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Goin’ Surfin’

Tijuana Panthers Unleash New Album
By Kyle Eustice
If the name Tijuana Panthers conjures up images of drug cartels or Ron Burgundy, you’re not alone. The Southern California-based band gets it. But that’s not their intention. The trio, comprised of guitarist Chad Wachtel, bassist Daniel Michicoff and drummer Phil Shaheen, just want to play rock-n-roll. Fresh on the heels of their newest release, Wayne Interest [Innovative Leisure], it seems Tijuana Panthers are just getting their surfboards wet. A salacious mix of surf, garage and pop, Tijuana Panthers sound like they could have come straight from the ‘60s. Phil took some time out of his day to talk a night out with the Panthers, Wavves and keeping the wives happy.

Are you living in Long Beach?
I live out in the boonies by Magic Mountain.

How did growing up in SoCal influence your sound and would you ever consider living anywhere else?
We talked about this recently. I don’t think we would really live anywhere else. I like visiting places like the East Coast. If I moved anywhere, I would probably move to Hawaii and keep it mellow there. That’s about it. I can’t imagine not living here. Sound wise, yeah, there’s band from the ‘60s that Chad was influenced by. His dad was actually a manager for some surf bands. There were a lot of garage bands back then with that surf guitar sounds. We’re influenced by that, but not beach culture at all. None of our songs are about that.

I noticed your video for “Boardwalk” is very elaborate. What’s the concept?
Daniel came up with that concept. He’s really into film and he’s like ‘oh I can juggle’ and Chad can ride the motorcycle. Chad used to have a few. He’s like ‘oh and Phil can surf and skate so he can probably balance on a tight rope.’ We have lots of songs and there’s another video that Noisey is putting out soon, which was made in my garage. It’s different. Everyone likes something different. But yeah, “Boardwalk” is very cinematic.

How did this band come about?
Me and Dan and some other friends had a band in high school. It was called Fancy Ladds. That was a Long Beach punk band from ’98 to 2001. That band broke up and I just wanted to keep playing music. The guitar player played guitar, but was never is a band. I knew he was into old ‘60s surf music. It was definitely not popular. There was a niche for it but it was just something I always liked. I was really into The Cramps so I wanted to do something like that. So Chad and I first started out around 2004. We played shows around, but there wasn’t a scene. There weren’t a lot bands playing similar music. We just did our own thing. Dan joined in 2006 and it was finally a full on band. We released everything ourselves until we got on Innovative Leisure.

What year were you officially signed?
I don’t know. It was after 2010 so it had to be 2012.

How did that feel to finally have a label backing you?
It was good. I mean, we were very cautious with it. We had other offers. Other major labels approached us, but Innovative Leisure had the right stuff for us. It wasn’t some big deal we signed. That doesn’t really happen that much. We didn’t make a ton of money, but it was a big weight lifted off our shoulders. We were happy to have someone to help us with distribution and booking. Booking is tough.

You have a publicist now, too. Are you with Life or Death PR?
Yes. That is new. We’ve had other PR, but this is the first time we’re with them. They are above and beyond in my book. Merrick at Ground Control is good people, too. All of these pieces were missing. We still manage ourselves, I guess. We get some feedback, but nobody is telling us ‘you have to do this or you have to do that.’ They basically just ask if we want to do something. We are just down to do as much as possible.

Do you guys skate?
I grew up skating. The other guys did, too. We skate a little. I had friends in high school in the ‘90s who skated, but I always kept it pretty mellow. It’s just for fun for us. It was never something I pursued like I did surfing.

What do panthers have to do with Tijuana?
My neighbor brought back a porcelain panther from Tijuana one time. It was back in the ’60s and there was a story with it. He gave it to me to fix and I forgot to give it to him. His name was Max Baker. We named our first record after him. He actually passed away recently. He was like a two-pack a day kind of guy. He lived hard, but the panther still lives on.

Why does it make me think of drug cartels though?
Probably because Mexico is shady. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. Parts of Mexico of shady.

It’s ok. I got robbed on a donkey in Tijuana once. Nobody helped me. Nobody cared. I understand.
Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve been there. Some areas are fine and they have a music scene in Tijuana that’s coming up, but we haven’t made it back down. I’ve been a bit weary. Just me.

Would it offend you if I said you kind of remind me of Wavves? I was a little late to the party. I didn’t like them until recently.
No, not at all. Thanks. Yeah. I think he’s [vocalist Nathan Williams] a younger guy from San Diego. He’s in his 20’s now or whatever, but I had some friends from the Soft Pack and The Muslims that knew them. Some people would say we sound like them. It’s all kind of like slack rock, I guess. I don’t care. People say lots of things. People say we sound like The Beach Boys or the quintessential California surf band. It’s fine. Our newer record doesn’t sound that much like that. There’s a lot of ‘80s sounds in there.

You were listed in Rolling Stone’s “Bands to Watch” in 2013. Do you feel you’re living up to the expectations?
I think so. I think we’re still on the incline. We’ve always been steady. There’s never been a big jump. We’ve always built a steady fan base. Kids are down to come and hang out. It can keep going up from here, but if we stopped getting media attention, I still think there would be kids coming out to our shows. People are still down for it. I’m really not all into the whole hype thing so I’m glad we didn’t really get that. It’s been cool to go this route.

If you get too big too fast, you can fade out right away. I think the steady rise is a good thing. What would you want the world to know about you?
We’re not a put on. This is the real thing. We weren’t like ‘we like surf music. Let’s just play.’ That’s Chad’s style that he’s always played. We weren’t like, ‘ok what’s popular now?’ This is something we’ve been doing long before it became popular. It’s a full on genre now—like California surf revamped. I just want people to know this isn’t a put on and we are just doing our thing.

What would a night out with the Tijuana Panthers be like?
It depends on which panther. We’re all pretty mellow. Dan goes out a lot. Dan would probably take you out for a night on the town. Chad and I would stay in for a movie. We still go out. When we play, the thing is once you’re in a band; you go out all the time for your band stuff so the other nights you want to chill. I’ve been married for 10 or 11 years now and Chad is married and has a kid so we like to lay low. We did that stuff in our 20’s. Dan will take you out to a nice restaurant though and a nice film.

Well, music is a job. You need your rest.
We try to just ignore that whole scene. Maybe if we were a younger band or we had something to prove. I don’t know. If Dan wants to party, he will. Whatever. We’re just mellow dudes. It’s fun to hang out for two seconds after the show, but then I’m like, ‘where’s the hotel?’

I bet your wives are happy.
Oh yeah [laughs]. We are opposite of all that crazy stuff.

Is it hard for Dan to be the only single guy?
I don’t know. I think he’s fine. With a band, everyone is doing their own thing. Wait, nevermind. Scratch that. Dan is fine [laughs].

Do you live off music?
No, I’m an art teacher at Canyon High School. I teach basic drawing and painting.

What if Tijuana Panthers blow up? Are you going to be a rock star or keep teaching?
I try to not think about that because this industry is very fickle so I don’t put any hopes in that. I don’t ever do that. We started this band to have fun with. We worked hard to get where we are, but we have to always remember we started this for fun. We used to play for zero dollars and now we play for some money [laughs]. We’re still picking up scraps and we definitely need our day jobs.

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