by Brittney Corridean
Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad is not your traditional reggae band. When most people think of reggae music, images of Jamaica or some other gorgeous island pops into their head. However, these guys originated from Rochester, NY. The band formed when (bassist) James Searl and (drummer) Chris O’Brian started playing music together at age 11. Rochester itself is actually filled with diverse artists/musicians and has a pretty tight knit community, so it was inevitable they would be meeting others with common interests.
Searl and O’Brian kept running into a guy who worked at a local gas station and played guitar. He opened their ears to the mellow, sunny sounds of reggae music. Different people would chime in here and there to create music with them but consistently they met with (guitarist) Dylan Savage and formed a “squad” that was devoted to music and culture of reggae. Also in the band are (guitarist) Dan Keller and (keyboardist) Tony Gallicchio.
In the beginning the guys were very particular with their sound and felt that they had to have specific instruments such as the organ to be consistent. Overtime, they realized that some of these things just weren’t sensible to bring on tour and had to improvise. This opened up their taste and gave room for change.
“You realize great musicians or artists can make music with anything,” Searl says about switching things up. Interestingly, most of the band members take part in the vocals which gives everyone a chance to express themselves lyrically and vocally. “If you have something to say, write it. You get out what you put in and whoever writes the song should be the one to sing it.”
Giant Panda has been noted as a phenomenal band to see on stage and fans have testified that they come alive and pour their heart and soul into the music. Realistically, most of their experience is performing live and they haven’t put too much time being in the studio.
“We definitely have more experience as a live band,” Searl says, “but being on the road you get so educated on how to maintain yourself and your music. There really is no other experience like that.”
Since the band has been on the road so often, they quickly learned the importance of being home with family is just as essential as their music. It’s finding the balance that can sometimes be the challenge. However, being on the road and performing at local festivals/shows has introduced them to many magnificent places and people over the years.
“You see things in towns you never would’ve known existed. People that check us out usually have a common interest and most of our fans seem to do great things,” Searl says. For them it’s really about providing some sort of atmosphere that is welcoming and inspiring. “Music is non-verbal but expressive…you can see the energy transfer and the listeners understanding without words-that’s a very powerful thing…music is healing”.
Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad has a new album coming out in September. On top of that, they’re stoked about their upcoming tour with Easy Star All Stars which sets sail the same month. The two bands have known each other for over five years and coming together was a “natural thing”.
When asked what the band will be up to while performing at the Hard Rock Cafe in Philly August 16, Searl states they will be sure to stop at Chickie’s Deli, located off of Federal Street, for the tuna sub. Even compared to sandwiches from all over the world, the squad agrees that Philly does it best! One of a kind sandwiches for a one of a kind band.