St. Panther - Interview 9-14-20Written by Chi Chi Thalken on September 25, 2020
St. Panther is a young producer/emcee/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist from Irvine, California. She just released her debut EP, These Days, an exciting opening statement that brings together a wide variety of influences, from hip hop to synth pop to R&B. The EP was released as a joint venture between Ricky Reed’s Nice Life Recording Company and Nate Mercereau’s How So Records. She recently took the time to talk to us about her background in music, making the EP, and adjusting to COVID times.
Photo by Caity Krone
Scratched Vinyl: Let’s start with some basic background, especially because you wear so many different hats. How did you first get into music, and what was you first instrument or inroad into music?
St. Panther: Right. I was age three, I was really into a lot of Disney movie soundtracks, and Lion King was the one that really resonated with me. My parents kind of caught me sounding it out on my dad’s piano. Like “Circle of Life,” I would just remember the notes…I started with piano lessons soon after that. Then six to eight to eleven years old, I’m doing guitar lessons, and…percussion instruction and got really into that. Doing marching band, did clarinet in school, did cello in elementary school…I just had a bunch of instruments around me. But then, middle school came along, and we got Garage Band in middle school. So I got my first Mac laptop in middle school and started figuring out Garage Band on my own. Then I took classes at the old Apple Store, where they used to have Logic certified classes and Garage Band classes. I took a couple and took the knowledge and started to figure things out at home. Around 2012-ish, I moved to Ableton, in high school, and just kept on with Ableton this whole time.
SV: So it was really organic, you just kind of bounced from instrument to instrument.
St. Panther: Right. And I took really naturally to the software, because I really wanted to be able to record when I was younger. I was using my mom’s tape recorder and other obscure ways to record yourself back in the ‘90s. So when Garage Band came out it was such a pivotal moment in being able to do it yourself.
SV: Were you always in Southern California?
St. Panther: Yeah – born in Newport, raised in Irvine. Because it’s so quiet here, I think I had so much focus in music – it was such a natural extracurricular that occupied my free time. What I really quickly discovered was my fun at a young age. So kids at school were hanging out and being bored, but I loved being holed up and writing poems and writing melodies and just being home with guitar or drums, playing for hours. That was just the upbringing in SoCal over here for me.
SV: As you’re learning all these different instruments and software and stuff, what were your influences? What were you drawn to as a kid and as a teenager?
St. Panther: What really tipped everything for me in terms of writing, was Amy Winehouse. She had the song, “Valerie,” and at the time in middle school, I was listening to that song every minute of my life. And I really just resonated with her soul, everything that she was doing melodically, just drove me to cover “Valerie” on YouTube. And then I was like…I kind of know how to sing a little bit, too, so I was immediately drawn to being able to sing, and having your poems live within a song. So she really tipped the influence on completing a whole song on acoustic guitar. That’s how I started writing, on an acoustic guitar like she did. That, along with Nina Simone. My dad always played Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder around me, and I kind of picked up on Prince in my teens. I just picked up on these [musicians] that had this “soul” language, and Amy was the main one for me. That really tipped it, because we were both acoustic guitar writers, which is cool.
SV: As you’re continuing on, how did you work your way through these different influences and figure out your own style? ‘Cause as I’m listening to your EP, it feels like you’re drawing from a lot of different sources and synthesizing them in your own way.
St. Panther: Right. I’ve always liked classic writers like Stevie Wonder, [they’ve] always been a staple in what I like to listen to, but then when I started discovering beat culture, and J Dilla obviously is like a big staple beat culture person that you go to, to figure out how to make a beat. For me, it was people on Stones Throw, like Knxwledge was such cool producer, at the time. I just liked a lot of beat culture stuff…like Soulection’s Soundcloud, the channel on Soundcloud was very cool, because you’re picking up stuff from Low End Theory, all the Low End Theory artists that were residents there. People like Daddy Kev and Mr. Carmack, all these really cool beat culture producers that really stoked my desire to be able to produce at home on my own. And then everything I naturally listened to just married each other, like all the stuff I just naturally gravitate towards, like in my brain – it’s not like I wanted necessarily to sound like any of these things, I just knew I liked listening to them. So I just wanted to make music that I would genuinely listen to myself in a playlist. That’s how it came about.
