The Tijuana Panthers have played Vegas quite a bit—at Bunkhouse, Neon Reverb, and opening up for Alabama Shakes at Brooklyn Bowl—bringing a little piece of the ocean to the desert each time with their classic ’60s surf-rock and garage sound.
Hailing from Southern California, guitarist Chad Wachtel, drummer Phil Shaheen and bassist Dan Michicoff released their latest EP, Ghost Food, in August and recently ended a tour with the beloved psychobilly band Tiger Army with a replacement drummer. Now the band is headlining Bunkhouse’s A Nightmare on 11th Street on October 29 with Surf Curse, Same Sex Mary, No Tides and more. We had real talk with Wachtel, but also discussed their latest tour and a few songs off their EP.
So how did your tour with Tiger Army go? I haven’t thought about them in years.
It’s funny whenever we mention the name Tiger Army, that’s always the same [reaction] we get “I used to love that band in high school!” It went well. I wasn’t excited about going on it because I get pre-trip anxiety. That had nothing to do with Tiger Army, but it’s kind of a weird time for me because when we found out about that tour, we were in Europe and our agent emailed us and I was going through a divorce at the time. Tijuana Panthers don’t tour that much—this is kind of extra information, sorry I’m like giving you everything here—it was kind of just a rough time in life and they offered us this month-long tour. Initially, I was like “yeah, I can’t do that” but then I realized “no, I should do it.” I need to stay busy and work harder with the band. So I wasn’t super optimistic about it but then the tour came and went and everything was great. I think we gained a lot of fans. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I guess I’m a little bit of a pessimist, but I think it’s because I want to prep myself for the worst in case it does happen. But it ended up being really good. I didn’t know what to expect, but our expectations were exceeded.
As fun as it must be to play live I’m sure it’s exhausting, and when you’re going through personal shit, I understand why you wouldn’t be too excited at first. You feeling better?
Yeah things have gotten better. I’m adjusting to a new way of being, you know? There’s obviously benefits to being single, there are pluses and minuses and I’m just trying to focus on those pluses like, “Hey there is some good stuff going on.” And one of them is I can focus a little more on the band. And if another opportunity like that comes up, I can say, “Yeah I’ll do it. I’ll go on the road for a month” whereas before I was trying to be more of a family man. I didn’t want to be gone much.
I’m glad you’re doing ok. I’m sorry you’re going through that.
Oh, yeah, hey I appreciate it. I just realized I am making this interview more about me than about the band by accident. You’re like, “I want to know what’s going on with the Tijuana Panthers” and I’m like, “Welllll, let’s tell you about my personal problems.”
How was touring with a drummer you’re not used to playing with?
We hired our friend Eric Nieto who is the younger brother of Orlando Nieto, who recorded our first album… We asked so many people. It’s hard to find somebody who can just take off for a month. He was paid, but not great. He was a trooper.
It was a little bit of a struggle just not having Phil because he is such a huge part of the band, his voice, just the way he plays is very unique, and his look. He is kind of weird looking up there and I think everybody likes that. Just how his body moves. He is like a praying mantis, you know? So Eric did the job and he kept time really well and he played with enthusiasm and it worked out well. But we were doing that without Phil’s vocals so me and Dan had to step up and sing the whole time. Dan even sang lead on a couple songs. He did “Creature” and he did “Crew Cut” and he did pretty well. I wouldn’t be able to do that. That makes it tough but it was another thing to gain from the experience, like “We can do it.” It’s not as good. It’s better to have Phil of course, but we still pulled it off.
I like the new EP. My favorite song might be “Mind How You Go.”
I know why it’s your favorite.
Because of the intricate guitar work going on in that song. It’s amazing. Der! Der! Der! Der! Der! Der! Der! Der! Der!
It’s very complicated stuff. I can’t wrap my head around it.
It’s very progressive. Tijuana Panthers are going progressive. Get ready. Watch out.
I do like the guitar on “I Took Her Phone Away” though. It’s a little more intricate on that one.
Oh yeah, the spoken word.
Yeah, what is that? Was that an interview or just a conversation that was recorded?
It was. It was Phil and Dan’s [idea]. They kind of came up with it on the spot. One thing I really like about that song is it’s completely improvised. That was the first take. There is no editing. We played the music live. I remember just before we started it, I had nothing. I was like “What are we doing with this? What is this song? I don’t have a guitar part. What am I supposed to do?” And I remember Johnny, the engineer, was like, “Just do it man. Just do something.” I’m like,“Okaaay.” And Dan’s bass starts up and that was the first take. It just came out that way … It’s very spontaneous and then they came up with the [spoken word] idea in the studio, “Hey we’re going to ask you questions. We just want you to sit there and answer candidly about these various questions.” Like, how do you feel about motorcycles? How do you feel about women in a man’s role in a relationship?
I like the ending part about the crawdad.
Yeah, true story. Not made up. Not made up.
I saw a flyer for one of your shows on your website and it said: “Be Like Chad and Get Your Tickets Now!” Are you always buying your tickets early? What is that?
No, that actually doesn’t describe me at all. I do a lot of things last minute and procrastinate. And a lot of the times I miss out on things and I’m like, “Aw man I forgot about that.” It’s an inside joke.
Are you guys going to be playing any spooky songs for Halloween?
“Creature of the Night!” We’re not covering “Monster Mash” or anything like that. We’re just sticking to the normal routine. Sorry to disappoint you there.