Our Producer’s Corner and Perspective series are colliding again with producers Sam Pura. Pura has been the man behind the scenes for records by The Story So Far, Basement, The American Scene, Troubled Coast, and many other bands that we love at POZ.
Check out what Editor in Chief Erik van Rheenen wrote for our new Perspective with Pura below!
To say Sam Pura likes pandas is an understatement of enormous proportions. His studio, based in sunny Fremont, California, steals its namesake from the cuddly Chinese critter. Heck, even the studio’s branding, a bespectacled bear rocking oversized specs, stems from Pura’s love for pandas.
“A lot of studio names feel elitist and weird, and it sounds kind of snobby when you say, ‘Oh, I’m going to name my studio,’” Pura says. “There are names like Atomic Garden, stuff like that. But pandas are awesome, so I was like, ‘fuck it, let’s go with Panda Studios.”
But, as is standard for any good name, there’s a story behind the panda. And in Pura’s case, it’s a darn good one. Pura got kicked out of his private Catholic college prep high school — when he was in class, he just wanted to be playing music. But at the behest of his parents, who wanted Pura to attend college, he ended up at the Bay Area Expression College for Digital Arts. That’s where he met the lead singer of the Nerve Agents. “They were this punk band from Berkeley who played all the time with like AFI and Rancid,” Pura excitedly explains. “It was so cool to have their singer in my class.”
It didn’t take long for Pura to learn the ropes of game audio and midi before thinking, fuck this. Pura was enamored with the console he saw for the first time at recording school, but he didn’t want to spend all his time behind it. All he wanted to do was record bands. So, in his mom’s garage, he did.
“Recording bands in the garage, I realized it didn’t matter if you were in a studio or not,” he says. “But it was my mom’s house, and when you’re recording with bands, you don’t want to hang out with your mom all the time.”
So instead of paying attention in class, Pura spent time in class watching the San Diego Zoo’s baby panda webcam. One day, Pura walked into the ECDA cafeteria and saw a flyer hanging up on the wall, emblazoned with his picture: “Calling All Panda Lovers: Sam Pura Is Looking For You.” Glancing over, he caught The Nerve Agents’ singer smirking towards him from across the cafeteria.
“I looked at him and thought, ‘you piece of shit,” Pura laughs. “I think I still have the sign somewhere.”
The Panda was born. Pura moved into a live-in recording studio, his first real stepping-stone — no offense, Pura household garage — towards owning his own studio. In 2003, the Panda Studios was his. His goal was to make the recording process an experience, (“I want there to be an organic, euphoric vibe”) and from that mindset, Pura developed The Waiting Room, an ongoing live performance series he shoots in Panda Studios. He calls it his labor of love; he shoots The Waiting Room for free.
“It’s just a way for bands to have a great time and celebrate what we love about music,” Pura says. “And recording live is a way for me to just wing it instead of being a perfectionist.”
The Waiting Room isn’t just a labor of love for Pura: it’s a challenge. He admits to a degree of perfectionism (with a dash of OCD) as a producer, so recording on the fly dares Pura to bring his A-game.
“It’s my way to force myself not to overanalyze and be a perfectionist,” Pura says. “But it’s just really cool to see bands do such creative things. When a band has its chemistry down, it’s hard to put into words.”
As a studio perfectionist, Pura readily admits that his biggest setback is not hitting deadlines for record due dates. “I’ll say, ‘you’ll get a song in two days, and I’ll make it that much better!’” Pura laughs. His goal is to give the albums he produces a kind of longevity. He guesses that he’s listened to the new The Story So Far album, What You Don’t See, about 1,000 times and still manages to find 2 or 3 complaints with his own work. But his self-diagnosed studio OCD means that he notices things that most listeners might not catch. Pura tries to be really natural, and his records reflect that organic attitude.