Interview: John Lennox of Panoramic & True

Panoramic & True is a Chicago band formed around the songwriting of John Lennox. They blends raw, colorful rock-n-roll with the dynamic palette of a full string section. They’ve been called orchestral pop, and they’ll be playing in Madison at the Dragonfly Lounge tomorrow, Saturday, May 12th.  Check out the event here, and read on to see what John had to say about Panoramic & True!

MAM (Corey Murfie): Tell me a bit about your band.  What is an “orchestral pop” band exactly?

P&T (John Lennox): Orchestral pop is the use of orchestral instruments in a pop band. In our case it means putting a string quartet (two violins, viola, cello) alongside a guitars-and-drums band. My songs are still mostly short pop songs built on guitar hooks, but I also like the texture and mood of the strings a lot. Think of pop and soul tunes from the 1960s and the string parts on them: “Stand By Me,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” or some Buddy Holly songs. That’s the inspiration for much of the “orchestral” side of Panoramic & True.

MAM: What other acts would you compare P&T to?  Who do you like to play with?  Who do you cite as an influence?

P&T: This is a tough one. Because of instrumentation, Arcade Fire and recently Hey Rosetta! come to mind, but we all use strings in very different ways. Obviously bigger bands on stage get that same feeling, though we also play as a guitar-based four piece at times. I also think of early 70s Kinks, and lately more minimalist stuff like Joy Division or Television, in the guitar work especially, though their influence is only on some recent songs. These days, I really love Frog Eyes, a Canadian group, for lots of reasons, some Destroyer, Beach House, the list could go on. Behind all that is 70s Bob Dylan, folk, and country. We like playing with everyone, and prefer bands with a little space in the sound. Time to think.

MAM: How long have you been performing with this group?

P&T: The current line up has been playing since fall 2010. Before that there was about a year of pulling Jamie, Patrick, Dan, and April in the band, and before that it was me and Amanda, AJ, and Randy doing electric guitar and string work (our friend Katy Myers was playing cello at the time).

MAM: Who does most of the writing in P&T?  Is it more collaborative or does one person bring songs to the band and teach them the parts?

P&T: I write the songs and do most of the arrangements. In rehearsal, though, we hash out parts together, and there are lots of little things that don’t come from me, sometimes really great hooks or beats or whatever that aren’t mine at all, but that in rehearsal we find are obviously just right. Randy came up with a great hook on “Dakota Child” that’s coming out on Wonderlust in July. I ended up doing the track, but that hook was his and was so good we all knew it immediately. I usually have a very clear idea of where I want a song to go, sometimes very specific notes, but I’m generally open to suggestions, and consensus has never been hard to reach.

MAM: What musical endeavors have you previously worked on (if any)?  How did you get started playing music?

P&T: The rest of the band’s musical life is rich and varied: orchestras (AJ, Amanda, April), Irish fiddle tunes (Randy), straight up country (Patrick), garage rock (Dan), eclectic pop/rock (Jamie)—this list is non-exhaustive. I’ve always been interested in the 3:00 pop song, in whatever genre it can exist. When living in Montreal I put out a couple albums under my own name. They are more 70s Dylan/Stones-inspired: country guitar bends, etc. I also do a lot of piano songs, as a kind of genre (“Token Resistance” from Wonderlust a recent example), and have since I was 12 or so, when with great trepidation I first started learning pop songs on the piano and making my own melodies.

MAM: What recordings/albums are available for Panoramic and True?  What is the latest?  Where can it be found?

P&T: As of July 20 you’ll be able to get the new album Wonderlust on vinyl/digitally—until then those songs are only to be caught at our live shows. Our debut, the self-titled Panoramic & True (2010) is available for a very reasonable price through most online merchants, our bandcamp page, and in choice record stores in towns we’ve played in.

MAM: What is your personal favorite tune to play?  Why?

P&T: Right now I sit at the piano and play “Leaning On The Everlasting Arms,” the hymn, recently sung by Iris Dement and placed beautifully at the end of the film True Grit. It’s beautiful, deep in image and subject matter, Dement’s version is super inspiring, and I find it good for my voice, as a warm up and a focusing exercise. As a band I think we really like “A Week of Good Health,” another one off of Wonderlust, due out July, though we do it live every night now, because it has so many short and distinct sections that are all fun. It’s really lively.

MAM: What is your favorite snack food?

P&T: Chips (in Canada we have ketchup chips; those are my fave), with popcorn and those Snyder’s pretzels tied in second.


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