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Panther and The Zoo

Panther and The Zoo

Wednesday 24th August, 2011 11:28AM

Panther and the Zoo are best known as the eclectic cubs of some of New Zealand's top indie bands, but they're so much more than that. Returning to the nest after months of touring, the group have got together to record a menagerie of songs for their debut album 'More Fun!'. We persuaded top-dog Graham Panther to give up the goose regarding their new release, and what Panther and the Zoo really is.

So, first of all, who's in the band and what do they do?

Our live lineup consists of Graham Panther singing, Hayden Eastmond-Mein on bass, Anthonie Tonnon on guitar and keys, and John Parker on drums - although we do a bit of swapping around to keep it interesting. The album also featured some guitar from Goldenhorse’s Geoff Maddock and drums from Alistair Deverick.

How long have you been around?

Since late 2008.

Where abouts are you based?

Auckland, New Zealand.

What are Panther and the Zoo's origins?

I got tired of people asking if Panther was really my last name, so I decided to get really famous and put the matter publicly to rest. Having progressed unspectacularly alone, I then met Hayden and John who at least gave me some musical credibility. Still working on the fame thing.

Where does the name come from?

This band was more or less founded on a shared love of cheesy wordplay, so we couldn’t really go past this option.

Is your last name really Panther? That's awesome.

It is. Thank you, I’ll tell my dad you said that.

Tell us about the other bands/projects have you been involved in?

The past couple years we’ve all done a fair bit of touring overseas with other NZ bands. Me in Ruby Suns, Hayden in Lawrence Arabia and the Brunettes, and John in the Brunettes. It’s the usual NZ-band merry-go-round. But they’re all other people’s bands - for all of us, this is the first album we’d call our own.

You seem to be based all over the place, how do you go about writing songs?

Traveling’s good for new ideas, but it’s been great to finally be in one place together this year and make those ideas into something less hypothetical. The more you play together, the more easily the arrangements start to come. Our new single, ‘Do Whatever’, was written more or less together in a room, which was a first for us.

How would you describe your sound?

I think with this album we've finally answered that question for ourselves. We've developed a much more cohesive sound than our earlier recordings - basically, band-driven guitar pop. Someone recently described us as Elvis Costello meets Weezer. That made my week!

What good things are you listening to at the moment?

New stuff: Unknown Mortal Orchestra is pretty awesome. I had no idea who it was at first. Old stuff: I just sold my car and excavated all the CDs off the floor, so now I’m listening to all kinds of old favourites, especially Lemonheads.

You have your debut album 'More Fun!' coming out very soon, what's the best thing about that for the band?

I feel like it makes us a real band. Traveling around playing other people’s music has been great fun, and a great way to learn about how the whole thing works, but we were all itching to get more of our own music out. I recently read a blurb somewhere describing us as a ‘side project’. I realized, until now, that’s a completely reasonable way to characterize the band. Hopefully this album shows people we mean it.

Bob Frisbee is a God in the Auckland music scene, how was it working with him?

Haha. And we’ll tell Bob you said THAT. Bob’s the perfect foil for this band. We tend to have a lot of musical ideas for any one song, and Bob has a very good way of focusing things down to their most important elements. He’s also just a massive pop music fan, which is infectious. Bob put a lot of himself into this album, and I think it shows. He had really important insights at every stage of the album: not just the sounds but the arrangements, the choice of songs, and even the lyrics on one or two occasions.

Plus it was good for John to have someone as tall as him to talk to for once.

Some of you have worked in some quite high-profile New Zealand bands, do you expect a similar level of success for Panther and the Zoo?

I think if anything, touring in other bands has showed us how hard-earned any success is for bands from this part of the world, regardless of how good the music is. So no expectations, more like: we know what you have to put into it, and we’re up for it. Pretty exciting to finally put out our own music though.

Do you see influences from your previous projects on this album?

Naturally we’re all in the same musical ballpark, but this album definitely has its own identity. I think the biggest influence is more how we’ve gone about releasing and promoting the album. Brunettes, Ruby Suns, Lawrence Arabia - they’ve all more or less done it themselves on the home front, or worked with friends, which is what we’re doing too.

How do you plan to release 'More Fun'?

It’s out in three formats: digital, CD, and T-shirt. The T-shirt looks great - it’s Henrietta Harris’ album art.

What does the future hold for Panther and the Zoo?

Touring the album. Woop!

The state of music in NZ is in your opinion...

Bustling away as usual.

Sam Harper