You start a band so you can make some noise, annoy the neighbors, and maybe even impress a girl or two. As time moves on priorities change, you learn a few more chords, and the drummer can keep better time. The music evolves from teen angst and contrarian points of view about societal flaws to turning that outward mirror inward. You go from wanting to light the first fuse in the next great revolution to wondering what happened to that bright-eyed kid with so much ambition and drive to make a difference.
Welcome to getting old.
Billy Rivers and his pals started their punk rock outfit F***ing Panther seven years ago in a small town not too far from Fort Wayne. Over the course of those 7 years they’ve released three albums(including their newest and most recent, Standards Of Living) and have played countless shows around the area. Now, in their mid-20s with full-time jobs, marriages, and general “real life” settling in, the guys are at a point where the outer revolution has died down and inner revolutions are taking over.
I sat down and talked to Billy Rivers about the band, the debacle of creating their swan song album, and why this may be it for his band F***ing Panthers.
EA Poorman: It’s been three years since we spoke. What have you guys been up to? You guys still intact?
Billy Rivers: To be completely honest we haven’t really been intact since we started recording this album, which was way back in January of 2017. A lot of stuff had changed in all of our personal lives (marriage, new houses, new jobs, breakups, etc.) and we all kind of had the feeling that things were winding down with the band as real life issues kind of pushed forward on everyone’s priorities list. I was really focused on writing and getting the “Standards of Living” tracks as tight and polished as possible so we didn’t really play out all that much because we were beginning to burn ourselves out on songs that hadn’t even been recorded yet.
EA Poorman: So real life came creeping in.
Billy Rivers: I’ve heard a lot of people compare being in a band to being in a relationship- with practices being like dates, shows being like sex, and where making an album is like having a kid. So this kind of felt like we were having a kid to save the marriage – but we entered the studio on life support. And instead of revitalizing us, the recording process held us hostage for 16 grueling months and pretty much extinguished any spark we were hoping for before we could even hear any mixes of the record. But I wrote the album as if it would be our last, I just kind of hoped it wouldn’t be.
EA Poorman: Well your last album was 2014s Two Ways of Life, and now this newest one is Standards of Living. How did you get to this point? The new one is great, btw. You guys still sound like a band evolving.
Billy Rivers: After “Two Ways” was released in September 2014, I wanted to take some time to kind of cleanse our palette a bit. When we released “Learning to Die” back in 2011, I already had 8-9 songs ready to roll out for the next album. I didn’t want to do that this time around. I wanted to empty the chambers and start fresh on the third LP. So after taking a minute to catch our breath and kind of enjoy what we had done with “Two Ways”, Max and I started writing the first songs off of “Standards” back in early 2015. But for the first time in a long time I was feeling really burnt out. I was mostly just disappointed that “Two Ways” didn’t have more of an impact. I had built it up in my head that that record was going to change all of our lives. It was going to be our springboard. And when it wasn’t and I started to see everyone’s interest in the band start to diminish (including my own), I realized things were on the decline. We weren’t ever going to be the comet streaking across the sky that I imagined we might one day be.
EA Poorman: What were the themes you were wanting to hit on the new record? Was there a narrative through line?
Billy Rivers: With “Two Ways” we had a very linear narrative planned throughout the record but with “Standards” I wanted to get back to writing one song at a time. But as I was writing I noticed a theme seeping into all of the lyrics. It was about losing your youth, losing your drive. It was me dealing with and accepting that the band was dying and this would probably be our final record. So I basically wrote it as an epitaph. Ending things on our terms – before they got stale and I was just going through the motions. That became my motivation. Of course that all got derailed when we had to wait around for a year to hear it…
EA Poorman: A year to hear it? What happened?
Billy Rivers: The album was recorded in a home office here in Fort Wayne. I wont call it out by name, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who cares about making music because the experience will bleach that out of you entirely. It was like we were on one of the planets from Interstellar. Stepping into the studio was like being on another planet where 15 minutes turned into 4 hours. I thought we had made it through the worst part when tracking finished but we had to wait a full calendar year (May 2017 – May 2018) for the mastering and mixing to be complete so we could hear more than 1 finished track. It was a nightmare. We were hoping to cut down on our time between albums with a simple 10 track release but somehow 45 minutes of music took a year and a half to produce. Everyone’s patience was so exhausted by the end of it all, that I can’t honestly tell you that everyone in the band has even listened to it. I don’t know if I can ever listen to it without fuming over all of the time spent that we’ll never get back. It’s infuriating, I’m getting mad talking to you about it right now (hahah) And even with all of that time sunk into it, it still doesn’t sound anything like we had planned. We went through extensive referencing sessions and while the finished album sounds good, it’s nowhere near the sound we were aiming for. But at the end of it all I was just so relieved to have anything at all that I didn’t care. I just had to get this thing from looming over me a second longer. We were all certain we’d never get a finished copy of the record. And until about a month ago, we had no reason to think otherwise.
