Nick 13 - vocals/guitar
Geoff Kresge - stand-up bass
Fred Telles - drums
Formed in the East Bay in the dying embers of 1995, Tiger Army played their first show in March 1996 at the legendary 924 Gilman Street in Berkeley with AFI. More shows throughout Northern California that year saw them on bills with various touring and local punk rock'n'roll bands, even playing a gig with English psychobilly legends The Meteors. 1997 saw a little more playing and recording, as well as the band's first release, a 3-song vinyl ep.
A period of unwelcome dormancy followed, at least as far as most knew-- but behind the scenes frontman Nick 13 never stopped writing songs or working to make the band's first full-length album a reality. With the belief and help of Rancid's Tim Armstrong who'd signed the band to his label Hellcat Records, the perseverance was not in vain.
Days before Halloween '99, the band's self-titled debut CD/LP Tiger Army finally hit the stores and the band returned with a vengeance. The first album's lineup was led by Nick 13 on guitar and vocals, with Rob Peltier of the Quakes on stand-up bass and Adam Carson of AFI on drums. Dark, melodic and aggressive, the songs were a hybrid of modern psychobilly, hardcore punk and 1950's rockabilly/rock'n'roll that the band simply dubbed "American Psychobilly."
After the first album's release, Nick 13 joined forces with longtime friend Geoff Kresge (stand-up bass). A few months after they did a California mini-tour to promote the first record, Geoff moved to Tiger Army's new home of Los Angeles where he joined the band full-time as did London May (drums). After the move, the band continued to make a name for themselves, establishing a reputation for fiery live sets that hit as hard as the record if not harder. As the band's loyal following of psychobillies, punk rockers, skinheads, greasers, hardcore kids, deathrockers and other misfits continued to grow, Tiger Army began headlining various sold-out shows at Southern California venues like the Troubadour and Galaxy Theatre, as well as playing with such renowned bands as Social Distortion, X, The Polecats, TSOL, Nekromantix and AFI.
In early 2001, the band entered the studio to begin work on their second album for Hellcat. Entitled Tiger Army II: Power of Moonlite, the new album takes the American Psychobilly sound even farther-- nocturnal energy, aggressive stand-up bass and spine-chilling melody weave throughout the 13 new tracks.
Since recording, the band has hit the road-- a tour in the Western U.S. with the Amazing Crowns, a Japanese tour which included a headlining slot at the Tokyo Big Rumble psychobilly festival and a trip to the East Coast with punk legends TSOL. May has left the band and now drumming is Fred Telles (Union of the Dead). More touring is in the works-- the band will be opening for Dropkick Murphys and Sick Of It All on a month-long U.S. tour this October. TIGER ARMY NEVER DIE!
Interview with Nick 13 of Tiger Army
Tiger Army is one of the most ferocious, undeniably amazing new bands to grace the underground music scene in a long, oh so long, time. Their self-titled debut on Hellcat Records sits comfortably in the number one slot of my top albums for 1999 and has created a huge buzz among all fans of purely intense music. On the first floor of our abode, in the shadows of my room "the Clavet," I met to speak with the band's frontman and creative force, Nick 13. Our conversation, for your enjoyment, went as follows...
--Davey Havok, April 2000
Davey: You call your music "American Psychobilly"... For those who aren't familiar, could you explain what psychobilly is?
Nick 13: Let's see... It's a little hard to explain until you check some of it out. Psychobilly basically originated in Europe... The roots of it come basically from punk rock and 1950's rockabilly music, but it's more than just a combination of the two. Musically, it's been around as an actual style since the early eighties and it's kept evolving from there. It usually has a stand-up bass and can be every bit as aggressive as punk. There's also a distinct horror influence in the lyrics and the look. It's both a music style and a subculture, with its own outlook, style of dress, and all that. As for why "American Psychobilly," well, our sound definitely owes a lot of inspiration to European psychobilly, but we still have our own distinct take on it that has to do with American punk, roots music and whatever else, so that's just how we describe our style.
Davey: That's cool. How did you get into it?
