As we get closer to L.A. Fashion Week, an admittedly enormous event in these parts, it only makes sense that, here in the music section, we take a look at a group with a bigger-than-the-norm image. A band that care about their fashion, put some effort in. And shit, local pop-rockers Fire Tiger look spectacular. The ’80s influence on the sound has had a similar impact on the image, much to the group’s benefit.
“Personally, I’m a thrift store junkie,” singer Tiff Alkouri says. “I take clothes with hope and potential, and alter them to fit my body and style, which is always different depending on the mood I’m in. Of course, we’re always in awe at the fashion of the ’70s and ’80s. It was truly the freest, wildest time for clothing. People wore whatever they wanted, there were no limits. 'Go big or go home' was their slogan. It’s so easy so be inspired by those decades.”
Similarly, the frontwoman’s teased hair is a gloriously OTT reminder of the excesses of the ’80s. Hair is, Alkouri says, the most important element to a person’s look.
“It can say a lot about a person right off the bat,” she says. “I love bleaching my hair, shaping it into kind of a mullet with a lot of layers. I tease it a lot with very strong hairspray. On my good days, you know right away I’m not in law school. You immediately think, ‘She might be in a band called Fire Tiger.’ Or they might just think I’m another street wanderer. As long as they don’t think I’m in law school, I’m doing my job.”
The ’80s is a roundly ridiculed decade, often considered artistically empty, soulless and entirely dependent on the baser, unsavory elements of capitalism. On the flipside, a lot of the sound and visuals were all about fun. Just pure fun. And, while people could walk around today dressed in ’90s attire and barely raise an eyebrow, the ’80s look is very distinctive.
“The ’80s was the last big time, even for music, to be big, glamorous and over the top,” Alkouri says. “It’s not just clothes. It’s clothes and music and the way people acted on the street.”
Fire Tiger formed in L.A. in 2011, Alkouri and keyboardist James Ramsey jamming with a few friends and roommates when they decided that they wanted to spread their wings — they previously had an ’80s cover band called Danger Zone L.A. Their first song and video was a catchy ditty called “Energy,” and they never looked back.
“We have an authentically retro sound, which is what we’re going for, but we’re hoping to have it break into the mainstream today,” Ramsey says. “We’d like for retro to be more accessible on mainstream radio.”
“What we mean by retro is, for me it’s high quality,” Alkouri adds. “It’s Whole Foods vs. the 99 Cent Store. When something sounds authentically ’80s, ’70s or ’60s, for me that’s like saying, that’s high quality. The bar is set to the top.”
The joy of Fire Tiger is in the fact that they blend many elements of ’80s music, including, but not exclusive to, pop, hair metal and new wave. They refer to The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Rush as wider influences, as well as anything that was in the Top 40 from the late ’70s to early ’90s. They gleefully marinate in one-hit-wonders and everything that music snobs might turn their noses up at. That’s why they’re so fucking great. And then there’s that wonderful band name.
“James made that up,” Alkouri says. “He wanted a double rhyming name, so he liked how A-Ha sounded. Oingo Boingo, Duran Duran, Tears For Fears. There’s no specific reason for Fire or Tiger. He just liked the way it sounded. We didn’t even know it would be permanent. Then we started moving forward with it.”
On the surface, that ’80s vibe might be all about the glitz and fun, but Fire Tiger’s lyrics display genuine depth and maturity. That makes for a compelling semi-contradiction.
“If you listen to ‘Energy,’ that’s trying to find somebody with energy to push me forward,” Alkouri says. “‘He Has Changed’ is about my mom waiting for my dad to return because he cheated on her. She’s still in denial to this day that he’s gonna come back. It’s really sad. So all sorts of things. It could be personal, but I could also put myself into someone else’s shoes. ‘Faces’ is about dementia. I have nothing to do with that but I know a lot of people do, and I was inspired to write a song about that.”
“So mostly, our songs are about subjects like intimacy,” Ramsey adds.
The subject of intimacy leads us to personal relationships, and then the band’s part in the current local scene. Fire Tiger feel extremely fortunate to be part of what they consider a blooming Los Angeles music scene right now.
“I really love it,” Alkouri declares. “When we go out, we see so many talented bands. It’s kind of depressing because I don’t know if they’ll ever get a chance to make it, or we’ll ever get a chance because there are so many talented bands and it is an oversaturated market. You are a fish in a sea of other fish. But I think there’s a lot of great talent out there, and I see it is moving forward as people go out and see these awesome bands.”
That said, the group is making moves over in the U.K. in an attempt to crack that market, following in the footsteps of other locals who succeeded overseas first.
“We have linked up with Supreme Songs in the U.K., and we’re really excited about that,” Alkouri says. “We’re going to try to shop around for label representation and anything we can get over there. The U.K. seems to understand our music style a lot more than the industry here. We have a lot of fans in the U.S. but I feel like the industry in the U.K. will be more open to the classic-rock style that we have. The Struts came out of there. Haim is a band from the Valley and, like us, they were playing up and down the Sunset Strip for a few years, and they said they never got any industry respect, so they went to the U.K. and got a record deal there. They have the pop-rock ’80s/’70s thing going on, so that shows you what we need to do. It’s a good example. We need to get out of here.”
Before that, Fire Tiger play the Viper Room this week, and they promise an exciting set.
“We’re going to have a mixture of our classic songs from the first album, Energy, along with our new album, Suddenly Heavenly,” Alkouri says. “It’s gonna be a packed house, hopefully.”
Fire Tiger play with Riker & the Beachcombers, The Gatsby Affair and Sierra & the Radicals at 8 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 21, at the Viper Room.