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Tiger Army's Nick 13 ready for a different roar
It seems everything Nick 13 does is approached with careful thought. He’s not one to rush into projects, which is why it’s taken three years for him to finally release a self-titled solo country/Americana album (in stores and online now) that he's been talking about for almost as long. He will appear for an in-store show and signing at Amoeba Music in Hollywood tonight at 6, followed by two sold-out performances at the Troubadour later this week.
It’s not a stretch that the frontman for L.A.-based psychobilly trio Tiger Army would want to pick up an acoustic guitar and tap into some of his biggest influences: Ray Price, the Louvin Brothers, Earnest Tubb, Hank Williams Sr., Webb Pierce, just to name a few. Since the band’s inception in the Bay Area in 1995, roots music has been injected into the recordings; Tiger Army's self-titled Hellcat Records debut a dozen years ago featured his first country song, “Outlaw Heart.”
“I wasn’t sure how it would go over with our audience,” Nick says during a recent phone interview. “There wasn’t much of a psychobilly scene in the states at the time and most of our audience was coming from punk rock, so I didn’t know how it would react to a country song. I did it anyway because it was a song I liked and it was a nice surprise to find that the audience embraced it. Recording 'Outlaw Heart' was a special experience for me in the studio, too, having (famous session man) Greg Leisz coming in and putting those amazing pedal steel tracks over my song. It was a totally new experience for me.”
Tiger Army II: The Power of Moonlite, from 2001, featured another country track, “In the Orchard,” which Nick 13 has re-recorded for this solo disc. “Cupid’s Victim,” also from the band's second album, wasn't originally a country song, but after taking some advice from vocalist and guitarist Paul Roman of pioneering U.S. psychobilly act the Quakes, Nick countrified the track. He's since performed it numerous times that way with Tiger Army before re-cutting it for his new collection.
Still, Nick 13 alerted fans that a solo album was in the worlds as far back as Octoberflame in 2008. At that first annual multi-evening stint at City National Grove of Anaheim around Halloween, he mentioned the shows would be Tiger Army's last for “quite a while” so he could focus on new material. He said the same thing at Octoberflame the following year, and still hadn't put out anything by the time of last year's shows.
What took so long?
“Basically, I just had a little bit of writer’s block. It just wasn’t coming together as quickly as I thought it would.”
To help shake that stoppage, Nick traveled to Nashville and resided there for a few months, chronicled quite honestly in the new album's opener, “Nashville Winter.” There's plenty rich country music history in Southern California, and the Ukiah native very much wanted to make a California country record, but he says he drew more inspiration from spending time in Tennessee -- seeing live music as often as possible, whether visiting recording studios or ducking into honky-tonks, savoring the local flavor.
“If you walk into those places you’ll see somebody playing who is often in their 70s or 80s, and they’ve played on some legendary records,” he says. “All those guys and gals that are still alive and able to play, they play whenever they can. You walk into a bar and see Buck Owens’ drummer, or a guy who played fiddle for Bill Monroe or Patsy Cline, or you’ll meet Johnny Cash’s bass player -- that’s all stuff I actually saw just randomly in Nashville.”
The album was produced by two veteran players: Leisz, who has appeared on various Tiger Army tracks over the years in addition to his acclaimed worked with a slew of other artists, and L.A. rockabilly mainstay James Intveld, most recently seen performing in John Fogerty's band at Doheny Blues. Another delay: the recording process took almost a year due to busy schedules. But Nick says it was a real learning experience.
“The process of making the solo record I think will actually help revitalize and push Tiger Army forward musically,” he says. “The thing about Tiger Army, being as it’s a three-piece, is I’m not really playing with a bunch of different musicians. I feel like I’ve learned a lot on this record. I’ve sort of gained new perspective that I can put back into Tiger Army when the time is right."
As for when that will be, he says only "I'll know," though it isn't as though the trio is inactive: they have a co-headlining July 30 show with the Blasters booked at Pacific Amphitheatre on July 30, during the OC Fair run. Then there's Octoberflame, though Nick 13 is so far mum about whether or not it will happen this fall -- when pressed about it, he encouraged fans to turn out for the Pacific gig.
But let's be honest: it's certainly likely. Loyalists will show up to both, as they have in years when Tiger Army has played Hootenanny before their All Hallow's Eve weekend near Angel Stadium. Orange County just seems to love Tiger Army that much.
Nick 13 acknowledges the debt the band owes to O.C., as fans here, arguably more so than anywhere else in Southern California, have embraced the band since its start. He says they consider it a second home (or first, as it is for Fullerton drummer James Meza).
“People there just instinctively understood what Tiger Army was trying to do musically,” Nick says. “That definitely wasn’t the case for all regions of the country or the world, especially when we started.”
In 2001 Tiger Army was tapped to be the supporting band for one of Social Distortion’s string of House of Blues Anaheim dates. Nick remembers guitarist Jonny Wickersham and some of the crew warning him that Social D's hard-to-please audiences had been throwing things at other opening acts.
“Basically they were prepping us for disaster,” Nick 13 recalls. “It didn’t happen to us and it went over really well. Everyone was surprised based on the semi-brutal treatment the audience had given some of the other bands in that run. But the next time we came to Orange County, we played the Galaxy Theatre, like on a Thursday, and it sold out. Everyone was surprised -- I didn’t expect that.
"That’s just the kind of love and support Orange County has shown us since Day One, and it’s never been any different. It’s definitely always going to be a special place for us.”
Already Nick 13 has performed his solo material in O.C., at last year's Hootenanny in Irvine, as well as at the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, in March. But the biggest gig was last year at Stagecoach in Indio, where he played on in the Palomino tent just before legends Ray Price and Merle Haggard -- two of his biggest influences.
“There was some tremendous pressure," he recalls, "because I knew I’d be playing mainly to an audience that didn’t know who I was. Playing to all of those people who were there to see two of the most legit guys playing country music in the world today – it was a little nerve-wracking. But it was really nice to see that people got what I was trying to do and appreciated it. I felt like I cleared a real hurdle there.”
He met and chatted with Price, but never got a chance to catch up with Hag. He heard later from a reporter that Haggard had been listening to Nick 13's set from inside his bus behind the stage.
“I’m glad I didn’t know that before I went on,” he says with a laugh.
Nick 13 makes an in-store appearance tonight at 6 at Amoeba Music in Hollywood (6400 W. Sunset Blvd.), then plays Friday and Saturday at the Troubadour in West Hollywood (9081 Santa Monica Blvd.), sold out. Tiger Army returns July 30 to co-headline Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa (100 Fair Drive) with the Blasters. Those tickets are $23.45-$45.40, including service fees. 800-745-3000. troubadour.com, ticketmaster.com, ocfair.com.