Ben Walsh talks about the band's new record, 'Charmer,' and how they are definitely, totally, seriously not broken up. (For real.)
When Tigers Jaw announced back in early 2013 that they were losing more than half their members, the internet almost unanimously declared, “Welp, obviously they’re done,” and closed the book on the band. Those paying closer attention to their follow-up statements (as well as those who understand the difference between “going on hiatus” and “breaking up”) may have known better, but even now over a year later, the band is still battling confusion over whether or not they still exist.
You’d be forgiven, then, if you were surprised to hear Tigers Jaw has a new record titled Charmer that’s set to come out any day now. However, you’d probably be less surprised to know it’s pretty damn good. We caught up with guitarist/vocalist Ben Walsh to find out exactly what’s up with the band, how they’re moving forward with just two permanent members, and what we can expect from them next.
Noisey: Back in March last year, you announced that several members were going to be leaving Tigers Jaw and that the band would keep moving forward just as yourself and Brianna. That led to all kinds of speculation about, “Oh, is Tigers Jaw breaking up or going on hiatus?” and so forth. You’ve done quite a bit to put those rumors to rest and put the record straight, but are you finding there’s still some confusion out there among your fanbase on the status of the band and the fact that Tigers Jaw is still active?
Ben Walsh: Yes, definitely. We’re still seeing some things and we’re trying to clear up misconceptions wherever we can. When they left the band last year, we didn’t know exactly how we were going to proceed. We’ve all been close friends for so many years that we needed to find a way to buy a little time for ourselves before we made any real big decisions. So, we made that statement and it was kind of vague, and I can see why it ended up being taken the way that it was, and since then, we’ve been doing damage control and trying to clear that up.
We’ve seen lots of different reactions, like people thinking we did it like a publicity stunt or as a way to make more money or something, but it really was nothing to do with that. It was, these are our closest friends, and they told us they weren’t going to play in the band anymore. So, we wanted to buy some time to sort things out.
How supportive has Run For Cover Records been throughout this whole time? Were you ever worried they could be like, “Well, half your band is leaving, so we’re done,” or have they been pretty good about working with you guys through everything?
We’ve had a really good relationship with Run For Cover and they’ve always put up with all our inconsistencies. We’ve never been a full-time band, we’ve never toured more than a couple weeks or a month out of the year, so they’ve always been super supportive and understanding of the fact that we had other stuff going on and that we’d tour as much as we can, but we couldn’t maintain a schedule like a lot of the other bands on their roster.
As far as with the new record, Run For Cover was super supportive throughout and believed. When things were up in the air for a little bit, they didn’t hassle us, they didn’t demand answers right away, they let us just work things out. It feels more like a friendship than anything. It’s a really good relationship to have.
Now that some time’s passed and you’ve had a chance to settle into creating as a two-piece, how do you feel that transition has gone?
I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew there was going to be a lot of drastic changes, but Brianna and I are pretty much on the same page about a lot of things, and we have similar goals both personally and musically. It’s been really good to be able to work with her and develop a plan of action for where we were going to take the band next.
A lot of the songs on Charmer were recorded back with the full-band lineup you had previously prior to members departing. With their decision to leave and being in a state of flux, did that have much impact on the recording process, or even on the songs themselves? Or was it like going in to record any Tigers Jaw record like you had done before?
Things were up in the air for a little bit because we weren’t sure whether they were still going to want to do the record or not, and we had worked quite a bit on the songs that we had and I think we were all really proud of where they were at. So, everybody was on board to finish writing the songs and to record the album.
Going into the studio, it was definitely unconventional for us. There wasn’t a whole lot of time where all five of us were there, but everyone worked really hard and got some really good takes. I’m really proud of the songs we came up with and I think it’s a really good representation of where the band is at.
What was your experience like working with Will Yip in the studio? Was there anything in particular that you felt that he brought to the record that you wouldn’t have gotten with another producer?
Well, we had never actually worked with a producer before. We had always tried to polish off the songs ourselves and everything, so with Will, it wasn’t like what I thought working with a producer would be. He wasn’t pushy, he wouldn’t try to force his ideas, he really just let us be ourselves. If he had a good idea, he’d bring it to the table, and we’d have a discussion. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but we ended up getting along really well and we were on the same page about a lot of stuff, so we had a really nice working relationship and I think the record is better for it.
