NO BOOING: Despite their spooky motifs, Tiger Army neither bite nor suck.
Sunshine is so overrated.
From the hours-too-few between the simmering California dusk and dawn howl Tiger Army: psychobilly phantasma of love, death, madness, and supernatural vertigo, conjured with haunting croons, rockabilly twang, and an upright’s popping and clicking, with periodic digressions into darkpop and capitulations to gotcha-by-the-throat punk ferocity.
“Whereas many songwriters write directly about an experience, I might be drawing on the emotion of a particular experience, but what’s happening lyrically is a situation I may not have lived through,” says musical and creative hierarch Nick 13, from his home in Los Angeles. “I guess horror is an influence. Vampirism, for example, can be an allegory for a lot of things; but when we do stuff that’s horror-themed, I try to take a fresher approach than the cartoonish, novelty approach.”
For 12 years and four full-lengths, Nick 13 has been the sole recurring Tiger Army member, unless you count upright-bassist Geoff Kresge, who recently rejoined after playing guitar in HorrorPops for a few years. Kresge’s résumé also includes stints with Blanks 77 and, yup, AFI. Regardless, Tiger Army — who come to the Middle East’s downstairs this Tuesday — won’t be rechristened “Nick 13 and friends” anytime soon. “There are bands like the Cure and Social Distortion that are bands even though there’s one person holding it together. I guess I would put us in that weird category.”
Among the few regular contributors to Tiger Army full-lengths: AFI. Adam Carson played drums on the first one, and Davey Havok makes sporadic vocal cameos on three out of four (Nick 13 also lends his voice to most AFI CDs) — and why not? Two-thirds of present-day Tiger Army and the bulk of AFI enjoyed adolescence together in sunny Ukiah, California. Havok, 13, and AFI guitarist Jade Puget even got friendship tattoos, which is too adorable to be hardcore, not to mention a little spooky. AFI have amassed sufficient accolades and (utterly warranted) backlash to humble Panic at the Disco. Meanwhile, Tiger Army remain slightly less famous and far more influential. “When Tiger Army started, there were maybe five bands in the entire nation that were doing anything along these lines. Psychobilly was something that was mostly in Europe. Things have changed a lot since then. I’m proud to know we had a role in that.”
Taking more contemplative pauses than anyone I recall ever talking to, 13 sounds more comfortable seeing himself as an intermediary for beclouded tradition, not a trailblazer. “A lot of my favorite singers are country, rock-and-roll, and rockabilly singers of the ’50s and early ’60s. Considering that things like ProTools weren’t available, the vocals someone like Roy Orbison or George Jones did are all the more amazing. I think there’s a vibrato element to my singing that was more common then.”
Last year’s Music from Regions Beyond is the closest Nick 13 has come to realizing his vision for the songs, and therefore it stands as his favorite Tiger Army album. I think it’s the weakest; then again, it’s tricky to gauge the quality of anything compared with the first time I heard “we came from nowhere!” roared in the chorus of “Nocturnal,” back in ’99. But how could someone come from nowhere? Does anybody truly come from somewhere? Let’s get serious.