Music critics and fans often say the same thing about The Panics: listening to their songs is like immersing yourself in the soundtrack to your own life. In their albums and EPs, people discover the cinematic score to their own lost Australian summers: the bittersweet Antipodean road-trips where they found first love and made new friends, only to lose it all on the way back. Underneath the elegant pop-rock tracks are modern hymns for a generation, anthems of rash joy and quiet heartbreak: all the songs you would have written yourself, if only you had the right words on hand.
For frontman and songwriter Jae Laffer, it makes complete sense that his listeners have forged those personal connections with the band’s music over the years. After all, The Panics’ albums have always been written as time capsules of the band’s own evolution. Each song is another chapter in the story of their lives, ever since banding together in high school all those years ago in Western Australia.
Since their last album Cruel Guards (2007), The Panics have also been crafting something new: an ambitious album that somehow embraces both stark intimacy and unapologetic grandeur. Written on one side of the Atlantic (Salford, England) and recorded on the other (Woodstock, New York), The Panics are now finished with their fourth record, and have brought it down across the Pacific and back home to Australia. After years away from their base in Melbourne—touring, writing and recording—the album is also a document on Jae’s feelings about transatlantic distance, homesickness and life away from loved ones.
“It’s like we’ve been on this roadtrip for a few years,” he says. “You’re moving around, not sure what’s going on back home, not sure whether you still have a girlfriend—and you find out you don’t. It’s a record where I’m questioning what direction I want to head in next. It’s me, looking back at where I’ve been, laughing and crying.” It is also nothing short of The Panics’ most bracing, panoramic and poetic record yet: Rain on a Humming Wire.
After the release of their huge 2007 record Cruel Guards, The Panics found themselves played all over Australian and UK radio, selling a slew of albums (reaching gold status in Australia within six months), winning industry awards, and becoming that rare crossover act that scores high rotation across radio stations and listeners young and old. There was an ARIA Award and they were declared Triple J’s Album of the Year. They won new fans. The Kings of Leon and Noel Gallagher fawned over them. In 2008, The Panics played festivals, supports and headline shows, both home and abroad. In the UK, they played to sell-out crowds, and were lovingly received by the British music press.
In 2009, The Panics based themselves in Salford, England for six months—the longest the band had properly lived overseas. Salford is an older working-class section of Manchester in the UK. “It’s a beautiful, salt-of-the-earth part of the world,” Jae says. “We found ourselves rehearsing in very old brick buildings in these industrial parts of Manchester. A lot of people might hate it, but I see the beauty in those places.”
As always, Jae’s songwriting found him asking the same questions he has always asked with each record. “To me, it’s always been a similar starting point: ‘Where am I at, and what’s happened since the last record?’” This time, Jae knew the songs were going to focus on what was preoccupying the band: dislocation and missing people they’d left behind. “You take this simple life you have, then you uproot and go overseas, and you go through all these amazing experiences. You have your relationships tested, people fall in and out of love, and you go through break-ups because of what you’re doing. It’s a mad kind of ride you put yourself on. But the fun bit is trying to put it into words, and make—hopefully—something beautiful out of wherever you are at the time.”
‘Majesty’, the first single off Rain on the Humming Wire, was one of the first songs the band put together. With its rolling-thunder timpani and jangling, jingoistic guitars, the track is a sweeping, anthemic battle-cry—an ode to the distance between oceans, while questioning the nature of royalty and inherited power. Jae hadn’t intended it to be a pro-Republic anthem by any means, but says it’s how the song has turned out. “At the time, I was writing about all the strange things going through the education process as a young kid in Australia. Whether I was at school or the cub scouts, or even at my grandparents’ house, there might be a picture of the Queen, or a picture of the Pope. People we were singing songs about God; English remnants and relics of songs. Not that these things are terrible, but the song is just me questioning: ‘What are they?’ People don’t talk too often about it. I’m kind of happy I’ve touched on it, because I feel relatively passionate about the idea.”