Can you speak to what the inspiration for the title, Charmer, was?
We wanted a title that was short and simple. We’ve always liked the theme of duality and words that have more than one meaning. Charmer has both negative and positive meanings. It’s the idea that a word can be taken in more than one way depending on how you look at it.
The cover art almost looks like it was hand-stitched. Did someone actually hand-stitch that cover art and scan it in?
Brianna spent many, many hours hand-stitching all that. She’s pretty much done all our art since the beginning, so she wanted to try something a little bit different, so she learned how to do that, how to embroider. I think it looks awesome, I’m really happy with it.
Sweeeeet embroidery job, Brianna.
The record sounds a little bit less poppy and little more mature this time around. There’s… I don’t know how you’d put it, but there’s maybe more of a grown-up indie rock feel. In what ways do you feel you’ve grown the most on this record?
For me personally, just exposure to different bands, different types of music, listening to older rock bands like getting into a lot of Fleetwood Mac and Black Sabbath and things like that really broadened my musical influences. While the songs on the record may not sound anything like those bands, there are different essences you can pull from different influences that you have.
As a band, I think after playing together for such a long time, you develop sort of a comfort and I don’t feel… how do I want to word this? To me, it sounds like Tigers Jaw. I don’t know exactly what else to say there. I think it sounds like a more mature record, but still sounds like us.
It does sound very familiar in relation to what people have probably come to expect from Tigers Jaw.
It was good to get Brianna more involved with singing and writing. That was something that was a little bit different from previous records. More of Brianna.
What elements or aspects would you say Brianna contributed to the most in the writing process?
She helped me out with some lyrics. She worked really hard at figuring out some harmonies that sound really, really nice. There’s a couple of great three-part harmonies that she came up with on a few different songs. She had a lot of suggestions, not even just for her own voice, but for other parts, she was very much involved with how a certain line was a sung or the way a lyric was phrased, things like that. She definitely had a more active role than in the past.
Generally, when you’ve been playing live, it sounds like you’ve been having other musicians and friends of yours fill in. Have you ever attempted to play live as a two-piece?
Well, we’ve done some acoustic shows. We did a show last September at Studio 4 with Anthony Green and that was really fun to play stripped-down versions of the songs. We did some old ones and some new ones. Getting so stripped-down, it can be a little nerve-wracking, especially for me, but we had a fun time doing it and I think Will recorded it, so we hope to release those tracks at some point too.
Do your songs transfer fairly well into an acoustic set, or do they take a little restructuring?
I guess I haven’t really put a lot of thought into it in some time. It’s not like a perfect one-to-one ratio. I have to switch things around and maybe play different chords so it sounds more full, try to manipulate chords and kind of play a riff within the chord, making up for playing two guitar parts on one as best I can. It’s definitely a challenge, but for the most part, the songs that we did do translated pretty well.
When you hit the road this summer, how much of your set do you anticipate is going to be split between new and old material? Are you more excited to try out the new stuff and play stuff that might be more fresh, or do you still like going back to some of the older records too?
It’s definitely still fun for me to play some of the old songs, but I’m very excited to play new songs too. There should be a very good blend of old and new.
When you’re on tour this summer, do you already know who’s going to be rounding out the full Tigers Jaw lineup on the road? I think I saw on Twitter that Eliot Babin from Touché Amoré might be playing drums?
He is! Eliot’s going to play drums for us. Derek Sherman is playing guitar, he’s been playing with us a lot lately, and Luke Schwartz is playing bass.
Is there anything in particular that you’re most excited about coming up on tour?
We’ve always had a very limited touring availability, so any time I get to get away is really awesome. I love being on the west coast, we’re definitely going to spend a lot more time out there than we have in previous years. There’s going to be plenty of places that we’ve never played before, so I’m really excited.
Moving forward, looking at the distant future for Tigers Jaw, have you done much writing just as a two-piece? Is there any plan to put out more material in the future after Charmer comes out and has gone through its touring cycle?
Definitely. We never planned to stopped writing music. Brianna and I have been working on some things. There’s a song for Will Yip’s compilation she and I wrote together and I’ve been working on other things and trying to demo songs here and there. The writing process is definitely slow for me, but it’s always on-going, so we definitely hope to put out more music sooner than later.
Charmer is out this week from Run for Cover Records.
Ben Sailer is on Twitter, dispelling rumors of his break up - @BenSailer