This past Sunday I ran into Panthers in the Austin airport — we hopped out of our respective shuttles at the same time. Full disclosure: My 2003 Pitchfork review of their sweaty, oversexed Let’s Get Serious EP, released by Dim Mak, put me in conversation with members of the band, which led to my writing the promo copy for the epically overdriven Vice follow up, Things Are Strange. People complained about that album’s excess — I got a kick out of the intense, fuzzed-out psych-punk and swampy seven-plus minute, meandering anthems.
Still, for those interested in tighter rock-shots, as the below MP3 attests, the band’s forthcoming third full-length, The Trick, finds the New Yorkers at their most raw, stripped down post-Orchid state. (Besides ten songs in 30 minutes, they’re one member leaner with the departure of guitarist Kip Uhlhorn a/k/a dream-drone specialist, Cloudland Canyon.) Grab a stopwatch: This particular blast clocks in at less than 120 seconds.
Despite the crew’s punk lineage — three members were in bona fide hardcore legends Orchid; guitarist Justin Chearno played in some of my favorite D.C.-area bands like Pitchblende and Unrest, as well as Turing Machine, etc. — the guys have intense, full-time day jobs. That 9 to 5 (and then some) balancing act in mind, I spoke with Chearno and drummer Jeff Salane the day after returning from SXSW.
Jeff Salane (drums)
STEREOGUM: What’s your job title?
JEFF SALANE: Children’s Book Editor.
STEREOGUM: What’s that entail?
JS: Basically I work with authors, artists, and packagers to create children’s books. I handle roughly 20-30 titles per year ranging from novelty books (touch-and-feels, pop-ups, cloth books, etc…) to picture books to reader series.
STEREOGUM: Explain a typical day.
JS: A typical day is balanced by brainstorming, a flurry of emails about projects, and a serious sitting down with each title in the woodworks. Brainstorming is probably my favorite part of the job, trying to work out logistical problems (where does that kangaroo keep his boomerang?). Emails you’re going to get with any job, I suppose. As for the serious sitting down, this is time spent actually editing projects, looking at page layouts, reviewing titles to make sure that the text placement isn’t upsetting the art or vice versa. And then the last glorious part of being an editor is the thankless pages of paperwork. Getting artists, authors, and packagers paid.
STEREOGUM: Of the books you’ve worked on, which are your favorite?
JS: Right now, of the books I’m working on, I’m excited about a book called, Good Night, Sleep Tight, which is a picture book that comes with a small blanket for children to tuck the baby animal artwork into bed. Sounds cheesy, but it’s been a labor of love getting everything together for it. And we have an artist who is debuting a new style for this title, which is always exciting. I also had a good time with a book called ABC Sing Along, mostly cause we had a unique circumstance where I had to re-record a song for the CD that comes with the book, it’s so lo-fi, and it’s hilarious. I’m still keeping my eyes peeled for the next Richard Scarry.
STEREOGUM: Any particularly funny or inappropriate pitches that have crossed your desk?
JS: I’ve had some great books cross my desk that were totally out of line. Most titles I work on are for very young children. But from time to time, we get pieces from prisoners that are about mad sex romps with young Lolita’s, or just about animals going to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. The best submission I got was from someone who had a brutal rape and murder a la A Clockwork Orange in the first chapter and then morphed it into a revenge story that in turn had all the initial rapists raped and murdered. Perfect for 3 year olds.
STEREOGUM: Can you recommend some titles?
JS: Depends on what age you’re looking for. My books are mostly mass-market, 0-3 year old titles. For those I love anything Richard Scarry has done and of course, Dr. Seuss.
I’ve also dabbled in older readers and in Young Adult fiction and that’s where I spend a lot of my reading time. I’ve just finished The Book Thief, and it was great. I’ve got a tremendous soft spot for Philip Pullman (who wrote the His Dark Materials trilogy). He felt like one of the first adults to really write for young adults and not pull any punches.
STEREOGUM: How’d you get involved in all of this?
JS: Very randomly. For a long time I did temp work to keep going on tours. One day my temp office sent me to work at this house and everything clicked into place. They loved my poetry/writing background and were very open to allowing me to leave on tour and return to work later. So it was complete luck.
STEREOGUM: How long ago was that?
JS: I’ve been in Children’s Books for the past three years, on and off between tours. I’ve been at this particular house for just over a year.
STEREOGUM: I know you also edit a poetry journal. Do you consider that “work”?
JS: It feels like work sometimes, but only in the same way that being in a band feels like work. When it’s three in the morning, and I’ve got the be at work in a few hours and I’m stuck trying to figure out the correct coding for very intricate line spacing for someone’s poem, then it’s pure hell. But most of the time, I really love it, and that’s why I keep doing it. It’s a real gatekeeper position, probably a little like being a music editor, as my co-editor and I (yeah, I have a partner in the poetry journal and she helps keep me sane) choose what pieces we publish. However, this doesn’t mean that we hate or don’t care for everything we don’t publish. We have a sense of what we want from each issue and wish everyone who we reject best luck in their further search for publication, because not everything is for everybody. Something about trash and treasure?