Nick 13: Well, I was exposed to punk at a pretty young age by skateboarding, and that became my first true love, musically. But I also loved 1950's rock'n'roll, you know, stuff that I would hear from my Dad or whatever. By the time I was in my early teens, I listened to both and I was fascinated by the connection between 50's music and punk. I began noticing things-- the way the Ramones sounded like 50's rock'n'roll in terms of melody and chord progression, only with a lot more distortion and attack... pictures of Joe Strummer dressed like a Teddy Boy in the early days of the Clash... Some of my favorite tracks on "The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle" by the Pistols were their covers of Eddie Cochran so I started checking his stuff out. The Cramps, "American Nightmare" by the Misfits. Stuff like that. You know, a lot of guitar solos in '77 punk are almost straight from the fifties... Listening to the more accessible fifties rock'n'roll and rockabilly side by side with old punk and hardcore-- I was pretty into that whole trip by the early 90's. I found a Meteors record and loved that, but I had no idea that there was a whole scene for this type of music. In '93 I drove down to see them from Ukiah and you saw 'em with me, remember that?
Davey: Yes, I do. Some skinhead wanted to kick my ass because I had a mohawk.
Nick 13: Ah yes... the good old days [laughs]. Well, in '94 I moved to Berkeley from the small town I grew up in, where it was next to impossible to find punk, let alone psychobilly, and when I discovered how many bands over there were doing this music that mixed punk with rockabilly with horror imagery, I was like a kid in a candy store, buying records every week-- it was like this perfect hybrid of everything I loved.
Davey: So you're a big fan of rockabilly as well?
Nick 13: Well, yes and no. I'm a big fan of 1950's rockabilly, the good stuff-- Sun records, Rock 'n' Roll Trio, Charlie Feathers and all that. That music will live forever, but I don't like most of the rockabilly music that's around today. Sometimes it's musically accurate but it's missing the most important ingredients, it's tame. Some people are so worried about trying to sound "authentic" that they miss the point. They think that if they play with too much abandon, that'll it degenerate into psycho or punk rock, that it won't be cool anymore. What they like to ignore is that all the original rockabillies were going as wild as possible when they played, they didn't give a fuck. That was the punk rock of the fifties. The psychobilly scene is about digging the music and having fun, period. It's sad to say that the same isn't so true about the rockabilly scene, and that's turned a lot of people off, myself included. That's nothing against people who like rockabilly, because I like it myself. What I don't like is some of the bullshit that's sprung up around it. And it's not that I don't appreciate subcultures, I'm a psycho-- but we play for the people who like our music and I don't care if they're into punk, psycho, rockabilly, hardcore, goth, oi, country, black metal or whatever, because I like stuff from all those styles. On a certain level it's about us and them, "us" being anyone who looks at life a little differently from the herd or even has the potential to. If you split too many hairs, there is no us.
Davey: I completely agree. To shift gears a bit, what bands where you in before Tiger Army?
Nick 13: I tried more than once to get something going during my early teens in Ukiah, but I didn't get my first real band, Influence 13, going until I was almost 17. That started in '91-- it was me... uh, Jade, who you know. [laughter from all] Geoff Kresge played bass-- he learned stand-up about 3 years ago and has played all the recent Tiger Army shows-- a guy named Jolson was the drummer and a guy named Jevon was the singer for most of the time, I took over on vocals at the end. I wrote most of the songs, Jade wrote some too. We never had any releases, but we had a lot of fun, played some cool shows, and it sure taught me a lot. We broke up in '93...
Davey: So after the great Influence 13, how did Tiger Army come about?
Nick 13: Well, in '94 I had no band and I knew that I wanted my next band to play in this style. I was just going to school and waiting to meet the right people, specifically a good stand-up bassist. In the summer of '95 I got a chance to visit Europe and go to a psychobilly festival in Germany. Mad Sin, Godless Wicked Creeps, saw some great bands. That whole experience was so inspiring-- I met some very cool people, the music was great, the wrecking, just seeing all the visual aspects of psychobilly firsthand. It really lit a fire in me to try and make things happen when I got back. That fall I met Joel, who played stand-up and we starting jamming. I already had a set of songs written. By the end of '95 we were resolved to do something. We got on our first gig, which you guys [AFI] put us on, I figured we'd come up with a drummer somewhere in 3 months or whatever. We wound up borrowing yours [Adam from AFI] and he did a really good job! [laughs] That was March '96 that we played our first show, at Gilman Street.
Davey: What happened next?
