtrack stuff are the main things we’ve been listening to. I don’t know what genre we’d be called now, but I think it’s good if it’s not really obvious what genre you are.
RM – You can pick whatever you’re feeling at the time.
BS – Yeah, exactly. Right now we’re very in to 70s kraut so we’re kind of going down that sort of direction and we’ve decided that the next, well pretty much the next thing that we do is gonna be something quite different. Maybe not a huge shift, but definitely a new vibe.
RT – It’s good not to have one genre anyway, cause I feel that changes what you try to make. Other people start thinking about that, then you start thinking about that.
RM – You don’t wanna box yourselves in?
BS – Exactly.
What were some of the records or bands you listened to last year?
RT – Tame [Impala]. Currents was awesome [long pause] I forget what came out last year.
BS – King Gizzard [& the Lizard Wizard] as well. I’ve been listening to a lot of The Bad Plus, the jazz trio. I get a lot of ideas from those guys. I just went back. I discovered a lot of new stuff but a lot of it wasn’t ‘new.’ I went back to the early Dungen records – Ta det lungt and the others. And like Rhien said he’s been digging through soundtracks and old 70’s funk stuff. Started checking out David Axelrod, and anything off Daptone. Anyone who’s recorded at ‘Daptone.’ Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings or Charles Bradley. The Budos Band.
RT – I guess we listen to a bunch of stuff, new and old. I don’t really think about it that much, if it’s new or old. If it’s new and it’s a huge record like the new Tame you can enjoy it more with your friends…you can play it and then go see the show and it’s a bit more of an event where everyone goes ‘the album came out!’ but equally I just listen to old stuff and it’s the same thing.
RM – Cause it’s new to you.
BS – Exactly, it’s fresh to us.
RT – And if it’s a good record it doesn’t matter.
So this is your first show of 2016 coming up on Saturday. You’ve already released one new song ‘Goose’ since you been back, are there gonna be any more new tracks on Saturday?
RT – Yep. We’re playing one that we’ve never played before and probably two or three..four, that we’ve only played once or twice so they’re still fresh.
BS – They weren’t really finished when we played them before so it’s kind of like everything’s a lot more polished than the last few gigs.
RT – We tried a couple at those gigs last year, but not much. People won’t really know them yet still, so when people ask for new stuff, that stuff will count because we haven’t been playing them for years.
BS – Most of our set is new, there’s only like one song that we’ve been playing forever. The rest of them are – in our minds – in the semi-new or new category. It’s pretty exciting.
So people can expect a different Shy Panther to what they’ve seen before?
BS – Definitely, yes.
RT – Especially with the line-up change, it lets us do more stuff. Two drummers wasn’t really working out. It was good fun-
BS – It was hell fun.
RT – -but you have to play a certain style of music. It works for some bands, but for the stuff we were trying to do it wasn’t really working. And then Chris was also really busy playing with Methyl.
BS – I thought it more about like it just kind of happened. I thought it more not working out because of logistics. Trying to do a tour or a gig or something and having two full drum sets plus four other people on stage it was just a friggin’ nightmare. And then Chris ended up doing stuff with Methyl which just took off so it sort of worked out really nicely that it coincided with a change in what we were after.
Are you guys planning on releasing any records at any point in the near future?
RT – Yeah, probably in the first half of this year, maybe. We’ll put out something. Probably an album but we’re not really sure. We’re working on a project.
RM – So we can look forward to that in the first half of this year.
BS – Well, don’t hold us to that but yes, hopefully.
RT – I feel like we’re better now than we used to be. We would say that before and it would be like two years.
BS – That’s incentive to just…do it.
RT – We’ll have something out.
What does RTRFM mean to you? What influence do you think it’s had on the Perth Music community in recent years?
BS – RTR is amazing. It’s contribution to music scene is invaluable. It’s the only station that has a heavy emphasis on local music, but then you can hear literally everything on that radio station and I constantly find stuff that I really dig that would be undiscoverable otherwise. People on that station have the most insane knowledge of music.
RT – The knowledge from the shows probably equally helps the local scene, I think.
BS – Yeah exactly, that’s giving us inspiration, which goes back on to the air.
RT – What would we do if there’s no RTR? Have to listen to Triple j all the time.
BS – Especially over the last year I’ve started listening to it more and more to the point where I don’t actually listen to anything else. Because I don’t have an iPod thing in my car it’s either six CDs or RTR.
RM – I remember the days of six CDs.
RT – When that came out everyone was like ‘now you can put six CDs in!’ but it’s like you’ve still got the same six on there.
BS – I end up having 40 CDs in my car just in the panels and the side doors is just full of CDs, it kind of works. But I think it’s great not having an iPod jack, especially with RTR because it’s so diverse it sort of forces you to listen to stuff that you wouldn’t usually get. If it was on your iPod and it came on you’d probably just skip it because you’ve never heard it before, and you want what you’re actually looking for, but with RTR you kind of – by default – end up listening to all this stuff that broadens your musical horizons.
How do you think radio has managed to maintain relevance despite it coming across as a somewhat archaic medium?
RT – With RTR, being able to livestream it and playback shows is probably a big part.
BS – I probably wouldn’t consider it archaic. I mean sitting around the wireless at home, that’s pretty old, people don’t do that anymore.
RM – I think most people only listen to the radio when they’re going to and from work.
RT – If you have good shows, people will listen. If you’re really into jazz you’ll either listen on Saturday mornings or play it back. There’s other ways to hear it, all the good shows.
BS – It gives you a reason to remember that there’s shows on and check it out cause you know you’re probably gonna get something from it.. You’re relying on someone else with a much greater knowledge of music than you have to provide you with new stuff to listen to, which is usually good or something you haven’t heard of before.
RT – Mixes are pretty popular these days. People listen to Soundcloud mixes by new artists, so if you’re listening to a radio show it’s almost the same thing.
Do you have a favourite show on RTR? A favourite presenter?
RT – Soulsides would be my favourite. Any presenter on Soulsides.
BS – Yeah Soulsides is awesome
RT – One week I’ll listen and feel like I know 20 new soul artists and then next week they’re completely different. So good though. I don’t even know how they find like half the stuff.
Which bands are you hanging out for at this Saturday’s Distant Murmurs?
RT – Diger. Diger Rockwell.
BS – I’m pretty keen to see Regular Boys, and Phil Stroud’s thing as well. Apparently he’s playing with a full band or something, or six other people. That’s gonna be pretty sick, to see how he does his thing.
RT – HAMJAM. Haven’t seen HAMJAM for ages. Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, I haven’t seen them yet but I’ve listened to them. There’s probably a bunch of other bands as well, when we get there.
BS – I’m keen to just be there, hanging around and checking it all out.
Any final words?
RT – Come to the show.
BS – Oh yeah, attend the gig. Support RTR. I’m looking forward to it, a lot. It’s gonna be sick.
Shy Panther play Distant Murmurs at the Rosemount Hotel on Saturday January 16. Tickets from shop.rtrfm.com.au.