Early Rock n Roll Influenced Tiger Army’s Retro-Leaning New Album

Concert Preview


  • Casey Curry
Tiger Army, the punk rock group that formed some 20 years ago in Northern California, doesn’t draw from the same musical well as most other punk bands.

Frontman Nick 13, the sole constant in a group that’s gone through numerous lineup changes, possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of early rock ’n’ roll.

Those influences have always impacted the band’s music, a mix of rockabilly and punk that’s often dubbed psychobilly. But they come to the fore on the band’s latest album, V •••.

“I think a lot of it is a natural evolution over time,” says Nick 13 via phone from his Los Angeles home. “The new record is kind of inspired by the second wave of rock ’n’ roll, the stuff from the very early ’60s when it began changing and evolving after the first wave. There’s something about that transitional period that appeals to me because there was experimentation going on and people were reaching for different sounds in the studio. I also like it because the sound wasn’t really defined yet.”

He says that at that time rock fans were wondering where the music would go next. As a result, musicians and producers felt as if they could create rather than cater to expectations.

“[One influence on V •••.] is a producer named Joe Meek from England who was arguably one of the first avant garde producers who was way out there in terms of sound technique in the very early ‘60s,” says Nick 13. “And then, the other big influence is early New York punk and what appeals to me about that is the influence of ‘50s and 60s rock is so strong on the New York Dolls, the Ramones and the very early Misfits.”

Right from the start, Tiger Army set out to do something different with punk formulas. Nick 13 says the band even mixed punk and rockabilly at its first show at 924 Gilman Street, the same club where punk icons Green Day cut their musical teeth.

“It was an exciting night,” he says when asked about the gig. “I had been to many shows there. At the time, there weren’t many bands playing the musical style we were playing. It didn’t fit into the punk scene or the rockabilly scene. Gilman Street was great place to play because the audience was pretty diverse and open-minded musically. They gave us an open ear even though they had no idea what we were doing or where we were coming from musically. I think it always pulled from a lot of things musically. I thought of it as a pyschobilly sound. But even then, I was trying to do my own take on it that was distinct from the rest of the bands in that scene.”

When a friend passed one of the band’s tapes on to Operation Ivy/Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, Armstrong signed the group to his Hellcat Records and issued its full-length debut in 1999, giving the group a certain amount of credibility in the process. The label also issued the band’s previous effort, 2007’s Music from Regions Beyond.

With V •••, the band’s first release since Music from Regions Beyond, Nick 13’s vocals sound sharper than ever.

“I think my technique has developed over the years,” says the singer-guitarist. “When I recorded my solo album in between the last Tiger Army record and the current one, that was the first time I ever took vocal lessons. It wasn’t just that. There are some things I figured out about my voice that came into play recording the solo album and touring that that helped me advance, I guess."

While songs such as “Firefall” have a ragged, Social Distortion-like quality, tunes such as “Prisoner of the Night,” “World Without the Moon” and “Dark and Lonely Night” suggest the influence of rockabilly crooner Roy Orbison.

“It’s funny — [Orbison] is someone I’ve always been into going back to even before Tiger Army started, and I do think performance-wise, it’s just now that my technique is getting good enough that I can approach that kind of material, even though he’s always been an influence,” says Nick 13.

The song also features the whirring sound of the clavioline, a vintage synthesizer.

“It’s from the 1940s but it’s been used on the rock and roll records of the early 1960s,” says Nick 13. “It’s a proto synthesizer. In the case of the clavioline, it was something I researched. I wanted on of them specifically. Joe Meek used them on different songs of his, including ‘Telstar.’ A modified version was used by Max Crook on Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’ on some other Del Shannon songs.”

A mariachi-like horn riff distinguishes the Latin “Knife’s Edge.”

“I believe it was a trumpet. One of the trumpet players from [the punk mariachi band] Mariachi el Bronx plays on that track,” says Nick 13. “There’s definitely a Latin influence on that song. That’s kind of a byproduct of living in Los Angeles for so many years and hearing that music.”

But do the new songs fit well with the old songs when the band plays them live?

“They do,” says Nick 13. “In some cases, people who seem unsure about the new album for whatever reason, some people have gotten it or so they say. It’s hard to say [if the next album will have a similar sound]. Things always evolve and change, so I can’t predict that yet.”

Tiger Army, Creeper, Tijuana Panther, 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19, Agora Ballroom, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $20 ADV, $25 DOS, agoracleveland.com.

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