Psychobilly mavens Tiger Army have managed to amass a legion of loyal followers over the course of 17 years. A massive discography on the other hand, is something the Southern California trio is yet to possess.
Ever since their 1999 self-titled debut, the group has added only three more titles to their credit, with the last one coming in the form of 2007's Music From Regions Beyond.
During that time the band has seen it's fair share of lineup changes but frontman Nick 13 has remained the lone familiar figure and the group's driving force. Now entering its fifth year, the Octoberflame concert series has proven to be another constant that fans can bank on.
Fresh off of last year's country/Americana solo side project, 13 is taking the boys outside of California for the first time to celebrate one of our country's greatest holidays: Halloween. The singer/guitarist took time to chat with us before he and drummer James Meza and bassist Geoff Kresge take the stage at the Marquee Theatre on Sunday, October 28.
What does it mean to you now that Octoberflame has reached its fifth year? Did you think it would reach this landmark when it first started?
It's really exciting to be apart of something that's entering its fifth year. I'm definitely happy that it's reached this point but it's not something that I necessarily would have anticipated.
When we did the first one in southern California in 2008, that was the cap on a two year touring cycle that took us all over the world for our last album, Music From Regions Beyond. We knew that we were going to be taking some time off, so we wanted to go out with a bang. Octoberflame was the result.
In the ancient world, the harvest festival -- the stuff that Halloween comes from -- was a celebration of the completion of the harvest and it was also the new year to the ancient Celts. And I think a lot of primitive societies were more in touch with death and the role that it played in life. The outlook was healthier and more complete in a lot of ways. So some of those themes tie in to what Octoberflame means to us personally.
It's a celebration of music and the people that we tour with and it's also about death, rebirth and renewal. So it's a special time of year for me, personally. From the first year to the fifth year, its become a part of a tradition so we try to make these shows special in any way we can.
We spend a lot of time in the rehearsal room, digging deeply into our catalog and we try to pull out some songs that we've never played before, or haven't played in many years. Sometimes there will be musical guests joining us, but the goal is to create a show that even the diehard Tiger Army fans who have seen us a dozen times, can come to and see at least a few things that are new to them.
You mentioned the role Music From Regions Beyond played in establishing Octoberflame. That album was considered by some to be one of Tiger Army's more commercial-sounding records. You've obviously been around for a long time now and you've seen the ebb and flow of rock music popularity. How much did the mainstream influence that release?
I've never been particularly interested in what's going on in mainstream music or the music world at large. It's more of a personal thing with me that there should be a progression between each album. And I think that album just kind of reflects where we were at musically at that time.
There were a few factors that fell into place with that record with the lineup and the producer, the late Jerry Finn. He made, I think, the best sounding record we had ever done. A lot of the credit for that goes to him. But also it was the first time while making a record that the other players in Tiger Army could play anything I could think of. There were times in the past where my musical ambitions were a little bit wider than whatever particular lineup could capture at the time.
Particularly the drumming of James Meza. There were some ideas that I had wanted to explore for a while whether they were related to post-punk stuff, or Spanish rock 'n' roll, and he could pull that off flawlessly -- that wasn't always the case in previous lineups.
So I think all of the factors were right at that time and it just kind of fell into place for us and our sound to expand a little bit.
I remember reading somewhere that one of your goals with that album was to create the first post-psychobilly band. Was the end product closer to that original vision or a step in a different direction?
I think we took a step towards realizing that. It's never been my intention to leave psychobilly behind, but it has always been my intention to take the energy and the roots of that musical style and push it somewhere new.
I guess when you look back to Britain and the late 1970s and early '80s, there were a lot of bands doing the same thing with punk. They were taking that incredible explosion of energy that happened, and then started pushing that energy in different directions but still maintaining a connection to it. Bands like Joy Division and the Cure took some really interesting musical steps.
I always want to take the music somewhere new but at the same time, maintaining contact with the roots of what it is and where it comes from is a priority, too. What about last year's solo album? Where did the urge to make a country record come from at that time?
I guess my musical tastes have always been eclectic. But it's definitely an exploration of musics past that's always been a part of my listening habits. Exploring the roots of early rock and roll and rockabilly, you realize pretty quickly what a profound influence hillbilly music was in the early '50s.
