Decoding the mysteries of Tiger Army
By Naughty Mickie

Formed by Nick 13, the evolving and genre-bending stylings of Tiger Army are leading to a formidable legion of fans- some even tattoo the ban's lyrics and TigerBat logo on their bodies. The group's first show was in Berkeley in 1996. Not long after, Rancid's Tim Armstrong heard Nick 13's songs on demos and signed them to Hellcat Records, which resulted in Tiger Army's self-titled release in 1999. There have been lots of lineup changes over the years, but original member Nick 13 has remained throughout.

Tiger Army headlined the last year's Vans Warped Tour and, while touring in support of "III: Ghost Tigers Rise," they sold out nine shows- five at House of Blues, Hollywood and four at House of Blues, Anaheim, before the doors even opened. They have toured with Social Distortion, Morrissey, AFI, Dropkick Murphys, Reverend Horton Heat and The Damned.

The group's newest effort, "Music From Regions Beyond" (Hellcat Records) steps away slightly from psychobilly to explore and blend rock, punk, country and dark wave synth. It is the first album that has not been self-produced by the band. The current lineup is vocalist and guitarist Nick 13, standup bass player Jeff Roffredo (Cosmic Voodoo) and drummer James Meza. A fan myself, I've been anxious to talk to Tiger Army about their music. Since they are often out on the road, I interviewed Nick 13 via e-mail.

DB: How did you come to form Tiger Army?

Nick 13: Starting a three-piece band with a stand-up bass was something I wanted to do for a few years before it finally happened. After years of searching for a stand-up player interested in the psychobilly style, I met Joel Day in 1995. In 1996, we borrowed Adam Carson from AFI for our first few gigs in the Bay Area and began playing shows and recording demos whenever Adam wasn't touring. Friends played in the band on a temporary basis until I moved to Los Angeles and was able to start doing the band full-time.

DB: You nabbed a record deal fairly quickly compared with other bands, to what do you attribute your early success?

Nick 13: Tim Armstrong of Rancid and Hellcat records contacted me about a year after the band started gigging in the Bay Area, but it wasn't until '99 that we were able to enter the studio and start cutting our first record. There's no question that Hellcat/Epitaph helped, but even prior to that we were drawing hundreds of people to shows in the Bay without any kind of release! I think people were ready for something new, and they still are.

DB: How was the TigerBat logo created and why is it so popular?

Nick 13: It's something I designed, 1920s/30s deco was a big influence. I wanted something bold and iconic that would represent the band's sound. I was hoping to have a logo that resonated the way Raymond Pettibon's Black Flag bars or Winston Smith's "DK" logo did and hundreds of tattoos later, it seems like it has!

DB: How have you managed to survive all the lineup changes?

Nick 13: I don't know! Some of the people who played in the band were friends who were just filling in for a show, recording session or a tour and some were supposed to be permanent. Nothing in life is permanent, however. Various people have contributed to the band at different times but the musical vision has always been mine. We're in a good place now.

DB: To what do you attribute your staying power?

Nick 13: We've always done our own thing and never worried about trends or what other bands are doing. Whether people love it or hate it, I've always played the music I want to play. Our style has evolved, but the people who really know our music know we've stayed true to our music and I think they respect that.

DB: How do you write your material- is it mostly done by yourself or does the band work as a team?

Nick 13: I write everything. Sometimes I'll bring a song into the practice room fully completed and just teach it to the other guys. With the last record, I brought in more fragments just to hear what they sounded like with the band playing and it gave me the inspiration to finish things when I was stuck. I'll bounce things off the other guys to get their opinion on arrangements sometimes.

DB: Who writes the lyrics and where do you get your ideas?

Nick 13; I write all the lyrics as well. Ideas kind of bubble up from the subconscious, even from dreams sometimes. Literature has been an influence: Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Yukio Mishima. There's something really lyrical about Japanese translated into English. There are few lyricists I'm impressed by in rock when compared with these authors.

DB: Why should we listen to/buy "Music From Regions Beyond" and do you have a favorite cut on the release?

Nick 13: It's our best album so far, with the strongest writing, recording and songwriting. I couldn't pick one track that I like the best, it'd be hard for me to narrow it down to even four. That's one thing I'm really proud of with "Music From Regions Beyond" -- there's no filler on the record and I like every song. That's saying something for me because I'm my own worst critic. As for buying it, I personally support the artists who move me buy paying for their work. There aren't many of them and that makes it all the more important. I want them to be able to continue to make it.

DB: How does Tiger Army fit in and feel about today's music scene?

Nick 13: We don't fit in and I'm fine with that. Today's music scene disgusts me, to be honest. There's so little creativity, so little originality.

DB: What's in the future for Tiger Army? Already working on new material? Additional tours?

Nick 13: There's a recording project we have coming up that I can't really discuss yet -- it's a cover and it will definitely be something different for us, you'll be hearing about it soon.

DB: Now for a few personal questions. Did you have a "musical" childhood? When did you begin singing and playing guitar?

Nick 13: I guess you could say that. I sang in school plays and things like that when I was little and I was trying to learn guitar as soon as my hands were big enough in junior high. I was jamming and trying to start punk bands (unsuccessfully) by 14.

DB: Do you play any other instruments?

Nick 13: Not really. I've played bass guitar here and there, but I wouldn't really consider myself a proper bassist.

DB: Did you go to college? If so, what did you study?

Nick 13: I graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Communications.

DB: What kinds of jobs have you had prior to the band making it?

Nick 13: I worked in a mail order warehouse for a while. I didn't look for a job after college because music was my focus. I wanted to get Tiger Army going and go on tour, so there was no sense in doing an internship or pursuing a job that I would quit for music, so I worked at the first Amoeba Music in Berkeley for awhile, first as a door/security guy then as head of the clearance section. That was great because they were very supportive of the musicians in their employ.

DB: What do you like to do with your free time? Do you have any hobbies (other than music)?

Nick 13: I'm going so hard all the time that getting to relax is FAR from boring to me. I love laying in bed, watching movies or "The Simpsons." Something that has stayed with me from my rockabilly days is a love of all things 1940s through early 1960s. I collect mid-century modern furniture and objects. I'm also into art and couture to some extent.

DB: Is there anything I should have asked or you would like to talk about? Any words for your fans?

Nick 13: As always, I thank our fans in Southern California for their incredible support. It's home and it's still our favorite place to

play in the world. Keep an eye out for shows. Anyone wishing more info on tour dates or anything else about the band, check out our Web site tigerarmy.com or myspace.com/tigerarmy.

For more on Tiger Army, visit www.tigerarmy.com and www.myspace.com/tigerarmy

Also check out www.hell-cat.com and www.epitaph.com

Visit my blogs at http://mickieszoo.blogspot.com and www.insidesocal.com/doodah

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