Summer rains

Singer-songwriter June Panic carries heavy load into Moxie’s

DOn’t FREAK June Panic is not losing his cool. Despite his skittish moniker, this North Dakota boy sees and sings clearly about what it means to be alive.

DOn’t FREAK June Panic is not losing his cool. Despite his skittish moniker, this North Dakota boy sees and sings clearly about what it means to be alive.

Courtesy Of Secretly Canadian

Preview: June Panic, Desert City Soundtrack and Elephant Micah Moxie’s Café Mon., Sept. 20, 7:30 p.m. Cost: $5

On the other end of the phone, in Grand Forks, N. D., singer-songwriter June Panic loves it that our interview is being conducted using the somewhat archaic method of putting pencil to paper. He’s so agreeable, in fact, that I am beginning to think he would applaud my endeavor were I taking charcoal to the inside of a limestone cave to record our discussion.

Most musicians may be frustrated with the slightest misquote, yet Panic insists he enjoys the metamorphosis his spoken language undergoes in interviews when converted to the printed word. This is brave coming from a person who would be easy to misquote, considering his songs are more lyrically dense and meaningful than the easy read that most popular music offers.

The songs are rare in that they exhibit a meticulous concern for melody but with language holding equal importance. Despite his talent for tunefulness, Panic resists the easy fix and the silly love song. “Love is so personal,” he suggests, “you have to be very delicate.”

Often drawing critical comparisons to Smog and Bob Dylan, Panic populates his albums with issues far more reaching than hurried hand-holding. From “The World Is Not a Place” on 2003’s Hope You Fail Better, he sings, “Ain’t it great to have a thorn in your side? To be raised in the dark? To be part of the chain? To be unable to explain your words?”

Listeners and critics interpret Panic and his music in many ways, which doesn’t seem to bother him. He cites Emerson and considers, “People imagine their character is something they can control. … You’re showing it [character] to people all the time, regardless of what you choose to show them.”

The early ‘90s saw June Panic hone his skills while becoming swept up in the home recording boom dubbed “Lo-Fi,” for low fidelity. The term, which became a musical style, applied to bands such as Sebadoh, Smog, Guided By Voices and Ween that defied the age-old concept that big money was needed to record and produce quality music. Many of their low-budget releases were actually recorded on four-track cassette machines or even simple boom boxes with built-in microphones, which is what Panic used early on.

He began to release his own music on his independent 3 Out of 4 cassette label. Then 1995’s Glory Hole made enough of an impression that it became the inaugural release for the freshly minted—though now respectably established—label Secretly Canadian. Now, five albums into the relationship, Secretly Canadian and Panic are prepping a four-CD box set to be released next year that will serve as a broad overview of his early home recordings.

“I realized I was a much more traditional songwriter,” Panic muses when contemplating his music today as compared to the past. Remembering his process of home recording, he admits to “Getting up at 3 a.m., and saying, ‘Oh! That song needs that!'” While that sort of freedom may not define a June Panic album in 2004, he admits that the studio forces a different kind of spontaneity in relation to time constructs but also offers a sound that is more accessible to many listeners.

The fact that listeners can hear Panic’s voice more clearly on his later studio recordings may account for the Dylan comparisons. Besides the similarities to Dylan’s nasal vocal inflection, the lyrics are devastatingly unique and insightful and indicate a mind and heart working itself out in the spiritual sense, much in the same way that Dylan explored his own spirituality in the ‘70s. From Hope You Fail Better‘s “On H’s ‘They'": “Every new day is further from where you can go to be with those that died.”

Panic says there’s no science to his writing process, no magic formula, just the ability and willingness to be receptive. "Certain things are alive to you at the moment," he says. "Find those to write about."