New Music

Tiger Army's Nick 13 Talks About 'V •••–,' the Band's First Album in Nearly a Decade

Interviews

By Gen Handley

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Photo: Casey Curry

When Nick 13 woke up this morning, he had a smile on his face.

His band, Tiger Army, just arrived in Asbury Park to play a full venue and he’s getting some down time an hour before sound check. Also, Tiger Army’s anticipated fifth release, V •••–, is coming out later this spring.

On the road, 13 has been reading a book on early 60s rock and roll to relax before playing, not a surprise if you’ve heard his band’s fast songs about noir romance before.

“Yeah, things are good,” he tells me. “It’s really gratifying to watch it all come together. I’m really proud of this one.”

He takes a long breath.

“It feels so good to have the album finished, the artwork finished, to know it’s coming out soon and to be back out playing. I’m really looking forward to the events of this year.”

V •••– is an album that fans (I am one of them) have been waiting patiently nearly ten years for.

“I needed to figure out the next step for the musical evolution of Tiger Army,” 13 says, “but I didn’t quite know what it was, but then it all came together for me with the songs on the new record.”

“It’s amazing to share this with the people who have been waiting, patiently, for so long and see what they think,” the Ukiah native adds. “I’m really excited about it. It was worth all the wait and all the time.”

Noisey: So what does the album title mean?
Nick 13:
The symbol is morse code for V and it was a popular motif for allied propaganda in World War II when it was put on all sorts of things—buttons, flags of support, stickers, posters, stamps in the States, Canada, and Britain, mainly… I think. Usually when you see it, it automatically dates an object between 1942 and 1945, which is kind of cool. But people will probably just call it V. It’s not the most verbal title, but… [Laughs]

How did you come up with that?
I’m just into old stuff, in general, from the early 20th century. Whether that’s clothes or objects or graphic design, a lot of my time is often spent at flea markets, estate sales… where antiques are found. I guess I just saw a lot of the American World War II stuff in my travels and it kind of caught my eye.

What makes this album special in the Tiger Army discography? Is it a step forward?
I think each album as been somewhat of an evolution, but I think this is a pretty significant leap forward for us—it’s an evolution in the sound. The last album [Music From Regions Beyond], was a culmination of something I’d tried to do for many years and that meant I had to come up with something new that I wanted to accomplish with this album. I guess that’s why it took so long to write. I’ve never believed in making records for the sake of making records—I’d rather only make a record when I have something to say.

So what do you have to say this time, on this record?
Lyrically, I don’t think about that too much—I think that comes more from the subconscious. Musically, I became very inspired by an aesthetic period after the first wave of rock and roll had ended in the late 50s. It was a very experimental period and before the 60s were really defined. In the early 60s there was a lot of studio experimentation, a lot of throwing stuff to the wall. I’m fascinated by transitional eras because some of the most interesting stuff happens during those times. That musical period—between about 1959 and 1963 before the British Invasion—sort of got a hold of me. That and some of the British rock and roll from that time period, the pre-Beatles stuff or when they hadn’t broken yet… obscure for the States but not obscure for Britain.

Is it a more older-sounding record, then?
Yes and no, because even though it was influenced by that stuff, I would say it’s still contemporary—at least in my mind. I never set out to really produce influences, it’s sort of more about taking them and updating them or using them in different ways. As much as I love old music and as much as I love old things, I find that reproducing a sound is pretty boring. So to me, it’s about putting old things in a new context.

What’s the background of the video for your single, “Prisoner of the Night”?
Me and Casey [Curry] just started kicking the idea around of a film noir. I think it has to do with some of the themes we were talking about earlier. The early 60s, the emotional darkness, the paranoia sometimes. Maybe it’s insomnia, maybe it’s being trapped? That particular song and that video is open to interpretation. We didn’t want it to have a linear story. There are things that we decided for ourselves, that will not be shared with the viewer.

Sonically, is V •••– a typical Tiger Army album?
I think it sounds like us, but it’s definitely a push forward sonically. The British producer Joe Meek from that early 60s era was a big touchstone for the album. He had some big hits in England, but he was relatively obscure over here. He innovated a lot of new techniques and his records were really interesting. They had this kind of low-fi, sometimes fucked-up sound about them. A lot of the time, he ran his mics really hot where there was distortion on them, but at the same time it was very avant-garde. He was one of the major influences of the sound on this record.

Your band is known for its darker themes and imagery. Where does that come from?
Yeah, I think that’s just always been an aspect of my personality. It just has to do with how I’ve always seen the world and related to the world. I think you’re right, darkness is an essential aspect of what Tiger Army is, sonically and otherwise, but I was looking for a way to incorporate that into this album in a way that felt natural to me and was reflective of where I’m at now. That era I was talking about, was at times very dark but not in a gothic way. There was a lot of paranoia, a lot of emotional despondency.

There was a phenomenon in the early 60s that some people have called death discs, which were pop songs where the protagonist or their lover dies at the end of the song. A lot of hit songs in the early 60s involved death and it’s kind of funny, when you think about it. I think a lot of it had to do with the paranoia of the Cold War. The early 60s was when I think it really sank in with people that atomic war, nuclear war, was a reality that could end life in the blink of an eye. That was true in the 50s, but things were so prosperous economically that people put it out of their minds. Even before the Kennedy assassination, this darkness was pervading American popular culture and that’s something that drew me to the music of the era. That, and some of the technological stuff like reverb and guitar amps. To me, reverb is atmosphere and there’s something spooky about it.

It sounds like you were born in the wrong decade…
[Laughs] I definitely relate to some of that stuff, from back then, more than things now.

Tiger Army albums have always had a long list of guest vocals. Is that the case for this album? Is Davey on it?
No, not really. There are a lot of different instrument players but nobody you would know. There’s a lady who is a really talented vocalist who sang on a few songs on this record. She was trained as an opera singer and she just has a really ethereal, beautiful, incredibly high voice—it is something you’d hear on early 60s pop records. That’s kind of fallen by the wayside—usually female vocalists these days are doing more of an R&B thing. That was an element I loved on those old records that I wanted to bring back—the more operatic female vocal.

When you started the band 20 years ago, what was it about the tiger that attracted you so much?
Wow, that’s a hard question. It was something I was always drawn to since I was a little kid. It was something about the ferocity of the tiger, it’s purely using its instinct. There were some things I learned about later I related to, like that they are a solitary animal, the opposite of a herd animal. To me, the tiger is a metaphor for everything that is right with the world and everything that is wrong with the world—they’re a thing of beauty and they’re threatened and endangered.

Two decades ago, did you ever think the band would last so long?
Gosh, no. I didn’t think I would last this long. [Laughs] I don’t know if I could have imagined it in these terms when we started. It exceeded my hopes for sure.

I see a lot of artists get caught up in the industry side of things and it becomes about a touring schedule, a festival schedule, and it gets to the point where they’re making albums to feed a machine that’s grown up around their art. At a certain point, that becomes really counter productive. It may not make commercial sense to disappear from the scene for so long, but in the end, I’m providing the world with something I’m really passionate about and believe in. That’s more important.

Gen Handley is on Twitter - @Gen_and_Tonic