Tijuana Panthers are the kind of band you can take home to meet your mom. They have probably never beat anyone up, they don’t trash hotel rooms or get kicked out of venues for bad behavior, and they almost certainly have never been to jail. They’re the nicest guys in garage rock, but just because they’re not into random acts of violence and PCP doesn’t mean their music isn’t completely and totally awesome. Childhood pals Daniel Michicoff (bass), Chad Wachtel (guitar), and Phil Shaheen (drums) make backyard BBQ music for the lost soul (lost souls still like to drink beers and eat hot dogs, okay?); it’s the kind of punk that’s been laying on the beach all day: surf-soaked and poignant and poppy, and it will make you cry if you let it (or maybe that’s just me, and maybe I always let it). Their newest record Semi-Sweet will be out on Innovative Leisure records later this month.
I talked to Daniel about Jonathan Richman, angst, and Phil’s neighbor’s panther.
Hi Daniel. How are you?
Daniel: I’m good.
What are you doing?
D: Well I’ve been doing some odd things around the house. We had a show last night, so I got to sleep in. But yeah, just taking care of business on my day off.
I isolated you for this interview because the last time I interviewed you all together, it got a little wild. And by wild I mean meandering and unclear, but all sorts of fun.
D: Yeah, that was a funny interview. I don’t remember much as it was directly after our show at The Bootleg (with Bass Drum Of Death).
When did Tijuana Panthers form?
D: I always forget the precise year. Maybe 2007? 2008? Chad and Phil were already playing together. They used to play at The Smell with Ty Segall’s old band the Traditional Fools and a lot of other bands. Back then they were a two-piece, then they got really bored of just playing surf music, and wanted to do other music and add a bassist. We’d been friends for a long time, and I was eager to start playing music again, because I had kind of taken a break. So around then? Does it need to be clearer than that?
Nope, that works. How did you guys come up with the name Tijuana Panthers?
D: Phil had this neighbor whose house burned down, and he asked him to come over and help fix this porcelain panther that had broken in the fire. He was this old man who had all these stories to tell, and one of them was about where he got this panther. It was in Tijuana, and there were knife fights and pimps involved, and we just thought that was a pretty interesting combination of words, Tijuana Panthers.
Have you guys ever been in any knife fights in Mexico?
D: Um…no. We’ve been to Mexico a lot. We used to go down there a lot and surf, and I’ve had wild times there, definitely. Fireworks and camping on the beach and lobster at Puerto Nuevo. Oh! My friends once got put in jail for the night because they lit off an M-80 and the Federali took them in and found an American flag switch-blade knife on them which they had purchased down in Rosarito. So they were taken into jail for the night and they basically all just passed out in their underwear. Their friends brought them peanut-butter and jelly sandwiched and waited out the night. It was pretty harmless, but that story involved a knife!
Good segue. So if your guys’ label mate Hanni El Khatib’s music is self-described as “knife fight music”, what would Tijuana Panthers’ music be? (Obviously not anything to do with knives or fights).
D: I think we are the opposite of that. We’re kind of peaceful dudes. I don’t know if I speak for the other two guys in the band, but I like to think of our music as “nice guy angst.” There’s definitely a lot of angst in our music and kids get pretty nuts at our shows, and I’m pretty happy about that, because that’s how I felt when I was younger. I just had a lot of angst, but I didn’t want to get in any knife fights or beat anyone up, I just wanted to kind of twitch around to music. So it’s kind of cool that kids are doing that to our music.
Angsty music in general is my favorite kind.
D: I agree. I always refer back to Jonathan Richman. He’s a big influence on us, particularly me, and I see a lot of angst in his music. I can see that he’s kind of, I don’t want to say middle fingers, but he’s getting a lot of pent up things out, and you can tell he’s just a nice dude that has a lot of angst and it kind of reads as punk in a lot of ways.
Would you say that your fan base is a bit younger?
D: Well we’ve been around for a while so I’m seeing a lot of them grow up. It didn’t bother me, but when you’re starting out as a band you can’t really play bars when a lot of people who like your band are in high school. But now a lot of those kids are twenty-four now, and there’s a new group of young kids too. It is youthful, but it’s spanning generations now!
What are your top three favorite cities to play in?
D: Hmm. Excluding LA because we’re from here and we play here a lot? Let me just say East LA. We’ve played there a couple of times and that’s a little bit separate from the regular LA scene, so I’ll put that as part of our three. So let’s say East LA, Brooklyn, and San Francisco.
Are you guys going to be touring after your new record comes out this month?
D: It comes out the 28th, and we’re having a big party that FYF is putting on May 31st in Eagle Rock. We’re dealing with a lot of touring stuff. Phil and I are going back and forth, talking to people because we’re booking it ourselves. Right now we have a West Coast tour in the works. We’re hoping to do a quick little East Coast thing as well.
Okay let me put a dream scenario to you. You can tour with any band, living or dead. Who do you tour with?
D: That is a tough one. That’s like asking what’s your favorite movie or book or something.
Well I think it’s a little more involved than that because you can have a favorite band that you love musically, but you also have to take into consideration personalities and stuff, and do you want to spend two months on the road with these people. There are more variables here.
D: Oh yeah totally. I already mentioned him before, but I think I would learn a lot from a dude like Jonathan Richman in the Modern Lovers time. But that’s just me. We’ve gotten to play with a lot of our punk icons, like The Dead Milkmen and John Doe and Exene, and we’d totally love to go on tour with any of those bands back in the day in the right time. But I’m just going to say Jonathan Richman. Let’s say Modern Lovers, and then he does an encore with his solo stuff.
What is Tijuana Panthers’ song-writing process like?
D: I think there’s a certain element I guess that comes from just being friends since junior high. We’re always kind of referring to a certain sensibility that kind of resides in the time we grew up in, like the 80s. Referring back to a lot of movies, like Michael J Fox and Pee Wee Herman. There’s a certain aesthetic that we all grew up with together, and that always clicks in our heads, along with the music that we’re all kind of equally influenced by. We seriously have been listening to the same records together and getting influenced by them since we were in high school. And then we all kind of branched out, and now just writing, I’ll have a skeleton of an idea, and I’ll say “Phil sing something,” because I’ll know in my head that Phil can come up with a part for this. And I’ll tell Chad to do something on the guitar, and he’ll just do it. It’s kind of easy like that. Or Phil will bring an idea, or Chad will bring an idea, and we kind of just improvise it in practice. We all just bring it to the table and work on it in our separate places, then bring it together. We all have a similar sensibility and I think that’s what helps.
What’s coming up for you guys in the next year or so?
D: We’re psyched to see what Semi Sweet does. Our label Innovative Leisure has some backing behind it, and before this we’ve never really had the distribution to get our stuff in every store everywhere, so that’s going to be cool to see who likes and who doesn’t on a broader level. We also just recorded a third album, because this one took so long to come out. We had music ready so we went up to Cottage Grove, two hours out of Portland, with Richard Swift. He’s a musical mad man. We did a day and a half, ten songs all to cassette tape on the four track. It’s some of the best recording we’ve done. It’s very honest, it’s all live. We did some overdub recordings but it’s all very quick, first or second takes. It’s pretty cool. We have some more songs we might go up and record. Basically we’re ready for the next step and that’s probably going to come out relatively soon.