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Unapologetic: A band called F****** Panthers
By EA Poorman
Fort Wayne Reader
There seems to be two ways to go when you grow up in a small town. The first is you stay pretty comfortable with the idea of living your life in the middle of a cornfield. You don't mind shopping at the IGA, renting movies at that one video store on the town's main drag, having all your business known by all 3,000 of your town's residents, and worshiping at one of the two town's churches, the Presbyterian one or the Methodist one. You're cool with driving 30 miles a day to work as there's not much industry in your town of 3,000, unless the Dairy Queen/KFC combo is your idea of a lucrative business model. And you're totally cool with marrying the girl next door cause she's the only girl that's ever not told you to screw off.
The other way you can go is this: you buy a guitar, start buying as much punk and metal records as you can, and you get the hell out as quickly as you can.
Okay, so small town life isn't really that cut and dry. You can grow up in a small town, appreciate the virtues of small town life, and still know there's a bigger world out there with bigger opportunities. The one thing in both those scenarios remains the same: rock and roll is a small town kid's salvation.
Billy Rivers, the lead singer for the band F*****g Panthers was one of those kids. Rivers and his small town pals, Ben Kelly, Nate Green, Matt Browning, and Max Hatlem, who all grew up in Churubusco, IN, found rock and roll as an outlet for those small town blues. Billy sat down and shared how the band came to be.
E.A. Poorman: Tell me about F*****g Panthers. How did you guys get together? What's the story?
Billy Rivers: Ben and I have been doing this for kind of an embarrassingly long amount of time. I think the first practice was back in 2006, maybe? To make a long story short, the latest incarnation of the band started in January 2012 when Matt hopped on as our new drummer and Nate picked up bass. Around Halloween time 2013 I transitioned from playing guitar to just doing vocals and Max took over on guitar. All of us grew up going to local all ages shows throughout high school at places like the Fish and Game Club, the Anchor and Sunset Hall so we’ve all got a common foundation centered around Fort Wayne music.
E.A. Poorman: So are you guys pulling from inspiration from any specific bands? I hear a lot of punk influence, but there's also some big metal riffs in your songs.
Billy Rivers: I know it sounds like a cop out answer but honestly, I listen to a little bit of everything. Good music is good music, regardless of what genre it falls into. Obviously there’s a heavy punk / hardcore influence in what we do but I think we all constantly take stuff in, even subconsciously, and try to remain cognitive of what works or what doesn't work whether it be in some radio pop song or a movie score.
E.A. Poorman: How do you guys go at your songwriting? Is there a specific process? Is there one main songwriter?
Billy Rivers: We usually start out with a skeletal structure of just a few riffs and then build upon that at practice, bouncing ideas off of one another and flesh out all the blood and guts in between. There’s a steady mix of individual conceptualization and collaboration. We’re constantly tweaking and tightening things, making sure it all feels natural.
E.A. Poorman: From your debut Learning To Die to your most recent album Two Ways Of Life there were nearly three years in-between. What were some of the differences between writing and recording in 2011 to 2014? Did you guys go into the new album with a better idea of how to accomplish what you wanted to do?
Billy Rivers: Yeah, I think we were a lot more focused on what we wanted to accomplish this time around. The first record was really just a collection of all of the least worst songs we’d written up to that point and we recorded it in spare time over the course of a year or so with a friend. This time we wanted it to be a much more cohesive album rather than just a collection of songs. Everything’s pointed at a much more linear narrative from beginning to end.
E.A. Poorman: So what, if any, is the significance of the name? Is there a story behind it?
Billy Rivers: It was something I just blurted out in an AIM conversation with my best bud in high school. We had all of this angst and restlessness with nowhere to put it so we were itching to start a band as some sort of outlet and it just sounded like the perfect culmination of unapologetic, in your face bitterness we wanted to capture as a band.
E.A. Poorman: So how's a live show go? Are they as rowdy as the albums?
Billy Rivers: The good ones are!(laughs) That’s the one thing that’s kind of a bummer about playing bars, most people are more concerned with keeping their drink from spilling than engaging in the show.
E.A. Poorman: Have you guys been playing out much?
Billy Rivers: Yeah definitely. We took a bit of a break to finish up the album last year but we’ve been playing fairly frequently around Fort Wayne since the records’ release.
E.A. Poorman: Is the band still based in Churubusco?
Billy Rivers: Ben, Nate and I are all from Churubusco but we play almost all of our shows and practice in Fort Wayne now.
E.A. Poorman: Are there any upcoming shows you want to tell me about?
Billy Rivers: We’ve got a show March 18th with a great band from Nashville called Free Throw and our friends in Metavari at CS3 and then April 24th at Wunderkammer with Swamp Squat and Ides of March.
E.A. Poorman: Are there any memorable shows that stick out for you?
Billy Rivers: We’ve gotten to play a lot of really great shows, but I think my personal favorite has to be our CD release show for “Two Ways of Life”. It was just such an emotional release, getting to celebrate all of our hard work and share what we’d been working so hard on after not really playing any shows for quite a while. It was an absolute blast.
E.A. Poorman: Will there be a new album in less than three years time?
Billy Rivers: Hopefully we wont take that long again.(laughs) We’re constantly writing new stuff so it’s just a matter of fine-tuning and honing in on what we want the third album to be about thematically. Max and I have been writing a lot of new stuff this winter so I think we’ve definitely got the foundation for what we want the next full length to sound like. Now we have to match that with the appropriate lyrical content. If everything goes according to plan, our third LP should be ready by the end of 2016 at the latest.
Head over to fuckingpanthers.bandcamp.com and hear what small town aggression sounds like. Download it and put it in your ears(and a few bucks in the artist's pocket while you're at it.) Then go check F*****g Panthers out live on March 20th at O'Sullivan's, then at Wunderkammer on April 24th.