Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad performs in Avon Sunday, Monday
If you go ...
What: Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad with Tatanka, part of Apres Avon,
Where: Avon’s Main Street Mall.
When: Sunday and Monday. Event runs from 2 to 5:30 p.m.
More information: http://www.vailbeavercreek2015.com.
AVON — Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad were once called the “live dub version of the Grateful Dead,” an interesting description that doesn’t quite capture the sound of this long-standing reggae band known for vibrant and joyful live shows. The group will headline two shows for Apres Avon today and Monday, with opening band Tatanka. We spoke to lead singer and bassist James Searl about fans who don’t like reggae but still love their band, how he met his wife and the intricate explanation behind the name Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad.
Vail Daily: Valentine’s Day is coming up, and you and your wife just had your first child. How did you meet?
James Searl: I was playing a concert in New Haven, Connecticut, five or six years ago with John Brown’s Body. I’d given up thinking about settling down and finding someone I wanted to be with. I said, “hey man, you should go take a walk outside, stop taking this stuff (traveling) for granted.” I walked outside and got a cup of tea, and we’ve been together ever since. She wasn’t at the show, she was at the coffee shop. Now I’m here with our baby in Indiana. That’s what love will do to you — take you where you least expect it.
VD: I have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of reggae, but I really liked listening to your band.
Searl: That’s not the first time I’ve heard that … Our influences come through in our music. Reggae is kind of an aesthetic, it’s a way to step into music. It has certain (aspects) to it you can utilize while sounding very different. … We also use a lot of instrumentation that’s founded in great old country music, rhythm and blues, and music from the ’60s and ’70s.
VD: How do you feel about being referred to as the “live dub version of the Grateful Dead”?
Searl: As musicians, we’ve always wanted to have the ability to improvise. From night to night and place to place, you’re feeling something different, (it’s about) not being locked into this blueprint. … I hear older Grateful Dead from the late ’60s and I hear all kinds of fingers on one (guitar), a lot of people doing little things to make this one groove happen. From night to night our songs can go anywhere and they’ve changed over the years, that’s (one) thing that reminds me of the Grateful Dead.
VD: My favorite song on your new album is the title track, “Steady.” Did you write it about your wife?
Searl: It was actually written by the two guitar players in the band. It was interesting because we were recording the album, we’d done all the songs and we were taking a break outside with a ukulele. Dylan (Savage, guitarist) started playing this riff and Dan (Keller, also a guitarist) started singing this chorus. Then we went into another studio and put it on the album. It was the best thing we felt like we’d done.
VD: Is there a story behind the name Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad?
Searl: Mostly we didn’t want to go unnoticed. We were called the Bomb Squad, but there were like 400 bands with the same band. In (the book) “Another Roadside Attraction” by Tom Robbins, there’s a band called the Giant Panda Gypsy Blues Band, (supposedly inspired) by the Grateful Dead and the Merry Pranksters. We wanted (our band) to have that kind of feel. … One of the things I like about our band name is all of the words are important things to think about. Giant Pandas are these beautiful animals and there’s only so many left in existence, so it’s important to think about that … Guerrillas — it’s important to know about the guerrilla fighters around the world … Dub is a state of mind — dubbing music is what birthed the concept of the remix … We’re a Squad, and we come from a huge community of music … and the sound is Giant, we like to keep it that way.
VD: What do you like about playing in Colorado?
Searl: Colorado is a second home for us. We’ve had so many experiences honing our sound there. Colorado is so extreme, every drive you go on feels like life or death. People there are really into the climate, especially winter sport people. You get on stage and everybody is ready to go.