San-Franciso alt-rock band Keepers of Humanity have released their second studio EP, Pansori – exploring the themes of paying homage to familial roots, finding peace from the love of a soulmate, suppressing passions to fulfill your parents’ dreams, and more. Their first release under Rockstone Records, the EP weaves through their eclectic mix of genres, with driving piano sounds intertwined with innocent-seeming vocals to create something theatrical, edgy, and modern.
Inspired by its namesake – the ancient Korean art of rhythmic storytelling – Pansori follows in that element of tradition as a collection of five songs that explore the human experience. From the anguish of a misunderstood teenager and the gut-wrenching battles of adulthood to second chances in righting old wrongs in parenthood, this multi-dimensional EP invites listeners to connect with the band on a more intimate level, getting to know the band’s journey and overall ethos as they do.
Joining us today is Jean Nanjo (vocals/piano/keys), discussing the inspirations behind each of the tracks and the stories that they tell in a special track-by-track description of Keepers of Humanity’ Pansori.
“The opening track, ‘Intersection,’ is a cry for acceptance from someone who has spent a lifetime being pushed by others to fit into a mold to be something they’re not. The lyrics reflect some of the many areas in my life where I’ve experienced this: when I’ve realized I have to leave a bad relationship, when I’ve been discriminated against as a Korean-American woman, when former bandmates have clashed with me over my songwriting style, and when listeners have expressed confusion about what category my music belongs to.
“Like I say in the song, ‘let me be me.’ The song is also a tribute to musicians I look up to, who have made their mark by staying true to their own sound. It’s a get-up-and-move song, starting with Steven’s killer guitar riff, joined by Rudy’s punchy finger-played bass lines, and a four-on-the-floor beat that just makes you want to bounce up and down. My organ and piano accents give it texture and color, and my vocals make this song feel particularly upbeat and approachable, like you’re hanging with your best buddies and having a blast.”
2. “No Greater”
“The second track, ‘No Greater,’ describes the inner torment of someone who is living a lie and does not see a way to escape. The lyrics are a raw outpouring of emotion, which I wrote during one of the lowest points of my life, when I was experiencing feelings of despair so powerful that I was literally on my hands and knees crying from an inner pain that I could not turn off. It is a dark and heavy exploration of contrasting rhythms, with my vocals wailing over Steven’s ethereal guitar tones, evoking an anguish that ends with a tumultuous piano solo driving to a powerful final ending.”
“The third track, ‘Pansori,’ is the title track for this EP. My father, Ik Shin, writes and performs pansori, a traditional style of Korean rhythmic storytelling. I took one of his chants and built a song around it, and it was so much fun creating a juxtaposition of our two voices across worlds and timelines, my dad’s voice honoring his mother in Korean, and my voice singing in English about the modern crisis of suppressing your own passions to fulfill the expectations, hopes, and dreams of Asian immigrant parents. The story spans four generations, and comes full circle at the end, with the voice of a daughter honoring her mother, just as her grandfather had honored his. Synth harp and flute accentuate the song’s ethnicity, but the backbone of the vibe lies in Rudy’s and Steven’s rock solid, blues/funk inspired bass and guitar riffs.”
4. “Cosmic Mind”
“The fourth track, ‘Cosmic Mind,’ is a welcome break from the depth of meaning of the first three tracks, and is a perfect jumble of confusing imagery: whimsical, magical, and at times disturbing. It is a frantic, experimental foray into madness, with my classically-inspired piano statements and roaring, intricate organ lines pounding over the equally epic bass and guitar riffs of Rudy and Steven, driven by powerful and relentless drumming. My vocals become increasingly otherworldly and echo-heavy, ending in a punk-inspired set of near screams to punctuate the wild and explosive conclusion.”
5. “Fantasy at Daybreak”
“The journey winds down to a gentle homecoming with ‘Fantasy at Daybreak,’ a beautiful expression of love between soulmates, yet it’s not entirely clear whether this love is real or only a dream. This was co-written with Rudy, whose downtempo, pulsating grooves and lush beat-making skills inspired me to layered my vocals in a pure and dreamy way over them.”