Adrian Sherwood interviews Panda Bear and Sonic Boom
Adrian Sherwood has reinterpreted and re-crafted the last Panda Bear & Sonic Boom album into a masterpiece in dub so it was only right they had a big old chat about dub.
Panda Bear & Sonic Boom’s 2022 album “Reset” has had a makeover from the most excellent Adrian Sherwood. “Reset in Dub” as its name implies, is a dub version masterfully re-crafted by the legendary British dub producer.
Breathing new life into the original tracks, Sherwood elevates the originals with a transformative, deep-dive dub exploration, enlisting musicians from iconic groups such as the Sugarhill Gang and Tackhead.
As we’ve been such big fans of Mr Sherwood for many a year and similarly Sonic Boom and Panda Bear we asked Adrian to sit down and ask the questions that matter.
Adrian – You mentioned to me that “Cherry’s Dub” by King Tubby is a major touchstone for you both. What is it about that record that inspires you?
Pete – I think we both love dub in loads of different ways. The Eric Donaldson original “Cherry Oh Baby” is such a sweet song and then King Tubby dubbing it out with all that echo, it’s just a whole new thing. I think we’ve both been into different dub for a long time. One of my questions for you was, what was your first dub record? The first dub record I owned was Basement Five.
I found out Don Letts sang for them originally. But the first one I had was that 65 – 80 Basement Five album. And then one day I came across the dub EP that they did from it, I really liked the album, so I bought it. They’re not really a reggae band, they’re sort of punk reggae I suppose. It was really interesting to hear Dub with those almost metal guitars, really odd punk metal new wave guitars and then adding the dub effects.
Noah – it’s really wild to me how many different types of sounds and expressions they got from a very minimal sort of set-up.
Adrian – This new version features contributions from some of my regular ON-U sound collaborators, including Doug Wimbish & Skip McDonald (Sugarhill Gang, Tackhead), drummer Horseman, Alex White, Mark Bandola, “Crucial” Tony, Ivan “Celloman” Hussey, and Matthew Smythe. I know you’re Sugarhill fans and love those early Flash records, are there any in particular that you enjoyed?
Pete – They were all super slick. I presume they were doing those tracks playing to a drum machine cause they’re so tight?
Adrian – I think they were playing to a click.
Pete – Wow, that’s a special skill! I was lucky to see them, I guess it was the first tour they did in 82 or 83 I think it was. I didn’t really wanna go but it was a free show, I went with some friends and it was just stunning. I don’t think they had a band playing live, I just remember Flash and the Furious Five doing their moves so I’m not sure if they were using backing tracks.
Adrian – Probably. You’d gone from a band playing a residency in the States for a week in one place and then another band would come in and suddenly then along comes disco or DJs. And it was great for the promoters like it is now. They prefer to support one person than 7 or 8. But Flash didn’t make any of those records they just stuck his name on them. He just gets credited for the message.
Pete – The Sugarhill Gang records as well, they just had a really nice vibe. And they were sort of in the charts right? You’d hear him on jukeboxes in pubs and stuff, they were just sort of pervasive in the culture at that time.
Noah – It’s funny how other rappers at the time really hated on those Sugarhill MCs, they didn’t like them.
Adrian – Well, at that time it was just kind of happy-clappy stuff. I used to love things like The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron and things like that. And thought-provoking things. But I think that record, particularly, you know, White Lines and The Message and those things, they were unbelievable and just stood the test of time.
Pete – Yeah, the production on White Lines is just stunning, and the humour as well. They’re dealing with this really, really gritty subject but they’re making all these quite funny jokes about it. And they’re really kind of mocking the whole thing, it’s a really bold projection.
Noah – That sort of thing goes back to Jamaica. And that’s something that directly inspired us recently, this idea of writing about subjects that are really kind of tough and heavy, dark and serious, but trying to imbue them or wrap them in a costume that is more cheery, almost like a Trojan horse.
Adrian – What is it about this Reset album that lends itself so well to being reworked as a Dub album do you think?
Pete – Jim Dickinson said to me one time if you’ve got the song, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got the worst recording on the worst fucking day if you’ve got the fucking song, you have it.
Noah – The opposite is kind of true as well.
Pete – Yeah, I mean, he was a producer. He wasn’t saying “Don’t worry about it”. But he said “What I do is nothing. It’s what comes in through the door.” And that’s really what it is. And I think that’s what happened with Reset: when Noah started sending me back the songs, I knew straight away that we had something really good. If the song is just good it doesn’t matter if it’s a jazz version, or a SKA version or whatever, if the melodies and the song is good, it’ll translate.
Noah – I also think whilst it may not sound on first listen, it is pretty minimal, like the setup and the architecture of the songs. And I think that allows for a lot of like the space and you can sort of choose your own adventure sound-wise with the material.
