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Amoeba selects surf-punks Tijuana Panthers

LA's music scene is the best it's been in years, say the scuzzy Southern Californians. They share their top five new bands

As part of our new summer US project States of Independence we've invited our favourite 30 American curators, magazines, creatives and institutions to takeover Dazed for a day. 

LA vinyl emporium Amoeba Music are opening shop at Dazed today with their guest edit dedicated to sharing their indie music expertise. On the racks are a Tijuana Panthers interview, exclusive Cherry Glazerr video, as well as mixes and selections from the music-mad staff over at Amoeba.

When we asked Amoeba Music to recommend a slept-on local band, they tipped their hats to the wise owls of the So-Cal independent scene, woozy garage surf dudes Tijuana Panthers – who have been making music in one form or another for a decade. Daniel Michicoff, Chad Wachtel and Phil Shaheen started the band up in Long Beach, but the trio are now scattered in and around Los Angeles and gigging everywhere from scuzzy yard parties, to Amoeba in-stores and Coachella festival. Their third album, Wayne Interest, has just been released on independent label Innovative Leisure – also home to throwback rockers Hanni El Khatib, Allah-Las and Nick Waterhouse – and they’re about to head out on the road with Fucked Up. We spoke to drummer Phil over Skype, direct from his garage in Valencia.

What’s the LA music scene like right now?

Phil Shaheen: It’s crazy now how many bands there are and how many kids are starting bands. It’s wild. You can go every night of the week and see some cool band. I went out last night to see this band called Corners at The Echo. The place was packed. I remember in the early Echo days it wouldn’t have been like that, but it seems like kids see live music like crazy now out here.

When did you start Tijuana Panthers?

Phil Shaheen: Me and Chad started playing music out of high school in Long Beach in about 2004. We found a little niche there – this surf thing that was going on, but it wasn’t like what it is now. It was more Cramps derivative and more punk. It wasn’t beachy.

Were you going under the Tijuana Panthers name back then?

Phil Shaheen: No, that band was called Pencils. In 2006 we started Tijuana Panthers with Daniel. It was based off a song we had called Tijuana Panther. My neighbour Max Baker, he passed recently, but he went to Mexico and brought back a porcelain panther and he had it for years. His house burnt down and I fixed the panther for him but I never gave it back to him.

You released your last album through the Innovative Leisure label – why did you go with those guys?

Phil Shaheen: We knew Hanni El Khatib and played several shows when we were starting out. He became a little bit bigger and we went on tour with him and we were already talking to the label then. They were down with what we were doing. They’re like family and they’re really good people. They let us do whatever we want and they fully back it. We had opportunities to work with other labels – even major labels – and we turned it down.

Why did you turn down majors?

Phil Shaheen: Lots of reasons. We had friends who have started really great bands (and then signed to majors) and have been just shelved. They have to say ‘screw it’ and start another band.

“There’s just different ways of selling out now. I don’t even think there’s such a thing as selling out, it’s just trying to make a decent living” - Phil Shaheen 

Is it a good time to be an independent label?

Phil Shaheen: Yeah – if you do it right. Kids buy records. Our type of band doesn’t sign a big deal and get huge advances. We make our money off synching or a good show with sponsors – weird stuff. It’s not the same beast anymore, which is kind of good, I think.

Why so?

Phil Shaheen: There’s just different ways of selling out now. I don’t even think there’s such a thing as selling out, it’s just trying to make a decent living. It’s good because it allows small bands to rise up and figure it out for themselves.

How do you supplement your income from the band?

Phil Shaheen: I teach art at a high school. Daniel kind of does whatever to make ends meet. He played bass for Hanni on his world tour. Chad works with wood.

You played an Amoeba in-store recently. What do you love about Amoeba?

Phil Shaheen: I find a lot of stuff there that I might not find in other places, like this the soundtrack to a skate movie ‘Rad’ from the 80’s. I don’t even remember what bands are on there. It’s very nostalgic for me because I grew up listening to those songs and watching those scenes.

Finally, tell us about five emerging independent bands from the SoCal area that you love.

Phil Shaheen: Corners, who I saw last night. Allah-Las are our labelmates who are really great. The Garden, they’re doing well. Sea Lions - they’re a band that’s been around for a little bit. They have an 80’s vibe going on with no wave stuff and there’s a brand new band called Adult Books that were doing cool stuff last night.