Interview: Tiger Army

(this interview originally appeared in issue #14 of Modern Fix Magazine in 2002).


– interview by celina


Hailing from the nocturnal underground sound of pyschobilly, there comes Tiger Army (TA). Fronted by Nick 13, it is a trio mixed with mystery, passion, and a dedication to this thing called psychobilly. While most bands take pride in mimicking the sounds of punk, hardcore, emo, or whatever tunefully pleases them, TA should take pride in the fact that they are just about the only well know and well respected psychobilly band around these days. They are definitely the trailblazers of this up and coming scene but always modestly shy away from the limelight. With drummer Fred Telles and stand up bassist Geoff Kresge, Nick 13 leads TA into the deep, the dark, and the melancholy. However, they don’t stop there. From their menacing undertones, they will barge into something reminiscent of the energizer bunny on speed. They hurl themselves across the stage, whilst intricately beating out each melody on guitar, ferociously pouncing upon the standup bass, and puncturing wounds into earsplitting drums. They are amazing, endowed, and gracious. Well, gracious enough to agree to an interview after their draining set and pain in the ass obligation of loading up the van for the next gig…

tigerpicSo what is “pyschobilly”? I mean, how in the world did you guys ever become involved with something that has been so concealed from the punk scene?
Nick 13: As far as what pyschobilly is… it is a subculture, a music style that is about 20 years old. It started in England and spread throughout Europe. And, there are a lot of pyschobilly bands around the world and bands that have come and gone throughout the years. I think early punk bands have a unique sound within the style, such as the Misfits. You would not confuse them with Black Flag. There is currently a lot going in within the pyschobilly style.

Were you into psychobilly also? (addressed to Greg K) I know that you were really into the whole AFI/East Bay scene?
Greg: Well, yeah. I mean as far as the whole hardcore, thing goes… I wouldn’t say when I was in AFI I was into that sound. It took me a long time before I could afford myself the time to learn how to play standup bass. I was, though, around some bands that used that term to describe their band. I finally got the chance to do what I had wanted to do, and here we are.

But, being really, really rare, did you guys just like discover some psychobilly record at a store and think “gee, this looks cool, I’ll pick it up”?
Nick: It was a gradual process, the first pyschobilly bands were around 92/93, but I did not recognize the extensiveness of the subculture until 94/95. I started checking out European bands when they would come here, which wasn’t often. From there on, it finally hit me, and I really got into it. The records are still difficult to buy, by the standard of punk records, but it is still possible.

When I think of “pyschobilly” all I can think of is TA. Your sound is really original and unique, compared to most generic bands. Could you comment on how, being into the genre, you went from your humble beginnings in Oakland/East Bay area to landing a deal on Tim Armstrong’s label?
Nick: Well I mean I definitely have a lot of appreciation to play shows, especially like the one tonight. To have kids know the words and sing along is a really great feeling. As far as forming, there are a lot of bands out there that people have not heard of, who have been doing this longer and better than us. For instance, the Quakes did a great job, but the scene was not totally ready. It was unfortunate because they were a really great band. Now, though, we are lucky because pschobilly is something that people have started to accept.

Your albums have a really wide range of songs-everything from the slow and rockabilly-ish to the really fast paced and high strung. Are you going to have to hasten your sets or mix them up for the tour? The DKM and Sick of It All are speedier, in general, and their audience seems to be “faster” too.
Greg: We like to play a cross section of everything. You know, it gives me a chance to rest because the standup bass can take the wind out of me. It is nice not to have to play a relentless 100-mile an hour set set. But Sick Of It All and Drop Kick Murphy’s have slower songs, too.

Well I loved how at the Troubadour you had that guy on the pedal steel.
Nick: His name is Greg Leisz. He was really cool to sit in for a show and was also on the album. He’s an amazing player and has played and recorded with a lot of country artists. The fact that he was willing to do this for us was just really nice of him.

Talking about country and rockabilly influences, when you started the band did you know that you specifically wanted a standup bass?
Nick: I knew when I wanted to start the band in ’95, yeah. It was something that I had wanted to do for a long time, but I needed to find a good sounding standup bass player.
Geoff: I had played in a punk band before TA, and I had always wanted to play standup bass. But, at the time, I could not afford one or find the time to learn how to play one.

Lyrically, I think that the “Power of Moonlight II” is my favorite; it is much more responsive and smooth.. it flows better. Perhaps, it sounds more personal? Where there any outside influences that make this album different from your first album, or is it simply a matter of practice makes perfect?
Nick: I would say…Well I have been writing songs for a long time now. I guess I would have to agree that a couple years of more experience helps. The writing for the second album was more focused, and on the first album there is a really wide age range of the songs. I had written some of the songs long before the album came out.

The new album is also more ‘structured.’ In other words, I would agree that it is methodical and well kept together. Do you think that this is because of the fact that you now have a permanent band-minus London?
Nick: Yeah, I think that the permanent band part was a factor. But, after making the first album, I also learned a lot more about the studio and how it works. You know, I learned more about the whole process and was able to plan everything in a better manner.

For the self-titled album, Nick was pretty much the ‘ringleader’ and, I guess, in charge of everything. Now is it different with the input from all three of you?
Geoff: Nick writes all of the songs, but as for like the bass lines, we try different things. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Basically, we bounce ideas off each other, and the cohesiveness is attributable to more studio experience, I think. Having played in the band for a longer time now, we are always on the same page with each other. But, especially playing together has really helped to lock everything in…(Interruption from Ken Casey asking for beer for two “pains in the arses”)…Anyway, as far as psychobilly goes Nick and I know what to expect and what we want to hear.
Nick: Communication is also a big factor because I don’t have to explain to Geoff how something should sound; we know what sound we want to get.

I was talking with Chris (Hell-Cat Prez), and we were debating why “Power of Moonlight II” was doing so well, as far as album sales and touring. I thought that it was due to this second album just being so damn good; however, he thought that it was because your first album did well and that it simply attracted more and more kids.
Nick: I like both albums equally; I don’t have a really strong feeling for one or the other. I am still really proud of the new one, though. When the first record came out-with the exception of five shows in California-there was basically no tour support to promote it. So I guess the process of making it a success has so far been by word of mouth, you know people telling friends. Those friends are checking us out and coming to our shows, in addition to our fans that have been with us from the beginning. Also, people are finally catching onto the scene and are, I think, giving the music a chance.
Geoff: All this is attributable to the fact that we have been on the road. I mean, before we were not able to play in front of so many people. Now when we are on the road people that have never seen us are coming to the shows and sticking along. This is definitely having an impact on things.

Now on the new record, who are the guest appearances by?
Nick: Our friends Lars and Matt from Rancid and then Davey from AFI.
Those are nice friends to have when making an album. Did they rightfully contribute to any ideas for the songs, or did you already have specific parts for them?
Nick: It was more like the latter. All of our friends on the album expressed a lot of positive enthusiasm for our music. Basically, there is a blend that Davey and I have when we sing; our voices can create this unique sound that I wanted for the album. Matt and Lars were different. I had them in mind because Matt has this gravely voice, and Lars plays the slide guitar really well. He’s been playing it for years, and I knew that for a couple of songs I wanted that sound from the guitar.

Okay, one last question: why do they call you Nick ’13’? Is thirteen really your last name?
Nick: (laughs) No. Well it kind of is now. I was in a band with Geoff, Influence 13, and it started as a joke. But, it started when all of my friends would get this other Nick and I mixed up. When Mike or Dave would be on the phone they would say, “I am hanging out with Nick.” The person would be like is it this Nick or that Nick, and they would say no it’s “Nick 13.”


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