To borrow Panic In Eden’s A Revelation At Its Finest, the story surrounding this band can be explained by that one song title alone.
Life for Los Angeles based Panic In Eden has been far from easy. Having initially set the wheels in motion back in 2013 via their self-tilted EP, which proved a success with both critics and punters alike in the US, the same momentum suddenly came to a dramatic halt after a headline slot at the Voodoo Festival.
What should have been a triumphant occasion after this particular live performance at one of America’s prestigious music festivals, ended up something of a miserable experience for all those involved in Panic In Eden. With three-quarters of the band deciding to go their separate ways, the debacle that unfolded after this initial impact was no doubt difficult to comprehend, let alone provide any reason(s) for the remaining band member(s) to continue.
Despite this setback, Panic In Eden made a decision to regroup, with new additions to fill the holes left by those who’d departed, and in the process ended up reinvigorating their sound and artistic vision.
With the new line-up in place and consisting of Pierce Humke (vocals), Conor Spellane (guitar/vocals), Will Hammond (guitar), Alex Diaz (bass/vocals) and Nick Marshall (drums), Panic In Eden entered Happy Ending Studios (Think about it readers, FLW) in Silver Lake with producer Norm Block in order to set down the band’s ideas for their debut album, ‘In The Company of Vultures’.
After a period of time, Panic In Eden emerged from the recording studio blinking at the LA sunlight, and no doubt feeling an overwhelming sense of relief that they had crossed the finishing line with the album recorded after the near derailment of the band.
Far from being another simple addition to the alternative rock scene, Panic In Eden is more concerned with rock of a vintage nature, with Led Zeppelin and The Cult being two of the most obvious candidates historically, and with more up-to-date names as Band of Skulls and Rival Sons for those seeking direct reference points from the present. But like their contemporaries, the aforementioned alternative rock environment is not completely dismissed by Panic In Eden and their debut album ‘In The Company of Vultures,’ as there are traces of grunge in the sprawling opener ‘Out For Blood’; suggestions of sludge rock during ‘Palaces’, and ‘War On The Rocks’ has a definite Interpol-light feel to it.
In fact, Panic In Eden’s debut offering can be accused of incorporating a broader spectrum of influences where even a minuscule amount of country (rock) can be dissected from ‘Could It Be You’ and ‘A Revelation At Its Finest’, leaving one to ponder that the near demise of Panic In Eden, and subsequent re-emergence was clearly meant to happen as the band may never have reached the heights of their first long player. A revelation at its finest? You bet!
With a desire to head to the sun-kissed state of California to catch up with the band members of Panic In Eden, Famous Last Words (FLW) has to make do with the drab office interior and set of questions posted electronically in order to get the lowdown on this rather exciting rock ‘n’ roll band. Therefore, it’s time to head back to the beginning and to establish where life for Panic In Eden all began.
“It began sometime towards the end of 2009. Conor Spellane (guitarist/singer/songwriter) met Lucas McEachern(singer/songwriter) and Will Hammond (guitarist/songwriter) while attending the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. Conor and Luke soon began playing and writing together and decided to start a band. They caught the attention of producer and songwriter Jim Huff, and decided to go into the studio to start working on their first EP. While in the midst of recording, Conor and Luke heard their friend Will’s new killer demo and decided they had to steal him and drummer Arnold Ceja away from their band MOTHER.
“After finishing the first EP, Panic [In Eden] held several, maybe even seemingly endless auditions for bass players. The guys happened upon the talented Ray Blair to fill out the official mark one of Panic In Eden.
“After playing extensively around Los Angeles, the band was picked to play at the Voodoo Experience in 2013 with the likes of Pearl Jam, The Cure, NIN and Paramore. Soon after getting back to Los Angeles, Luke informed the rest of the guys, much to everyone’s dismay, that he would be leaving LA and the band due to personal reasons. Arnold Ceja followed suit shortly after. Left in limbo, Ray Blair decided to pursue other musical ventures. In the coming months, Conor and Will, having poured years of blood, sweat, time and money into the band, talked it over and decided to continue their musical partnership. As a result of this decision, they decided to head down the long, tedious, if not exciting, road to putting together a new Panic In Eden family.”
Looking back, it’s incredible to think that you managed to overcome this turbulent period and create a positive outcome with the release of your debut album after such a major shift in personnel.
“As was mentioned in the last question, three out of the five original band members decided to leave for personal reasons. Kicking around Hollywood, playing music, can, if you let it, lead to some eye-opening revelations, and can be a very unhealthy lifestyle with a lot of apathy and rejection. For example, we played shows, often three or four times a week for all of 2012-13. A lot of those shows were to five people and the bartender. The guys who left [the band] were just kind of understandably burnt out. It’s one of those things where it’s either something you absolutely must do, with no questions asked, or you do for a while and decide there is greener grass elsewhere. Conor and Will fall into the former rather than the latter and decided the band would go on.
