There has always been a visual element to the work of Gold Panda. Much of it stems from his time spent travelling, most prominently throughout Japan. Earlier this year he released his third full length album on City Slang which was titled "Good Luck & Do Your Best". It was accompanied by a provocative and intriguing photograph which showcased a warden against a backdrop of bamboo, it was shot immaculately. Our intrigue was sparked as to where the photograph originated from yet little was said about the matter, most became caught up in the excitement of the album itself which was his first in three years. However, several months later, the origins of the photograph have now been revealed.
Laura Lewis is the photographer behind the picture. Based in London she has hosted work at the National Portrait Gallery Collection, shot at New York Fashion Week and has captured intimate studio sessions on camera. Whilst her work is largely focused around portraits and reportage her own personal love of photography stems from capturing the unexpected whilst out and about.
Her friendship with Gold Panda led to the two collaborating: travelling through the suburban undercurrent of Japan the pair have now announced a counterpart to Gold Panda's album from earlier this year. They have just released a book which acts as a visual accompaniment to the record and helps to visualise not only the influences behind each sound, but the very nature of Japanese culture itself. Interiors, towerblocks and bright lights are shot in spectacularly filtered photographs. The book is a stunning testament to an experience overseas.
We asked the pair to explain the passion which lay behind the project.
Laura Lewis asks Gold Panda...
Our trips to Japan were my first times there and I remember feeling in awe and a little overwhelmed in a very positive way. What do you remember about your first time(s) there? How did you feel when you first arrived?
"Well I had been pretty prepared I think. I became interested in Japan through anime and computer games and I’d tape loads of stuff that I thought might be Japan related from televison, films, documentaries. Then I got a BBC learn Japanese cassette pack and taught myself some basics like introducing myself, asking directions and ordering beer and food. The first thing I remember was the heat, it was mid-summer and very humid. I remember being confused by a ticket machine in Shibuya station and a guy telling us the trains had finished for the night. That was pretty funny, considering I’d thought that Tokyo was this futuristic 24hr city."
"The sheer amount of buildings overwhelmed me, I was on my friend's balcony just staring into the endless metropolis thinking, how did they make all this stuff?"
The photographs we took in Japan weren't necessarily the photographs I expected to take. What did you hope to get out of our trips there? And how did that compare to the final results?
"I think that is like music. You have a vague idea and you can plan all you want but the end product surprises you, or at least it should do otherwise it would be boring. At the end I just hoped for some inspiration and to have a nice time. Not doing music really helps to do music! I guess in the way I buy physical books and music, I'm still drawn to the idea of film, so I just hoped for some nice photos of suburbia or at least a future record cover If I had been taking the photos I would never have shot people and I really like those photos. The end results are better than I could have ever hoped for."
Your album / our book is named 'Good Luck and Do Your Best' after a taxi driver's parting words to us. What was it about this turn of phrase that appealed to you?
"People keep explaining to me what "ganbatte kudasai" means. I don't think they realise that he actually said "good luck and do your best" in English. I think it was just the timing of the phrase and as you know, my life was a bit of a mess at that time. There was no reason for him to say that. I felt it was kind of motivational and I wanted to make a positive, motivational record seeing as most of the world was/is going to shit."
A lot of your music has influences and sounds from many places throughout the world. How much has Japan influenced the sounds and music you have created over the years?
"I think a lot less than people make out! I used to buy records from charity shops to find samples and there would be lots of records like "Holiday In Greece" or "Koto Classics" so it just went from there. I think I just like spending time in Japan, it's become my place to escape to. Now it’s more attention to detail in how things look. I like that you’d hurtle past 10 blocks of flats that all look the same but one will be painted pink or something. When you get the change in repetition it feels like a big release."
You've travelled the world over the last few years. Where's next on the list of places to explore?
"United Kingdom! After moving back here from Germany I'm getting more and more confused, bewildered and delighted by it. Especially now, the UK in a really weird situation and things have been deteriorating, I feel like I need to take another look at this place because I understand it less and less everyday."
Gold Panda asks Laura Lewis...
It was really nice to make a book instead of a record. This book has no words, like my music has no lyrics. What story, if any, do you think our book tells? ...and what do you think of the finished product? What do you want to do next?
"I'm really happy with the finished product. I love how Zoe [Anspach, the book's designer] took the images we created and made them into a little world of their own. The whole project from start to finish was such a delight to work on, and to have everything wrapped up in one document feels like completion. I think there are reoccurring themes and lots of little individual stories. There are lots of pairs of things, people doing their jobs really well, shapes of architecture in the sky as seen from below, landscapes....and I photographed a lot of traffic cones for some reason! I think for such a densely populated country in certain areas, we managed to find quite a few quiet and open spaces in Japan to explore. And next? Like you I want to explore and photograph places in the UK. I started a little project on eerie-feeling Norfolk villages and I want to continue with that, and also drive around some new places in the UK. There are so many British places I haven't been to. I was born in Scotland yet I've never seen the area we lived in when I was a baby, so I'd like to go and check it out. Overall I just want to keep shooting. People, places, things...maybe another project on a different country. I'll keep following my nose and doing my best until the next thing comes up."
I've never considered myself a musician seeing as I can't play a note but if someone asks what I do I usually say I am one. How do you feel about your hobby being your career?
"Being a photographer gives you a license to meet some really interesting people and do some really great stuff! I feel lucky to do such a fun job. Like with all jobs there are ups and downs. But I love what I do so I'm grateful I get to muck about with cameras for a living."
Now we have been to Japan together a couple of times, what are you looking forward to most when we (inevitably) return next?
"The last time I was there on holiday I was really sick, so if a future visit occurs I will definitely be making the most of all the food. And enjoy not being stuck inside a hotel room! I really want to go to an onsen, and I also want to drive around some places in a car. I love driving in foreign countries, you come across some really random things by the sides of the road and see stuff you wouldn't necessarily find or see taking public transport. Also it's really fun getting lost and guessing the rules of the road when you can't understand the roadsigns."
It is really hard to choose a favourite from the book. I really like the all blue shot of an apartment block with the tiny balconies and air conditioning units. It reminds me of watching documentaries and films i'd taped onto vhs from tv in the 90s. What images in the book give you that nice feeling in your chest?, (you know that feeling when you really like the look of something, a record sleeve, texture of paper, like when I saw the Bauhaus programme or a pink Japanese telephone.)
"I wonder if / hope that there's a word for that sensation! It's such a good feeling. It's like the sound of a major chord being played, everything feels right and in the correct place. Like a sense of serenity. I have different favourites in the book at different times but I think the security guard bending over will always be a favourite as he became your album cover. And I am definitely fond of the four images from the love hotel. The girl in the middle of the 'wanted' poster haunts me a little. I sometimes think about her. It's weird. I often wonder if they found her."
You took a lot of great photos, in fact, your photography is overwhelmingly great. You bought me two point and shoot cameras. I get about 1 good shot per 36. Do you have any tips? What should I look for when I'm taking a shot?
"Shoot first, think later! Keep shooting, shooting, shooting. You don't necessarily need to know why you're taking a photo at any given moment, just let your intuition guide you and the rest will fall into place. Your instinct will develop the more you shoot, and you already have a great eye! 1 in 36 is actually a pretty good hit rate. If the other 35 lead you to a good one, then they were all worth taking."
Buy the book HERE.