By Andrew Gilhooley / 411
Where punk and rockabilly collide, you find the genre called Psychobilly. Often described as “punk with an standup bass,” psychobilly is characterized by its high-speed, high-energy songs, retro sounds and B-movie horror references, all served up with a healthy dollop of humor. If all this sounds appealing to you, then check out Tiger Army at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz this Sunday. The band is currently on its first national headline tour in support of its latest album, 2004’s “III: Ghost Tigers Rise.”
Tiger Army founder Nick 13 (real last name Kearney) grew up in Ukiah, and gained a love of 50s rock and roll from his father, who had a large collection of vintage vinyl. As a teenager, the skateboarding scene introduced him to punk and this, coupled with his fascination for old horror movies, made psychobilly a natural progression.
In 1991, while he was still at high school, Nick 13 formed his first band, Influence 13, with classmates Geoff Kresge (standup bass) and Jade Puget (drums). In 1995, the band changed line-up, with Joel Day replacing Kresge on bass, and became Tiger Army. Tiger Army played its first show in early 1996 at 924 Gilman in Berkeley, a legendary punk club where bands such as Green Day did their first gigs. After a number of Bay Area shows, the band came to the attention of Tim Armstrong, front man for punk band Rancid.
Armstrong contacted Nick 13 to see if his band would be interested in recording an album. Unfortunately, there was a problem - the band had just broken up. Musicians were quickly rounded up and the result was 1999’s “Tiger Army,” essentially a Nick 13 solo album. Nick 13 moved to Los Angeles in 2000 with the intention of putting together a touring band. The following year, Tiger Army had a new album, “II: Power of Moonlite” and a new lineup with Kresge back on bass and Fred Hell on drums. The band embarked on an 18-month nationwide tour, opening for acts like the Dropkick Murphys and Reverend Horton Heat.
After the band’s marathon tour, Tiger Army went back to the studio in 2003 to begin recording material for the third album. This work was halted when drummer Hell was shot four times during a robbery at his home. Surgery and several months of intensive physical therapy would keep Hell out of action for the duration of the recording sessions, but he had recovered sufficiently to play at the record release for “III: Ghost Tigers Rise” at the House of Blues. Hell’s health ultimately prevented him from playing on the ensuing tour (his duties were covered by Mike Fasano, who played on the album) and once again, Tiger Army disbanded.
Undeterred, Nick 13 once again recruited new musicians, and the current incarnation of Tiger Army was born, with Jeff Roffredo on bass and James Meza on drums. 2005 has so far seen a tour of the UK, where the band recorded a session for the BBC, and Australia. The current US tour continues through the end of May, where it will close with three nights at the House of Blues in LA.
First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, May 12, 2005
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