EA Poorman: Oh man, that’s terrible. I can’t imagine having your record looming over you like that for so long. Despite those issues the album does sound very good. Has your writing process changed since the beginning?
Billy Rivers: Yeah definitely. “Standards” was way more of a collaborative process than any of our other albums. I probably wrote 75 – 80% of “Learning” and “Two Ways” on my own where “Standards” is probably made up of less than half of my own stuff. We hashed out a lot more in practice and our guitarist Max really did a lot of the heavy lifting.
EA Poorman: Going into the initial writing process of the new record, who or what were some influences on that?
Billy Rivers: When trying to shape a personality for this record I thought since “Learning” basically encompassed being a pissed off teenager, “Two Ways” was about a lost 20 year old trying to find their identity – let’s make the third one about getting older and creeping towards 30. A lot of punk music is all about being young and reckless and fighting authority and falling in love but you don’t hear many songs from the perspective of the old guy at the basement show. So Jeff Rosenstock was a major influence, because he’s one of the only people in punk that covers that terrain so well and “Worry” is probably one of the best punk records this decade. He’s an incredible song writer. Another big influence was “In Utero”. That whole disenchanted farewell vibe fit exactly what I wanted this album to be. That opening line is so great “Teenage angst has paid off well, now I’m bored and old…”
While we were recording “Two Ways” I think I realized, that musically this was as heavy as I wanted the band to get. I loved the progression from “Learning” to “Two Ways” and that push to get heavier felt very natural but taking the next step into full-on metal territory just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t what I wanted the band to be so we made the analogy that if “Two Ways” was a Black Sabbath album, we wanted the follow up to be more like an Ozzy solo record. And in the final writing stages of “Two Ways” we stumbled into this weird melancholy mid-tempo groove with songs like “Winter” and “The Black Lodge” that was just so different and intriguing to me. They were catchy without being too redundant or formulaic. That was where I wanted to push the next record.
EA Poorman: What have you been listening to lately? Favorite album of the year so far?
Billy Rivers: I’ve been pretty consumed by the John Maus boxset that just came out this spring. It’s incredible stuff and his “Addendum” album that came with the set is probably my favorite record released this year. I’ve also been listening to “Seed” by Looming quite a bit. Missed that one from last year but I caught them at BledFest this May and they were amazing. Death Grips, Hop Along, Vince Staples, Freddie Gibbs, Hotelier. All kinds of great stuff lately, I love it.
EA Poorman: Are there any shows to promote what may well be your swan song for F***ing Panthers?
Billy Rivers: I don’t know. I think we may try and sneak in a farewell / release show in early August but having not really played together since December 2016, I honestly have no idea how it’s all going to shake out.
EA Poorman: F***ing Panthers have been a band since 2011(if not before that.) What’s the key to keeping things going that long? Seven years for a local band is a substantial length of time. Is it a matter of as long as there’s something to keep you blood boiling and having something to fight against you’ll have songs to write?
Billy Rivers: I think you really have to form good relationships with one another for it to last. We all have a shared passion for music and are respectful of each other’s personal lives when things come up and the band has to take a backseat. I think a big part of the band dissolving is that we don’t really have much to be angry about anymore. Sure, on a more global and political scale the world is in a worse place than it’s ever been since we started this band but for the most part – that’s borrowed pain. While I sympathize and support a lot of the causes happening right now, I can’t act like they effect me directly in any way other than reading about it and having my stomach turn at the future our country is creating. Protest songs from a white 30 year old middle american Hoosier just seem disingenuous and borderline exploitative. It’s not like we’d be spreading awareness, this garbage is everywhere you look every single day. Songs aren’t going to change any of that and there are already plenty of pissed off white dudes polluting the internet with their opinions, so why add to the noise? I think we need some new voices.
EA Poorman: So is this it for you? Putting the guitar in storage?
Billy Rivers: I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t written anything at all since working on “Standards of Living”, I’m just not sure where it will go from here. It feels like it’s too late to start over with a new band but I also don’t think I’m ready to lose that creative outlet of writing and making things with my friends. So who knows.
Download Standards of Living here and keep a look out for that possible farewell/release show.