Let’s go back in time for just a moment. Word War II is over. We all have tons of extra money because America is in the midst of an economic boom. We like Ike. Elvis, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers are filling the airwaves with a new type of music called “rock-and-roll.” These were the Happy Days, The 1950s.
What might the 1950s us think life would be like — or sound like — in the year 2019? That’s the question Nick 13 and his band Tiger Army hoped to illustrate with their new record, Retrofuture, which dropped last Friday, via Rise Records.
“I think a lot of the best music was made at that time,” 13 tells the Observer during a recent phone interview. “That music influences us a lot, but at the same time we’re creating something modern.”
The Los Angeles-based “psychobilly” trio has been making music for nearly two decades now, and during that time, 13 — the band’s main songwriter and founding member — has been able to hone his songwriting skills. “I’m still influenced by a lot of the same things,” he says. “But I’m able to approach it in different ways at this point that my skill level when I was just starting out didn’t necessarily allow.”
The concept of "retrofuture" is not a new one, but it’s most traditionally expressed through visual art and media. “It’s people in the past imagining what the future would look like. But, of course, that’s colored by their own time,” 13 explained. “I started thinking about the idea ‘What if it wasn’t the way things looked, but the way things sounded?’”
The band will be bringing their retrofuturistic sound to Dallas' Canton Hall on Saturday, Sept. 21.
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The final product is a sound that embodies the idyll and optimism of yesteryear but stands on its own as something entirely unique. The band took extra care to execute this concept and get that classic '50s sound by using vintage instruments, amplifiers and some recording equipment. “Our idea was to use vintage recording equipment but then also make something that’s kind of forward and modern as well,” 13 tells us. “I feel like we pulled that off.”
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Using vintage equipment comes with its own unique set of issues though. “Sometimes equipment from that era can be a little finicky,” the artist says. “You might need to adjust something, or even move to a different piece of equipment if something’s just not happening, but I think that in a way that kind of adds a little bit of spontaneity that translates to the record sounding exciting. You don’t know how long you have before the tone changes or something breaks or needs adjusting, so you just try to knock it out as quickly as possible.”
Nick 13 is an old soul in all the best ways — that much was apparent, even after our brief phone conversation. He clearly has a deep appreciation for history, so much of which has influenced him throughout his career.
“In general, it was a time of optimism,” he says of the 1950s. “There was a lot of new technology; the aesthetics; it was just an exciting time in our culture, so I think I’m drawn to it for those reasons, and a lot of other people are as well.
“I see rock 'n' roll as an evolution from the stuff in the '50s, to the early '60s where it got a little more produced, and then surf rock. Even punk in the '70s is kind of an extension of that same spirit.”