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photo:Chris Shields

A Little Bit of This, a Little Bit of That

Talented young DJ Panzah Zandahz combs the musical universe for tools to express the elusive, genre-defying sounds in his head By Kirsten Ferguson

Panzah Zandahz can be a hard man to pin down. An interview with the Albany-based producer, DJ and musician required a visit to Albany Medical Center, where PZ, aka Drew McIntyre, works most nights as an aide in the renal transplant unit. PZ runs a record label called “Token Recluse,” which is a reference to his own hermit-like status. As local MC Rick Whispers has said, and PZ relays while we’re seated at a far table in the hospital cafeteria close to closing time, “Trying to get a beat from PZ is like trying to capture a wild unicorn.”

Yet the elusive PZ, who just turned 21, seems to be involved in projects all over the place. (In addition to music, he also takes photos, works on underground films, designs Web sites and has released a ’zine or two.) The artist’s recent remix CD, Me & This Army, is a brilliant reworking of Radiohead songs, sliced, diced and mashed with vocals from underground hiphop artists. The remixes are currently blowing up on the Internet and were recently featured on the Radiohead-approved fan site, www.ateaseweb. com. Another recent Panzah Zandahz album, Butterfunk Concoction, features original tracks and a 45-minute mix of buttery-smooth funk and deep soul from 1967 to 1975. The mix is currently featured on soulstrut.com, a go-to site for “crate diggers,” namely DJs and producers who mine old funk and soul records for rare grooves—the more obscure the better. (Both CDs are available from www.djpz.com.)

These are only two of the many projects that PZ has in the works, but they point to the young producer’s affinity for all kinds of genres, from the scratchy, exuberant soul of Butterfunk to the relatively cold postmodern world of Radiohead. “I’m really schizophrenic with genres,” Panzah Zandahz allows, over an all-natural coconut fruit pop from the hospital café. “First there’s the music that I play, a whole rainbow of things.” PZ used to spin occasionally at BR Finley’s in Troy, but doesn’t DJ out in clubs as much these days. When he does, his record crates include hiphop, funk, soul and, a current passion, “flower-power- influenced” psychedelic rock.

“Then there’s the music that I create, which sounds like DJ Shadow and RJD2,” he adds, mentioning two DJ-producers who are known for their sample-based collages of hiphop and soul, incorporating various slices of forgotten vinyl. “And there’s the music that I want to create, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. I stress out too much about it. I feel like there’s this par I can’t quite reach.”

This drive for perfection, you could say, held up the production of PZ’s original tracks from Butterfunk Concoction. The four “sample compositions” have the soulful, melancholy feel of DJ Shadow’s debut. One track, “Infatuation,” samples from at least 50 different sources. “I get an idea of a sound I’m looking for and then hunt for various things I think might have that sound,” he explains. PZ’s samples include everything from old children’s records to snippets of his 4-year-old sister’s voice to live recordings of a Troy marching band.

“I’ll go out into nature with a tape recorder and search for different sounds. I’m into going to strange locations, under a thruway or into a swamp, and setting up and recording in that location, hoping parts of that environment will seep into the recording. In a bomb shelter or 600 feet off the ground on a train trestle,” he adds, rubbing his chin mischievously, as if he has just thought of a new location to visit. Recording in novel places provides adventure, but, he admits, “I’m not always happy with the results. I have all sorts of music in my head but the world is yet to hear it. . . . I was taking myself way too seriously with the original compositions. It’s taken me years to finish single songs.”

For a breather, Panzah Zandahz found himself drawn to remix and mashup work, putting his production skills to use by deconstructing tracks from other artists. PZ released Radiohead: Breaks & Beats, a vinyl album that arranges samples and extended beats from Radiohead songs in a format designed for DJs to use when scratching or mixing. (No, the tracks weren’t officially licensed, but DJ break albums are a foundation of DJ culture, and major artists tend to overlook them.)

Other PZ projects in the works: a Breaks & Beats album of Beck tunes and a remix project with Brazilian funk artist Alexei, whom PZ met at last year’s Red Bull Music Academy in Rome. (PZ was one of only 60 DJs and producers chosen to attend the all-expenses-paid school.) He is also currently working with Newburgh-based slam poet and spoken-word artist Brad Hamers on an EP called Siphoning Dreams. The pair perform together on occasion, with PZ playing theremin, among other instruments. “[The EP] is abstract as fuck,” he says. “Sometimes there is a beat, sometimes there isn’t. It’s very psychedelic, very ’70s Italian soundtrack feeling, really out there. I’m really happy with it so far. The only problem is he lives two hours away and gas is controlled by madmen, and we’re both cheap as hell, so the project is moving very slowly.”