Nick 13: Our second gig was at the Berkeley Square, opening for the Meteors. That's something I'll always remember. Paul Fenech is like the Godfather of Psychobilly. He more than any other single person is responsible for making it what it is today, so that was an honor to play with them, and we had a pretty good set too! Anyway, the idea was to get a permanent drummer, but that never seemed to happen. We played sporadically throughout 1996 whenever Adam wasn't on tour, and we went in the studio and did a demo. Three songs from that were released on our first record, a 45 that's now way out of print. It was released by Ian and Noah from the Randumbs on their label, which I don't think exists anymore. We did some gigs with our friend Greg of the Swingin' Utters on drums, those were a lot of fun. In late '96 we went back in the studio and cut an early version of "Nocturnal." In early '97 Joel quit and we played our last gig for a long time.
Davey: So how did the association between Tiger Army and Hellcat come about?
Nick 13: Well, Joel quitting was just one of a string of unfortunate events in my life at the time. I was done with school and wound up having to move out of Berkeley and back in with my parents, over a hundred miles away from the Bay Area, no direction, no band. Which for me, was very hard, since music is basically the only thing I care about, you know, other than the well-being of my family and friends. So there's this message on my answering machine one day from Tim Armstrong saying that he loves my music and that I need to give him a call. Words can't really describe the way I felt right then I guess, I was pretty fucking happy to say the least. Adam had given a mutual friend of his and Tim's our demo awhile back, with "Nocturnal" and a few other songs, I'd forgotten about it. Anyway, he told me that he wanted me to make a record for his label. I was overjoyed, but I had to tell him that I didn't have a band right then. He didn't lose any enthusiasm, he still wanted me to make a record, even if it was as a solo artist or whatever. So that gave me my direction back and as of spring/early summer '97, my plan was just to get moved back to the East Bay, which I did, and try and get things happening with the album.
Davey: So would you consider the band to have been broken up at this point?
Nick 13: Well, not really. To be honest, there were a couple weeks where I didn't feel like I had the heart to go on. But I would get down to the Bay Area for shows and people encouraged me to keep it going. So I'd resolved to keep the band going and somehow make a record before I got the call from Tim, I just had no idea how I was gonna do it. This might sound weird, but even though I was the only member, the band was never broken up to me. That's what "Tiger Army Never Die" is about. Keep going, MAKE what you want to happen happen. Believe in yourself, in the power of your own will. Members have come and members have gone. But I'm gonna keep doing this until I can't do it anymore. I write everything, so there will always be a continuity in the music. Maybe things can slow us down for a finite amount of time, but we'll keep coming. This record, the next record, the record after that, every show we play, I want to create something that will last beyond my material existence in this world. That's the goal.
Davey: Well, you're off to a great start. So let's see, you get the call from Tim and then...
Nick 13: Alright, anyway, it was awhile before we went into the studio to make the album, early January '99. In that year and a half prior there was a lot going on, Hellcat was just starting to get going and had a lot of releases and new bands to take care of, Tim was on tour for Life Won't Wait. I just kept working on songs and trying to figure out who I was gonna record with and where, but I knew Tiger Army was going to return.
Davey: Amen. So how did the lineup for the album come together?
Nick 13: Well, when everything came together to get ready and go in the studio, Adam had a big block of time off before recording Black Sails with AFI. He was just kind of chilling out while you guys were writing... so I asked him to cut the record with us, which he did. Did a great job too, a very versatile drummer. We had months for me to show him the songs and for us to practice, which I think contributed to us being pretty tight when we finally recorded. The stand-up bass player on the record was Rob Peltier, who was in a band called the Quakes. They were kind of trailblazers as far as being arguably the first, best and one of the only true American psychobilly bands-- they started as teenagers and moved to England to be a part of the psycho scene there in the late 80's. Stand-up bassists who are good enough to play psycho-- and I say that because it can be a lot more technically demanding than rockabilly because it's faster and has more double and triple plucking-- bassists who understand and dig the style and do it well are unfortunately pretty hard to come by here in the States. I hope a lot of kids take it up and learn to play it right, and that in a few years there will be plenty! Anyway, Rob flew out from Buffalo, New York where he lives to do the record. I'd sent him our demo, he dug it, so I sent him the songs on tape, he came out here and we just did it. He did a great job as well and it was very cool to work with someone from a band that I've dug for a long time.
Davey: Now, some of the recording was done in Southern California too, correct?
