THEY COULD NOT be farther apart, yet closer together. The Shaky Hands, with their loose and jangling pop assembly of bubbly choruses rising to the top of a wave of classic rock, are the perfect snapshot of Portland rock 'n' roll: carefree, blue collar to the point of appearing disheveled, and imbued with a ferocious work ethic. The quartet approached album number three, Let it Die, free of the lumbering weight that dragged down their much anticipated, yet ultimately disappointing second album, Lunglight. The new recording is a heroic dose of rock that was created in the basement but aims for the stars.
Panther, meanwhile, eschews such straightforwardness. The onetime solo vessel for Charlie Salas-Humara, Panther was more performance art than music performance, challenging listeners and unsuspecting club patrons with a confrontational and dizzying array of spastic electronics, rubber-limbed dancing, and vocals that were more yelped than sung. Salas-Humara later added the drumming backbone of Joe Kelly, anchoring their sound into a more comfortable niche, one that finally takes shape on their latest, Entropy.
No longer just a quick flicker and flame, Entropy is a deconstructed rock record that strips and reassembles the genre with an outsider's flair. Some critics will even namedrop Steely Dan when discussing lead single "Birds that Move." It's a misguided comparison, although much like Fagen and Becker, Panther's Salas-Humara and Kelly joyfully couldn't care less about preconceived notions of sound, musical direction, and the overly indulgent nature of their art.
So it would seem as if these two bands have little in common other than the logo that adorns their new releases (Kill Rock Stars is set to release both bands' albums this week), but as they share a bar table—and countless drinks—in a somewhat botched attempt to interview each other, it's abundantly clear that if not a collective sound, both the Shaky Hands and Panther share a musical course. Just as Let it Die is a more streamlined and comfortable recording, Entropy is the same, dragging Panther from the outskirts of the pop music wastelands into a locale that is more welcoming, if not downright accessible. Both releases are the third for each act, and their similar arcs—quick out of the gate, but still struggling to establish artistic footing as time passes—mirror each other. Proof that for the Shaky Hands and Panther, sometimes even the smallest similarities can trump the greatest of differences.
MERCURY: It seems that both bands, despite their differences, found themselves at a similar place with these new albums.
NICHOLAS DELFFS (the Shaky Hands): Well, we're a different band. There were no conscious decisions to change—at least not for myself—but with Jake [Morris] in the band and us changing as people; this album is a result of that.
CHARLIE SALAS-HUMARA (Panther): I heard you were listening to a lot of Tom Petty and wanted to make a stripped-down rock record.
ND: That was an idea we tossed out.
JAKE MORRIS (the Shaky Hands): Well, we were never in the studio saying, "That take wasn't Tom Petty enough!"
MAYHAW HOONS (the Shaky Hands): We've all had the same influences since the beginning, but I guess people just hear them more now than before.
CSH: The record still sounds like you, but it's just a nicer recording.
ND: Well, it was the first real studio we've ever been to. The others were just...
MH: ...some guy's house. The reason it's stripped down wasn't exactly a conscious decision, but we only had 10 days to record and mix the record. We had no time to think about doing something else.
What about for Panther?
CSH: For us, it's the opposite. We wrote the record while recording it. It was nice to be able to do that, but there is a sense of overdoing it as well; making 20 guitars sound like one.
Is there a fine line between changing the band's sound yet not going so far as to upset your fanbase?
ND: I don't have that fear of going too far. I think it happens naturally.
MH: We've had enough people come and go that it affects our sound, plus Nick doesn't write the same songs again and again.
CSH: Our three records are so different, we can't really care about changing our sound. We've already alienated fans of our first record—I got hate mail—so you just continue with it. It's art—you have to be able to do something different.