STEREOGUM: Any interesting jobs in your past?
JS: I wanted to be a professor for a while, so I started working in higher education, first on the administration side at Parsons School of Design, and then later moved to a brief teaching gig, but then I realized that all the tenured jobs are in places I didn’t want to live. So now I’m here.
STEREOGUM: Panthers, and before that Orchid, often involve(d) the political. How important is work to that politics?
JS: You would be amazed what passes for normal in children’s books. I love working in this genre because it’s somewhat removed from politics. Children’s books are a new reality, but they certainly carry their own stress and madness, they just have less hidden landmines.
STEREOGUM: Do your co-workers know about Panthers?
JS: Yes, people know about Panthers, but have no concept of what it is or what it means to me. It’s very similar to someone at work being a writer or having a basket-weaving hobby. They have no idea that we are on a major label; they just know that I play music.
STEREOGUM: Are people surprised that a band on a major label includes members with day jobs?
JS: Some people are surprised by this, but these are people that clearly have no idea how the music industry works…or maybe I’m the one who has no idea how the music industry works? I’ve worked full-time during every band I’ve ever been a part of, so not working makes me feel pretty lazy. Even if I didn’t have to work for a living — and I don’t know any major star that does not do anything else beyond their respective career — I would find something to do with my time beyond Wii and Guitar Hero.
STEREOGUM: You’re a writer, poet, editor, etc. Has this influenced, at all, your approach to reading press about the band? Like, “Fuck, I could’ve written a better piece than that”?
JS: Am I an asshole if I say all the time? Nah, the truth is, I couldn’t write about music. I find that it makes me too angry and gets me into trouble. Mostly ’cause I have no problem telling people what I really think about anything, and I think a great deal of music is way overrated in the press.
Journalists are constantly looking for the next big thing, like older writing professors trying to find the next breakout student to dethrone David Foster Wallace, so you have this constant cropping of bands before they should be given such high heralds. I’m of the opinion that something isn’t good until it’s been given time to prove its staying power. Will I want to listen to most music that blogs are blowing up over right now by this time next year … probably not. There will already be another crop of young buds getting their pictures taken by what’s his name that photos teenagers in their underwear with rock stars for Rolling Stone. I like to stay away from new bands until a year after their records come out, unless I’m really impressed by them, like Fucked Up. That’s a great fucking band.
Getting back to the point, yeah, I could probably write something a lot better than “These cats are ready to pounce” when talking about Panthers. Then you get the reviews that are just full of fury and hold only one line of legitimate review, like our review ripped from the digital archives of Pitchfork that drifts in and out of a political summation backing Nixon for President. I think the only line worth reading there is “Of course, all this radical mumbo-jumbo is nothing more than a smokescreen to hide the fact that Panthers are just a really, really crappy band.” Done, there’s your review, but the writer has to fill up 500 more words to get paid. Ramble on.
Most of the time I stay away from band press. Because as soon as you start believing what other people say about you (you’re awesome, you suck, you’re fat, your last band was way better, you should just give up, you’re the next great American rock band, etc…) that’s when your done.
STEREOGUM: That dude who takes the underwear photos –Terry Richardson — is popular with the Vice crowd, right?
JS: Yes. I’m aware of the pot-calling-the-kettle-black-ness of my statement. He’s actually a great photographer and his style is emulated everywhere. He found a new way of making people and certain lifestyles attractive. Would love to see what he did if he was ever able to shoot something beyond fashion.
STEREOGUM: I should mention, as a full disclosure thing, that I reviewed you guys on Pitchfork way back when, though the review you mention wasn’t mine…
JS: Of course. I wasn’t putting pitchfork down at all. I was using that review as an example of how we can build words around things without naming the thing for which we’re searching. [Rob] Mitchum does a good job in his one line of the review that I mentioned (mostly to make a point that people shouldn’t care too much what other’s think about them, or else their art and the enjoyment of that art will suffer). The rest is a writer flexing their craft. He’s got some good chops, good writing, though the sentiment gets lost in its snide tendencies sometimes.
STEREOGUM: Have you ever written music criticism? I wonder how being in a touring band might affect that.
JS: No, I’ve never written a straight-out music review, but maybe that’s not the same thing as music criticism. I think being in a touring band, or a band at all, will definitely affect one’s opinion. It’s a weird thing. I don’t know that playing music gives you any insight into judging it. It may make you the opposite of excited about music. I know when I came home from SXSW, I was so happy to surround myself with silence. No more bands, no more people talking about bands, no more deal making, bragging about how Dunst came to your show, no more endless quest for after parties where more bands are playing. I’m sure that won’t last very long at all. I only know my own tastes and I would probably only be decent at one line reviews You know, like poetry, a sentiment diluted completely down.
STEREOGUM: Ever find reviews instructive?
