With a name like F---ing Panthers (blame them for the censorship), you can mostly guess what you’re in for: fast punk rock where the shows are overflowing with PBR and the crowd is rowdy as hell. And you’d be right to some regard. But what FP do best is mix these antics, in the spirit of Fidlar or even local steamroller Flamingo Nosebleed, with personal content and deeper meaning like any worthwhile guitar-based band.
The band, which currently consists of lead vocalist Billy Rivers on guitar, bassist Nate Green, “Diamond Boy Daniels,” and Ben Kelly also on guitar, and drummer Matt Browning, has been alive for more than ten years, chugging along in the local circuit and building a fanbase.
“Ben and I have been playing under this name for over a decade, but this current incarnation of the band with Matt, Daniels, and Nate in the mix has been playing together since around 2012,” Rivers said.
F---ing Panthers released their first full length Learning to Die back in 2011, which acted as the unofficial end of the first wave of the band that was formed by Rivers and Kelly during high school.
“I was still just playing music with the only kids in my hometown of Churubusco who had somewhat similar interests,” Rivers said. “After that record, Ben and I hit a hard reset and it felt much more focused and engaging from there on out. Everyone was more invested in the actual music and playing in a band wasn’t just a workaround to get a free pitcher of beer for playing the same local bars every weekend.”
As bands’ sounds go, you’re usually in for a back and forth genre-wise depending on where the band is, not only in its own journey, but also where each member is in their life as well. Sound can often meander from one year to the next, sometimes without much conscious thought.
“We’ve had an incredibly odd transition,” Rivers said. “Our first record, Learning to Die, was like a melting pot of different pop-punk we all grew up listening to, with hints of hardcore seeping in here and there. For the second record, Two Ways of Life, we fully embraced the hardcore elements and put out the heaviest material we’ve done. It still had hints of the sing-songy stuff from the previous record, but where Learning to Die was 70% smooth and 30% abrasive, Two Ways of Life was the opposite.
“With our third outing, Standards of Living, we decided we didn’t want to keep trying to outdo ourselves and get heavier and heavier with each record. So instead we tried to make a more concentrated and unique sound. We came up with a more balanced mix of catchy and unpredictable, like hooks without gimmicks and spontaneity without a lack of focus. We stumbled into this kind of slow-burn melancholy vibe in some of the later Two Ways of Life writing sessions, so we used that as a jumping off point to write Standards.”
On Standards of Living, FP’s frontman keeps the band’s grittiness intact while allowing some beauty in there as well, at least as far as local rock bands go. There are vocalizations amongst the grit and pushed, scratchy melody lines.
The band does a good job of mixing garage-rock, familiar melody lines akin to Be Your Own Pet, with the gravelly punk tone of Cancer Bats (though much less metal most of the time). Think of it as Fort Wayne’s version of Ceremony during the Zoo era.
Within this newer sound, the band has matured without that blatant genre-change that usually coincides with a more mature sound. As the band has gotten older, their sound has changed, sure, but also their intentions and their overarching, sometimes-subconscious sometimes-not, themes.
“Getting older has been a constant theme throughout the years, though not really that intentionally,” Rivers said. “Our first record was written and recorded around the time I graduated high school so a lot of that soaked into the writing. The second one was more about being in your twenties and finding your identity as an ‘adult.’ And now our third record explores kind of a punk rock midlife crisis.
“I started to realize that most of the punk songs I really loved were all about kids in high school, which is really weird when you think about how old some of the people were who were singing them, and I really wanted to try and make a late-twenties or early-thirties anthem because how many of those do you hear, especially about punk kids getting older? It’s always these romanticized teenagers running away from home or falling in love. I wanted something that tried to fill in some of what happens when your youth fades and the weird transition where going out partying every night of the week becomes less of a goal and more of a caution flag.
“Everybody’s so youth-obsessed and it seems like people are afraid to talk about getting older and that transition to responsibility. It’s usually portrayed in such black and white terms as people either ‘selling out’ and starting a family with a nine-to-five job or becoming a junkie who can’t stop searching for the next high. But those are two extremes. I feel like most people reside somewhere in the middle and I wanted to paint a more realistic depiction of that.”
This growing older and slowing down has caught up with the band. Any band’s longevity is up in the air at best, anyway. Even big names often call it quits when the timing is right, as to not put themselves in the position of embarrassment, or simply ending on a bad or less-than-perfect note.
F---ing Panthers are not an exception to this rule. On August 4, FP played their last show at the Brass Rail as part of the Let’s Comedy comedy festival, Let’s Fest.
The farewell crowd was plentiful, even more so than a regular weekend night. With plenty of crowd surfing and raucousness, the stagefront was overflowing with 20- and 30-somethings spewing Rivers’ words back at him. With the declaration, “Well, this is the last song…,” the band launched into their demise around midnight.
Ten years isn’t a short time to be involved in anything, let alone a band you started in high school. Through the countless shows and the three albums released, F---ing Panthers has instilled themselves in the scene forever. Maybe after some time the band will reform for a one-off show every now and then in the spirit of their peers The Dead Records or Close Only Counts. But for now, their material can speak for itself and their intentions can be self-summarized.
“(If we had a message,) it would probably be to reach people who feel alone or out of place, and let them know that there are plenty of people who feel the same way. It’s OK not to be happy and joyful all the time, especially as you get older. It’s cool just to reach people and bridge some of those barriers.”
You can listen to F---ing Panthers on Bandcamp, Spotify, and iTunes.