Many years ago when I was exploring early rockabilly artists and stuff like that I became aware of that connection and that lured me further back into Hank Williams and other giants of hillbilly and bluegrass music, so that stuff's been an influence on me for many years. I guess in recent years, I've continued to delve into artists going back to Jimmie Rodgers in the '20s all the way up to Waylon Jennings in the '70s and everything in between.
It's something Tiger Army has explored, going back to the first record with the song "Outlaw Heart." As the years went by it was just something that I was increasingly drawn to. Instead of just being a listener, it was something I wanted to start playing. Tiger Army hasn't been as active in recent years and my solo music is a big reason why.
It was a pretty involved process to write and get the first solo album recorded, which came out last year. I got to tour around the country on that a couple of times. Stuff like making videos and doing promotions has taken up a lot of my time. We have a fairly recent video for the song, "Carry My Body Down" that's getting more and more airplay on some of the country music channels right now which is really exciting.
The solo project definitely relates to Tiger Army because the music is a part of Tiger Army, but it's a much smaller part. Really the last year of my life has been about trying to find ways to balance the two.
Was there a specific moment that triggered you making the new album?
There was definitely a specific moment that happened in Nashville, Tennessee, while Tiger Army was on tour. At the time we had about a year solid of touring booked during the Regions cycle. The idea of doing a solo record and jumping headlong into country and Americana music had been around in my head for many years but there was something about that trip to Nashville that was really inspirational for me - just soaking up all of the sights and sounds of country music history there, and I said to myself, "After we finish touring for this record, it's time for me to finally make this solo record that I've thought about for so long actually happen."
It wound up being a much longer journey that I anticipated to make happen but it's been absolutely worthwhile. I wouldn't change anything about it.
Have you ever recorded a song that you absolutely hated and locked away somewhere?
I wouldn't say hated. There are certain songs that I write that never make it to the studio, and then there are certain songs that we might try in the studio that never really make it beyond the early stage of recording because they're just not happening. Sometimes the songs pop up on later records when the musical situation is right if that's the case. I would say there are certain songs where the recordings don't quite capture what I had in mind, and I like the recording a little less, but that doesn't necessarily reflect the decision to play them live.
Likewise there are certain songs that take on more importance once they're recorded because there's something about it that's just better than I imagined. It can go either way.
What's next on the horizon for both Tiger Army and yourself?
I've been a little more actively focused, writing-wise, on the second solo album. That's mostly written. I'm hoping to at least start work on that in the studio towards the end of the year. With Tiger Army, I've been slowly writing the next record over the last few years.
I've never really written on a schedule. I pick up a guitar when inspiration strikes me. So that's pretty well underway as far as the writing for the Tiger Army record. The plan is to record the next solo record and release that next year. We're going to be playing the Stagecoach Festival in Indio next year, which I'm really excited about. After the second solo album is released and toured on, then I'm going to shift my focus back to making the next Tiger Army record.
Awesome, man. It's really cool that you guys are coming back to Arizona. It's been a minute since I've caught you guys here.
Yeah, we played in Tempe the summer of 2011, and that was actually the first time that we had been there in a while. I think the last time before that was probably '08. We toured almost constantly between '01 and '08, and we played Arizona many times during that period.
What do you usually think of once you start eyeballing an Arizona show on your calendar?
The Phoenix area is definitely one of my favorite places to play. I love the southwest in general, and it's such a beautiful state. I love the desert, so I'm always happy to go there.
Our shows at the Marquee over the last few years have been pretty crazy in a good way. There's definitely a real energy from the crowd, and the shows there tend to go off pretty hard. I'm excited to play it.
It's also going to be the last show of the Octoberflame Tour. We're doing six shows in northern and southern California this year, and this will be the first Octoberflame show to happen outside of California. One of the reasons for that is because we like playing the Phoenix area so much.
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The fact that it's the last show is also a cool feeling because you don't have to pace yourself physically or vocally for the next night. You can literally put everything you have into it and if my voice is gone the next day, it won't matter because that's the last show of Octoberflame.
I think it's going to be a special show.