“It’s exciting to work with talented people outside the strict structure of a band,” says bassist/singer James Searl of Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad (GPGDS). That statement rang true during the creation of their diverse new album Love In Time, which comes out April 7th via Easy Star Records. Influenced by the need for more social and personal connection during the pandemic, GPGDS wanted to lean into the “squad” in their name by working and collaborating with artists outside of their tight knit circle. Their powerful first single “Chants” exemplifies the approach with the help of legendary vocalist Clinton Fearon (of Gladiators fame) and Ghanaian atenteben player Dela Botri. The track is available now and can be heard here. The band also launched a pre-order for the vinyl version of the full album here, which includes mostly clear, slightly smoky colored vinyl, along with a new long sleeve tee design, and a bundle that includes a poster, handmade incense and incense holders, and more.
The writing of “Chants” began one month before the band toured with Fearon in 2018. The song was originally written for bass player James Searl’s son, as a reminder to remember the power of music when facing times of trouble. The roots of the unmistakable sound of the track comes from the involvement of Dela Botri, who has been a close contact, collaborator, and teacher to Searl for over twenty years. Two of the earliest foundational songs in the Panda songbook (“Burkina Faso” and “Missing You More”) were directly influenced by Searl working with Botri at the time, and Panda has always wanted to get back to making music with the Ghanaian master. His instrument, the atenteben, is a Ghanaian bamboo flute, and it adds the distinctive musical hook heard throughout the song. The presence of these two musical elders certainly shows the collaborative nature of both the single and the rest of the album. A forthcoming music video also captures a similar vibe embodying the beautiful reality of travel and musical collaboration, as it was filmed in Istanbul, Turkey; Accra, Ghana; Seattle, Washington; as well as at many Panda shows along the way.
The album’s songwriting process was a stark contrast from their previous technique of recording one song at a time with a focused pace. The start of the sessions had a similar trajectory until the pandemic hit. Since the band was facing a potential six-month separation at the start of 2020, they rushed into the studio to record as many tracks as possible. After laying down more than 25 song ideas and riddims in a week, recording with longtime friend Matthew Goodwin (of The Movement and Easy Star All-Stars), the band then turned to outside producers, collaborators, and other old colleagues to finish things out. It was perfect timing as everyone was looking to make a connection, even remotely. The various tracks were sent to three different camps of musicians, engineers and producers: the production trio Zion I Kings, who have produced and mixed tracks for Protoje, Akae Beka, Midnite, Lutan Fyah, and many more; Italian-born international reggae icon Alborosie, who is best known for his own long string of hits and albums since the early 2000s; and Danny Kalb, a longtime partner of GPGDS who produced their biggest hit, “Steady,” but is also known for his productions of The Movement, The Green, Ben Harper, and many others. Originally the idea was to build towards three different releases, but the diversity of the songs and production styles all complemented each other in ways the band had not expected. (In fact, it was working with Danny Kalb on the “Steady” single in 2014 that helped lead to this record; it was one of the first times they had worked with an outside collaborator, and the process and result were so powerful for the band, that they strived for similar vibes this time around.) Add in a list of featured guest artists, starting with Fearon and Botri, plus The Movement, Anthony B, Double Tiger, Blakkamoore, and Skribe Da God, and it became obvious that selecting the best tracks from all of these sessions would make for a very dynamic full-length record. The result is Love In Time.
Formed in 2001 in Rochester, NY, Giant Panda first received praise for their live show, which combined world beats and reggae rhythms with an urgent energy and jamband dynamics. The twenty year-old band consists of Dylan Savage (guitar, vocals), James Searl (bass, vocals), Chris O'Brian (drums, vocals), Eli Flynn (guitar, vocals), and Tony Gallicchio (keyboards). Beyond their celebrated live energy, Panda has also released six studio albums, ranging from their alternative Americana releases Country (2012) and Bright Days (2015) to their Billboard Reggae Chart toppers Steady (2014) and Make It Better (2016), Giant Panda has built an extensive and eclectic catalog that stands the test of time. Love In Time delivers a fresh new evolution of the band’s trademark sound that results from their newly collaborative approach.
In conclusion, Searl summarizes, “In the end, Love In Time became exactly what our original intention was - to make a collaborative record with incredible musicians, producers, and collected friends worldwide that would stretch our spectrum musically while combining all of the elements that have defined Giant Pandaʼs sound in the past. Often those sounds and styles have been found separated on different Giant Panda records, but Love In Time is the best combination of them all yet.”