Gabriel Otto of Pan Astral: "Our music really spawned from the visual place."
Drawing from influences from nearly every genre, Pan Astral (due this Saturday, January 4, at Larimer Lounge) is pushing the barriers between sound and visual elements in a live show. Similar to the likes of bands like EOTO, which improvises audio and visuals live in each show, Pan Astral strives to create more of a performance art piece, rather than just a typical concert with banging drops and sloshed beer. We recently spoke with founding member Gabriel Otto about what sorts of elements influence the band, how each member plays a crucial role in developing the music and how film and fine-art play a major role in the sound design.
Westword: Tell me a little bit about Pan-Astral and what y'all are all about.
Gabriel Otto: First and foremost, we are a band. The sum is greater than the parts. It's not much more than art project between four people. Our main objective is to make something beautiful in a way that is all inclusive of each member.
How does your visual element play into your music?
Our music really spawned from the visual place. A lot of projects I have been apart of before Pan Astral were more folk oriented or experimental in nature. They didn't draw as much from the visual aspect of things. Our music now spawned from the visual realm. The visual side of things set the precedent for the music. The music derives from visual things, as far as lyrical content and soundscapes that we use. We define them in a visual sense pertaining to color and texture.
Is it symbiotic in the delivery?
When we play live shows, we do a performance, but we treat the performance as an art show, more so than a place to meet chicks. It's a form of expression, but it is playful and pretty spontaneous. The shows are very well prepared in that all the visual material has been compiled for hours beforehand. It's more spontaneous in the way the visual interacts with the musical aspect.
Do you control the visuals from the stage, or do you have a visual engineer?
We have an engineer named Jordan Leonard. All of us are giving him input as far as what a song sounds like in visual terms. It probably drives him nuts because he's not at practice always, but right now we are putting together a performance with him at the Larimer Lounge that will be the first time he is featured as our projectionist.
So it really is an audio/visual experience?
In some instances, there will be synching of visual, and in others, he will be doing it on the fly. A lot of our music has samples and sequences underneath it, and in those cases, he'll be able to see what is coming.
How would you describe your sound? It's almost as if there are influences culled from electronic, jam, and other genres.
That's a good question because we've never answered that. If I had to boil it down -- and this is a question that all musicians are asked and it has the most simple answer, but it's the hardest to answer -- but it does involve a struggle. I would always say that we are a progressive form of rock and roll. Almost a new rock and roll. One way I would put it is that we really don't have filters on what is influencing us. We haven't sat down and defined our sound.
In some ways, it could be a weakness, but it's really nice not to have expectations, or have people telling us what we are and what we aren't. We have a manager, but the band always keeps its artistic integrity. The influences are the biggest thing for us. I am really interested in film, visual art, and I went to school for art; I have a BFA in painting, and that for me crosses over into each other in a language that is clearer to me.
That is part of the reason the music is different from a lot of other stuff. I am not the only person contributing to the sound of the band, but I am the founding member. I worked with Ryan Burnett of Signal Path -- he and I started this project in our basement -- and it grew into something a bit bigger when Mike Rempel of Lotus took interest in what we were doing. That really attracted bigger bookings and shows.
Ryan had to choose between Signal Path, or this, and we both want to work together and still do, but he had to do what he had to do with Signal Path. I miss his input, call him often, and send him tracks I am working on. The whole concept of Pan-Astral is to make something unique, honest, and beautiful. That's really general, almost cliché, but I think it's fun to compare our music to movies, or artists. I really love Clyfford Still, or Mark Rothko, and film makers who incorporate magical realism into their stories.
It sounds like you are bringing so many elements into the project and watching it take shape, rather than forcing it to take a certain shape?
We do have our scruples, and if I were to define our music, I would be able to use electronic elements, pop, folk, ambiance, levels of industrial from Kip. Our new single, "You Need," has a real industrial flair to it. It's great watching the sounds evolve with the band right now. The best part for me is working with other people. I liken it to making a movie, and if you were playing every part or character, it would be very one dimensional.
I could sit in my basement and do the DJ thing and go out and do it, but for me, I enjoy the collaborative effort of being in a band. It allows for all of us to blossom in our creativity. Each member could stand on their own and do their own thing, so it's really foolish of me to come to practice and try to steer it one way or another. We all have so much to say.
Why limit yourselves?
I think it's why we work so well together. We each have equal say in what happens. For influences sake, each of us brings an equal part to the whole.
Pan Astral, INDIEcent Exposure, with the Circus House, Swim Thru Frequencies, Strawberry Runners, Someone's In for an Explosion, 9 p.m. Saturday, January 4, Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer Street, $10-$12, 303-291-1007.