Nick 13: That's right. We started it at the beginning of January '99 at the Art of Ears studio in Hayward, CA with Andy Ernst behind the board. He's a great engineer and helped me out a lot. Everything took a lot longer than I initially planned, and we had to clear out of the studio because AFI had the studio booked (laughs) for Black Sails In The Sunset. About half of our songs were entirely done, but the other half needed vocals, a couple needed guitar work, some production, plus mixing. So Tim said to come on down to LA and we did some stuff there at his studio, Bloodclot, with another very talented and helpful engineer, TJ Johnson, who's worked with Rancid and a million other bands. We also worked at a studio that used to be called Crystal studios, that was a cool place. A lot of history there, I guess Motown cut a lot of their 70's west coast stuff there. "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye was recorded there. Supposedly the mike I cut the vocal to "Outlaw Heart" was used by Michael Jackson to cut "ABC," apparently he stood on a chair or a bucket or something [laughs]. And Gold Star studios, where Phil Spector did all of his stuff in the 60's and Eddie Cochran cut "Summertime Blues," the former site of that was half a block away. Unfortunately it's a strip mall now. Oh yeah, End of the Century by the Ramones, too. I bought sodas and candy bars many times from the convenience store there that's on hallowed ground.
Davey: That's rad. So that brings me to another of my questions, about the song you just mentioned, "Outlaw Heart." This song stands out a little from the other material for its distinct country influence...
Nick 13: It does stand apart from the rest of the songs a little, but I felt it was still a Tiger Army song, which isn't the case for every song I write, even if I like the song. True country music-- and I'm not talking about most of the bullshit that gets played on the radio that they call country music these days, I'm talking about the real thing, my favorite era being the 1940's through the early sixties-- can be a beautiful thing, and that old stuff is what inspired that song. Without rockabilly and rock'n'roll in the fifties, there would be no punk. And if you're into rockabilly, you realize that it's based on two things: country, then known as hillbilly, and the blues, or rhythm & blues. Some people don't care about that kind of thing, they just like what they like and that's fine. But I've always been interested in where music comes from. It might seem like a big jump from hardcore punk to country, but it's not to me for whatever reason. Maybe it's because both of them are about emotion at the core, I don't know. Maybe you have to reach a certain age to appreciate it, I think I did. By the time you're 20 or so you've probably had a broken heart at least once and can relate to the subject matter a little more than when you're 15. A lot of country deals with regret in one way or another, so it might be harder to appreciate it when you're so young that you don't have many.
Davey: Good point. Do you see Tiger Army going more in this direction in the future?
Nick 13: It's definitely a possibility. It's kind of funny because I thought that might be one of people's least favorite songs on the record, but instead it's one of the songs people most like. But I'm not going to try and write another song like it just because of that. I just want to write songs that I think are good, and whatever comes to me, comes. That's one of the things that's great about psycho. It's a broad style, but it's still cohesive. There's room in it to go a lot of directions song-wise, yet stay part of the overall style, or at least not conflict with it, in the case of "Outlaw Heart." The best psycho bands have always gone in their own directions and created unique sounds for themselves and that's what I hope we can do.
Davey: Word. So we talked about the album's lineup a little earlier, is that the current lineup? Will you guys be touring in the future?
Nick 13: Well, the original plan with Adam was just to play our first show (laughs), but that turned into a bunch of shows, a seven inch and an album. If he never played with us again, he'd always be an honorary member. With touring and recording in AFI, he's busier than ever, so the record's it for now, but who knows about the future... and it was great to work with Rob, but he's on the East Coast, I'm here and he's got his own life. I'd love to play with him again sometime, but most likely the record will be it. We did shows around California with Geoff Kresge on stand-up and the mighty Joe Fish from Santa Cruz shortly after the record came out and those went great. A lot of people didn't even realize it wasn't the record's lineup, so I'm not worried about a drop in quality. I'm moving to Los Angeles in a couple of weeks, just got a place, and that's where Tiger Army is gonna be based. It's easier for me to do the band there, so that's where I need to go. Geoff will also be relocating to L.A. Joe is Nor Cal based, so we've got a new drummer down there, but Joe is Tiger Army Por Vida as well (laughs). I don't want to say who the new drummer is just yet, because I don't want to jinx anything, but we're very excited about playing with him. He was in a band that's one of my all-time favorites. We should be gigging by early summer, and we'll be on the road soon after.
Davey: Cool. Now personally, I think that the debut Tiger Army album is amazing, I know many agree and are wondering if you have any plans for a new album anytime soon...
