Tiger Army hasn’t had a lot of time to catch its breath.
This staple of North American psychobilly has encountered more than its share of tragedy and triumph over the years. Lead singer and songwriter Nick 13 has grit his teeth and pressed on.
The jubilation he felt after Rancid frontman and Hellcat Records cofounder Tim Armstrong first discovered him was matched by the dismay of having to part ways with drummer Fred Hell after a violent robbery attempt left him unable to continue with the band.
There were still more punches to roll with when the band had to soldier on after bass player Geoff Kresge left the band in 2004. Kresge announced his return to Tiger Army this year.
As Nick 13 heads out on the road in support of Tiger Army's latest LP, Music From Regions Beyond, he still views his pet genre as a subculture. But psychobilly has found plenty of interested ears in the Duke City, and that's a big reason why Tiger Army makes Albuquerque a regular stop every time it tours. Nick 13 spoke to the Alibi en route to New Mexico.
How did it feel to be pursued by Tim Armstrong?
It was an amazing thing. We had done a demo almost a year before he contacted me. Then one day I came home and there was a message from him saying, I got your demo and I want to talk to you about doing a record for Hellcat. It was one of the happiest days of my life, but I had to tell him that I really didn't have a band together right then. When he found out I was the songwriter, he said, Let's get a bass player and a drummer for the studio and put something together.
“It's seldom that anything worth doing is easy.”
How would you characterize Tiger Army's lineup?
It's the best of the old and the new. Geoff and I have been playing for so many years and we have a real chemistry that comes across live. We're harkening back to some of that raw energy that characterized some of our earlier lineups. As far as drums, James Meza is the best drummer we've ever had in a permanent lineup, and he deserves a lot of credit for Tiger Army taking it up a notch musically. We got a lot tighter and a lot more musically sound.
How have Tiger Army's struggles shaped the band?
It defines us, really. It's seldom that anything worth doing is easy. There's definitely been times where people don't care about it as much as I do and I have to keep it going.
Where does that drive come from?
Well, forward is the only way for me. There are still things I want to say musically in this band, and if ever that isn't the case, I don't think I would continue.
What's the state of psychobilly in America?
There's a much greater awareness of the music than when the band began touring. It's still a young scene in the States versus in Europe, where there's a good 25 years of history. In America, it's still something people are just sort of discovering and getting used to. Musically, the scene hasn't matured to where bands are comfortable stepping outside the expectations and innovating.
How close do you think the scene is to being fully mature?
It's hard to say. It could take years or it could happen tomorrow.
What attracts you to psychobilly?
I like that it's a hybrid. I've always had eclectic tastes, and it's hard to think of another style where you can move from an up-tempo hardcore punk-influenced song to a country ballad. That freedom is something I need as a writer and a musician.
Tiger Army comes to Albuquerque a lot. Why is that?
Yeah, we've been through there at least six times. It's got a cool vibe. I love the sort of Old Route 66 aesthetic, and there's so much of that still in Albuquerque. We took the 12 Step Rebels out on tour with us and they're from Albuquerque and, in general, it seems like the city has a great local scene and kids that get what we're doing.