“Continuing was more of a compulsion, or a necessity, not an option. The current line-up of Pierce Humke (vocalist), Nick Bock (drummer) and Alex Diaz (bassist/singer/songwriter) share that unflappable itch to create with Conor and Will. So after about a year of writing, promoting, and auditions, Nick Bock answered the ad Conor and Will had posted at their former college for band members. Nick came in and nailed the audition. The guys were still having trouble finding the other missing pieces (This was because Nick, after hearing the band’s EP, went all over MI and took down all of the other ads we posted to make sure he had no competition, ha-ha!). Luckily, Nick was in another band with a unique singer with the range they sought after, and that happened to be Pierce Humke. Soon after, Conor and Will met Alex Diaz – a multi-instrumentalist – who decided to come aboard as the bass player after seeing the band at The Rainbow on Sunset. Despite never having played the bass before, Alex also nailed the audition, there marking the new, and longest running line-up of Panic In Eden. It’s actually crazy how far the sound has come since the old line-up in 2013, while still remaining unmistakably Panic In Eden.”
With some obvious rock and roll references, in addition to less obvious influences when considering your album, how would Panic In Eden actually describe your sound?
“Rock ‘n’ Roll. We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, we’d rather just put our own spin on it; as people, as millennials, as musicians and artists. Trying to quantify a sound can be awkward. We received a great review from This Is Not The Radio in December and they summed it up pretty well – certainly much better than we can – “This LP is one of juxtaposition, it is at once grungy and uplifting, sad and hopeful, moody and vibrant. It’s intellectual and subliminal while still being simplistic and unpretentious. An impressive feat indeed.” We were going for something that was fairly all encompassing. We have four writers in the band and everyone is influenced by different sounds at different times. It definitely keeps things fresh for us and makes for some great adventures in writing.”
Who do you regard as influences in terms of your music?
“There is quite a lot that we draw influence from, such as music to other forms of art and everyday life. There are things all around you that you can tap into and draw experiences and inspirations from.”
With the debut album ‘In The Company of Vultures’ finished, can you provide some details regarding its background?
“The whole album was recorded at Happy Ending Studios in Silver Lake by Norm Block. We met Norm while tracking drums and bass for our first EP, as we also tracked those at his studio. We started recording “The Waltz” and “A Revelation At Its Finest” [taken from ‘In The Company of Vultures’] towards the end of January in 2015. There was a break in between recording those songs and recording the other eight as we had to get the money together to pay for it all, as well as finish writing some of the other songs.
“After the initial tracking of the first two songs, we all decided that we loved Happy Ending Studio and, more importantly, had really hit it off with Norm. After talking it over we decided we wanted to do our first full length effort and set out writing and doing pre-production for eight more songs with Norm guiding the way.”
Was the recording process difficult at any time?
“Recording at its best is pure elation. The feeling of bringing something you made up in your head into the physical realm is kind of indescribable. That being said you have to leave your ego at the door and do what’s best for the song, which can lead to hurt feelings, or even the occasional argument. It’s also really, really expensive and stressful. You wanna go in and nail everything, which most people don’t realise how difficult that can be. Being a good studio musician is an art in itself. There are definitely moments, or hours, or days where you wanna tear out your hair or punch someone, ha-ha!”
Do you have any regrets about the overall outcome of the album?
“You never really come out of the process unscathed in that regard. There are always going to be things here or there that you wish you had another go at. We had another song or two that didn’t make it due to monetary constraints. As a whole though, we are about as proud as we possibly can be with our album ‘In the Company of Vultures’. It’s without doubt our crowning achievement to date.”
With the band asserting in their official press bio’ that the title given to their full-length record “…conjures up this predatory species that feeds off the weak,” as well as going on to add, “To us that notion is very applicable to what we are seeing today all around us from the top on down. We’re just trying to find hope within all the madness.” FLW is therefore left wondering whether such a title as ‘In The Company of Vultures’ is still applicable in the current regime of a newly elected American President?
“Similar to the band name, we feel it [‘In The Company of Vultures’] encompasses the feeling of the world that we are surrounded by. As far as it relates to politics, it’s truer now, with the current regime, more than ever before.”
Just as the album’s title is given some explanation, it’s worth discovering a bit more about a couple of the songs from the album with ‘Who’s To Blame’ and ‘A Revelation At Its Finest’ the two selected for questioning.
“I try to write songs about a specific person, people in general, and also myself,” mentions Conor Spellane. “The recording of music always seems to coincide with changes in my life, especially in relationships. For example, I was nearing the end of fairly long one [relationship], and I was writing about how we dealt or maybe didn’t deal with things. Everyone has been there in almost any situation in life. Like ‘ok here we go, what’s the problem now?’ It’s also me trying to tell everyone and myself that it’s ok to be ok, and that you don’t need to create reasons for drama. If you’re unhappy, change it.”
