A big welcome to all you rastas and reggae heads. We’re headed back to the vaults for an interview with Matthew O’Brian, the former lead vocals and guitars for the roots reggae and dub outfit called Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad.
Although Matthew and the band have parted ways, this interview gives a great insight into the mind of one who has created a thriving and perpetually touring band.
Have a listen as we discuss the vibe of their band, brushes with the great Toots of Toots and the Maytals, and their green stance. We wish both Matthew and Giant Panda the best in the future, so be sure to check them both out when they hit your area! So from the vaults, the Tracks bring to you… Matthew O’Brian, former vocals and guitars for Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (giantpandadub.com).
Interview with Matthew O’Brian (Formerly of Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad)
Brian Kracyla and Monty Wiradilaga (Moe Train’s Tracks)
Moe (MTT): We’re sitting back here with Matt from Giant Panda. What’s going on, man?! How are ya?
Matt: Very well. Nice to see ya, Monty!
MTT: Awesome, great set today.
MTT: How is the Rothbury experience compared to your other festival experiences?
M: We’ve gotten to experience it since Thursday night, we had a whole day and a half of anticipation for our own set. Everything has been super-exceptional, super-clean, and the vibe is real strong. The experience with the set was great. We played first so we got an excellent soundcheck full. We were ready to go, all dialed in before we hit the stage. That’s better than most festivals where you’re rushed to get on.
MTT: Your music draws from the roots, dub, but you guys also mix in improvisation. How important is it for the band to take the listeners on a musical journey?
M: It fulfills our own musical desires and our own creative desires to be able to take those risks in the live setting and really feel like we are pushing our selves and challenging ourselves. For very many people, it’s apparently one of their favorite things they get to experience at the Giant Panda shows as well, the improvisation. It’s been openly confirmed recently that we really want to bring that to every show. We really want to have that experience of not knowing what’s going to happen next, no plan.
MTT: So, you feel that your live show is really the bread and butter of your music? Or do you feel it’s your recordings?
M: We tour and do 180 shows a year. Our live shows are our bread and butter. The history of reggae is a studio history. A lot of the sweet reggae we have heard over the years is all produced in the studio and rarer live. We’ve sought to bring true roots-sound and that real vibration to the live scene as much as we can, that’s our contribution.
MTT: Speaking of which, you’ve shared the stage with some legends. How have they really influenced your sound? Do you have any stories with the classics?
M: Their sound influenced us for our whole upbringing. Lee Scratch Perry was influencing our sound before we knew what recordings he had influenced so much. You listen to the old Bob Marley and that was all black art, that was the finest Lee Perry productions. Toots sets a wonderful example because Toots’ music is some of the most uplifting and positive of that roots era. His voice is so rich, but he also is so positive and so giving of his own energy to his audiences. He’s very, very musically disciplined and his band is one of the sharpest. He really lives up to his reputation.
MTT: Do you have any stories with him?
M: We lived down on State Street in Rochester, NY and he was staying at the Crowne Plaza, directly across the street from our apartment. We played with Toots at one of the biggest shows we’d ever done at the time, in Rochester, at a big outdoors jazz-fest thing. Toots headlined and at the end of the festival blew it out in the street, and we got to open for him and then we were heading to Bonnaroo that night, the minute we were done with the set. We were running late, running around, and we found ourselves back at our house getting our last things together as Toots was pulling into his hotel. Dylan, our guitar player who’s met Toots before, ran over and said “Hey man, nice to play with you. It was a great honor.” And he turned to us with both of his hands in the air and just like (pumping both hand in the air), all the way as we were driving away he was pounding two hands in the air! He gave us the best energy we could get to hit the road with. We were just proud to be there with him, let alone the fact that he acknowledged us like that.
MTT: Speaking about legends, we’re doing a show on Michael Jackson. How has Michael Jackson influenced you personally or musically?
M: Michael, to me, means quality, top quality from the time the public was aware of him. He was five years old and making untouchable high quality music and it never wasn’t untouchable, high quality. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Michael’s music. I think that with somebody like Michael Jackson, the influence is so thick, so ingrained in everything, it gets taken for granted as a part of reality. It’s a culture of his own.
MTT: It was definitely a shock. It felt like a part of our childhood was taken away, well not just childhood but our whole life.
M: It is, its part of everybody. He’d been there 45 years of his 50 years!
MTT: The band (GPGDS) takes a very green stance. Are you guys are participating in the (Rothbury) think-tank?
M: We are participating in the think-tank. They asked us to do that, I guess they picked up on the green stance. We’re not too preachy about it or anything but we, in our own lives and travels, have made choices and changes. The Sprinter runs on diesel and we’ve converted it to run on waste veggie oil. It’s been a process getting to know the whole scene but we put a lot of thought and a lot of money into getting it real right. This is the first summer, so we’re just getting it under way.
B: How do you get the oil for it? Do you go to restaurants and try to get what they let go of?
M: More and more you can buy filtered waste veggie oil. You can get waste veggie oil from places that preferably don’t use any fat. Some places just fry tortilla chips or just fry potato chips. You want as much of the clean stuff as you can get in the first place because then you have to filter it, let it settle out through all these filters, and then you put it in your van. It goes through a little bit of a filter putting it in, but you put it in and then you burn it like diesel fuel.
MTT: HOW MANY MILES TO THE GALLON DO YOU GET?
M: I can’t say a specific number but to give you an example, Rochester, NY to Burlington, VT, one forty gallon tank of waste veggie oil. That’s like a 8 hour drive sometimes.
MTT: Where do you see the evolution of your band, where do you see your future?
M: We see ourselves asserting our right to, you say we take a “green stance”, we take an “everything stance”. We feel a responsibility to bring the highest that we can bring. We feel the responsibility to give the audience, and give people that take the time to enjoy and experience music, the best of what we can give them. We treat our lives that way and we try to keep ourselves in good shape, we make good choices with our bodies and with our lives, in our actions and with the way that we speak to people. I hope that our band can keep reflecting that and keep getting more gigs like at Rothbury to reflect that and stay true to our roots. We always want to be able to be who we are and maintain creative integrity and to talk to more people like you.
MTT: Thanks very much for being with us. We appreciate it.
M: Yeah, thanks Monty!