Sounds Like Teen Spirit 

Panda and Please Quiet Ourselves prove that the music industry is not just for grown-ups anymore.

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As Please Quiet Ourselves soon discovered, being assigned an album isn't quite as easy as creating one. "I was thinking about it the entire year. It was like, 'Apparently I'm gonna make a record, and I don't know what that means,'" Jojo mused. As his deadline drew near, Jojo skipped a family vacation to Europe so he could stay home and work on songs.

The band's sound is a product of unique tastes. Typically identified as indie-pop, it takes a deliberately ramshackle approach to accessibility. The aesthetic was inspired by bands most of their high school peers wouldn't recognize — indie heroes such as Broken Social Scene, Belle and Sebastian, Neutral Milk Hotel, Built to Spill, and Pavement. The members of Please Quiet Ourselves came to these groups largely independent of one another and consciously steered the band in the direction of their shared taste. "We always knew we didn't want to be the stereotypical high school band just doing sloppy rock," Max said. "It was always like, 'Let's try and do our own thing and use our indie-pop influence to do something other high school bands wouldn't do.'"

Once this afternoon's rehearsal peters out — and an awkward moment involving Adam's dad poking his head in the room has passed — the members take to reminiscing cheerily about their eleventh-hour approach to recording. Only a few of the twelve songs Jojo originally planned for the album actually made it, not because they weren't as good but because they weren't as new. The lyrics to "Mystery Girl," the final song on the CD, were completed on the very day they were to be recorded — in the car, on the ride to the studio. Even the album art was happenstance. At 2 a.m. the night before it was due, Jojo took a picture of his living room, where the band had rehearsed for two years before moving to Adam's, and slapped it on the front cover. "We are a last-minute kind of band, but for some reason we always seem to pull it off really well," Max says proudly. "Until it stops working, we're probably going to keep doing it that way."

Panda, meanwhile, knows that if it is to survive after high school, a more concerted effort will be needed. Not that it has been dormant since August; Petros and Jonny, who live in the same dorm room and take all the same classes, have driven up to Oakland almost every weekend to work on the band's forthcoming full-length debut. "Gotta party on the weekdays," Jonny quips.

The album, coming late in the game as it is, is potentially make-or-break. To get it done, the band is recording at Skyline Studios and John Murphy's home while mixing at Studio 880. That is where, on a rainy Saturday in February, Petros and Jonny are holed up in a six-by-twelve-foot booth equipped with a Mac computer, a set of speakers, and not much else, taking small steps toward completing the record they've been working on for more than a year. Today they have the place to themselves, but local luminaries including Lyrics Born and the members of Zion-I and Green Day frequently pass through the front doors. The brush with fame, they say, is inspiration to do their best work.

Petros and Jonny are joined as always by John Murphy, aka Johnny Genius, who plays guitar for Oakland pop-rock band Maldroid, has extensive studio experience with local bands, and is recording, producing, and mixing most of the tracks on Panda's album. Today will be filled with the arduous minutiae of the recording process. A printed-out to-do list for the day contains items like "fix riff rhythm," "crop vocals," "piano hits during verse (high/low register)," and "replace 'Oh yeah' with 'Oh.'"

Murphy, who works well with Petros and Jonny, wasn't the only one who wanted to help them make an album. Back in high school, the members of Panda considered contracts with local artist development companies such as Talking House Productions and TakeRoot Records. At one point they even sat down with representatives of Capitol Records. In the end, with their parents' blessing, they opted to produce the album with their own money, making them beholden to nobody during the recording process and able to retain rights to their work.

With the proliferation of digital recording and editing, it's far cheaper to make an album today than it was a decade ago. It's also possible to transcend the limitation of physical proximity. Panda produced its first demo on home computers using $80 GarageBand software, and for its new album has relied on Louie to compose new drum parts in the program and e-mail them back to Oakland.

But quality recordings are still expensive, often prohibitively so, for kids trying to do it on their own. The mixing booth Panda rents at Studio 880 costs about $600 a month, and Murphy estimates that when all is said and done the group will have paid him about $3,000 for his work. "We basically took all the money we had and we're putting it toward the album," said keyboardist Joey. "With this new release, we're trying to get as close as we can to sounding like any other hit on the radio."

Once the smaller details have been tackled, the focus of this afternoon's work falls on Jonny's shoulders: he must lay down the guitar solo for a new song called "What Can I Do." Murphy beckons him to the captain's chair. "Now I'm getting nervous," Jonny says as he slides in front of the computer. But within minutes he looks as comfortable as a pro, deftly recording each successive take as he parses out his solo. First locating the correct position in the song using the ProTools software interface — a left-to-right scrolling stack of colored waveforms, each representing a different track — Jonny hits Record, waits for his cue, and starts playing. This continues for over an hour as he tries to pin down the perfect solo, even though the part is only thirty seconds long and just one of many going on the album.


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