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Arts and Entertainment

Surf's Up! Meet Phil Shaheen: Drummer for The Tijuana Panthers

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The Tijuana Panthers as mild mannered citizens. I Photo courtesy of the Tijuana Panthers.

The Tijuana Panthers as mild mannered citizens. I Photo courtesy of the Tijuana Panthers.

"Our music isn't that serious," Phil Shaheen admitted. "All of the bands I looked up to growing up weren't serious, either. They would have serious lyrics and silly music or serious music and silly lyrics. Music should be about having a good time." As the drummer of the Tijuana Panthers, one of SoCal's best surf rock groups, he knows all about that. Heavily influenced by classic 1960s surf rock fused with punk, the Panthers will make you want to put on your wet suit, grab your board, and make a beeline for the beach. Office meetings, florescent lighting, and paperwork be damned! It's a beautiful day outside, let's call in sick and hit the beach. (I wouldn't be surprised that after perusing this article if half of you got up right now and did just that.) Phil was kind enough about his band's new EP and their upcoming show at Spaceland. Here is some of what was said.

Tijuana Panthers - Creature

What was the first instrument that you ever played?
I played the trumpet in elementary school. I thought guys who played the trumpet were really cool. My grandfather was really into swing music and used to play it around the house a lot. I thought Benny Goodman and
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Gene Krupa were just the coolest.

Do you still play?
No, I wasn't dedicated enough. I never practiced. I wanted to be outside surfing, skating, or whatever.

Where did you get the name the Tijuana Panthers?
It’s based off my neighbor, Max, who is around sixty or something. When his house burned down, he was throwing...

Wait how did his house burn down?

I think it was a bag of charcoal in his backyard that ignited. I actually saw some smoke coming from his backyard that day, but I just thought he was burning some trash, which he did quite often. When I came back the whole house had burned down and he was sifting through the remains. He threw everything he found in a dumpster with the exception of this little porcelain panther which he gave me to fix. Max was really attached to it. He had gotten it in Mexico and he used to tell this story about how he stabbed a guy in Tijuana.

He stabbed a guy? Why?

I don't know. I think he thought that guy was trying to rob him, so he pulled a shiv out of his boot, stabbed him, and then ran away. He said he was hopped up on a lot of pills a the time. I'm not even sure if this story is true. It's probably not or if it is it's embellished considerably. So he gave me the panther to fix, but I haven't given it back yet. It's really sad, I'm the only one who can tell the story anymore. Max got throat cancer and now he can only talk through a voice box in his neck.


The Tijuana Panthers transformed into creatures of the night. I Photo courtesy of the Tijuana Panthers
That's really sad.
Yeah, it happens.Did you watch a lot of 1960s surf movies to get your sound?
Oh yeah, we're big fans of those movies. Chad and I used to be in this band called The Pencils and we only played 1960s surf songs. They were almost all instrumentals, though. The song "Crewcut" came out of that band.

What sort of bands did you look up to?
Oh, so many! The Dead Milkmen, the Descendents, the Buzzcocks...

Do you guys surf?
We used to all the time, but now we live pretty far from the water. It takes me awhile to get to Ventura, but I do when I get the chance.

Is "Girls Gone Wild" based on a true story?
(laughs) No, it's not. Chad wrote that song when he was working. He works the graveyard shift at an all night diner, and so he always sees those those Girls Gone Wild commercials on TV. I think he'd thought it would be fun to write a silly song about it.

What is the creature of the night in your song "Creature"? Is it you?
That again is Chad. A lot of songs are about Chad. He wrote that song about working the graveyard at that restaurant. We thought it would be funny to turn it into a spooky song, rather than just a song about someone who works late.

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Did the Soft Pack tell you that they were covering "Red Headed Girl"?
No, they just did it. We met them right when they were starting to be a big deal. We became friends with them pretty fast. I mean we were obviously stoked they chose our song. They have some very cool songs so it was pretty dang flattering that they wanted to cover one of ours.

Tijuana Panthers - Red Headed Girl

Was "Red Headed Girl" also about Chad?
Yeah, he wrote that about a dance he went to in junior high. I don't know how he remembers this stuff. My brain was not like that. Apparently he saw a red headed girl at a dance and she was just standing there waiting to dance with someone, all bummed out. A lot of his songs are written around junior high school days.


Photo courtesy of the Tijuana Panthers
What is the weirdest thing you ever saw at a show?
It happened a few weeks ago actually. These two girls got completely naked and were dancing around in the crowd. That sort of thing just doesn't happen at our shows. I mean, we play some pretty wholesome surf music, not the sort of things that attracts naked girls.

Where was it?

It was an art gallery. We were filling in for another band. I actually thought something like that was going to happen because the title of the exhibit is "Exhibition of Exhibitionism." It made sense. It was funny, though. It was so bizarre.

If you could change one thing about the music industry what would it be?
Well, I don’t mind that I don’t get paid to play music. It's fun just to play. Oh, I know, I wish there were more record stores. I’ve always collected vinyl.There’s always been that vinyl culture, but I wish there was better access to records.

Do you have a favorite local band at the moment?
Wounded Lion is one of my favorites. The Soft Pack are great, but they're transplants. Do they count?

Sure, transplants count.
Oh and The Fling and Gestapo Khazi. They're both really great.

If you were booking a party in Heaven who would headline?

Oh, good question! I guess in heaven I would have Jonathan Richman, The Modern Lovers, and the Ian Drury with the Blockheads open for The Dead Milkmen.
If you were booking a party in Hell who would headline?
Hm, probably a lot of top 40 stuff that Chad listens to. Oh I know, Sade! And opening would be Hulk Hogan and the Wrestling Boot Band. No wait, he would headline. Actually that song "Beach Patrol" that he did is so cheesy that it's good. Maybe we'll cover it one day.

I think you should! You may be the only ones who have. Thanks for talking with us, Phil.
Thank you.

Be sure to catch the Tijuana Panthers, The Lights and The Obits Friday night at Spaceland. Doors open at 8:30pm. Tickets are $12.

Can't make it to the show tomorrow? Never fear, the Tijuana Panthers will be playing around town for the next month.

5/22 8:30P Spaceland w/The Obits + The Lights Los Angeles, California
5/30 7:00P Hickey Underworld (ALL AGES) Long Beach, California
6/8 8:30P Silverelake Lounge w/The Growlers Los Angeles, California
6/12 8:00P Pehrspace w/ Dirt Dress Los Angeles, California
6/21 3:00P Ferns Long Beach, California