SV: Were you able to get up to Low End Theory much?
St. Panther: Yeah, it was a once in a while thing, ‘cause I live in Irvine, so it’s an hour away for me. At the time, when I had my first proper band, when we were touring, we had a ritual thing where we’d get together on Wednesdays to just smoke some weed in Los Angeles and take in some new producers. It was a beautiful ritual thing for a lot of us growing up in the area. Even for us OC people, that was a staple to catch new artists, and so many legendary shows happened there. It was a ritual place for sure.
SV: You mentioned that you were in a band?
St. Panther: Right – that was a side project. I would say around 2015, 2016. I always wrote with an indie background. I loved synth pop and stuff like that. So I was always - I still do write stuff on the side. So I have that project going, just as active as this one. I wanted a band for it, and I had a bunch of people hitting me up for their local DIY shows, so I said yes to every single one, so I did like fifty shows with that project. It was really fun. That really helped push production experience, as well. I got a lot of production experience with that project, so that when I came back to St. Panther after years of veering off into that, I had so many sounds in my brain. I think that helped St. P, too. Just to express where I was coming from.
SV: And what’s the name of the band?
St. Panther: Right now it’s on Soundcloud as Dan Universe. It’s me, I write everything, and at the time it was all session players, but it’s all me. I’m still producing everything on there. It’s still going. I’ll throw up some demos every once in a while, just to revamp that it still exists.
SV: Gotcha. So when did you officially become “St. Panther”?
St. Panther: That was always my first moniker. I’d say 2012, like senior year of high school for me. I was “Little Panther” before that. I was “Little Panther,” freshman year, starting 2009. That was my name forever, and I was like, “Jesus, this needs to change somehow.” There are so many “Littles.” Then one day my friend was like, “You’re a saint.” I did him a favor in the studio, and he was like, “You’re a saint. You’re Saint Panther.” And that kind of stayed since 2012.
SV: How did you come into come into contact with Ricky Reed and Nate Mercereau?
St. Panther: That was very natural. It was through Instagram, oddly enough…Ryan Hunter, who was the front man to one of my favorite bands in middle school, he had followed me, scrolling through my management roster. He was looking for management at the time, and he found me on there as the only hip hop thing on the roster. It was a pretty emo/pop roster…so he found me, and followed me, and I thought it was sick because I followed his band from forever ago. So I hit him up and was like, “Yo! It’s crazy that my music reached you, because I had your music on my iPod in like seventh grade.” And he was like, “Really? I’m a huge fan of your music.” [He had] some friends, and that friend was Brad [who does A&R] and he immediately had the idea to link me with Nate, and Nate and Ricky were together doing their joint label situation at the time. And everything was just starting up with How So Records, so the placement happened, and then Ricky got involved and excited about the songs on the EP, so…it was insane. All through a DM.
SV: So what was the approach going into the EP?
St. Panther: I had these songs finished and done at home, and I just was really searching for the right place to push the sonics. Because I had never really brought my music into a studio before, and I’m very particular about doing it in the first place. I don’t want my sound changed too much, and I’m naturally skeptical of the industry and getting pulled in a bunch of different directions. I had an intention, now, after having a couple of one-off sessions that were not hitting the mark for me. When I played the music for Nate, it just seemed really evident – he asked what I was looking for with this, because these songs seem pretty done. And I was like, “Yeah, I want to push the sonics,” and we just got into one right away, which was “Infrastructure,” and he just started playing guitar synthesizer, and it just became clear that whatever was next with this music was going to be done together. Yeah, it was just a natural growth. We were just jamming, and things happened that way.
SV: Now you’ve got the EP out, and normally I’d be asking you about shows and touring and that kind of stuff…
St. Panther: Right. Rest in Peace.
SV: You have been putting out a few videos. How did you navigate the video situation in our current situation?