Nick 13: Thanks [laughs]. I'm working on the songs for the second album now, that will be on Hellcat of course... and it's actually coming pretty close to being fully written. Recording will hopefully commence in a few months, sometime this summer, and I like to spend a long time on things, but hopefully it will come out in spring of 2001. I can't wait to get on the road, but I also can't wait to start the next record so I'm not exactly sure what'll happen when.
Davey: Some people might be surprised that you're already getting ready to work on the next one...
Nick 13: That's true. I mean, the first one came out in late October/early November, but a lot of people don't realize it was started in January. There was some scheduling stuff that delayed things a little bit so it didn't get wrapped up until the summer-- that's of '99. I had a couple songs written that I really liked that didn't make it on the first record, just because of time constraints, etc., so that's a few songs there, then I've had over a year to write on top of that. As a songwriter, I'm actually probably on the less-prolific end of the spectrum.
Davey: So what can we expect on the record?
Nick 13: It's a little bit of a progression in certain ways I guess, but there's no major stylistic change from the first record. I'm gonna spend a little more time on it, try and get even more atmosphere, but in general, if somebody digs the first album, I can almost guarantee they'll like this one. I think it's a strong collection of songs, I'm really happy with them from a writing standpoint, so I can't wait to get back in the studio.
Davey: So you enjoy recording?
Nick 13: Actually, I hate it. It's incredibly physically and emotionally draining for me. But it's kind of like getting tattooed, it's not too fun while it's happening, but then when you're finished, it's one of the best feelings in the world.
Davey: Just to get a small insight into Nick 13's interests, name a book, comic, video game, movie, cereal and cartoon that you enjoy or think is noteworthy.
Nick 13: Okay, give them to me one at a time.
Davey: Book... or author... or what you're reading right now. What was the last book you read that was good?
Nick 13: I've been reading a lot of nonfiction... I love reading biographies of musical artists I'm into, I love reading "true crime" stuff, be it about serial killers, the Mafia or whatever, I'm finishing a book about the Yakuza right now. Fiction... I like John Fante, H. P. Lovecraft, Poe, Hubert Selby Jr., Barry Gifford, those are some of my favorites.
Davey: Comics. Do you like comics at all?
Nick 13: Yeah, I don't really keep up on what's out today, but my favorite comics ever are definitely the E.C. horror and crime comics of the early fifties...
Davey: Great comics. Video games?
Nick 13: The "Resident Evil" series for Playstation.
Nick 13: Like my favorite movie, or the best one I've seen lately?
Davey: How about lately...
Nick 13: Beyond the Mat, the wrestling documentary. I just saw that the other day, I thought it was great. It would be hard for me to pick an all-time favorite... Goodfellas is definitely one of them. I'm into most of Scorcese's stuff. A lot of old horror movies, 1930's though very early sixties, the black-and-white stuff... Psycho, that's another favorite. The original of course.
Davey: Word. How about a cereal?
Nick 13: Probably "Boo Berry," from the Monster Cereals. General Mills.
Davey: Over "Frankenberry?"
Nick 13: It kind of depends on my mood, there are times when I'd prefer "Frankenberry," so there's not as much of a clear-cut favorite. I'm not super into chocolate, so "Count Chocula" would definitely place third here.
Davey: I'm going to have to agree with that. How bout a cartoon?
Nick 13: Hmm... probably The Simpsons.
Davey: Nice. Well, before I wrap this up, I want to ask you a question that I meant to ask earlier. How has the album been received in Europe? Do people over there like it?
Nick 13: Yeah, we've gotten a lot of positive feedback, letters from psychos, we've done a lot of interviews for zines over there, it's been cool. I've gotten some nice compliments from members of psychobilly bands whose music I love, so that's the best thing of all. Their music is a big part of the reason I play this style today. We got an offer to go to Germany this summer and play some psycho shows so I hope that works out.
Davey: That's great. Any final words?
Nick 13: Just want to thank you and Hit List, and all the people who took the time to read this. Thanks to everyone who's supported us-- big ups to AFI, Rancid, the staff and bands of Hellcat Records and psychos worldwide. We'll be playing soon, so come check it out. If you want to find out more about the band, come to the webpage at: www.tigerarmy.com Tiger Army Never Die!
Davey: Tiger Army Never Die.