In 2016 Tiger Army released their fifth album, the long awaited and aptly titled V •••. Since then, the band has been hard at work touring the world and in February the band will be touching down in Australia for a three show headline tour of the east coast. Dave Mullins was fortunate enough to have a chat with frontman Nick 13 about the new record, his solo work and what he gets up to in his spare time.
Dave: It was just short of ten years between Tiger Army albums, and while you released a solo album in that time, was there anything else that was keeping you from putting out new Tiger Army music?
Nick 13: Well, I think the main thing, besides the solo work, was finding the inspiration and getting the ideas for the evolution of the sound that was going to become this next record. I’ve always wanted each record to be a step forward. And the fourth record, the one before this, and was sort the end of a cycle in a lot of ways. And I’d achieved this thing that I’d been chasing in the studio for years. So that made it harder, in a way, to write new songs because I felt like I needed a whole new direction. And once I got the inspiration for that, writing songs came together fairly quickly and we got in the studio and started cutting it. So that was a big part of what took so long.
Dave: Okay, that’s fair enough. And what was that sound? Were you in search of a particular sound that you thought you could add to the music?
Nick 13: I think some of the aspects of the sound of this new record are things that had been present, somewhere in there in Tiger Army’s sound but were delved into more deeply or brought into the forefront more. I was specifically interested in rock ‘n’ roll of the very early ‘60s after the first wave of rock ‘n’ roll was over, when people were starting to look forward and try and figure out what was next. There was some weird production stuff happening, some new technology at the time and some pretty weird and out there stuff that was done in the early ‘60s, in particular by British producer Joe Meek. And this is all before what we think of as the ‘60s had solidified, that transitional era. And the other thing that was pretty big for the sound of this record, at least in terms of inspiration and influence (I don’t know how much it comes through on the actual record) but first wave punk out of New York City in the 1970s. I’ve always been fascinated by the way a lot of those bands, starting with the New York Dolls, continuing with The Ramones, The Cramps, Suicide, very early Misfits; all of those bands, to me, had a very direct link, with sound and style to the original rock ‘n’ roll of the ‘50s and very early ‘60s. And that’s something that fascinated me since I first got into punk as a kid. I think, in that way, it all sort of connected. In certain ways it’s sort of an older sounding record, even though punk has long been a facet of our sound, we went back to early punk and said ‘what are the roots of that as far as first wave American punk went?’. And then psychobilly, of course, early ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll, stuff out of Britain like The Shadows and Joe Meek. The Joe Meek stuff was very twisted and influenced a lot of later music out of the UK, everything from early psychobilly to the first punk bands. Stuff like Roxy Music. So that all was floating around as inspiration and it came out in the form of the new album, V.
Dave: That’s interesting man, and in depth. Given that you’re the songwriter for Tiger Army, and obviously your solo work, how do you differentiate between what you want to accomplish on each of those projects? How do you decide what should be Tiger Army and what you want to keep for yourself?
Nick 13: It’s something that I’d say nine times out of ten I just know when I’m writing it, whether it’s a Tiger Army song or whether it’s a solo song. Obviously, Tiger Army always had somewhat of an old hillbilly influence, with songs like Outlaw Heart, which go back to the first album. But it certainly wasn’t the dominant element of the sound. It’s funny though, there’s a country song on the new album called Train to Eternity when I wrote that I knew that it was a Tiger Army song and not a solo song: it felt a little too dark to me to be a solo song. When I wrote it just felt more like Outlaw Heart or Where the Moss Slowly Grows than it did a solo song, to me. I suppose, once in a while, there comes a song that could go either way, but generally I know straight away when I’m writing it, where it should fall.
Dave: Sure. Thinking a few years back there was talk of a second solo album, but it seems to have never materialised, what happened there?
