I recently spoke with Nick 13, frontman of long-running Hellcat act Tiger Army. The band recently delivered Music from Regions Beyond, their fourth full length for the label and one with a completely different lineup from their previous album.
Nick and I talked about the record, Warped Tour, speaking Spanish and psychobilly.
The new record seems the biggest jump in a pretty diverse career. Was there anything that prompted this big evolution?
I think this album is a step forward for the band, but I don't it's any more or less of an evolution than any of our previous records. We picked up on some of the musical threads that emerged on III: Ghost Tigers Rise and went even farther with them in some cases, while other songs are more "traditional" Tiger Army. I think it's a good balance. It's definitely my favorite record so far -- it's got the strongest songwriting, and the best playing and tone.
On that same note, the vocals seem to really be the most striking part of the album and they're very much the driver of the new songs. Do you feel that way?
I'm not a fan of emo personally, but nothing stays the same and the reality is that Warped has ALWAYS had great bands and shitty bands.
The vocals are a hugely important factor in our songs. I don't know if they're more important than the music, but they are definitely of equal importance. From a writing standpoint, there's no question that a great vocal melody can make a great song from a simple chord progression.
Sometimes people equate instrumental complexity with good songwriting and that's not always the case. As far as my vocals, my technique has developed quite a bit from the early days of the band and I'm always striving to improve.
You have some of the most dedicated fans around, as evidenced by the number of Tiger Army tattoos you will see … how do you think they will respond to the new record?
We put a pre-release stream of the entire record up on MySpace and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Anyway, I'm happy that people like it, but I don't think about that when I'm writing. I consider one thing -- if I like it. I just follow my creative instincts and play the songs that I would want to hear and that's seemed to work pretty well so far. If you fall into the trap of "I think people would like it if I did this" then you're fucked, because they probably won't like it anyway and you probably won't either.
Something I've noticed is that the people who are going to talk trash do so before they've heard the music. The music isn't the issue -- they're just not comfortable with the fact that new people are checking us out, which is their issue, not mine.
Your lineup is almost completely new now. You guys haven't recorded together before, so how was that experience? The record sounds incredibly tight, so I almost didn't realize it until I checked.
It is a different lineup than the previous album, but not "new" exactly -- we've played almost 200 shows together over almost three years, definitely the most seasoned lineup we've recorded with. Jeff and James are both very talented musicians. The recording of every album has bumps in the road, but all in all, I'd say this was the smoothest process so far…
You guys definitely get called psychobilly a lot, which must be frustrating if you write something that doesn't really fit. Besides those kinds of bands, what bands do you feel really influence your sound right now?
You can't really reduce our sound to one word, but I don't have a problem with that label either. When psychobilly started, it was a creative, musically daring style that mixed two styles that both had their own scenes and pissed a lot of people off in the process. I always keep that example in mind.
Psychobilly is more of a philosophy, a spiritual outlook for me at this point. If the price of me playing the music I want to play is having to listen to some peanut-head kid whine about how we're not conforming to their idea of what we should be, then so be it.
You guys have been together for more than 10 years and it's been a pretty amazing set of albums. How do you feel about everything when you look back to those early days?
It's amazing to think back to different times in the band and realize how much things have grown. Everything's been so gradual, sometimes you don't notice changes that happen slowly to things you see everyday.
There are definitely moments where you go, "Whoah, we're playing to a thousand people in Finland, this is crazy!" -- things you never could have pictured when you first got in the van. We've worked long and hard and I'm really proud of what we've accomplished so far. No matter what, I'll always have the satisfaction that I did it "My Way," like the Sinatra song, and didn't compromise for anyone. Our music is for real and our fans are for real and you can't ask for more than that!
I thought your song in Spanish was very cool. Are you fluent?
I wish! I took some Spanish in school awhile back and the main thing that stayed with me was the pronunciation. I'd like to relearn it one of these days, if I ever find the time. A friend who was born and raised in Mexico helped me with the translation and Jeff and James hung out while I was cutting the vocal to make sure the pronunciation was legit.
I'm proud of how it turned out -- it's hard to sing in a language you don't really speak!
You're on the Warped Tour this summer. Many people talk about how much things have changed over the years … are you apprehensive or excited or both?
I would say both. This will be our third time on Warped, but our first doing the whole thing and our first as a headliner. We did a month on the mainstage in 2004, but we weren't a headliner, we usually went on around noon. It can be grueling tour, you play almost every day for two months and there's a lot of heat and exhaustion. It can also be a blast.
I'm not really worried about the musical climate. I'm not a fan of emo personally, but nothing stays the same and the reality is that Warped has ALWAYS had great bands and shitty bands. I'm confident that we'll reach those with open minds whether they're new school or old school.
I hear a pretty big Smiths influence on "As the Cold Rain Falls." Am I way off?
You're close -- it's a Manchester influence for sure, but more New Order/Joy Division. Others have mentioned the Smiths or the Cure, so who knows? It's the first song I've written using alternate guitar tuning and it came out of the guitar immediately. Peter Hook was the electric bassist for Joy Division and is the bassist for New Order --
I've always loved his style, which the riff reminded me of, so that suggested the hi-hat drum beat. Some people hate it, but I don't care. They're just like the jocks or cowboys that talked shit to me in junior high and high school for being into punk. I like it, and that's enough.