Tiger Army's Nick 13

Tiger Army's Nick 13
Tiger Army guitarist/singer Nick 13 may appear to be another uncaring sick boy mired in the world of psychobilly but he chooses his words carefully. Fronting the Berkeley, California trio since its formation in 1995, he is the only original member; generally revered as the soul behind this band’s unique amalgamation of rockabilly’s hustling bass lines and shuffle with punk rock’s hyperactivity, volume and impassioned vocal delivery.

Most of us Canucks have barely heard it other than blaring from the old turntable though. Despite crossing the 49th parallel many times with the likes of AFI, Rancid and the Damned, such stints were always as openers, relegating 13 and crew to a whopping 30- to 45-minute set. Other than a few fan favourites — maybe a new tune here or there — the band had little opportunity to show The Great White North what Tiger Army are truly like live.

Yet the band (completed by stand-up bassist Jeff Roffredo and drummer James Meza) are finally set to tour Canada properly. Controlling his enthusiasm, 13 coolly offers some perspective on this glaring oversight as well as a touch of insight into the album they’ll most likely be featuring on this nine-date tour, their fourth effort Music From Regions Beyond.

You’ve been poised to headline a Canadian tour for years but have never played a full set here. Why?
It sounds crazy but we’ve never done it after 13 years. It’s many years overdue. Doing a full-fledged headlining stint in Canada was something we originally turned to on the last record, looking at possibly around the end of touring for Ghost Tigers Rise in 2005. But there were scheduling problems [and] I was getting burned out from time on the road. It was time to come off the road and write music for what would become [2007’s] Music From Regions Beyond. It’s such a hassle to get over the border with all of the red tape, so rather than go through the headache and just play a couple of shows, we wanted to dedicate the time to do a coast-to-coast tour. 

This will also be your first time performingMusic From Regions Beyond material here. How do you feel about the album months after its new sheen has worn off?
It’s still my favourite Tiger Army album to date. It’s our best in a number of ways. It sounds the best quality-wise, it’s got the best song writing and we’re the tightest performance-wise. A lot of it has to do with the experience you gain from making each record. I’ve had worlds more now than I did in 1999 with our first album. Another element was Jerry Finn (AFI, Rancid, Blink-182) producing. He brought a lot of experience to the record, which made it a smoother process.

Yet again, the album has an entirely new band backing you. You’ve been the only consistent member since starting, so in essence you are Tiger Army. How do you feel about that? Are other members considered equal contributors?
It’s a unique situation. Tiger Army has always been my thing. I’ve always done the writing and a tremendous amount of work comes from me but I’m not a solo artist. This is a band.

That makes sense. Virtually every band is generally associated with one particular member more than the rest. In your case, it’s sort of a situation where you are the band but the band isn’t just you.
Yeah, there are certain bands historically centered on certain members like the Cure or Social Distortion, where essentially it is driven by one person but the whole is greater than the parts. [Tiger Army] is something larger than simply being a solo artist.

Touching on Music From Regions Beyond, thanks to different tempos, more melody and other elements you’ve introduced, it carries in the tradition of Ghost Tigers Rise where you tend to branch off further from the typified sound and structure of "classic” psychobilly. Would you agree?
Yes. I think the evolution of Tiger Army is a natural bi-product of passage of time but some is intentional. I’ve never wanted to make the same record twice. Growing up, there were bands that reached a level of popularity in the underground scene and whether it was because they lost their creative spark or they just wanted to please their fans, they made the same record over and over. I never wanted to do that. Whether something’s good or bad, when you’ve done it, there are diminishing returns when you try to repeat what you’ve already done. It’s important for me to try to move forward with each album and try new things. That’s not to say that you take the band’s sound, trash it and start over again but there are ways to do things without sacrificing what you’ve established. There’s always a little bit of risk but the process of trying — whether it works or not — is more important than if it works or not.

Psychobilly has increased in popularity over the past five years and a lot of bands that are revered as heralding this wave are starting to disassociate with the scene. They have distaste for the term for whatever reason. Is Tiger Army still a psychobilly band?
It depends on your individual definition of the word. There are aspects of the psychobilly scene that try to limit the music. It’s important for those people to realise that psychobilly started as a reaction against the limiting aspects of the rockabilly scene at the time... but then people try to boil that down to specifics too. To me, [being psychobilly] isn’t limiting because it’s always been a hybrid form of music and incorporates a lot of different influences. Most people — whether they like Tiger Army or not — if they really know the history of the music they’ll understand that. The people who are more critical of [psychobilly] often have no idea about [its] actual musical roots.