When Matthew O’Brian, guitarist and singer for Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, called for his interview, he was running on Mountain Standard Time, sitting in a van heading from Idaho to Tacoma, Washington. Through the left window, he could catch glimpses of the Rocky Mountains. Through the right window, he saw a vast expanse of potato fields.
“More trucks with potatoes in the back than we have ever seen before,” he says of Idaho.
This is the Rochester, New York-based reggae outfit’s first tour west of the Rockies (although they have managed to play in various Colorado cities over the past few years) and the experience has been interesting, to say the least. The night before the interview, the band was set to play in Moscow, Idaho, near the Washington border. It didn’t happen. Earlier that week, the band had a gig booked in Victor, Idaho and, well, that one didn’t happen either. Having misjudged the distance between Omaha, Nebraska and Victor, the band had called the promoter to say that it was running late and was subsequently advised that a countywide power outage had forced the show’s cancellation. The promoter suggested that GPGDS find a hotel room in nearby Jackson, Wyoming. The band, though, decided to head onward to Moscow. Less than an hour later, a belt in the van broke, and a hole developed in the radiator. Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad was stranded in Idaho Falls for two days.
“For being so sucky, we had a very nice time,” says O’Brian, noting that the band members bided their time sifting through the antique shops and bead stores that exist in the town.
That the members of GPGDS were able to maintain a sense of calm throughout the ordeal speaks as much for the music as it does for the musicians.
O’Brian, his brother Christopher (drums) and friend James Searl (bass, vocals) had been playing together in bands since their teenage years.
“We played these really traditional rock and roll instruments, yet we weren’t necessarily drawn to any sort of style of rock or blues or funk or anything that we had known about all along,” he says.
“We all like music that you can dance to, that engages your body, music that’s going to invoke that positive feeling,” he adds. “You know, really bring people together on a positive level.”
The three were drawn towards the bass heavy sounds of Jamaica.
“Reggae music is very spiritual music, very positive music, and it took hold of us and our momentum went in that direction,” O’Brian explains. “It never went any other way.”
Although the bandmates were familiar with their instruments, they were still novices when it came to the conventions of reggae. Soon, though, they brought in Dylan Savage (guitar, vocals) and Rachel Orke (Rhodes piano, melodica), both of whom had experience playing in that style, to help push the band forward. Later on, Aaron Lipp (Rhodes, clavinet) and Buddy Honeycutt (percussion, vocals) joined the fold.
In just four years, the band has accomplished quite a bit. GPGDS has opened for some of the greats of reggae and dub, including Lee “Scratch” Perry, the Wailers, King Yellowman, and Mad Professor. Onstage, the band has been joined by members of Brazilian Girls, Thievery Corporation, and the String Cheese Incident.
Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad’s inaugural West Coast tour will hit the Temple Bar on October 24.