There’s also work to be done on Analog Sonnet, a solo EP that is proving to be somewhat difficult in execution. “It’s to be my grand psychedelic, string-heavy, beat-ridden opus of sorts,” he says. “On this record, I’ll be singing, playing all sorts of instruments and have parts written and arranged for all sorts of instruments. . . . I’ve been working on it for the past year and I’ll probably be working on it for two more years to come because I’m having such trouble finding people to play all the string arrangements and extra parts I’ve written. . . . Definitely mention I’m looking for string players.”

The project is also hamstrung, in a sense, by a more abstract obstacle: PZ’s sometimes-elusive search for ways to express the sounds in his head. “I know exactly what I want to sound like, but I don’t have the money or the people to make it happen right now,” he says, referencing the British electronica group Broadcast, one his favorite bands, who have managed to capture the “dusty, old spacey feel” that PZ strives for. “I haven’t been able to achieve it alone in my bedroom. With sample composition, it’s so much easier to achieve the sound that I’m looking for, but I would like to achieve that sound with live instruments.”

Those who know PZ mainly from his DJ and production work may be caught off guard by the new direction, or by the fact that PZ plays a variety of instruments, including guitar, voice, flute and piano. “I sing, I dance,” he jokes. “I think I’ll surprise a few people.”


ROUGH MIX

THE CAPITAL REGION STEPS UP TO THE PLATE with a bunch of upcoming concerts and special events to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina. First up: Tomorrow night (Friday, Sept. 16) has been dubbed You Can Help, a night marked by live music performances and fund-raising events at various venues throughout the region. Each of the You Can Help concerts starts at 7 PM and has a $5 suggested donation (but feel free to give much more to help ease the suffering of those affected by the Katrina devastation); the admission donation includes a raffle ticket. Several prizes will be raffled off, including local artwork and gift certificates. The funds raised through this drive will be donated to the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation (check it out at www.katrina.lousiana. gov). At Red Square (388 Broadway, Albany, 432-8584), see Rob Skane (who will donate the night’s sales of his SelfNoise LP to the American Red Cross), Rich Baldes from the Day Jobs, soul-rock star Bryan Thomas, Pittsfield-based Hector on Stilts, and local celebs knotworking. At the Daily Grind (46 3rd St., Troy, 272-8658), enjoy a vanilla latte or a beer while listening to local legend Carl Smith, Charmboy’s head charmer Eric Halder, Erin Harkes, and Katie McKrell. You Can Help at the Lark Tavern (453 Madison Ave., Albany, 463-9779) by going there to see Northampton, Mass.-based Fancy Trash open for the wildly popular Kamikaze Hearts. At Northern Lights (1208 Route 146, Clifton Park, 371-0012), the lineup looks like this: the Clay People, Last Call, Murderers Row, the Erotics, Intraction and Rim Jaw. In addition to these performances, area restaurants, including DeJohn’s, Lionheart, and Franklin’s Tower (and the Lark Tavern) will donate a portion of their profits from the night’s sales to the disaster relief effort as well. On Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 8 PM, there will be a Katrina benefit at the Fuze Box (12 Central Ave., Albany), featuring performances by local talent including Scotty Mac, Thom Francis, Jared Funari, Mary Panza, A.C. Everson, Mitch Elrod, Whiskey Sour, R.M. Engelhardt, Lawanda Horton, Mike Trash and the Poet Essence. The price of this event is $5. This special benefit event will feature local poets and musicians, an art raffle, and other activities throughout the evening in an effort to raise funds for the American Red Cross to assist victims of the recent storm. Local arts organizations Albany Poets, the Central Muse Division, Albany Underground Artists, 200 Proof, and Community Arts United have come together to sponsor this event. For more information, e-mail Albany Poets at events@albany poets.com or R.M. Engelhardt at voxapocalypse@ yahoo.com, or visit www.centralmusedivision.com, www.albanypoets.com.



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