There’ll come a day when The Panics are forced to lay their instruments down, whether it be through natural attrition or simply that they have nothing left to prove. When such a day arrives, the band will be considered as significant as any other Australian act that has stomped a stage before. They’ll be woven into the patchwork of Oz music folklore, scribed alongside the likes of Cave, Kelly and Rogers.
As for the here and now, The Panics are Australia’s most quintessential outfit and perhaps our finest export. Few other acts garner such critical respect. Few other acts deserve it as much.
Despite the acclaim, most humble pundits know The Panics through their omnipresent single ‘Don’t Fight It’. It’s not a bad thing, according to front man Jae Laffer. He enjoys the idea that it’s being played “in people’s offices, or that the guy on the tractor’s listening to it.” It could be argued, however, that it’s just one of many great songs, that The Panics’ body of work is more like an old apple tree that is best devoured one fruit at a time.
The band’s third album, Rain On The Humming Wire, slaps a shovel into the Australian psyche, digging up yarns of stretching highways, painful love and redundant royalty. It swims in depths but always with an unrepentant sense of direction that unravels after each listen. The LP also adds weight to the notion that The Panics will never release anything less than extraordinary.
Tone Deaf sat down with Jae to discuss Rain On The Humming Wire, their current tour and late night drunk jamming sessions with Oh Mercy’s Alex Gow.
Can you pinpoint that specific moment when you knew The Panics were going to be something special? Was it a certain song or gig? Even a moment?
Not really. I look back at a lot of times when I probably should’ve noticed something but because you’re young you don’t have anything to measure against it. In Perth, when they started showing us hotel rooms, I just thought that’s how it must always happen. Looking back I realise we created a great buzz that was very exciting.
That being said, it’s been a gradual process. We released our first EP ten years ago but even now I still feel like a new band. I think that comes back to the fact that we’ve always been slightly on the up. We’ve always been achieving things in a positive way.
Things haven’t really come by and slapped us in the face. We’ve always been very prepared and seen it coming a while off. Maybe with the last record when ‘Don’t Fight It’ started to kick we noticed people started to give us a lot more notice and treated us a bit differently. An awful lot of people were really touched by the song and that was a very beautiful and powerful feeling when you realise what you’ve created is having such a positive effect. It gives you a great taste of wanting more of it.
Many believe Rain on the Humming Wire is your finest effort yet. Is it too soon for you and the band to stand back and make a similar assumption?
Yeah it is too soon. I mean I can’t judge anyway. I look at each record and analyse which songs were fun to make and which were really hard. I see every song differently so I find it hard to judge the whole record. I always hear the next record in my head and think it’s the one we haven’t made yet is our best. I’m just happy to go through my life documenting what we do and making music. It’s awesome.
How do you react when you hear someone like Dave Stewart loving your work?
Yeah man it’s cool. I haven’t actually met him but it’s amazing to know that this guy has written songs with Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Bono and Tom Petty and all my heroes. He’s kept really good company. If he’s saying nice things about us I very much appreciate it and hopefully we get to impress the guy. I look forward to having conversations with him about music. He lives in a world that I would like to get a glimpse into because these are people that have changed the earth and I’m floored. I’d love to get in there.
I’d love to ask you a few questions about your songwriting process. A lot of artists believe they do their best work during a short burst of inspiration. Do you take stock in such a theory or does your best work occur with a more considered approach?
I understand both. A song like ‘Don’t Fight It’ came pretty quickly and you can kinda hear that. The thing writing quickly does is that you can summarise it quickly because it comes in one burst of inspiration. But it’s not always in the vein of what we do. Lyrically I’ve worked on stuff for years that I just keep revisiting and I think some of our best stuff has come out of that as well.
Obviously it’s not for everyone, but I do like the idea of chipping away at something. We simply don’t have a formula – some stuff comes really quickly and other times everyone’s chipped in a little bit. We always put a lot of labour into the stuff we do. I still don’t know how it works, I usually just hang around instruments and write stuff down occasionally and we pull things together.
Is that how a song like ‘Endless Road’ came about? By chipping away?
My drummer put some riffs together and he made most of the music himself on that track. He just wrote those lyrics in one kind of stealth. It’s a simple pop song and that’s all it’s meant to be.
Are The Panics the type of band to record a surplus of material for each album? If so, how do you go about deciding what does and doesn’t go on an album?
Not really. Up to this point anything we have written we have basically recorded. I think we left two songs off Cruel Guards and put them on the shelf and that was the first we ever did that. We’ve always just put songs together – even if we had ten (songs) we would always go into the studio with that. There’s sometimes leftover material but it’s generally songs that get abandoned because you don’t think that the pieces are fitting together. I wish I was one of those people that could write a hundred songs. Still, I never quite believed it when people go into the studio with a hundred songs and go for it.
What is it about Perth that makes it such a fertile breeding ground for some of Australia’s best acts?
I think people just bounce off each other when they set benchmarks or precedents of a certain quality. People feed off that, especially in such a small town. It was only a few years before our band and a few other bands came along that it honestly didn’t seem like a lot was happening. Then all of a sudden people started asking me what happened over there. I honestly think its a few bands stepping up to the plate in the recording studio and putting together some really cool tracks that are radio worthy. I think there is a slight “poppier” sentiment to the taste of bands in Perth. They’re very good at making something that translates to a bigger audience. It hasn’t always been like that but it’s a music town now and that’s fantastic.
In many ways Laneway is quite a unique festival. Do you do anything different to approach such a gig?
We haven’t really got around to talking about it yet. But it’s a great festival by the fact that it’s a different type of audience. It’s a young audience, most of the bands are up and coming and new groups so it’s great to be in amongst that. If we get the opportunity to play to people who are still hearing us or have heard of us in the last year then we will try to appeal to them. We’ve been working on some new songs as well so by the time Laneway comes around we’ll hopefully have some surprises.
Now, is it true that you and the rest of the band share a house with Alex Gow from Oh Mercy? A collaboration between yourself and him could make for something quite interesting…
Oh yeah he’s been in the house for a while. We haven’t really collaborated, I mean we’ve jammed a lot but it’s only when we’re drunk. But come to think of it maybe we should do something down the track.
– Paul Bonadio