LOS ANGELES, January 16, 2014 — In 1995, psychobilly punk band Tiger Army was formed by Nick 13 in Berkeley, Calif. Nick 13 is the only original member in a band that seems to have a different lineup on each album. Nick 13 has also gone country as a solo artist. In March 2013, Wells On Music spoke with Nick 13 about the future of Tiger Army as well as his solo career.
Kevin Wells: What bands inspired you to want to start Tiger Army?
Nick 13: Gosh, I guess I could go really far back with some of the bands that initially got me into punk. The Ramones was huge for me. I loved the combination of the melody and the aggression, specifically Johnny Ramones’ guitar style. That buzz-saw guitar with the all down strokes is really aggressive, and there was something about that when I first heard it that it was simple enough that I could understand it, and I felt like I could play it. That was a big inspiration for me to actually pick up a guitar and actually learn songs.
And then a lot of the other bands that sort of initially started me down my musical path were punk bands. But they were punk bands that incorporated 1950s or early ‘60s rock ‘n roll rockabilly to some degree. Stuff like The Cramps, the Misfits, the Damned and sort of at the same time.
When I was pretty young, I also loved a lot of 1950s rock ‘n roll. Some of it was stuff that my dad played for me like Buddy Holly, Dion and The Belmonts and things like that. The Meteors was a pretty big band for me because they were taking all of these different elements and putting them together into one thing, into psychobilly.
I guess there was some point where it clicked in my mind that I could combine all these disparate influences—the love that I had for melody and for early rock ‘n roll’s energy, along with my love for fast and aggressive music and some of the kind of darker elements in punk and early death rock and Goth music, whether it was T.S.O.L. or Bauhaus—and really kind of wrap that up together in one package.
KW: Will you release any more Tiger Army records?
N13: There definitely will be another Tiger Army record, I’m just not sure when. I’ve been in the process of writing my second solo album for a while and that’s pretty close to being written. So I definitely plan to enter the studio this year for that. Originally when I did the first solo record, I was going to come right back to Tiger Army, but I learned so much and I was so inspired and I was enjoying it so much that it didn’t seem right to switch gears at that time. But I’ve been writing Tiger Army material the whole time. So, when it is time to sit down and start putting together a Tiger Army record, I already have a lot of cool stuff to use as a base.
KW: Will the three Spring Forward shows at the end of March be the only Tiger Army shows this year?
N13: They could be. It’s the only stuff we have planned right now. We have done the October Flame Festival for the past five years. There are some things kind of swirling around in the fall, but I can’t really get into it. It’s my hope that we do October Flame, but there are definitely some reasons why it might not happen. I would say, at most, you’re probably gonna see Spring Forward and October Flame, but it’s quite possible that the Spring Forward shows could be the only Tiger Army shows this year.
KW: What made you want to switch gears with the Nick 13 solo stuff?
N13: It probably had something to do with my listening tastes. When Tiger Army was starting out, I felt like the early to mid-‘90s were a pretty fertile time for psychobilly. There were a lot of new bands, mostly out of Europe, doing new and exciting things and things that had never been done within the genre.
I still love all those classic records, but as the 2000s progressed, I found that there were fewer new psychobilly records that were blowing me away. And I found myself listening to more and more early roots music. I started listening to honky tonk from the ‘50s before Tiger Army started, and that was mostly inspired by some of the rockabilly artists who cut honky tonk songs, like Warren Smith and Carl Perkins and Charlie Feathers.
I would say in the mid-2000s, it became more of an interest to go back and really explore that period in music and get more deeply into some of the artists I hadn’t discovered or gotten as deeply into their catalogs. That ‘50s honky-tonk influence has always been a part of Tiger Army to a degree, but it’s not the whole sound, obviously. The songs that I did in that style like “Outlaw Heart” and “In The Orchard” were some of my favorites to perform live. It gave me an entirely different feeling to play those songs live than the feeling I got from the rest of the Tiger Army set. And I would say the original idea to do a record that branched off entirely into that style probably came from Tiger Army fans. Like people who said, “I love Outlaw Heart, would you ever do an entire record in that style?” I was getting that probably as early as 2000, and probably somebody suggested that to me before I ever considered the idea. That idea had been rattling around my head for several years at that point.
Something clicked when Tiger Army was on the road going through Nashville in 2008. I just decided this is really what I want to do musically right now. After we finish this year of touring, I have to turn my attentions to this and do it. Otherwise I am never going to.
KW: Which do you prefer, writing or playing music for either Nick 13 solo or Tiger Army?
N13: I wouldn’t say that I enjoy one over the other. Writing is actually a pretty similar feeling. When that song comes to me that I’m personally moved by, that’s a really satisfying feeling regardless of where the song is going to wind up. As far as playing, I wouldn’t say I prefer one over the other either; they are two completely different feelings, kind of like two sides of a coin. Being able to do both is really rewarding because on the one hand, when I do the solo stuff, it’s nice to take a break from the volume and intensity of Tiger Army and to explore different aspects of mood and emotion and feeling. And then on the other hand, when I’ve done that a while, it’s really nice to crank things up and get that rush from playing Tiger Army and to get to embrace that intensity. So, I love both.
KW: You are doing a solo show in April at the Stagecoach Festival. Have you done a lot of country festivals?
N13: My first live solo show was actually at Stagecoach in 2010. But this time is going to be for me, and at that time no one had ever heard any of my songs. There was no record out, nothing was recorded or available anywhere to listen to. It will be interesting going back and getting to play now that my record’s been out for a year and a half and people have had a chance to hopefully check it out. And I’ve lived with it for a little bit.
There are some other festivals that I’ve done. I toured pretty heavily around the country when the record came out in 2011. We played Austin City Limits in Texas and some other stuff like that.
KW: Do you prefer the larger festivals or the smaller club shows?
N13: I don’t always like the atmosphere at certain festivals, but there’s something about Stagecoach in particular that I really like. I don’t know if it’s the music or the environment, the natural surroundings, or the people and the way they might be different from, say, an extreme music rock festival. But there’s something relaxing and fun and cool about Stagecoach. So, that’s one of my favorite places to play or be. In general, I guess, whether it’s solo or whether it’s Tiger Army, my preference isn’t really for bigger or smaller, it’s more about the connection with the audience and how everything sounds: the energy that I’m putting out and how much that comes back from the crowd. You can have an amazing show in front of 200 people or 20,000 people as long as that magic is there. So, it’s not really about the size for me.
KW: What bands would you want to go on the road with that you have yet to tour with?
N13: For Tiger Army, we got to play with a lot of the bands that we wanted. I’m sure I could think of some examples if I wracked my brain—bands that we’d like to tour with. There are probably more artists I would like to support with my Americana music, because that still is really developing audience-wise. It would definitely be cool to play with Dwight Yoakam, but I will be playing with him in a sense. He is going to be on the same stage as me at Stagecoach.
KW: Is there anything else that you would like Tiger Army or Nick 13 fans to know?
N13: I’d like to thank everyone out there for their continuing support of my music and Tiger Army as well as for my solo work. Tiger Army definitely hasn’t broken up. Never did. We’ve played shows every year, albeit not that many. And we’re not going to. So, we’re not going anywhere, but definitely I would advise people, if you’ve been wanting to see us live, to take this chance, whether it’s a road trip or whatever, to make it out to one of the Spring Forward shows.
I have a new video coming out that we just shot recently for my solo stuff for the song, “Nighttime Sky.” People should keep an eye out for that, as well, in the next month or so.
Kevin J. Wells writes about Major League Baseball and punk rock music. Follow him on Twitter @WellsOnBaseball