This new Tijuana Panthers album is an embrace of much more than just a band, it’s a statement of dedication to the calling of music, to sticking with making art as long as you want to, age be damned.
“I feel like this was our most relaxed process yet,” says Daniel Michicoff of the band’s sixth album, Halfway To Eighty, an album whose title serves as a sly embrace of getting older, with a little bit of the Panthers’ trademark sense of humor sprinkled in there for good measure. For example, on the cover they gather around their imaginary midlife-crisis Delorean. It’s a brotherhood that’s only gotten more instinctual over time, and lately that second-nature approach has found each member taking on a more forward role in crafting their own individual songs, which the trio then works out together before hitting the studio.
On Halfway To Eighty, riff-heavy anthems like “Helping Hand” are courtesy of Chad Wachtel, while art-rock thrashers like “Slacker” are Phil Shaheen’s handiwork, and smirking punk numbers like “False Equivalent” are Michicoff’s. When you keep an ear out for them, you can hear each distinct personality in the songs, but taken as a whole, it’s yet another primo Panthers set of post-Cramps, post-DEVO outsider rock and roll.
That’s partially through the help of regular Panthers collaborator Jonny Bell (Crystal Antlers, Chicano Batman, Hanni El Khatib), who produced the set at his Jazzcats Studio in the band's hometown of Long Beach, California. Bell has proved to have something of a sixth sense in working with the band, so there was no one better to capture the sound they were going after this time, either. For much of the record, the band was working with the mindset of channeling some of the production sound and attitude of local punk legends like Black Flag and Circle Jerks. “What I told Jonny when he was mixing ‘Slacker,’” remembers Shaheen, “was, like, ‘Just keep it South Bay,’ and he already knew what I was saying.”
In one form or another, Tijuana Panthers have existed most of its members’ lives. Daniel Michicoff (bass/vocals), Chad Wachtel (guitar/vocals), and Phil Shaheen (drums/vocals) became friends when they were teenagers in Long Beach, and started playing music together soon after, eventually becoming one of the shining stars of the twenty-first century garage-rock revival scene. But while many of their initial contemporaries have gone through lineup changes or thrown in the towel, the Panthers are hanging tough, and in a sense, just hitting their stride.
But as much as the band has matured over the years, they still know how to put together an album efficiently, without messing around. They’re professionals, after all, and there are bills to pay, too. “We don’t have the luxury to go in the studio for days on end,” laughs Shaheen. “I don’t know how other bands do it.”