The anniversary came without a bang or a whimper, and the person it meant the most to only remembered it as an afterthought. This past March 29 marked the 14th anniversary of the live debut of TIGER ARMY, the Northern California psychobilly team founded by singer/guitarist NICK 13. The band’s first show was at San Francisco’s 924 Gilman Street, opening for their longtime buds AFI. Nick remembers he and bassist Joel Day pinching AFI’s Adam Carson to man the engine room for the show. “The response was really good, actually,” Nick says. “When I first started Tiger Army, I was going to a lot of rockabilly shows and a lot of punk shows, as well. I thought the open-mindedness of the punk audience would work in our favor, versus the kind of purism that was happening at the rockabilly scene at the time. Because what we were doing certainly didn’t fit into that, because it wasn’t straight out of the ’50s by any means. Long story short: We went over really well, and I was surprised.”
While the past is a nice place to visit every so often, Nick 13 is facing forward. Last month, he started recording his first solo album with plans on debuting both his new songs and band at this year’s Stagecoach Festival in California. Don’t worry, rods and mockers: Tiger Army will never die. That’s because the man himself said it to AP’s editor in chief, JASON PETTIGREW.
You’re currently recording a solo album right now. Whereas most artists would be completely panicking over the fear of the unknown with regards to career moves, you’re actually embracing it.
That’s a great way to put it! [Laughs.] I’ve learned how not to panic. Tiger Army have been in so many fucked situations, so now I take things in stride. It’s funny: I feel like I’m pretty in touch with when Tiger Army started out right now. In a lot of ways, the solo thing is like starting over and I definitely feel a connection to those early days–that feeling of uncertainty and the unknown, but it’s as much of a positive as anything else.
You have said that your solo album is going to be a straight-up country music record. Given the way that word has been maligned by music industry people, do you feel like you’re on a quest to “take it back” from those types of people?
Country music is something I’ve always listened to… Wait: not “always.” Say I might’ve bought a Warren Smith CD to hear “Ubangi Stomp” and “Rock ’N’ Roll Ruby” because I wanted to hear the pounding rockabilly numbers. But then [on the same album], there were a lot of straight-up hillbilly songs that he cut at Sun Records studios. A lot of the rockabilly guys’ backgrounds were in hillbilly music. So you can’t escape country music when you go back to the roots of rockabilly. If you would’ve told me when I was a 16-year-old punk-rocker I was going to listen to country music, I would’ve told you that you were insane. Because there was nothing I could identify with that music and nothing I could appreciate about it. But I hadn’t heard the roots, the real stuff…
…which is not the stuff you hear on country stations in America today–slickly produced pop music with southern accents.
Right. At this point, not only is it crap, but it’s not country. So though it’s been a passion of mine for a long time, I’ve gone deeper into it in the last two years that I’d done previously. It’s depressing sometimes to learn the great stuff I’m finding is from 50 years ago and made by people who are dead. Most of what’s happening now–and I’m not talking just country music but all popular music–is depressing. Every year, the music industry redefines the term “rock bottom.” You always wonder how much worse it can get, then something comes along and answers that question. But right now, I feel more passionate about music and my songwriting as much as I ever have, but I’ve had to put blinders on myself and block out what’s happening out there.
When did you decide you were going to make a solo record?
January of 2008, in Nashville, Tennessee. Tiger Army have toured all over this country playing in most places you can possibly do a show, for some reason, the first time we ever played Nashville–or anywhere in Tennessee–was in 2008. I think we had a stop there once doing a day off from Warped Tour. You can walk down the main street and hear the music. Going to the Country Music Hall Of Fame and soaking all of that up really put me in touch with how much I love that music. I’ve wanted to do a solo project for years, but it was an abstract thing; a theory, but no real plans. Spending time in Nashville made me want to do it even more. When Tiger Army wrapped up touring that year, I was able to dedicate myself to it entirely.
How far along are you?
We’ve started on it: The drums are done and there will be more sessions this month.
Who’s playing with you?
That remains to be seen. The record is more of an ensemble thing. In the country world, [that scene] is based around a solo artist, and as a result it seems that everyone–no matter what level they’re at–has a huge pool of people they play with. Who’s playing on one song to the next or one gig to the next, that’s going to be changing.
Here’s the big question: Given that Tiger Army have made significant stylistic changes over the past decade, why not just make it a TA record? You’re still captain of both ships, so to speak…
The first person to give me the idea of a primary songwriter making a solo record was Paul Fenech of the Meteors. I always thought there was something cool about that: You write all the songs for the band, and there’s a certain sound people expect. But while Tiger Army has always tested those kinds of boundaries, there are certain things that relate to heaviness and aggression that aren’t part of my solo project, at all. I wouldn’t want a Tiger Army fan to pick up this record and expect what [he or she is] accustomed to.
I see Tiger Army as a band. Though a lot of people have played in the band over the years, we’re in that category of bands like the Cure or Social Distortion, where one person is driving it artistically, it still feels like a band and not a solo artist. I don’t know how or why that can be the case, but it is. When this band plays live, it’s going to be different: different towns and venues. I want it to be as different from Tiger Army in every way.
But can you go too far in the other direction so you perplex everybody?
I feel like you can’t beat having a good song. So hopefully people who don’t care about ’50s or ’60s country or Tiger Army, could put this record on and relate to the emotional content of the songs.
Okay, so the 14th anniversary of Tiger Army went by with little fanfare. What are you going to do for No. 15?
It’s funny: Right now, this record I’m making is my real passion. Tiger Army haven’t gone anywhere. We could pop up again at anytime; I wouldn’t use the word “hiatus” because “hiatus” is the new “broken up.” [Laughs.] I feel like what’s going to happen is that I’m growing as a musician, getting new experiences and getting better [at my craft]. I feel like getting a chance to do something else is going to come right back to me for inspiration when it’s time to play in Tiger Army again. Tiger Army aren’t going anywhere–we will be back.
When your solo album gets added into regular rotation on country radio, we can all blog about what a lousy sellout you are.
[Laughs.] That’s right. I would say there is no chance of that happening. alt