Ryan Chartrand

The band’s mantra, “Tiger Army Never Die,” couldn’t be more fitting. With a rocky history that would have meant the end of less-determined groups, California’s Tiger Army has persevered and is once again bringing their own unique brand of punk rock to San Luis Obispo.

“We always have a good time when we come to SLO. The downtown is beautiful, and the crowd is always fun,” vocalist and guitarist Nick 13 said in a phone interview. “We’re definitely looking forward to it.”

For those unfamiliar with the band’s eclectic sound, imagine a marriage of ’70s and ’80s punk and rockabilly sprinkled with a dash of country twang, all the while maintaining an affinity for the macabre. As a three-piece, the band employs a stand-up bass, giving it a vintage sound. Their style is “psychobilly,” as many call it, but updated with a modern twist. Tiger Army has truly carved out a sound all their own.

“We’re influenced by rockabilly, but we’re definitely not a rockabilly band,” said Nick 13, the only original member remaining since the band’s inception more than 10 years ago. “There’s elements of dark pop and British ’80s stuff like The Cure, The Smiths and post-punk like Joy Division. We draw from all kinds of things.”

Haunting lyrics are delivered via Nick 13’s soaring croon – sometimes soothing and melodic, other times edgy and abrasive, but always heartfelt and sincere. Nick 13’s poetic lyrics are inspired by classic horror movies, 19th and early-20th century Gothic authors such as Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft as well as certain Japanese authors.

“There’s something really lyrical about Japanese literature when it’s translated into English,” Nick 13 said. “It’s a big influence to me.”

The band has come a long way since their early days in the East Bay punk-skateboarding scene. Coming together in early 1996, they played their first show at the legendary 924 Gilman in Berkeley. The band quickly grabbed the attention of Tim Armstrong, frontman of the seminal punk band Rancid, who signed the band to his label, Hellcat Records.

Despite a few early lineup changes, things were going well and the band enjoyed modest success. By 2003, they had embarked on an 18-month tour across the U.S. and overseas to Japan and Europe.

Tragedy struck, however, when drummer Fred Hell was shot four times during a home-invasion robbery. The incident left Hell with a bullet lodged in his brain. Despite waiting several months for his recovery, Hell was unable to continue with the band.

“Things seemed almost too hard to keep going,” Nick 13 said. “But somehow we just stayed with it.”

A move from the East Bay to Los Angeles and numerous lineup changes later, the band solidified with the addition of Jeff Roffredo on stand-up bass and James Meza on drums. Despite the turbulence, the new lineup has proved to be a blessing for the band.

“I feel like things are really strong right now,” Nick 13 said. “There definitely have been some rocky times, but to use the cliché, ‘every cloud has a silver lining.’”

During the past few years, the band has toured relentlessly alongside other punk bands, such as AFI and Rancid, playing shows across the United States, Europe and even Australia. The band even landed a spot on the 2004 and 2007 Van’s Warped Tour. With four full-length albums under its belt – the most recent being June 5, 2007’s release of “Music From Regions Beyond,” the band’s most defining work to date – Tiger Army has reached a level of success uncommon in today’s underground music scene.

“It’s a good feeling,” Nick 13 said. “We’ve been doing this for a long time. It seems like each year things get a little better. There are so many people that are really into what we do at this point; it’s a gratifying thing. It seems like our music becomes something important to them.”

Indeed, one glance at the band’s MySpace page reveals dozens of devoted fans that have tattooed the band’s roaring tiger-with-bat-wings symbol on themselves in some way or another.

“You’ll see people who are into every subculture of rock ‘n’ roll at a Tiger Army show,” Nick 13 said. “People come to us from a lot of different backgrounds and styles.”

Many fans, including Cal Poly earth science sophomore Kris Osterloh, are excited for tonight’s performance.

“I’ve already seen them live a few times and they’re frickin’ awesome,” Osterloh said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

So what advice does the band have for aspiring musicians?

“Most of the people that I know who have become successful in music started out just for the love of music. It’s not easy; it takes a lot of hard work and it can take a lot of sacrifice,” Nick 13 said. “Do something that’s true to yourself. Whether you’re following a trend or just imitating your influences because you love them, you have to find a way to make those influences your own and combine them with your own sound. Otherwise, you’re just another face in the crowd.”

And what does the future hold for Tiger Army? The band will be spending most of 2008 on the road in support of their new album, but the next album is always in the back of their minds.

“I’m always looking toward the future. I’m always excited about the next record that hasn’t been written and hasn’t been made. If that feeling ever left me, I don’t think I’d bother to make a record,” Nick 13 said.

Be sure to catch Tiger Army tonight at Downtown Brewing Co. with Revolution Mother and The Dear & Departed. The show starts at 7 p.m.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *