Chris Panousakis and Bree Tranter are a talented pair. They have played with Matt Corby’s band as session musicians, Panousakis has his Timberwolf project and Tranter is a member of popular band The Middle East. Partners musically and romantically, they have come together to form Siberian Tiger.
Their debut EP First Dance was released on August 14th and it is just the calming salve you need to escape these worrying times. Panousakis let us know about the new EP, how they’ve been coping during the disaster of 2020 and what the future looks like.
“We’ve been sort of lucky, we had done most of the tracking before the virus hit and everything got shut down. I think if we were left to be recording and creating during this time we’d be stuck because vibes have been low and it’s hard to stay inspired when you don’t really have anything to look forward to. You can’t play, there’s no tours or any of that going on.”
They kept themselves busy during lockdown and have emerged with a gorgeous selection of six tracks.
“We ended up mixing the EP through most of it which was actually quite handy because mixing isn’t the most creative task in the world, it’s quite scientific.”
Despite not being able to see their friends as much they have been able to keep each other company for the past few months.
“We really miss having regular shows every weekend and all of the socialising that goes along with it too is really hard to let go of at the same time.”
“We live together, we’ve got a dog, a little puppy. He’s ten months old, his name’s Ricky. We’ve played in multiple bands together. I guess why I bring up the social part of it is Bree and I didn’t realise or it brought into focus how much of our socialising is through the blessing of music, you know?”
How have they coped being in isolation together?
“I think Bree and I approach it all so differently. I’m probably more one the psychotic romantics that’s like ‘lean into it for love’. Bree is more along the ilk of you need your own space and time so even if our own solo projects, I don’t play in The Middle East but I do play in her solo band and she plays in Timberwolf so even the gigs outside of Siberian Tiger we’re still playing together.”
“When we have specific time off that is not to do with music like if she wants to go camping on her own or whatever, we are each other’s biggest fans in that regard. We’re so aware that like a magnet you need polarity.
The latest single from their new EP “Call On Me” includes a film clip that showcased Bree’s flair for art direction to match Chris’ concept for the song.
“I had an idea, more a concept maybe about a year ago about writing a song for the person that you would call at 2am if something went wrong. It’s not necessarily always your partner and it’s more along the lines of your best friend or that one true friend that it doesn’t really matter if you haven’t seen them for six months or they might have taken a job on the other side of the world but you know when you see that person then you just kick off where you left off. We both really love that concept and we built on it to make the song… We like that idea that there are these people outside your relationship that you can count on like that.”
The film clip features dancers at a local hall in Henley Beach and the parallels between dancing partners and friendship are what the clip presents.
“It was Bree’s idea to have the tango dancers in the film clip because it’s really nice, a lot of these people aren’t partners and they’re so in sync (by partners I mean romantic partners). There’s so much ebb and flow with the way they move together… There’s a lot of trust and synchronicity in between it all and that’s what friendship is like. So, Bree wrote a verse and I wrote a verse and we found a way to sing it together.”
“Plane Spotting”, Siberian Tiger’s debut single release in 2019 also has a creative film clip of a couple sitting beneath the sky while imagery is conjured up above them, which was another brainchild of Tranter.
“That was Bree as well, she’s got such a great eye for these concepts. She really wanted to draw focus in the clip to all the things that do take a bit of time to notice. They’re so beautiful but they take a bit more time or they move a bit slower than what we’re used to. The point of the clip was to have all of the things that are not utilitarian… We spend so much of our time ticking off these little boxes to be able to feed ourselves and get a bit of money and all these things we need to do to survive, but the things in the film clip are those things that take a bit longer and they’re doing it while you’re busy doing all these things. That’s what Bree wanted to draw attention to and make it a bit surreal like that. The older you get the harder it is to conjure up the time to appreciate those things. To just sit with your loved one and as the song says, ‘watch the grass grow longer.’
Panousakis and Tranter have been together for the better part of four years but have only recently been collaborating as a duo.
“We’re so familiar with playing in each other’s bands or we both play in Matt Corby’s band so we’re in sync in that way of the session musician role but actually sitting together and writing music together… we’ve only started doing that towards the end.”
“We were renting together in Mile End under the flight path and one of our favourite things to do was to go into the backyard, roll up a ciggie and guess which plane was coming past. And at that place Bree was cooking up the best chicken toasties and that made it into the song as well. And we realised it was actually quite fun writing songs together. It’s good to share the load between each other. Normally it’s one of us in the studios calling upon the other to come put guitar down on a song I’ve been writing for two months or whatever. Whereas this seems to be a bit more effortless between us, it doesn’t take as much time and because there’s two of us it’s a bit easier I think.”
