Though formed up in Berkeley in 1996, Nick 13’s Tiger Army have been based in L.A. since 2000 and have very much become a part of the psychobilly furniture. Five albums into a career that has seen them rise from perennial openers to bona fide local punk rock kings, Tiger Army have managed to take a style of music so fundamentally rooted in the traditional and allow it to evolve in wild and wonderful ways.
The band release a new EP this week, Dark Paradise, the title track being a surprising cover of that Lana Del Rey tune. In fact, the only original song on the EP is an instrumental. Still, Nick 13 still believes the evolution of the group can be charted to this very record.
“I think in one sense, we’ve always had the same group of influences,” 13 says. “’50s and ’60s rock & roll, punk and some other things. But I think in other ways, the ratios of those influences are always changing, evolving, expanding and contracting. For example, surf is at the forefront of the influences for this EP, and that’s something that’s always been part of the sound to a degree. With the last album, the obscure period in the very early ’60s of rock & roll, when the ’50s were done and people were looking for that next thing but the decade hadn’t become musically codified and defined yet — that was the big source of inspiration. I think I just kept listening and delving into things like garage and surf — that’s where my listening and so my influences went after that with this new EP.”
13 says that he does, in fact, listen to Lana Del Rey on a fairly regular basis, even if he was late to the party. Part of the appeal of covering the song was to offer something unexpected for the fans.
“I think there are some musical similarities there in that she’s a modern artist who is inspired by aspects of the past, as are we,” he says. “What comes back to me with any artist of any genre is the songwriting. The melody and the lyrics resonated with me for the original ‘Dark Paradise.’ Even though the arrangement of the original is electronic, great melody and great lyrics are just that regardless of the arrangement.”
V… was the last full-length Tiger Army album, released two years ago. They are working on a sixth LP, and this EP is a bit of a stop-gap.
“Our last album came out the spring of 2016, and we spent about two years on the road touring over four continents,” 13 says. “We knew this year was mostly going to be about writing and recording a new record, which hopefully will be out next year. But we did want to throw something out there to tide people over. It was sort of a fun way to do a bit of recording without the pressure that an LP always is. Especially for us, because we do tend to take quite a while to write and record an LP.”
They have every right to take the perfectionist approach. The band have never let the quality drop through each of their five albums. They’re not particularly prolific as a result, but the “quality over quantity” approach is to their benefit, and to the benefit of the local scene.
“Los Angeles has one of the healthier music scenes, underground and otherwise, really anywhere,” 13 says. “I think when it comes to punk, I’m more inspired by ’70s punk than anything at this point. One of the reasons for that is some of the direct connections it had with the original ’50s and ’60s rock & roll. I think that’s something in particular about Los Angeles. That sense of rock & roll history has always been here with the fans. You had bands like X and The Blasters playing punk shows, mixed bills. I think the Los Angeles audience and Southern California audience has always understood that one, it’s always held real rock & roll in high regard even when it’s out of fashion, and it’s understood that punk is just an outgrowth of that original rock & roll spirit.”
This week, Tiger Army play two shows at the Theatre at Ace Hotel, an unusual venue for the band. That’s exactly why it’s attractive to 13.
“We’ve played so many venues in L.A., from the Troubadour to the Wiltern,” he says. “The idea behind these shows for the EP release was to do something a bit different. We’re playing a seated venue, which is quite unusual for us. Because we’re doing two sets a night with an intermission, we’ve sort of adapted the sets to the surroundings. It’s a beautiful, historic theater and I thought it would be interesting for people to see the band in a different context. We’re gonna have quite a few additional players — some of the people who played additional instruments on the EP and things like that.”
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Two sets each night for two nights is a fun approach to a psychobilly/punk show; blending the formalities of theater with this lowbrow art form makes for a wonderful contradiction. And just to add more joy, the sets will be mixed up each night.
“As a fan going to shows, if I did see an artist for multiple nights, if there were some different tracks that was always a big deal for me,” 13 says. “There’s so many people in Southern California who have been coming to see us for many years. For someone this weekend, it might be their 10th or 15th time seeing us, so we always try to do something a little different each time so even the most seasoned attendee will get a little something they haven’t seen before.”
These are Tiger Army’s only planned shows this year, as they’ll be jumping right into the next album. For now, Dark Paradise is a genuine treat.
Tiger Army play at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, June 22, and Saturday, June 23, at the Theatre at Ace Hotel.