Tiger Army’s Nick 13 has earned his stripes
Back when I was a teenager in the small town of Ukiah, Calif., a friend of mine was always telling me I reminded him of a guy he knew—some guitar player named Nick. “I’ll bet you guys would have a lot to talk about,” he said more than once.
One night I found myself at a party, locked in a friendly argument with someone I’d never met before. Skipping the formality of introducing ourselves to each other, we had launched into a fun, lively talk about pop culture. In the middle of it all, my friend walked past us, interjecting, “By the way, this is Nick.”
Years later, I was thumbing through Guitar World magazine, and who should I see but Nick himself, standing above the caption “Coolness incarnate” in a full-page ad for Gretsch guitars. Nick—who now went by the name Nick 13—was the frontman for a successful psychobilly band called Tiger Army.
For a small-town kid, Nick seems to have done OK for himself: His band has gigged with iconic performers like Morrissey, Exene Cervenka and fellow Ukiahans AFI, and, as the first band of its kind to be on a large independent label, Tiger Army helped introduce American audiences to psychobilly, a hybrid of rockabilly and horror-punk. Nick 13 says that when the band formed in the mid-’90s, psychobilly was popular in places like England, Japan and Brazil—“kind of everywhere in the Western world but the United States.” The guitarist/vocalist adds, “When Tiger Army was starting out, a lot of the few people that actually knew what psychobilly was were from Santa Cruz,” also noting that the local band Elmer’s Shotgun was the first American band to play in a European psychobilly festival.
As Tiger Army’s chief songwriter and undisputed leader, Nick 13 has never been afraid to incorporate styles like country or dark ’80s British pop into his band’s sound. “Psychobilly was always a hybrid of different musical styles: punk, rockabilly, garage, etc.,” he reasons. “And rockabilly itself is a hybrid of musical styles. So when people try to apply a purist outlook to these genres, it really doesn’t make any sense to me.”
The distinct country twang on the final cut from the most recent Tiger Army release, 2007’s Music from Regions Beyond, was a portent of things to come: A la Social Distortion’s Mike Ness, Nick 13 released a self-titled solo album last year that consisted exclusively of original country/Americana tunes. He says the experience of immersing himself deeply in this genre will definitely have an influence on Tiger Army’s future output, but not necessarily in the expected ways. Rather than a more countrified Tiger Army, the band that Catalystgoers will experience on Sunday, Oct. 21 will be a veritable tiger uncaged. “As much of a breath of fresh air as it for me to play music that has different moods with my solo stuff, it’s really a charge to strap on the electric guitar and play stuff that’s a lot more intense and energetic as well,” Nick 13 states.
The upcoming Catalyst gig is, of course, a pre-Halloween show. Naturally, with its innate love of the macabre, Tiger Army holds this holiday near and dear. In regard to whether his band’s music does more to feed its listeners’ dark sides or to help them purge negativity, Nick 13 muses, “I think in our culture, we make artificial and arbitrary distinctions with that sort of thing. If you look at other cultures, other religions, sometimes they tend to take a more holistic view of the world. That’s more where I fall. There can be no light without darkness, etc. It’s all a part of the world we live in, and to deny one side of life, I think, is to create an imbalance. So to explore things like darkness, death, what happens when we die, and to embrace death in certain things, I think, leads to a fuller, happier, more productive life.”
Tiger Army plays at 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21 at The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Adolescents and Stellar Corpses open. Tickets are $20/adv, $22/door. For more information, call 423-1338.