St. Panther: So the first one was “These Days,” which was – I just wanted it to be a natural expression of what that week was for like me. And it was, just “turn the camera on.” It was all candid, very rarely planned. I was actually eating lunch, actually falling asleep. That was literally a look into what it looks like for all of us right now. I didn’t want to dress it up and have it be this overly fantasy creative thing. I just wanted it to be human. For the rest, I wanted to merge these ideas that we maybe would have done on a different production scale, with a crew and things. How can we make these things with a shrunken crew version? Luckily, we got blessed with this insane genius named Spencer Ford for the “Highway” video. I got a proper animated treated written for that one, and he was like, “Let’s do it live action, and see how we can make a Hot Wheel live action thing work!” And he did it with a crew of like six dudes, if I’m not wrong. We just kind of rolled with the punches, like where are the places we can work, how can we work in them safely, without affecting anyone else, being smart…and yeah. It was very easy creatively to translate those ideas, I think because we had the work cut out for us already and we had to treat things…with the space we had, how are we going to do it? We had a great team for that. “B.O.M.B.” was an even smaller crew. Three, four people total. Three people filming. When you have creative people, it’s very easy to start changing ideas and working with what you have.
SV: All the videos have this “fun creative times at home” feel to them. I feel like somewhere down the road we’ll look at these videos and be like, “Oh, that’s what this year was like.”
St. Panther: Right! I wanted it to feel like that, too. It’s also weird for me to have something so well produced for me right now, like I don’t feel like that’s the experience I’m living in. If it’s a reflection of the time, then I feel like this is the best way – a lot of us created this fun video that we could to the best of our abilities. We have a million different versions of that fun. I think that’s what this year is going to look like when we look back and just see all the different ways that we all tried to work through this.
SV: Moving forward, do have any plans for other videos, or online shows, or anything like that?
St. Panther: Oh yeah, right now we’re working on – I’m rehearsing with basically all of my best friends to do the EP live. I think we’re going to stream it, but it’ll be up on the YouTubes and things. We’re trying to create a live show that feels just as live at home. I’m having some director ideas here and there to keep it engaging, we’re finding a space that’s engaging throughout the whole set. So that’s super fun right now. Apart from that, I’m writing the follow up. I feel like I’m in the thick of writing my favorite music yet. Then we’re just keeping the ball rolling with any livestreaming that comes through, keep busy and keep the music rolling for everyone right now?
SV: Where’s the best place for people to check for that?
St. Panther: Everything that’s happening, you can check my socials. You can look at all my socials, @stpanther. Yeah, Instagram is the place where I feel like I update people the most. I just put up a rehearsal bit from this weekend, so people get the check-in on that.
SV: You mentioned that you’re already working on the next recordings. Is there anything you can say about it yet, or is it too early in the planning process?
St. Panther: It’s taking shape. The way I work, I’ll put out a body of work, then I’ll take the next couple of months stacking up more work and really identifying which feel like a project and which are the in between tracks that get you to those songs. I’ve had a little bit of both. We’ve had an insane year where I feel like some really great songs are arriving out of this year, and then there are also redundant space songs, where we’re trying to figure what comes next, and what people want to hear next. For me, it’s always in the production. So I’m really in the thick of exploring every kind of sound possible right now that would uplift or resonate right now. It’s all taking a real natural course. I’m getting closer and closer everyday to something that’s more organized. I always make a playlist – that’s where it’s at right now. Playlisting all the demos, and then collaborating with new people. So there are people to look forward to on this next project. It’s all becoming a bigger space, we’re meeting a lot more artists, and things are just rolling from this last project.
SV: Finally, I’ll leave you with the question that I ask everyone –
St. Panther: Let’s go!
SV: If there are three artists that you could work with, that you haven’t worked with before, who would they be?
SV: Man, right now I’m a huge fan of McClenney. His song, “Just Stay” is incredible. I’m also a huge fan of Angela Munoz, she just put out her debut album, Introspection. Adrian Younge is a timeless legend for me. I would love to just be in a room with him and receive some of his knowledge.
To learn more, visit: https://www.stpanther.com/