Tiger Army is probably the most well-known band in the modern psychobilly scene. They've been at it for almost a decade, and through numerous lineup changes they're still going strong.
Tiger Army formed in early 1996, and played their very first show at the legendary 924 Gilman in Berkeley, CA, where bands such as Green Day, AFI and Rancid honed their skills. They opened for longtime friends AFI and actually borrowed their drummer Adam Carson for the gig. After hard work and local shows, the band hooked up with Rancid frontman and Hellcat Records co-founder Tim Armstrong. The band's self-titled debut was released in late '99. Tiger Army essentially introduced the psychobilly subculture to the USA.
When founder and frontman Nick13 agreed to answer some questions for me, they were working on a followup to their well-received III: Ghost Tigers Rise album.
Hello Mr. 13! Jade from PunkRockBitch.Com here... thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions.
How do you see the psychobilly genre... is it growing, or changing significantly? Are the changes good or bad for the scene?
When Tiger Army started, there was no scene in America. For most of the band's existence, we tirelessly promoted the genre. People now are aware of it to an unprecedented extent here, so what we set out to do has been accomplished in that respect. That being said, the scene is largely a disappointment to me. Many of the older Euro bands are completely washed up and just tailor what they do to their idea of the American "market" -- zero artistic credibility at this point. As for younger bands from the States, too many are content to deliver poor imitations of bands they like rather than take artistic chances and do something new, which is both boring and a letdown. I think fans of the music deserve more than that.
What do you think the differences are between the US and European psychobilly scenes?
The European scene is older & frankly there's a better understanding of what the music is. Some kids here seem to think it's thrash metal with a stand-up bass. It's a little hard to say since it's been awhile since we've been there. We still get festival offers from Germany and hopefully we can make that happen.
What are some of the early bands you have tried to emulate? What one band do you think influenced you most?
Probably the Meteors. They were the first psychobilly band and always one of the best. Was always a fan of the Quakes, Long Tall Texans... my writing was also influenced by the songwriting of a little-known band from England called Sgt. Fury.
You've gone through a lot of lineup changes... can you tell us about the new members?
Well, they're not that new at this point as they've been in the band for over and year and played well over a hundred shows, but the stand-up bassist is Jeff Roffredo and the drummer is James Meza. Both have played in a number of different psycho bands and both are some of the most talented musicians at their respective instruments that I've ever had the privilege of playing with. As far as playing goes, I don't think the band has ever sounded better. I can't wait to make a record with these guys!
(Note: since this interview, original member Geoff Kresge has rejoined the band on stand-up bass)
Why did you start a band initially? Was it something to do, or what you really wanted to do with your life?
When I was young, it was something to do. As time went on, I realized that there was nothing in the world I cared about as much as the band, so I knew that I'd rather spent all my time trying to be a musician, even if it meant failing, than succeed at something else.
When you were a teenager and dreaming of starting a band, you must have pictured it a certain way. How does what you pictured compare with what it's really like?
Really, it's beyond my wildest dreams that I'd still be playing music and doing it for a living at this point. Tiger Army is 10 years old next March and there's no end in sight.
You started your first band in '91 at age 17, Influence13, with Jade Puget and Geoff Kresge. What was it like back then for a band starting out? Why did that band break up?
Things were harder then, it was so hard to get any kind of a recording out. There are many more labels now and more resources to promote your music, like the internet. As for breaking up, well, probably different musical directions and difficulty keeping a drummer were two big ones.
We hear you're working on a new CD... how's that coming?
I'm in the middle of the writing process now and I've got several songs that I really like. We've been working them out in the rehearsal room. I'm really excited about this album, the lineup, everything. I think it has the potential to be the best thing we've done yet and I don't want to settle for less! No date is set for the studio yet but it will be out in 2006...
What is your songwriting process like? Do you get random ideas while you're stuck in traffic?
Traffic would probably be too distracting, but I've definitely gotten a lot of ideas on long drives, both on & off tour! Many of the lyrics for "Rose of the Devil's Garden" came to me on a drive on CA's 1-5 from LA to the Bay Area. I had to pull into a gas station and scribble them down on paper napkins!
What non-psychobilly bands would you like to tour with?
Morrissey and AFI.
Do your parents/family like your music?
They do, which is really cool. My parents have always been supportive of my music. I had an opportunity to play our CD for my Grandma who lives in Australia this past spring when we were there on tour, she seemed to genuinely enjoy it! But it's probably just because I'm her grandson, who knows...
Have you ever gone to a high school reunion?
No. I hated high school and the people in it for the most part! I'm in touch with most of the people I want to be from back then so a reunion would just involve those that I don't care about or never liked.
What kind of music do you listen to for your own enjoyment? Do you ever worry it will influence your own music?
I listen to all sorts of things from 50's hillbilly to current industrial/ebm. Also a lot of pop, Morrissey, Depeche Mode, etc. Drawing on different styles is what makes music exciting, so no, I don't worry about things influencing me. On the contrary, I welcome it.
Do you have a favorite venue to play?
There are many I like, but if I had to pick just one, perhaps House of Blues, Los Angeles. A friendly and knowledgeable staff and a cool room that holds a decent number of people but still feels intimate.
And now a few requested questions from my readers:
What about the rockabilly/psychobilly scene made you decide you wanted to be part of the whole genre?
I was always a fan of early punk, as well as 50s rockabilly/rock'n'roll. The more I listened, the more connections emerged between the two, although on the surface they might seem to have nothing to do with each other to some people. When I discovered psychobilly, it seemed like I could have a combination of everything I was into in one band! That's still true, for the most part.
What do you think of people who only like Tiger Army because of their relation to AFI?
I don't know of any such people. I know of many people who discovered Tiger Army through AFI, but that's always the way it is, I got into so many bands when I was younger because of connections with other bands I liked. I'd imagine the majority of AFI fans to be drawn to original, exiting music, so I see no reason why they wouldn't genuinely enjoy both. If there is someone who's just into Tiger Army to seem cool to someone else, well, I don't know what to say, that's pretty far away from my world.
What is your pre-show ritual?
A little bit of vocal warm-up, maybe a bit of hot honey & lemon drink, some stretching maybe... whatever I think I need. Mostly it's about focusing and getting in the right head space to go out and do it.
If you were stranded on a desert island, which five people would you want with you and why?
Probably just my girlfriend. It'd be cool to have some friends there as well, but I wouldn't wish them to be stranded on a desert island just for my amusement!
What kind of deodorant do you use?
Old Spice "Original" scent. Perhaps a bit too much time on the hands, whoever was wondering about that. ;-)