Talent at Laurier: Panama Red

Music, in one form or another, is an essential element of the university experience.

Live bands play campus bars and other locations around town, Laurier has a renowned music program and students seem to study their iPods more often than their textbooks.

Because of the relationship between student life and music, some students even create their own music.

Second-year Laurier student Brandon Lessel does his part to please the ears of his fellow students as a member of Burlington reggae-punk group Panama Red. The Cord sat down to chat with Lessel as he barbequed a steak in his backyard near campus.

Formed three years ago by high school friends, Panama Red have brought their self-described “party music” to stages across Ontario and Quebec, performing with bands as well-known as Gob and the Johnstones.

It has been a journey that saw founding member and vocalist Lessel leave the band in the first week of its existence, only to return this past August on bass to tour in support of Panama Red’s debut album Panama Red.

“I’d never played reggae bass lines before so it was kind of a little experiment for me, but it went really well,” he said.

Having just recently returned to Waterloo after a series of shows around southern Ontario, Lessel explained that the band aims to play a show weekly.

“As many as we can possibly play is what we aim for,” he said.

Lessel discussed his position as both a student and bassist in a working band, explaining that balancing school responsibilities with band commitments is difficult.

“It’s definitely a pain in the ass,” he explained.

Constant travel from Waterloo to Burlington and to shows “gets really costly,” as money made from playing shows “goes to travel or to paying off friends to drive me back to Waterloo for class or to the band.”

When he is actually in Waterloo, Lessel says the part he enjoys most about living here and being part of a band is “being able to play house parties … to play a party or throwing a party and being able to play is a guaranteed good time.”

He also mentioned that, “There’s a lot of venues around here too that are really open about letting us play. Maxwell’s Music House across the street [from Laurier] actually; we’ve played there on one of our tours.”

Discussing the prospect of signing to a record label, Lessel noted that signing “is one of those things that you can’t jump into.”

“We’ve had tiny little labels, probably run by some guy in his basement asking if they could put us on the label, but really what would that do for us?”

The band plans a potential tour of Quebec this winter.

On Halloween night, Panama Red plan to play a house party in Waterloo.

The series “Talent at Laurier” will recur throughout the year, profiling exceptional individuals at the school.