“I wrote ‘A Revelation At Its Finest’ years ago,” says Will Hammond. “I remember the actual process of writing the song, and it happening extremely quickly, which is kind of ironic because it is anything but a quick song! There were a lot of things going on personally for myself and within myself. It just seemed to be a nice sort of exorcism at the time, if you will. There were a lot of outside issues coming at Conor and myself during that time period, and writing was definitely our escape from it. People have various vices and coping mechanisms to help them deal with things, with some being great, and some not so great. Music is ours. It is the best and ultimately always keeps us coming back for more. It’s incredibly addictive.”
Is there a favourite Panic In Eden song from the album right now, and what are your reasons for this?
Conor: “For me, ‘Passerby’ kind of has a little bit of everything as far as what we were going for overall; three-part vocal harmonies, tone-wise on the instrumentation, interesting arrangement and song form, rippin’ solo section. It’s fun to play too.”
Will: “I can’t say if it is my favourite, but the track that I am most proud of would be ‘Passerby’ as well. A couple of years back, I had these elaborate ideas and structures floating around in my head which, at the time, almost seemed more of a movement rather than a song. Being able to actually make that happen in terms of what the rest of the guys brought to the table was awesome! The moment of listening back to the final master and hearing it come to life was incredibly gratifying. In fact, it was a huge sense of relief to get that recorded and out.”
What is it like being in a band in the current music scene in LA?
“Being a band in LA can be tough, because it’s so spread out and so expensive. Trying to get your friends out to a show that’s an hour away in traffic, costs ten dollars to park, ten dollars to get in, ten dollars per drink, and when they’re all tired after a long week of work it’s difficult. It turns into a potentially stressful and expensive night which kind of defeats the purpose. Music is supposed to soothe the soul and take you away from the rigors of life, not add to them. All hope is not lost by any stretch of the imagination. You just have to be a little bit more strategic about it which can be frustrating when you just wanna go show your art to the world as often as possible.”
What’s next for Panic In Eden in 2017?
“Get out of LA and tour.”
Any last words gents before you “Get out of LA and tour”?
“Yeah, well, ya know that’s just like… uhh you’re opinion man” (The Dude, The Big Lebowski). Also, listen to our record!”
Heed the advice dear readers and head straight to your nearest record dealer or internet server to snap up a copy of ‘In The Company of Vultures’ because it’s a highly detailed, imaginative and rip-roaring rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster of a ride that sucks in rock music’s past, as well as borrowing from the present, yet managing to sound uniquely fresh in quite a few places that will forever be known as distinctly Panic In Eden.
(Photography courtesy of Panic In Eden)
"Similar to the band name, we feel it ['In The Company of Vultures'] encompasses the feeling of the world that we are surrounded by. As far as it relates to politics, it’s truer now, with the current regime, more than ever before."
Panic In Eden
FLW - From the Tapes
Panic In Eden head back to the immediate aftermath of that Voodoo Festival experience to recall one particular incident regarding a couple of police officers on their long trek home.
“We were driving through Kansas on our way back from Voodoo Experience 2013. It’d been snowing most of the way. Will (who always drives because it’s his truck and he has the uncanny ability to drive for 12 or more hours straight) notices that two cops have been following him for close to a couple miles at this point. When we say following we actually mean that it was a total Super Troopers moment in the middle of Kansas. Anyway, the cops actually pull up beside the truck, driving window by window with us for about a half mile. They then speed up around us, and after they got about 40 yards ahead of us (they are in the left lane, we are in the right lane) they brake until we pull even with them again. They proceeded to drive beside us, window to window again for about another half mile, and then fall directly behind us where another cop comes in to pull us over!
“In Kansas they get a lot of the same federal funding as other much more populated states, so they have something like eight lane highways with nobody on them, ha-ha! Point being, it’s easy to see when two cops who are the only other cars on the road have been following you.
“Anyway, they finally proceeded to pull us over, with the rest of us finally catching on to what has been happening and therefore start to get nervous, seeing as we are five longhaired guys with Cali’ plates in the middle of nowhere. Upon asking Will if he knows why he has been pulled over, he impresses upon them that he generally does not know because he wasn’t swerving and had his cruise control set just under the speed limit. Having been thwarted a bit, the cops glass over this and ask what the hell we are doing in Kansas. We tell them we are a band and touring our first EP. One of the cops responds, ‘Prove it’, so we hand him said EP and tell him it’s his and he can keep it. He opens the cellophane, looks it over and then tosses it back into the car and says, ‘Nah, clean the snow off your plates,’ and proceeds to go about asking twenty-one questions. Finally, after realising that nothing was wrong, he lets us know that the reason why he pulled us over was indeed because there was some snow on our back bumper!”