JS: I don’t generally discover bands from websites or magazines. Music is my life and I kind of surround myself by it. I generally find stuff out from my friends or others that have their ears close to the ground. We could hear black metal coming for miles. It’s funny how you can see trends shaping before they hit. And I’m not trying to brag, cause certainly there are tons of bands I missed and now I swear by. Like Neutral Milk Hotel. There was a band that all of my friends listened to and I just didn’t get it. Until two years later, it was like something unlocking inside of me and now they’re one of the greats on my list of greats. But now if a new band is compared to them by any reviewer, it’s the kiss of death for that band in my mind, ’cause nothing I’ve heard has come close yet. That’s a red flag.
STEREOGUM: Any children’s book blogs gunning for the next big thing?
JS: There are, but if I told you, I couldn’t claim any credit for knowing anything cutting edge in this industry…
STEREOGUM: Are there any indie rock children’s books?
JS: Sure, the Lemony Snicket series. Dude from Magnetic Fields. But if you mean are there any children’s book titles that are not big business, yes, definitely. People self-publish all the time, but like music, the titles don’t have a very far reach. I think the most radical thing going in children’s literature right now is Manga or Graphic Novels. That’s what you’re going to be buying your future kids. Invest now.
Justin Chearno (guitar)
STEREOGUM: What’s your job title?
JUSTIN CHEARNO: Wine Director
STEREOGUM: What’s that involve?
JC: I select most of the 300 wines that are sold a wine shop in Brooklyn. I taste somewhere on average of 50 wines a week, but during late winter and the fall it’s sometimes around 200 – 400 (like this week).
STEREOGUM: Can you explain a typical day at the office?
JC: I get here around 11:30, open the store and start going through the stock to see what we’ve sold and what we need to order. I also talk with our distributors (45 of them at this point) that want to bring wine by for me to check out. Or I’ll call them after I’ve read about something that they carry so I can taste it and decide if it’s right for the store. On top of all that, I manage the staff, receive deliveries, do payroll once in a while, and work with our customers at the same time. I’m not in an office; I’m behind the counter in a little 450 square foot wine shop.
STEREOGUM: How do you get all the wine tasting done if you’re not in a separate office?
JC: I schedule most of my appointments for 11:30 – 2:00. Since I work on weekdays, the store is pretty quite ’til about 3:30. Plus, distributors host tastings a few times a year that I attend (I’m going to four this week) that usually feature most of their portfolios (100-500 wines).
STEREOGUM: How long have you worked in the shop?
JC: I’ve worked here for a few years, but I’ve only run the store for the last 14 months.
STEREOGUM: How’d you learn about wine?
JC: I grew up in a big Italian American family and there was always wine (homemade or otherwise) around, so it never seemed “aristocratic” or stuck up to me. But when I went to wine shops people were dicks that didn’t want to a 22-year-old punk rocker any help or advice at all. I read a book called The Wine Avenger by Willie Gluckestern in maybe 1996? And it pretty much said, “Fuck people with a snobby wine attitude, these are the regions, the grapes, and how they work with food,” and it I went from there. I got a job here one night a week and I just started tasting everything I could. In many ways wine is like music — you can read about a record all day, but it doesn’t mean anything till you hear it.
STEREOGUM: What do you make of wine reviews? There’s such a super specific language in them that, really, parallels music writing. Have you ever written a wine review? For the store, or whatever?
JC: All 300 wines in the store have description tags written by the staff, many by me. Since a large portion of our customers are novices, we tend to stay away from wine-review talk, it just sounds stupid on tag. We rely more on humor or references that will make people more comfortable. I read a lot wine blogs with reviews, and like music you tend to find a writer with your taste and trust their opinion.
STEREOGUM: I have some wine-specific questions. Not that I’m a hippie, but out of curiosity, what goes best with baked tofu?
JC: I’d do something like a Syrah from the Northern Rhone. They tend to have a roasted meat flavor and some nice acidity that would work well with the creaminess of the tofu.
STEREOGUM: Best wine for under $10?
JC: Our top selling wine under $10 is Les Heretiques. A carignon-based wine from the South of France. Truth be told, there is a lot of terrible wine on the market for $10 bucks and under.
STEREOGUM: Best New York State wine?
JC: I guess I’d say Hermann J. Wimmer’s wines, but to be honest, I’ve never been blown away by anything from New York. For the money, you get far better wine from Europe.
STEREOGUM: Best bottle of red you’ve ever had?
JC: Armand Rousseau Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru Clos Saint Jacques. The most perfect taste of anything I’ve ever had in my life.
STEREOGUM: Do you drink beer on the road, or do you bring you own private wine stash?
JC: Beer, beer and more beer. We used to have wine on our rider, but the stuff they give us is awful, so I’d rather have a bottle of Ketel One or Maker’s Mark.
STEREOGUM: How do you manage the store while touring?
JC: My boss, who owns the stores steps in, although I do get a couple of calls a day. We have a great staff and the place can run itself while I’m gone. I just set all the re-orders, etc up for a couple of weeks before we go.
STEREOGUM: Okay, finally, Iron & Wine or Amy Winehouse?
JC: Amy Winehouse, if not just because she doesn’t have a beard.
Panthers – “Uncertainly” (MP3)
The Trick is out 4/10 on Vice.