"Any line-up is like a marriage," says Nick 13, leader of Tiger Army and one of the best practitioners of psychobilly. "You hope it will work, and it either does or it doesn't." Speaking from a stop on the Warped Tour, Nick 13 (born Kearney Nick Jones) is happy with the stability of the current line-up. He has reason to be.
Since their inception over a decade ago, Tiger Army has seen three drummers and two bassists exit for a variety of reasons, some of them tragic. Former drummer Fred Hell was shot in 2003, with one bullet lodging in his brain. Although he tried to come back, Hell departed the band in light of his injuries a year later. The current rhythm section of Jeff Roffredo and James Meza has proven to be a steady and worthwhile addition.
"We're three years and almost 200 shows into it," says Nick 13, "so I'd call it a stable configuration."
Touring in support of Music from Regions Beyond, the band's fourth effort, Tiger Army is at a fascinating crossroads. For years, their interesting blend of punk and rockabilly has created a healthy critical buzz and resulted in sold-out shows in and around their Los Angeles base. Nick 13 has decided to expand the band's sound on the latest effort and has done so without fear of alienating the band's dedicated cult audience.
"The backlash has happened to some extent, but I write for myself first," says Nick. "Whether others like it or don't is not my primary focus."
The major reason for this backlash would be "As the Cold Rain Falls," a lovely new track from Regions Beyond that sounds more like New Order than the Misfits. With its trance-like rhythm and icy keyboard flourishes, the song is a far cry from anything the band has ever done.
"Our music isn't as weird as it sounds on paper," Nick says. "Some of the influences are early punk and rockabilly, but there's also dark '80s UK post-punk."
"As the Cold Rain Falls" isn't the only departure on the new effort. "Hechizo de Amor" is an alt-country lament that wouldn't sound out of place on an Old 97's record, while "Where the Moss Slowly Grows" draws attention to Nick 13's baritone crooning and acoustic guitar playing in ways that might just confuse the average punk.
Being on the Warped Tour presents several new challenges as well, as Tiger Army sits on the bill with several of emo's heavy hitters, whose eyeliner-addicted fans are not exactly known for their tolerance of diverse musical styles.
"Still, our music isn't for everyone, but we've had pretty good luck finding the open-minded in the audience," Nick says.
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