Kings of the Jungle: Talking passion and relentless pursuits with Night Panther
There are many words that come to mind the first time you hear Night Panther. One of those words is almost certainly “sexy.” There’s something so sultry about their particular blend of elements—the smooth, almost lackadaisical beats, the falsetto vocals dripping with honey—that immediately transports you to another time and place: somewhere with cabarets and crushed velvet and massively indulgent fur coats. Night Panther don’t just make sex-pop; they seem to effortlessly embody its form.
2013 was a big year for the band. They placed second in The Deli Philly’s annual poll of top emerging local bands, and their single “Fever” was named best local tune of 2013 by yours truly. This April, they’ll be residents at new NoLibs venue Bourbon & Branch, playing every Friday with a slew of awesome supporting acts. The buzz behind their name alone should be enough to put the new spot on the map.
Indeed, it seems like success comes easy to these fur-clad crooners…and in some ways, it does. But in another sense, it’s been a long time coming. The tune “Fever,” I soon find out, was written about 8 years ago when front man Farzad Houshiarnejad was playing in another band, but was shelved because it didn’t fit their sound at the time. Since then, it’s gone through years of revisions (and one previous release under the little-known “Captain Dum Dum” moniker) before being recorded for their self-titled LP in 2011. It was released in 2013.
“We’ve been working on these songs for years,” says drummer Mike Cammarata over drinks at Doylestown staple Maxwell’s on Main. “Even when we were involved with past projects, this was always something we had on the back burner.”
Actually, the whole band’s been together for years. Houshiarnejad and Cammarata have roots in Doylestown act Drink Up Buttercup, a zany, oompah-inspired garage-punk project whose thrilling bashing and Man Man-esque melodies won them props in the mid 2000’s. Keyboardist/guitarist Chris Radwanski was the manager for Drink Up, and they all lived together in a big, sprawling house in downtown D-town, with a recording studio in the basement.
So when that band dissolved, they naturally continued tinkering, and formed Night Panther soon after. (Their live line-up also includes singer-keyboardist Kelly Kurteson and bassist Jon Anderson, who is not the guy from Yes).
“When we first started out, everything was about being sexy,” says Houshiarnejad. “I’m very anal about our image. I care a lot about how things look.”
The decadent, Tarantino-esque journey the band creates in their “Fever” video was one result of this obsession … and the while the cocaine- and gun-soaked reality they present is far from a typical night in D-town, it’s also, in some ways, the quintessential statement from a band driven by the pursuit of good times and bigger, badass-er things.
“We come up with an idea, and then we work to achieve it,” continues Houshiarnejad, who admits he was mentally committed to the grandiose plot line—complete with planes, strippers, and boats—long before he had any clear idea how to achieve it.
Yet when you have the self-confidence of Night Panther, and a vision you believe in… things just sorta fall into place.
“It all came together,” says Radwanski with a grin. “We thought to ourselves: we’ll never get a plane. Where would we possibly get a plane? But then we knew a friend, who knew a friend, that had a plane. So we got access to a plane. It all just worked.”
But if Night Panther is a product of their passion, they’re also a product of their environment. The band has resided in downtown Doylestown for nearly a decade now, preferring the intimacy and cheap rent of a small town, while still having access to bars and clubs within walking distance. Hanging at Maxwell’s (affectionately dubbed MOM’s) on a Friday afternoon, a handful of friends pop by to say hey to the guys; later on my way home Radnowski points out the pizza joint where Houshiarnejad and Cammarata deliver pies when not rocking out.
Having friends and family close by provides a cocoon of support for the guys, feeding their passion in addition to actually feeding them.
They describe a particularly intense recording session last summer in terms of lasagna and casseroles: “Family friends and girlfriends and such would bring us these full dinners, and family-style pasta dishes and stuff, because we just holed up like hermits in the basement,” says Radwanski.
Houshiarnejad nods. “It was like hospice for recording.”
The session yielded the tunes on the sweeping new KissEP, in addition to some unreleased tracks, and five tunes for ABC drama Mixology.
“We were very excited about the session,” explains Cammarata. “We all took off work and we stayed up til like 9 in the morning just recording.”
The tunes for Mixologywere commissioned by ABC—“they contacted us because they wanted to use ‘Fever,’” says Radwanski. “And they asked us to write five original funk songs as well. For us, it seemed like the request came out of left-field, especially because we didn’t know too much about funk—but it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
The band used the money from the gig to buy new, better gear, which they hope will help propel the forward.
“We never want to do the same thing twice,” says Houshiarnejad, grinning. Just because Night Panther has taken off doesn’t mean they’re not still restless.
Cammarata agrees. “We don’t want to be like Blink 182 or Weezer, doing the same thing forever. We don’t want to be 40 still singing songs about getting the girl.”
For now though, the band’s focused on the present—which includes a rare weekend residency Fridays in April at Bourbon & Branch.
The band curated the line-up for all four shows, which includes faves like White Birds (where all three members logged time), plus Nicos Gun, Cruiser, Grandchildren, and a secret, special guest for the last show. “We’ve been friends with some of these bands for years, so it should be a fun time,” says Radwanski.
This Friday’s show will also include a slew of drink specials, including free alcoholic gummies…because it wouldn’t be a Night Panther show without a little excess. As for fur coats and wigs… “you’ll have to wait and see,” says Houshiarnejad. We have our fingers crossed.
Night Panther play Bourbon & Branch, 705 N. 2nd St., every Friday in April. The shows are 21+ and tickets are $10, and available at the door.