Songlines Across New Zealand
  Paul Barrett (Panam) Via email 8-08-2013
SANZ: It had been quite some time since we had heard from Pan Am before last year where did you guys disappear to
PB: After our Melbourne expedition came to a premature end as a result of numerous factors, including disagreements with the label and our management at the time, and what could be termed ‘general band fatigue’, we decided to go our separate ways for a few years. We had been working on a follow-up album to ‘Pan Am’ which was to come out on Flying Nun although that was shelved as a Pan Am project after the label was sold to Warner Music and the band parted ways and came back to NZ. 

SANZ: What brought about this comeback 
PB: I decided that Song 1 deserved a remake, and that the original version hadn’t reached its full potential. This is why we put out the new recording in early 2012. We did a show in Auckland, at the Whammy Bar on K’rd as a sort of single release for the new track.

SANZ: What went through your mind when you first got my message through face book regarding Pan Am
PB: Of course I was really happy that you had contacted me regarding Pan Am. It’s always amazing to hear from people that are interested in the band and the music -  our time in the spotlight came to a bit of an abrupt end back in 2004/2005 so it’s always good when I hear that  people are listening to the records after all these years. It makes it feel worthwhile to have put out those records. 

SANZ: What are your thoughts on the whole Facebook/social media medium
PB: Not really my cup of tea, to be honest. I use Facebook but pretty well only for music related promotional things. I don’t really get why people would want their every thought or conversation or personal communications to be through the medium of Facebook for all to see. Then again if people want to do that who am I to stop them? It’s like being back at school in a way, everyone is a bit of an open book, if you’ll excuse the pun. I’m hoping we will all look back on Facebook one day as a just a phase you know… but I fear it, or sites similar, are here to stay.

SANZ: What are your thoughts on the whole you tube medium
PB: On the whole, the YouTube phenomenon is a good thing. How else would I find out how to replace that starter motor on my car? You can see so much interesting and informative video on there, on all sorts of topics from news to music to science and mechanics to you name it. As far as music goes I think it has a tendency to erode the value of the traditional album format (along with Itunes and digital downloads in general), but on balance it is a good thing as it gives a platform for people to publish their songs and videos. And who really listens to albums the whole way through anyway?

SANZ: What went through your mind when I mentioned the album turns 10 on the 31st of July
PB: Well I think it has aged well, it’s rough around the edges but quite original sounding and not a dated sounding production. 

SANZ: In the beginning how did you guys end up with the name Pan Am
PB: It popped into my head one day as a good name for the group. We didn’t all agree on the name at first but after a week or so I think the idea won out. I’ve been an avid fan of all things aviation related since childhood - so maybe that has something to do with it - the whole obvious Pan Am Airways reference, which I take to be iconic of the sixties and America as well. But if you think about it a bit, it is actually quite a good name in many ways as there are a few different ways it could make sense in the context of the name of the band and our music. It’s not just a reference to the airline - it’s Pan Am as a general term, with more than one possible meaning.

SANZ: Were there any other names in the list of choices before landing on Pan Am
PB: Yes but I can’t remember what they were so they can’t have been much good.

SANZ: You have done a handful of music videos over the years in pan am which was
The funnest to film
PB: Definitely Long Grass with the whole puppet scenario - that was a real giggle. We were all cramped in under a false stage manipulating puppets by looking at TV monitors as we could not directly see the puppets. Two people operated each puppet (respective band member and helper), so that’s 6 people jammed into a little stage set underneath the puppets.

SANZ: Least fun to film
PB: Song 1 – a reasonable video and good track but we were freezing the whole time being soft Aucklanders filming in Christchurch in the middle of winter at night in a draughty old gas station and to top it off - cold showers at the end of it all. In those days we were pretty soft.

SANZ: Interesting to film
PB: Interstate Boy for sure. All that fun aboard our own private steam train for the night as well as getting to shoot a video!

SANZ: Strangest
PB: Japanese Girls. Strange to have a bunch of random Japanese girls in a photo booth with us dancing around pretending to have crushes on the band.

