Pandas & People co-founding member Johnny Day always had a thing for country music. But he put his country ambitions aside to pursue the band's early success.
"He was along for the ride," says lead vocalist and bassist Joshua Scheer. "It's hard to let something go when you’ve had the success we’ve had locally. We’re getting constant gigs, and people are reacting to the music."
Last year, Day left the Fort Collins band to focus on his country music project full-time, "and he's doing really well at it," says Scheer.
After Day left, the musicians had to decide: Should they replace him and continue making four-on-the-floor, foot-stomping folk rock or use their own technical skill and influences to rework the group's sound?
"We decided to try something new," says Scheer.
When producing its current single, "Find You," Pandas & People looked to bands like Imagine Dragons and X Ambassadors for inspiration, incorporating more of "the big percussive stuff, kind of that gritty tone they get out of their percussion," says Scheer.
Drummer Adam Haag pulls from his experience using synthesizers and running sound for other bands to shape Pandas & People's new percussive element: "A lot of that comes from Adam and a lot of his influences," says Scheer.
The group's current lineup also includes Conrad Marshall on guitar, Dave Brown on mandolin and Tucker Ewing on acoustic guitar and backup vocals.
Pandas & People has already been busy building momentum with its new members. Last summer, the band took a trip to Nashville and co-wrote five new songs with Warner Chappell producer Zac Malloy. The group plans to return to pen a few more, and to release a full-length album.
Ending 2016 by releasing the song "Find You" in time for 93.3's Hometown for the Holidays contest, the group returned to its roots.
Pandas & People first played as a finalist in Hometown for the Holidays 2013, throwing together a last-minute lineup for the showcase.
"That was technically our first show," Scheer says. The musicians were finalists again in 2016, but this time around, "We’ve been playing together for three years. We feel tight."
Despite the band's recent evolution, its connection with the audience is its guidepost.
"Our number-one priority is the listener and making sure people can connect with our music," says Scheer. "We could go out there and be super-technical and blow people’s minds, but I think, to us, the more important thing is really making a connection with the audience on an uplifting level."
He remembers a fan who claimed to have proposed to his girlfriend using a Pandas & People song.
"Getting feedback like that — 'Your song makes my day' — it definitely keeps us going."
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Pandas & People will play at 8 p.m. on Saturday, January 14, at the Bluebird Theater, 3317 East Colfax Avenue, with Modern Suspects, Pop Filter and Redlands.