Jae Laffer is the singer / songwriter for the West Australian raised, Melbourne based group The Panics.
In 2007, Laffer was asked to support Noel Gallagher on the Australian leg of his UK tour. However, the band’s journey had begun when they were first spotted playing a hotel gig by Happy Mondays. “The Mondays had been playing The Big Day Out festival in Perth,” says Laffer. “Gaz, along with Shaun Ryder’s cousin, Pete Carroll saw us play and Pete became our manager. We later signed to Little Big Man Records which was owned by Pete and Monday’s drummer Gaz Whelan. It was great to get hooked up with them because we’re big fans of The Mondays, but when we first met up with Shaun he just nodded and disappeared in a puff of smoke. He later asked us to join him on a radio show he was presenting on BBC6 – he interviewed us there. It was pretty weird really.”
The Panics seem intrinsically rooted to the northwest of England . Rifle through their music collection and you’ll find albums by The La’s, Echo And The Bunnymen, Stone Roses and The Smiths. Erstwhile Factory owner, the late Tony Wilson was a confirmed fan having spotted them at the In The City festival. Meanwhile, the band’s name even comes from The Smiths song of the same title.
“We were raised in the hills above one of the most isolated cities in the world,” says Laffer. “It’s quite an isolated place so we weren’t exposed to any local music scenes apart from one of our favourite ever bands, The Triffids. But we’d hear about bands like Ride or The Stone Roses and we would then go out and discover them for ourselves. When I did those shows with Noel it was great to talk about all the music he was into.”
It was this love of music that first drew The Panics together when friends Laffer and Drew Wooton began recording together at high school in Kalamunda, a suburb on the outskirts of Perth . “We were 14,” says Wooton. “We heard Nirvana and it made us want to pick up guitars. We just began hanging out together, recording and writing with Myles who is a bit younger than me.”
The band, now expanded to a five piece began playing gigs: local pubs, school halls, biker bars. “I was 13 when I did my first show,” laughs Myles. “It was a famous old biker bar called Raffles. As we were walking onstage, the strippers were walking off. We’d end up driving for miles to play shows in pubs where nobody wanted to see us. We’d been exposed to rock’n’roll from an early age though: our dad played in a band called The Valentines, which was Bon Scott’s band before AC/DC. For a while, Bon Scott was our postie, which is a weird claim to fame.”
Anonymity was short lived. With The Panics aligned to Little Bigman Records, they released their first album, A House On A Street In A Town Where I’m From. National radio support drew a large fanbase to the band, as did Laffer’s vivid, heart bruised lyricism, which was later compared to the likes of Bob Dylan and Morrissey.
“All I ever tried to do was to make each song different,” says Laffer. “I didn’t want to become the guy who got stuck in a rut. I always focused on different subject matter. I always thought it was a waste of space when you got the end of a song and the band hasn’t touched on any particular subject. So all I’ve ever done in my songs is paint a scene and throw some characters in it, so the listener can visualise something.”
By the time of their second album, Sleeps Like A Curse, The Panics had become a mainstream concern – the band were nominated for a J Award (the equivalent of a Mercury Prize). Third record, Cruel Guards pushed the band even further. Having scooped the 2007 J Award and ARIA Award (Australian Recording Industry Award – the equivalent of a Brit Award), The Panics featured on hit TV show Ugly Betty with the track, ‘Don’t Fight It’.
It’s easy to see why the band have attracted such widespread acclaim. With their heaving, sweeping string arrangements, The Panics have recorded an album that brims with effervescent pop tunes and epic harmonies, drawing comparisons Echo And The Bunnymen, Bob Dylan and fellow Perth singer songwriter and friend, Luke Steele of The Sleepy Jackson. They’ve even gathered plaudits from rock bit hitters, Kings Of Leon.
“You know how normally when you hear a band you can list the bands that influenced them or that they ripped off straight away?” said Nathan Followill in Rolling Stone. “We couldn’t do it for them. They sounded like nothing I’d heard before – really melodic, almost atmospheric.”
Today, The Panics seemed posed for the big time. They’ve previously sold out a string of UK shows (most notably at London ’s Barfly) on word of mouth alone, as well as supporting the likes of Morrissey, Grandaddy and The Happy Mondays. “At home we’re at the top of the tree as far as thinking guitar bands go,” says Laffer. “We don’t want to sound like anyone else and hopefully with Cruel Guards we’ve made a record that has a classic sound – ambitious strings, Ennio Morricone soundtracks, big drums. If there’s ever a day when the passion goes or we run out of ideas, we can look back and think that with this record we did it 24/7. And now we’re set up for the long haul.”