If Miniature Tigers was ever to have an official "day" in Phoenix, it would be today. The band is playing two shows, one at Crescent Ballroom as part of the Modern Art Records Tour celebrating the release of Mia Pharaoh, and a free in-store performance at Stinkweeds at 5 p.m. There's also a rather large Miniature Tigers mural on Roosevelt and they're featured in this week's issue.
We spoke to Modern Art Records founder Ben Collins and Miniature Tigers frontman Charlie Brand to get the lowdown on the new album. Brand says he was heavily influenced by the painter David Hockney and set out to make an album with a "simple, warm sort of Californian setting."
Up on the Sun: I'd like to hear all about Mia Pharaoh. What inspired you to write this album?
Charlie Brand: I was really into this painter, David Hockney. I was just obsessed with this paintings and that was right when I was sitting down to write the new album. I feel like that was a huge inspiration because I want to basically write songs that felt like one of his paintings. This kind of simple, warm sort of Californian setting. I was starting to write this in the dead of winter and it was such a nice escape from where I was.
What inspired the tones themselves? On each album, you guys seem to take a new approach.
Yeah, we're always definitely trying something new and also trying not to repeat ourselves. We wanted something a little softer and sweeter as opposed to Fortress, [which] had a darker tone. We wanted to have this warm, beautiful feeling to the album. Tonally, we're also super-inspired by top 40 hip-hop and pop, and trying to fuse that kind of stuff with a Simon and Garfunkel "Bridge Over Troubled Water" kind of thing -- that was the goal setting out. I think what the album is, is us sort of fusing those two worlds together.
I know that on Fortress you worked with Chris Chu from The Morning Benders and Neon Indian. Did you have any other collaborations like that for Mia Pharaoh?
No, we pretty much recorded it ourselves. We did really extensive demos to the point where there was a lot of stuff we just wanted to keep and overdub with real drums, guitar, and bass. For that, we spent a week in Boston with our friend Jeremy [Mendicino], who plays in a band called Pretty & Nice, who we're about to go on tour with. We spent a week in his studio and tracked stuff. That was one of our collaborators.
Also on another song called "Cleopatra" -- it's all electronic. I had that song pretty much done in a demo, and then I sent it to my friend, another guy named Jeremy [Malvin], who has this group called Chrome Sparks, which is his electronic project. I sent it to him and [asked]: Is there any way you can make these drums sound bigger and just kind of do a remix of it. I sent it to him and he sent me back something that was really awesome, so I spent a week in Michigan with him working on that song and adding a couple of synths to a few things.
But other than that, it was the first time we didn't have a producer or anything. We had producers on previous albums, and this was very self-made and in that sense. Algernon [Quashie], our guitarist, also mixed the album.
You said when you made this album, you were influenced by painter David Hockney, and you do your own painting. Can you tell me a little bit more about that and how it ties into your music?
It started as a hobby. I started painting last year. I was never really visually artistic and was always kind of struggling with that stuff, and then I got this iPhone painting thing that I actually heard about because David Hockney started to use it. I was pretty much just painting the whole time I was writing and recording. When it came time to actually flesh out the album and finalize it, I was trying to figure out how these two things work together because that was such a huge initial thing with David Hockney. It's all part of the same time period for me. I was looking at productions like brush strokes to have, like this needs a really bold brushstroke here or restraint here, and really looked at that and that made sense.
I know you guys are technically a Brooklyn band by way of Phoenix. What brought you out there?
I don't really feel like a Brooklyn band. Any show we've played in New York has just been part of a tour. We don't just play local shows there or anything. Really, if we have any hometown, it's Phoenix, because that's where we got our start and that's our hometown. New York . . . AJ [Quashie] has always lived out there. Rick [Alvin Shaier] lives in California. A lot of my friends moved out to Brooklyn, and I just fell in love with New York through touring there, and I had a desire to live there. I moved there just to be with my friends and I just loved it, just really had a nice time there.
I don't feel like a Brooklyn band. I just don't feel like we have a real home base, because we're all so scattered around.
What are some of your favorite songs from Mia Pharaoh? There's a song called "Sex on the Regular," which is gonna be our single. That was when I was having this love affair with pop music and how freeing and fun it can be. That just came together super-easily and was just really fun to write, and it's also so different for us, which I really enjoy doing.
There's another song on there called "Ugly Needs," which is not really pop at all -- it's the total opposite end of the spectrum. I'm just really proud of that one as far as production, I did stuff at home, and we incorporated a lot of that into the final song. I think the only thing we really added was real drums to it. That was the first time I felt really confident as a producer, as opposed to just songwriting.
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I noticed a synth/dance approach to the album, yet have some more introspective songs like "Husbands and Wives." What went into that kind of sound?
Rick sent me this piano instrumental, which was basically the whole song. I wrote some lyrics, and then sent them back to him and he added some stuff. We changed the structure a bit, and we were sending files back and forth and creating a song. For us, that's a big deal because we always re-create everything from scratch once we go to the studio. I'm proud of that one because I love that we did it totally ourselves in Garage Band.