Adrian – I agree with what the producer says. Big congratulations on the songs. I think you can hear where you’re coming from and where you’ve been and everything. It also conjures images and good songs always put a picture in your head. And good songwriting nowadays, it’s such a difficult thing, you can make something sound good very easily with computers and technology and whatever but there’s nothing to replace ideas and great songwriting. This for me was fun because I could just minimalize a little bit what was already quite minimal, and it kind of sat really nicely with what you’ve done.
Pete – I think we got lucky with things. Some bands you listen to like Kraftwerk, where you can just hear everyone is really just owning their own space within the song and kind of keeping out of each other’s way and all the elements are awesome. I played a lot of the bass parts and keyboard parts and stuff. It’s back to the Jim Dickinson thing. We have a really good song and everyone who comes into it sort of feeds off that then they’re straight in there and enjoying themselves. Even though it was really fucking tough times to be living in and it didn’t feel like great fun doing it because of the that, I enjoyed it!
Noah – I enjoyed it too. I didn’t enjoy the lockdown, but the making music part – it was the only thing that really took my mind off everything.
Pete – It was a salve, it really was. For me, I was fried by the whole event and the events around me and things happening with friends and family that wouldn’t have been so bad in normal times. But the songs were really good and everything seemed to fit into place. Like yourself, both of us came into this with an understanding of how things work ideally and again we were very good at finding the space in between things which was a big part of it too.
Adrian: The album is brilliant. I did the whole record using the first thing you said to me about “Cherry Dub” – to try and keep a joyous feel to it. Make it spacious and big.”
Pete – Adrian, do you remember the first Dub record you heard? What was it & when did it occur to you to apply the technique to other genres?
Adrian – Weirdly the first time I heard a dub record, I was standing outside a club in 1970-71. There was a club in High Wycombe where I grew up and they were playing things there. We used to go to parties. They were playing B-sides where they had the original on the A side and what they called ‘Versions’ on the other. And the version is really what evolved into what became ‘dub’. These dub versions, rather than an overdub, or a stripped-down dub where they took things in and out. The first album I can really remember sitting at home and listening to, it wasn’t the best but it was Ital Dub by Augustus Pablo and the album King Tubby Meets The Upsetter: People From The Grass Roots. But I thought of that as a more commercial dub record but everything came from ‘Versions’ which to this day is unique to Jamaican music – where you have multiple adaptations of one rhythm. Look at your album, you could take your favourite track, say “Whirlpool” and then get a DJ on it and then get another saxophone or something else and keep going, creating multiple versions of something if there were a demand for the rhythm itself.
Noah – which is kind of funky cause with Reset we were doing the same thing. Except it wasn’t the rhythm of the song it was the intro of the song. We were taking the intro and creating a new song on top of it.
Adrian – yours is all about melody, it’s really lovely. I have melodies going around in my head coming back to me from it.
Pete – When did you start doing dub yourself?
Adrian – I’m not a musician, I had a distribution company and I was working with a Jamaican man who was like a dad to me because my dad died and this guy had looked after me since I was about 13. So I started this distribution company with him when I was 17. And I started a label following that and started meeting musicians. We’d be sat at home in the evening listening to tunes and having a cup of tea and a spliff at the time listening to those records I mentioned earlier. I saved up some money and then ran my own session. I hummed some basslines to a local bass player who’s actually a Calypso bass player. I then hired the studio and got Mark Lasady and Angelo, Linda Lusardi the model’s brother who’s an absolutely brilliant engineer Mark, he’s still going. And he engineered it and then got all the musicians together. And then Chips introduced me to Dennis and Dennis ended up mixing it for me. And I made a whole album, I think for about 200 quid, put it out, and it sold every bit as well as anything else I’d been putting out and I thought, “Oh, this is easy,” I just bluffed my way along. But I just did it for fun and made a record I wanted to hear back at the house you know. I was saying to Dennis add more reverb, add more delay, more more, turn it all up but to this day is my dear friend and that was my start.
And after that it was gigs and gigs and gigs and then I got my hands on a mixing desk and just persevered to create a sound really.
Adrian: What was the starting point for both of you then getting into music? Was it learning to play instruments or?
Noah – I mean similar to you, it was I was just having fun. It just felt good to do it, to make songs and record stuff. It was just one of my favourite things to do. I started taking piano lessons when I was really young, I was really lucky to have a piano in the house and just kind of fiddle around. My parents were really encouraging, another lucky strike for me.
Pete – Well, they told me my fingers were far too big to play the violin which I think is a euphemism for “You’re tone fucking death” so I can really relate to you when you say you’re more about the sound than you are a musical person. And you know, of course you pick up musical information by mistake once you start making music. But it was all about the effect of the thing and the sound; like you, I really love effects as well and that’s always been my main instrument in some ways, doing very little and then doing a lot with the effects basically. The Tremeloes and delays and reverbs, they just have such an instant magic to them that I was like okay, that’s kind of the sort of thing where I’m going to base myself and try and find interesting things.
Adrian – What were your favourite vocal groups then?
Noah – Beach Boys, Beatles, Temptations, Zombies, all of those. Sam Cooke, I wouldn’t call a vocal group but on something like “Bring It On Home To Me”, the way the two voices go together…that song is a really big one for me!
