DFW Music News

Panda X is the First Live Band for One of Dallas' Most Respected Producers

Gerard Hanson doesn't do interviews. Correction: Convextion doesn't do interviews. In a 20-year career as a producer and electronic musician here in Dallas, Convextion -- the name that Hanson performs under -- has preferred to remain anonymous. He rarely does press and prefers to remain faceless in pictures. He even once turned down an interview with London newspaper The Guardian.

But Panda X is different. The new electronic groove band, made up of Hanson and a few other local music veterans, is his first-ever band. He's performing with them under his own name, and he's even willing to talk about it. After all these years, Hanson's trying something completely different.

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Panda X came about when Convextion and Wanz Dover's Blixaboy project were billed together for a show at Pariah last month. Hanson was ready to try something new; he and Dover, who is a regular contributor to the music section of the Dallas Observer, simply decided to start a band and play together. "You have a favorite meal," Hanson says. "But you don't want to eat it every day." The performance was not advertised as a Panda X show because they hadn't agreed on a name yet. "I liked Curmudgeons," Oepen says. Hanson liked the name too but Dover thought it was too grumpy.

Dover and Hanson have been friends for over a decade. In the '90s, they both had zines to get free records. "We could have been friends but we didn't know each other yet," says Hanson. Selvin de Leon is a band member, but focuses solely on visual art and he is not at rehearsal. "This seemed like a perfect fit for him," Dover says of de Leon. "He's kind of cosmic."

Rounding out the band is Max Oepen on drums. He has a project called Spacebar and also plays drums for Dover's band, the Black Dotz. Oepen moved to Dallas from the southwest corner of Germany in 1993. From his home he could see the Swiss Alps on a clear day, but a degree in jazz studies at University of North Texas was too good to pass up. "They have probably the best jazz program in the world," he says.

A formally trained musician since childhood, Panda X is something different for Oepen, who often performs with jazz bands. "He's a proper musician," Hanson says, of Oepen. "I'm a synth nerd. Sometimes, rather than playing every note, a lot of the echoes and stuff fill up the space and make rhythms as much as anything we play."

Panda X has a sound that is psychedelic, cosmic, and otherworldly. They often have a very cinematic vibe, like danceable synth-heavy music from a horror film made in the late '70s or early '80s.

"I got ears," says Dover. "I'm used to playing from my ears." If he can hear it, he can follow it, but he also studied music at UNT. "It's new territory to all three of us," says Oepen, who normally focuses on structure, but approaches this project with an emphasis on sound. "We have sort of a thing we all do," Oepen continues. "But this combination allows us to stay out of each other's way enough so that it works."

"But I think we all have some of the same roots," says Hanson, pointing out that everyone seems to enjoy late-70s post-punk. "This was easy with these guys," he says, of finally joining a band. "I'm kind of lazy and I've tried to work on music with other people once or twice before and never really enjoyed it. I don't like to force it. I think we have the same vision, roughly."

"Our ears are constantly giving us information about what's around us," Hanson continues. "They keep us alive. We're constantly hearing and listening to things. Our brains are always processing sounds. That's what I love about delays and reverbs because you are suddenly in a new environment. And then when you combine environments and layer them, I love that. For me, that makes it beautiful." But Panda X has just started to combine environments. "It still has a pretty wild west feel to it right now," Oepen says.

For Hanson the band represents a major change of pace. "I feel like I'm the tag along dude because I'm not really a music guy," he says. He admits that lack of formal music education may have played a part in his reluctance to join a band. "They can help in places where maybe I don't know how to harmonize." He believes that pitch detection is inherent and he is somewhat pitch deaf.

"I can hear what I like when I play it," Hanson continues. "But I really can't play by ear. When something's in tune I hear the frequency beating." More than anything he seems to go on his gut, playing whatever feels right with a proclivity for low frequency dissonance. Hanson believes all music is dance music. "Maybe dancing is the origin of all music," he speculates. "People were probably smacking on a drum before there was any sort of harmonic scale."

In this age of short attention spans, Hanson is interested in coming up with an hour-long song, and Panda X already did a piece that was 45 minutes. They are always recording, but this is very much a live project, with the focus being on rehearsing and performing. This makes sense because people are much more likely to listen to a long track live than recorded. "It's kind of jam," Hanson says of Panda X. "Even though I'm not into jam."

"Improv," Dover corrects him.

"Good point," Hanson replies. "I just don't like it when people spray a bunch of notes all over the place in the name of jam." But everyone agrees Panda X is a necessary outlet. Hanson says it "scratches an itch," Dover "needs" to make this music, and Oepen is "excited about the possibilities." As far as goals, they don't have any. Panda X is happy to simply make music and go where it takes them.

Panda X performs with The Black Dotz and Gabriel Mendoza at 10 P.M, Saturday, March 28, at The Crown & Harp, 1914 Greenville Ave.


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Jeremy Hallock