SANZ: Can you tell us the stories/inspirations behind  the videos for
Long Grass
PB: Long Grass was just an idea to have the band as puppets presenting this quirky song, and seemed a fitting first video. Puppets hadn’t really been tried before in many NZ videos. In fact I guess they are more like muppets than puppets, but there you go. We liked the cartoon element in the design, which was also thanks to our director, Greg Page.

SANZ: Japanese Girls
PB: This was the Director, Greg Page’s idea. To have these hot young Japanese Girls swarming this dating self-service kiosk, leaving messages of devotion to the band, interspersed with shots of the group in a fake warehouse, rocking out. The girls were all really sporting considering none of them were paid actors, the crew just went down to the Asian food hall or Broadway or somewhere and asked anyone hot, female and Japanese looking if they wanted to be in a music video!

SANZ: Interstate Boy
PB: A sort of ‘crazy train’ idea seemed a fitting visual motif for the song Interstate Boy. Got the train, got the weird actor guy, got the chickens and the rat, got the band on board and voila!-  a music video. It has its flaws but it’s an interesting little video.

SANZ: Song 1
PB: The story of Song 1 is of somebody sort of stuck in a monotonous dreary everyday life kind of coming to a realization that they need to break out of the grind and find out what’s real  - which sort of came out in the video although I originally wanted to film it in a vast maze of office cubicles like in the film American Beauty or something, but due to budget constraints we ended up doing the guy in the dead-end mechanic workshop instead. Trouble is I think being a mechanic would be kind of an interesting job, but there you go. The whole chocolate bar theft/getaway routine was the director’s idea and in my opinion rather unrelated to the subject matter of Song1. I think that as a band we were quite ragged when we filmed Song1 so we didn’t really have any better comprehensive ideas of our own to put in – at the time. If we filmed a new video one day for Song1 it would probably be entirely different.

SANZ: Cigars In The Suitcase
PB: With this one we were tying to do a late 60’s psychedelic idea crossed with a bit of early 90’s (in black and white), we added shots of a big old horse into the mix I and I still think this video is by far the best example of a band performance as we were honed from lots of touring around that time. In fact that video probably represents the high-water mark in terms of the bands powers of entertainment. It was all downhill from there!

SANZ: Talking about videos
What happened to the puppets from long grass and how hard was that video to do.
PB: I think Flying Nun must of kept the puppets (or at least our heads) so they could perform their little voodoo rituals on us anytime they thought the band was getting out of line! Ha ha. It was an easy video to shoot really, we had a great director, Greg Page, who was very enthusiastic about the puppet idea when other people had said it couldn’t be done. He made up all the puppets and artwork himself all we had to do was turn up and be puppeteers for the day and hey presto a video! 

SANZ: How did you get to do a video in a train and how hard was it
PB: It was our idea to shoot Interstate Boy on a train as it is a song about being in transit or between states – either countries or states of mind. A train seemed apt, a mad sort of Wild West rock train.  We had aBritish director based in Christchurch who filmed the videos for Interstate Boy, Song 1 and Cigars in the Suitcase. His claim to fame had been that he was a line producer on some Nirvana videos. He organized to use the train at Ferrymead in Christchurch for a night. There was lots of forwards and backwards down the tracks with lighting etc, sped up in the video to make the train look like it’s going fast. But it was a real steam train with a really hot coal fired boiler which took hours just to heat up to get the train moving. That’s why we included lots of gritty shots of the drivers coaling up the boiler etc. in the engine car, it’s all fully real. The scenes on the inside of the train (apart from the engine scenes) were filmed in a stationary passenger car with a whole lot of people waving lights through the windows to get the sense of movement, apart from the shot of me leaning out the door which was filmed while the train was moving down the line.

SANZ: Now in the videos song1 and interstate boy we see a guy who was in both videos he was the driver of the getaway car and he did some bits and pieces like dancing who was the guy
PB: As far as I know the guy dancing with the rat in Interstate Boy and driving the getaway car in Song1 was a local Christchurch actor. We required an ambiguous looking dude to make odd cameo appearances as a sort of recurrent theme with a humorous edge - and it worked out nicely. It lends the videos a slightly wacky edge which I like.

SANZ: What happened to all the chocolate bars from the song 1 video shoot
PB: I’m fairly sure Cole ate them all  after he drove off with the getaway driver!... no seriously they belonged to the gas station I assume they went back on the shelves and were purchased and eaten shortly afterwards by hungry passing motorists.

