They started making panda porn to show male pandas,” explains Chris Connelly of Edmonton’s Hot Panda, “because they find that in captivity they can’t get them to mate.”
Damn. If adorable pandas can’t get it together, what hope does that give mere people?
Connelly continues, “So I think if you can figure out what makes a ‘hot panda,’ you might be able to fix that problem.”
This is how I learnt that, to both zoologists and music reviewers, the Hot Panda is a tricky phenomenon to precisely figure out. Of the human version we can say this much with certainty: Hot Panda is a four-piece musical outfit from Edmonton, Alberta debuting their second full-length album entitled, How Come I’m Dead? This has 13 tracks containing singing, drums, guitar, keys and other instruments, like the accordion, with less frequency. The way they make those sounds is known to produce dancing and/or head-bopping in its listeners.
Outside these observable facts, pinning down Hot Panda’s sound is aiming for a moving target, and that’s just fine with Connelly.
“We’ve always been this band that wanted to try and not be figured out, so as soon as people think that we’re a certain kind of band, there’s a natural inclination to be like, ‘Okay, well let’s do something that band wouldn’t normally do.’”
Indeed, Hot Panda actively resists easy classification within any genre, but for Connelly it’s even more than that. “People will listen to a 30-second clip of something on iTunes and want to form an opinion on a band based on that. People even want to understand a story by reading the headline. There’s this sense of wanting to understand everything without having to do any work, and just instantly get stuff. Maybe it’s a lack of patience; I blame the Internet.”
How about a metaphor? Connelly plays along, “Hot Panda is a whale in the middle of the ocean, searching for, uh, their soul mate whale, who’s somewhere else in the ocean,” he laughs. “And that whale is going through the sea trying to find its whale partner. I think? Maybe?”
How Come I’m Dead attacks from a different stylistic front with every song. “Shoot your Horse” is loping, croon-y and “country,” while “Masculinity” recalls a grittier, Gimme Fiction-era Spoon. You can tell the two are related, but they sound more like cousins than siblings. The commonality running through the songs is most easily found in the lyrics: references to feeling unmoored, adrift, present but not really present.
“That’s kind of what was happening when we were writing the album,” says Connelly. “We were touring a lot. My girlfriend lives in Toronto and I’m in Edmonton so I’m constantly not in one place for very long, and starting to feel like I’m disconnected from everything. I think a lot of that came onto the record.”
It also seems to have something to do with the Internet. Emerging bands undertake endless tours to create momentum for themselves. It was the distance that inspired their album’s title, while away from family and friends but still being online.
“You start to feel a bit like a ghost, [ . . . ] like you’re dead because of constantly being away but yet, you still have Facebook. You can still see the worlds that you live in existing without you there — like you’re removed from the world but still here,” says Connelly.
Sexless pandas, lonely whales, digital isolation, disconnection — these sound like alarming themes in a conversation with an indie pop band, so let me reiterate: Hot Panda is also the opposite of those things. Fun. Energy. Getting together in a room with music and adventurous noises and, if you’re lucky, dancing.
Go find out what a Hot Panda is when they play at the Lo Pub, Sept. 24. How Come I’m Dead? is released on Mint Records, Oct. 12.