“This one has done better in the first three weeks than our debut did in a year!" The story of Panic Room's Satellite

Panic Room
(Image credit: Panic Room)

With their second album Satellite, Welsh prog squad Panic Room really spread their wings, as they told Prog back in 2010...

“The more outlets I have for my creativity, the happier I am,” Panic Room vocalist Anne-Marie Helder states with a smile. On paper, her musical multi-tasking might seem something of a challenge – she’s currently working with Mostly Autumn and Parade as well as dedicating time to solo material – yet it’s had an accumulative effect on Panic Room’s popularity. Keyboardist Jonathan Edwards admits: “We’ve had a lot of people coming to see us live simply because they knew Anne-Marie and Gavin from the other bands they’re in.” Yes, the singer, who recently supported Ultravox, isn’t the only busy one as drummer Gavin Griffiths also works with Mostly Autumn and Parade as well as lending his skills to Fish’s band.

Formed a few years ago from the ashes of Welsh band Karnataka who have since reformed with a new line-up, Panic Room tread a different musical path. They play down the folkier side of things and concentrate on an edgier rock vibe, which has won them a whole new circle of fans. They’ve even been known to bash out a live version Metallica’s Enter Sandman on very special occasions. Despite some early struggles to get recognition, they’ve battled against the odds and used their new-found musical freedom to fuse fresh energy back into the band.

“There was a very set style for Karnataka and we couldn’t deviate too far outside that because of the fans,” Jonathan explains, “but now we can concentrate on writing great songs with hooks you’ll want to listen to again and again without having a fixed formula. It also means we can explore different areas and experiment with other styles.”

And with influences running in such diverse circles as jazz, metal and world music, there’s plenty of scope for experimentation. That renewed vigour is none more apparent than on the Welsh band’s latest offering, Satellite.

Panic Room

(Image credit: Firefly Records)

Instead of recording each instrument separately as they had done on their debut Visionary Position, the new album was recorded as live in the studio. Most of the songs were done in one take with minimal layering and tracking added afterwards. Such a different approach has also meant the compositions have needed very little translation when it’s come to gigging and that’s paved the way for impromptu nuances. 

“We wanted to try to capture as much of the live energy as we could," explains Anne-Marie. "We even wrote some of the songs when we were on the road. It wasn’t written as a concept album but for me, a theme seemed to develop. All the songs seemed to be about either things that were wrong with the world or personal tragedies and how you can seek to escape them. For example, Picking Up Knives started off as a response to the issue of knife crime and it developed into a story of a mother going through that.”

As the main songwriters of the band, Anne-Marie and Jonathan have devised a system that allows them to work against the odds. With Panic Room mostly based around Swansea and Anne-Marie out near Milton Keynes (although she jokes she lives out of her car these days), geography could have got in the way but that’s not been the case. It’s in the virtual world where the pair have found the freedom to bounce ideas off each other. “Often I’ll write a verse, email it over to Anne-Marie and then she’ll add a chorus or maybe we’ll meet up and write together,” Jonathan explains. 

“It’s so easy to do things over the internet,” the singer interjects. “We’re constantly in contact and when we do meet up, it makes us even more productive because of the time constraints.”  

And those time constraints seem to be working in their favour as Jonathan continues: “The thing I’ve noticed is that because we might not rehearse as much as some of other bands I’ve been in, it opens up the possibility of exciting things happening live. For example, Alun [Vaughan, bass] is also a jazz musician so he’s used to just turning up and improvising with bands without having heard the songs beforehand. When Paul [Davies, guitars] injured himself a while back, we didn’t think we’d be able to perform as a band but it was Alun who showed us how we could cover for him. Getting over that hurdle means we can face anything now.”

Panic Room

(Image credit: Panic Room)

There’s no doubt that Panic Room wouldn’t be able to exist as it does without this incredibly disciplined backbone but Anne-Marie defends the busy schedule that pushes up the physical mileage between her and the band: “To make it as a musician
you’ve really got to take every opportunity to make music, although I didn’t mean to be in quite so many bands. I’m clocking up around 30,000 miles a year in my car!” She laughs and adds: “It’s rather like a children’s spirograph, with rings of different activity and each ring is equally important but you just concentrate on one at a time. Mostly Autumn is where I can relax because I’m more in the background but Panic Room is definitely my most creative outlet and I find it feeds my other projects. I also do photography, artwork and I write poetry but these things often get put on the back burner because of everything else I do. That said, I really believe that the more creative you are, the more ideas you have. Look at people like Dave Grohl and Jack White who have so many different projects on the go – it’s just a matter of managing your time well.”

With Satellite out now, the hard work and time management has only just begun. Upcoming support slots with Hawkwind and Wishbone Ash should open even more doors for Panic Room. The band are excited not only about the bands they’ll be performing with but also the locations themselves. “St David’s Hall in Cardiff [where we’re supporting Hawkwind] is a really good venue and the 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire is brilliant as well,” says Jonathan. (The latter gig with Wishbone Ash will also feature Mostly Autumn on the bill.) 

It’s not just gigs and interviews that will be filling up Panic Room’s time – work is about to begin on the five-piece’s third album. “This one has done better in the first three weeks than our debut did in a year so we’re starting to think about a follow-up,” Jonathan reveals. With a tentative release date of next spring through their own Firefly imprint, all the signs are pointing in the right direction. “Last year was my busiest yet," says Anne-Marie by way of conclusion. "It does get exhausting but I thrive on it and I love all the different hats I wear. At the end of the day though, Panic Room is my baby and it gives me a lot of creative freedom to express myself.” And Prog joins the band’s fanbase- in-waiting with bated breath for Anne-Marie and Panic Room’s next creative outbursts.

Natasha Scharf
Deputy Editor, Prog

Contributing to Prog since the very first issue, writer and broadcaster Natasha Scharf was the magazine’s News Editor before she took up her current role of Deputy Editor, and has interviewed some of the best-known acts in the progressive music world from ELP, Yes and Marillion to Nightwish, Dream Theater and TesseracT. Starting young, she set up her first music fanzine in the late 80s and became a regular contributor to local newspapers and magazines over the next decade. The 00s would see her running the dark music magazine, Meltdown, as well as contributing to Metal Hammer, Classic Rock, Terrorizer and Artrocker. Author of music subculture books The Art Of Gothic and Worldwide Gothic, she’s since written album sleeve notes for Cherry Red, and also co-wrote Tarja Turunen’s memoirs, Singing In My Blood. Beyond the written word, Natasha has spent several decades as a club DJ, spinning tunes at aftershow parties for Metallica, Motörhead and Nine Inch Nails. She’s currently the only member of the Prog team to have appeared on the magazine’s cover.