Nick 13: Well, I did start writing for it, and that was part of reason for the delay of the Tiger Army album, as well, and what I found was that after I wrote, recorded and toured on the first solo album, in the States, I wasn’t quite ready to leave it behind and go back to Tiger Army. But after I started writing for it I wrote a bunch of songs that I really like and then I felt like I ran out of steam creatively. So all of that music is something that I still love, and I will return to playing solo at some point, it’s just that I got more excited about this musical direction with Tiger Army and we’ve been having a great time touring the world and playing it live everywhere. So at some point, and it’s hard to say when, I’m gonna take the handful of songs that I really like for a second solo record and keep building on them, and that will happen one of these days. Right now I feel like another Tiger Army record will happen before that, but by the end of the year that could change, who knows?
Dave: Well, that’s cool to know. And it’s really great that the music is coming from this place of pure creativity rather than trying to conform to a timeframe or anything like that.
Nick 13: Yeah, I’ve always felt like there are certain bands I listen to where they might take quite a while between albums but if it’s a good record when it does come out and you enjoy it, then it’s worth the wait. That’s a lot better than a record coming out a year later and have it not being worth listening to. I’ve always sort of looked at the big picture and tried to look at time from a farther back standpoint. And I only want to put out stuff that I’m excited about and inspired by.
Dave: That’s great man. You’ve mentioned quite a few artists that inspire you, from earlier decades. Is there anyone modern who inspires you, or takes your interest or you’re even just a fan of at the moment?
Nick 13: It’s funny, I’d say in general ‘yes’ but thinking of specifics is hard. I do listen to new music, I check stuff out, I look for stuff. It’s just that, for me personally there’s something about the way older records sound, whether it’s a rock ‘n’ roll record from 1961 or a punk record from 1977. I think it probably has to do with the recording process and the way that technology was different. I don’t hear as many current records that I get excited about, but there are definitely a few a year.
Dave: Yeah man, that’s fair enough. In between touring, writing and recording and all of the other work that goes into being a full-time musician what do you do to keep your head straight in your time off?
Nick 13: I like to go shoot guns when I get a chance. I get tattooed quite a bit. I was working on my upper body for many years and in the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to get my legs completed. I like to explore little out of the way towns in California. I love all vintage things, whether it’s a building or something you can find or buy flea market, looking at guitars… that sort of thing.
Dave: Do you ever get a chance to explore when you’re on tour?
Nick 13: Not as much. The schedules tend to be pretty tight, you might get a chance to check out something pretty cool in a particular city, but sometimes you’re too tired and you need to rest up for the show. That was one reason I took the trip I did. There’s a documentary about it online. It’s called The Road To V, it’s on YouTube and it’s on our Facebook page. It’s a trip that I took driving around the South West, in the States… Arizona and New Mexico. And one of the reasons that I took it was because I wanted to see all of the places that you never get to see on tour because you only tend to play the same three cities in those two states. And I wanted to cruise around the backroads and see what I found while I listened to music and had my guitar in the car. So I saw a lot of things that I’d never seen even though I’d been touring those states for who knows how many years.
Dave: Oh yeah cool. I did see that and started watching it but I got side-tracked. I’ll have to catch up on it. Well, we’re all excited that you’re coming out to Australia, it’s been a pretty long time since you came out here last. Is there anything, in particular, you’re looking forward to?
Nick 13: I’m just looking forward to being back and seeing how things have changed, it was always one of my favourite places to play, anywhere in the world really. There’s something about it that feels a bit like California. So, it’s fun because it’s exotic and it’s quite different but it also feels familiar at the same time. At least to me. It’s only our third trip to Australia in all of the years the band’s been going and it’s going to be our first gig there since 2008, so I’m just looking forward to getting back and seeing what happens.
Catch Tiger Army on tour with Fireballs and Pat Cappoci at these shows:
Friday 17 February – Prince Bandroom, Melbourne 18+
Saturday 18 February – Metro Theatre, Sydney 18+
Sunday 19 February – Max Watts, Brisbane 18+
Head here for tickets.