Panther: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

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Sometimes you start out doing something for fun and it becomes a job. Ask Charlie Salas-Humara. He originally conceived Panther, a drum machine-driven solo project, as a respite from his “other” band, synthy art-rock outfit The Planet The. “There was really no concept,” says Salas-Humara on the phone from a tour stop in Washington, DC. “I was just making crappy beats and singing crazily. It was a guerrilla thing–I would do these weird performances around town.” Not long after, his friend E*Rock stepped in to smooth out some production glitches and ended up putting out Panther’s 2007 debut, Secret Lawns, on his Fryk Beat record label.

The Planet The broke up and suddenly Panther–anchored by Salas-Humara’s tortured, Prince-like falsetto and charmingly spastic dancing–was a full-time gig. (Check the video for “How Well Can You Swim?” for synchronized moves from Panther, with E*Rock and 31 Knots’ Jay Winebrenner as back-up dancers.) Though he’s toured with noise bands Yellow Swans and Wolf Eyes, Panther became known as a dance act, Salas-Humara resembling a sort of lo-fi Jamie Lidell with his glitchy R&B stylings and voluptuous head of hair. This displeased him.

“I got completely tired of most electronic and dance music,” he says. “I wanted to make my music more organic and have more punk and free-jazz elements to it. I was listening to a lot of psych and world music–especially Puerto Rican and Cuban stuff and boogaloo, the stuff I heard my grandparents play growing up–and I wanted to go in that direction.” Salas-Humara enlisted longtime friend Joe Kelly (formerly of 31 Knots) on drums, and set about making this year's 14kt God (Kill Rock Stars). “Joe has a natural swing to his drums, which is weird because he was a metal drummer. Now he can only make dancey-style beats. So we thought we’d build these loops and see how rhythmic we could get and how many guitars we could layer.”

14kt God bares little resemblance to its predecessor: Spazzy, surprising rhythms remain, but they’re played live alongside guitar, bass, and cello; the effect is shouty punk-funk that couldn’t be further from electro party jams. “I got hate emails, which I thought was really funny,” says Salas-Humara of his stylistic change. “This is kind of pretentious to say, but I don’t give a shit: Music should be art first. We’re not really making pop records here, so you should be able to change and do whatever you want.”

Haters aside, Salas-Humara has bigger things on his mind right now. “Charlie has hair issues,” says Kelly. “He has real nice, full hair but he just got some bug up his ass and thought that he wanted to look like Norman Bates. Now he cut it and he’s real bummed.”

MP3: "Puerto Rican Jukebox"
Outtakes: An Interview with Panther

Favorite Portland artist:
Joe: Our friend Brad Atkins. He’s got a really good blog.

Charlie: Yeah, Brad is super-high-concept and barely puts anything out or makes any money. He’s a thorn in half of Portland’s side. And I’ve always liked E*Rock’s stuff. He’s really fun.