It would be easy to mistake Siberian Tiger for a band with more than two members with guitars, percussion, piano and flute weaving their way into tracks on First Dance, most notably the flute in single “Call On Me” thanks to Tranter.
“Between the piano and the flute, they’re her two main instruments and it was really cool to see the way the flute came together in that song. She plays it live sometimes but it depends. It is just us two but it would be really lovely one day when all the venues are singing and we’ve got full crowds back… We could put together a full band behind the songs because they are full productions even though it’s just the both of us but I think that’s the way we do things in the studio.”
Panousakis’ storytelling also shines in the track “Ivy” which explores single parenthood.
“I remember hanging out with a friend of mine with a daughter who was really young at the time and he was going through a break up and it became so apparent to me that what a break up would mean for me not having a child means a very different thing. You know, there’s like a three-tiered level of consideration. For me, it would have been just a ‘woe is me’, but for him it was like ‘I miss this person’ and how is my daughter going to feel about this person who she’s become quite close to leaving our lives and on the third tier how is my daughter going to grow up to interpret this in her own way. So, it was such different things for him and for any single parents navigating finding a new partner or someone and I was so moved but that. Ivy is the name of his daughter, and we had stayed up all night talking shit trying to figure out what had happened in that relationship and I just felt really compelled afterwards to write a song for him, for her. Sometimes you just want to feel it and you don’t want to do the talking about it, but I sort of assume that role naturally, I guess… I’ve always been drawn to storyteller singer-songwriters.”
Siberian Tiger are a laid back vibe, and the artists that are on replay in their household influence what goes into their music.
“Bree and I listen to a lot of the same stuff on repeat. Timber Timbre is a regular in our house. I really like Harry Nilsson, we listen to Bill Evans, I really like this pedal steel player Jay Bird. And they’re our staples, you know, Bill Callahan as well. Bree really likes Beach House too. In that sense, I guess somewhere there’s a big amalgamation of inspiration between those artists.”
“Water The Plants” is another track on the new EP with a story behind it.
“That one’s about little wins, coming from a place of when your mental health is a little bit unstable or you’ve been down in a rocky place for a while. There was a time when we were renting together… I had just gone through vocal surgery and I had also chopped my finger off in a food processor and at the time that was so bad. I spent a month on Endone in an infused blur but for Bree, she was naturally caring for me through the whole thing. That took a huge toll on both our mental health and what we started to realise really quickly when we came out the other end of the worst of it was whether or not we had the energy or the peace of mind to get up and take care of our plants every day was a really good window into the rest of our mental health and how we were feeling about ourselves. We also found the days where you could accomplish that you are far more likely to have a good conversation with a friend on the phone or walk down to the grocery store and buy healthy food as opposed to sit like a grub and order takeout. The knock-on effect or the flow from that is something we found is incredible.”
Particularly during the current times where it can be a lot easier to just order some Ubereats and binge TV rather than being productive, “Water The Plants” is as relevant as ever.
“That song has come right back again into my life like a mirror. Even the ads we’ve been noticing on television like ‘stop ordering takeout’ because it’s so easy when you’re feeling a bit sorry for yourself to do something like that and to choose the easy option of least resistance but it’s funny because it fills you with nothing and the second the meals over and your staring at that sad, paper bag full of greasy food, you’ve got nothing after that.”
With the release of First Dance what does the future have in store for Siberian Tiger?
“We have a gig a Big Easy Radio which is a winery in Aldinga on the 4th of September. We can’t wait, it’ll be a seated audience and obviously a small crowd… But it really is a week by week thing and if I’m really honest I don’t see the immediate future of live music improving any time soon. I think we are lucky to be playing any gigs at all to small audiences but at the same time I’m not counting on it sticking around for much longer.”
For the gigs that artists are getting, with the restrictions of no dancing, seated audiences and social distancing it’s a very different experience to what we’re used to.
“In regards to Siberian Tiger, I don’t actually mind the seated shows because Bree and I on stage are seated and the music itself is something that is better digested with a wine and a sit down audience anyway, but for something like a Timberwolf gig it’s so much fun to see people rocking around and dancing. I’d take some music over none any day of the week but I must say it’s quite paranormal to be on stage watching people being told off for doing the thing that you spend so many years hoping that people would feel.”
“It’s scary or unsure. There’s nothing to count on or sink your teeth into in the next six months and living month to month or week to week it’s quite a stressful way to be but it is what it is. We’re just grateful to have some music that we’re able to offer in a time like this because it helps interviews like this and releasing things it helps you get back in touch with your identity and a little bit of value for at least a short while.”