Adrian – You’ve got a lovely voice and sound and it touches you which is really good. And if you actually go into that stuff and really get your songs to connect to your spirit, your own soul when you’re singing and feel it, it’s really incredible.
Noah – Do you think dub is the first instance in popular music of that, those types of techniques being employed not just as a fill in the gaps kind of measure, but really as a feature of the music itself.
Adrian – Well I still say that dub wasn’t really a type of music. It’s a type of version. Like I said earlier, Hendrix was using the effects, so the effects were so important to that sonic. It has become a thing where like, there’s lots of kids over France to Germany to Japan, using those techniques, but it’s also very present in techno and everything else. Blackboard Jungle is the album where the effects are twice as loud as the rhythm, they’re leaping out of the track, Blackboard Jungle is so revolutionary, it’s so drastically stereo, the effects are louder than anything else. And that peeping-out thing. You know, it’s like that. The effects are everything.
Pete – the first truly dub record that I bought is that one. I started getting into Lee Perry stuff and some of the earliest stuff, which I really love as well. And then there was a guy in Birmingham, who ran a record store. You might know this, he used to go to Jamaica to buy his stock and bring it over.
Adrian – I got to love lots of non-reggae stuff as well. And I’d hear things as I was going in and out of shops selling my own records, and other traders were doing non-reggae stuff. Hearing things like The Jesus and Mary Chain where the drums seemed really tiny, and the guitars almost too loud. So they had all these things that seemed unbalanced. And to this day I love that as well. So in a mix, you suddenly push something right to the front of the mix, and then it’ll disappear off and then something else will come to the front.
Noah – I almost wonder if it’s more about the atmosphere. The job techniques are about creating the sort of specific air and space
Adrian – Well totally. If you hear that stuff on a big sound system, which they were doing, they just sound amazing. I mean, a lot of them wouldn’t have sounded very good having just bass and drums playing for like a minute on its own. On a regular hifi in those days, if you heard it with EQ parametric sweeps on the hats and stuff on a huge system. It would be nothing like it at that time.
Pete – It’s a form of psychedelia, I’d argue, because it’s really trying to stimulate this high. I think it’s really playing to a weed-smoking audience, in particular. So I call it a form of psychedelia, and like you say, with Hendrix, when he was making psychedelic music basically using the same techniques, the same things translate.
Adrian – Hendrix was obsessed with sound as were the great Jamaican producers. It was also the tonality of those tunes that I personally love. While all my life you know, the roundness, the fatness of the sound, the frequencies in the high end and that stuff. Now, everybody’s so used to super sub and that but if you play back any of those records from you know quite records going back to the 1970, you know that they still sound tonally not far off or very close to what’s going on now or you play other records in that period it’s only really classic really amazingly recording stuff from the States.
Noah – To me, a lot of the space of it is defined by the fact that there’s all this low stuff and all this really clicky clicky high stuff but often the in-between space, there’ll be stuff coming in and out but it sounds like a constant thing whereas the bass and the Hi-Hat stuff just sort of rides the whole time and I feel that sort of sets the roof and the floor of the thing in a way.
Adrian – Well I think nowadays, yourselves, myself, lots of people way back have been into an audio , an element of surprise – something jumping out at you and that’s why I think you guys have got that something that leaps out as well.
Noah – Another thing I was thinking to your point about the psychedelic part of the music is and something that I loved about it immediately because the first dub record I heard was King Tubby’s “Roots of Dub” that my friend Jesse Serwer introduced me to (shout out Jesse.) He had a cassette tape of it and I would walk around listening to this thing over and over again. But what was magical about it to me, was that I could tell that there was a song there but it was kind of hidden and it was like an illusion of a song but you could hear it kind of poke through this sort of veil every once in a while where the vocals would shoot in and that that feeling of something that was hidden and undisclosed I found really alluring still to this day.
Pete – What are your Desert Island Dub tools? The top 3 indispensable tools?
Adrian – (showing Pete & Noah around the studio) I like it if I can get the delays really accurate. I like using sixteenths or triplets and delays. I think the best quality reverb and delay in my armoury is AMS. I like the AMS reverb, the RMS 16 and the AMS delay and I like the Grampian spring, which sadly I swapped for a little bit of illicit something, the Grampian is worth a lot. All three are English. So now I’ve got the both my AMS is there in a bag in the middle of the studio. They’re going back to be repaired. Because I’m about I’m going I’m going away this month. I’m sending them off to Burnley in Lancashire, home of AMS. Where are they from? The late 70s or 80s now.There’s the Lexicon 224. There’s a tape delay, and there’s a 500-series version of the AMS reverb. That’s that one there. That reverb there’s a Fisher – that’s what King Tubby used on his record I believe. it’s one that used to be in motorcars in the United States. And I like the Auban, if you’re on a budget, you can still pick those up, Stateside for like, you know, 400 bucks or something. And that’s got a good spring sound as well. But those three answers your question because I’ve been waffling in the sense that they were the ones I would keep as my absolute.