Q & A with Nick 13
In June, Nick 13, the front man for the psychobilly band, Tiger Army, released his self-titled solo album on Sugar Hill Records. The aptly self-titled album blends country, hillbilly, and Americana perfectly mirroring Nick and his respect for the genres proving him to be more than just a psychobilly punk. Earlier this week, I reviewed the album which afforded me the chance to ask Nick 13 a few questions about the record and his solo experience. He ended this simple Q & A on a complementary note: “I love the picture of the cat with the banjo!” Well, Homer (yes, I named the cat) and I return the sentiment.
CFM: For my readers who aren’t familiar with you and your band, Tiger Army, can you please describe the band and music?
Nick 13: Tiger Army’s basic style is psychobilly, with an emphasis on songwriting and a somewhat postmodern approach that incorporates some atypical influences like British pop and postpunk in addition to the standard building blocks of early punk and rockabilly music. There’s also some hillbilly (we’ve done a country-influenced song with Greg Leisz on pedal steel on each album going back to the first), but roots music is just one shade of many with Tiger Army.
Psychobilly as a genre has a lot of pitfalls, it’s important to me to avoid the novelty elements and gimmicks that have unfortunately become the norm in many cases. We’re a three-piece with electric guitar, stand-up bass and drums that’s considerably darker, louder and more aggressive musically than what I do with my solo stuff.
CFM: How does it feel to be solo on both the album and tour?
Nick 13: I’m really enjoying it, it’s exciting to be doing something that’s largely new for me after many years of touring with Tiger Army. The music, the rooms we play, the vibe onstage and the interaction between the audience and myself are all a big contrast. There are so many incredible musicians I’ve worked with both live and in the studio, you can’t help but learn and be inspired by playing with people like Greg Leisz, Lloyd Green, James Intveld, Josh Grange, Eddie Perez, Sara Watkins and so many others!
CFM: How long did you think about doing a solo album before actually recording it? Why do one?
Nick 13: I’d been thinking about it for the better part of a decade, believe it or not. After early Tiger Army songs like “Outlaw Heart” and “In The Orchard,” listeners began asking for an album of songs in that style. It was in the back of my mind for many years before a tour stop in Nashville inspired me to begin work on it when Tiger Army completed the tour cycle for our last album. It took about a year to write, during which time I completely immersed myself in old hillbilly records, videos and live music — living in Nashville for a time later unlocked the door for me inspirationwise. The recording took about a year, this had mostly to do with the schedules of the producers and players. I wanted to do it as a solo album because while I write the songs, it’s a different feeling for me than Tiger Army, what the two things don’t share is almost more important than the things that they do in some ways.
CFM: The restyled Tiger Army songs are great, why did you choose to record these songs? What makes them special?
Nick 13: I was never quite happy with the original recording of “In The Orchard,” I love Greg Leisz’s steel playing on it, but it was always envisioned as much slower than the Tiger Army version turned out to be. “Cupid’s Victim” was originally something for the live solo set inspired by a friend’s idea, but after hearing the way it came together, I thought, “Why not record it?” They’ve both been favorites of mine and I thought it made sense to bring some new elements to both if I was going to redo them.
CFM: There’s a rockabilly, 50s quality to the album, what influenced the vintage vibe? And since Tiger Army has a similiar style but with a punk edge, what draws you to those particular sounds and genres?
Nick 13: I wouldn’t necessarily call it rockabilly, but 50s hillbilly music was definitely a big inspiration, much of that had the stand-up bass as well. I’ve always loved that era aesthetically, and musically, it’s so pure — there’s so much real emotion in the performances that seems missing in the music of today, that’s not even specific to country music. As drawn to that era as I am, it’s important to me to be more than a “retro” act. Groups that recreate a time period are fun, but I need to bring something else to the table in terms of songwriting because you’re never going to do that stuff better than it was already done. You’ve got to write in the present if you want the music to connect with people today and be more than a facsimile.
CFM: Traditional country themes can be found throughout the album, what and/or who influenced your writing?
Nick 13: Hank Williams, which seems like such a cliche, but there’s a reason for that. A lot of the 1940s/50s Opry stars in general. Marty Robbins is definitely an influence on some of the Western-flavored stuff, and, of course, all the California guys from the 50s and 60s: Tommy Collins, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Wynn Stewart.
CFM: In your opinion, which country artist and album is a must have for any record collection? Why?
Nick 13: Very tough question, there are so many greats and so many of them are too often overlooked these days. I’m going to say Tragic Songs Of Life by The Louvin Brothers, hearing that album was huge for me. If that music doesn’t move you, well, we just don’t have anything in common.
CFM: I know you’re touring right now, what are your plans after the tour?
Nick 13: The solo tour is twenty dates all over the U.S. during September and October, when that wraps up Tiger Army will do our fourth annual Octoberflame festival in Orange County, CA. All the tour dates are up now at tigerarmy.com and will hopefully be up soon at nick13.com, we’re still working on getting that fleshed out.
I know I’d like to play at some Americana festivals next year, I’d also love to do a support tour with a larger country or Americana artist. I’m not a prolific writer, but because the recording process was so long I’ve got nearly an album’s worth of songs for a second solo album, I’d love to begin work on that as well. I’m not exactly sure which of these things will happen when yet, so for now, I’m just looking forward to more time on the road and seeing what life brings!
— April D. Wolfe @ Common Folk Music