SANZ: Can you tell us the stories/inspirations behind these tracks
PB: This is a plea from the common man to the superhero, hoping that the superhero is still out there, somewhere.

SANZ: Long Grass
PB: An ode to ‘not caring’ and also to passive aggression! A sort of a punk arrangement but with Kinks overtones.

SANZ: Japanese Girls
PB: This was based on my experience of growing up with Japanese exchange students living at our house. The song comes across really dirty in some respects but it is actually not really sexual, at least not as far as the exchange students were concerned! They were more like brothers and sisters from another culture. Takashi was a real guy – an exchange student from Korea who was Japanese by ethnicity. There were the Japanese Girls - Mariko and Ayako as well.

SANZ: Interstate Boy
PB: Basically a song about larking about in between states of mind on the fringes of the entertainment industry.

SANZ: Television Broke My Heart
PB: The sort of song an alien from a peaceful race might write if they came down to earth and saw all the strife and misery afflicting our planet - on TV. A naive alien that truly believed in world peace etc would be shocked and if they were watching TV, it would most likely break their heart!

SANZ: Cigars In The Suitcase
PB: Basically Cigars is a love sick song about a girlfriend who is playing hard to get.

SANZ: Song 1
PB: A song about basically waking up and realizing all is not as it seems and the sense of trying to find one’s own relevance in the cosmos in order to cut through the drudge.

SANZ: Speaking of song 1 why have there been different incarnations of the song over the years 
PB: It is kind of a seminal composition in the sense that has a universal theme, the perfect kind of song that could sustain and live up to, multiple versions. I like the idea of doing a version of Song 1 on every album. 

SANZ: Were/are  there any other Pan Am tracks that you would have liked to have redone 
PB: In some respects I feel like I could re-do most of them, but that’s the perfectionist in me talking. I’ll have to wait and see which ones I end up doing again. Tangelo Tree from New Concepts and also Television Broke My Heart are prime candidates for some kind of future re-record.

SANZ: If you had to pick a song to represent Pan Am what would it be and why
PB: Probably Song1 as it is the most iconic sounding, although Interstate Boy and Japanese Girls would come in a close second and third. If you based it on our Itunes sales though, it would be by far and away Japanese Girls way out front with Song1 a distant second!

SANZ: How did you come to choose to cover Saskatchewan for the under the influence album 21 years flying nun
PB: Always thought it was a great track so jumped at the chance to choose it as our Flying Nun cover song for that compilation.

SANZ: Were there any other close contenders you would have liked to have covered 
PB: Not really, Heavenly Pop Hit by the Chills, maybe. One of the best NZ songs ever.

SANZ: What went through your head when New Concepts in Sound Recording
was nominated for Best Pop/Rock Release at the 2002 B.Net Music Awards
PB: Wow, great to be nominated, although realistically unlikely to win haha! The EP New Concepts in Sound Recording is a great sounding record, totally worthy of being nominated.

SANZ: Also when the debut album was included on the NZ Herald list of best albums of the year 2003
PB: I really thought the great reviews we received in the Herald were thoroughly well earned and on the money. I’m sure there are people out there who would disagree with that, but there you go. I think from memory Russell Ballie hailed it as the NZ ‘feel good album of the year’ or something along those lines.

SANZ: What are your thoughts on X factor/ NZ’s got talent 
PB: I think they’re good because, whatever the cool kids might think, they definitely give the local music scene a run for its money. There is a lot of talent, good input from the judges most of the time, and it really takes it back to more of a 1950’s style of music industry where albums don’t really count so much. That means that each song by each artist can be judged on its own merits. It’s quite a good way to go, really. Also I think Stan Walker is a bit of a national treasure, he is very grown up for being in his early twenties.

SANZ: Do you have any plans for PanAm in the future
PB: We have no plans for the immediate future. There was an album planned but due to everyone doing their own thing at the moment my next release will most likely come out with my new band, The Kid Gloves, although there are plenty of unrecorded/unreleased Pan Am songs that could form the basis of another album sometime in the future. It would be great to eventually tour NZ again one day, but if it happens it happens.
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