Interview: Nick 13 of Tiger Army — Solo
On each successive Tiger Army album, tucked between songs ranging from melodic, punk-peppered mainstream rock to intense, no-holds-barred psychobilly, listeners could find carefully crafted nods to vintage Americana.
The occasional pedal steel runs, acoustic rhythm guitars and sparse, echo-laden lead lines were enough to imply that Nick 13 was drawing inspiration from several quintessentially American sources.
So it's no surprise that Nick 13's self-titled debut solo album, released June 7 via Sugar Hill Records, is a full-on, vintage-inspired country/western blowout featuring acoustic and electric guitars, standup bass, pedal steel and fiddle. The album's 10 tracks, which recall the sounds of classic honky-tonk and California country music, are full of heartbreak, life experience and passion.
Guitar World recently chatted with Nick 13 about the new album, his vintage gear and the future of Tiger Army.
GUITAR WORLD: Discuss your transition from psychobilly frontman with Tiger Army to solo country/western artist. What inspired you to make a pure country album?
I’ve loved country music from the 1930s to the '60s for a long time. Tiger Army has dabbled in country and roots to an extent, but I wanted to take it farther. I’d thought about making a record like this for years, and I was so inspired by a tour stop in Nashville that I decided I’d finally make time after Tiger Army had finished touring the record we had out at the time. It took even longer than I expected, but it finally came together.
When and how were you initially influenced by country music, and who were your influences? I sense a bit of Hank Williams, Carl Perkins and Ray Price. Any hillbilly and honky-tonk influences?
Those are three of the big ones right there. I came to hillbilly music through rockabilly music as a teenager. I picked up those Carl Perkins records for the stomping rockabilly numbers, but hearing songs like “Sure To Fall” and “Let the Jukebox Keep On Playing” gave me my first dose of hardcore honky-tonk, and I was hooked.
I went to Hank from there and kept right on going. The incredible melodies of The Louvin Brothers made a big impression on me; Bill Monroe as well. Ray Price, Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell, George Jones and, of course, all the California guys: Merle [Haggard], Buck [Owens], Wynn Stewart.
With at least one country-leaning song on each Tiger Army album, would you say you’ve been building toward this?
I’d say so. At one point, we were doing a mini-set of those songs during our shows. It was such a different energy than our other live stuff, but I craved more.
Discuss the differences between writing songs and playing guitar with Tiger Army and as a solo performer.
The original reason I wanted to use a lead player for the first time was to focus more on my vocals. Ricky Nelson had James Burton, and so on. Ironically, I’ve probably learned more about guitar on this record than any other. It’s definitely pushed me forward as a rhythm player, different chord voicings that are more common to hillbilly than rock, the list goes on. And you can’t play with as many great guitar players as I have on this thing and not learn something.
As far as writing, it was a little more fluid with the solo record. There were certain signature riffs and melodic elements that needed to remain, but some of the arrangements evolved in different directions than I’d originally conceived, with some cool surprises. With Tiger Army, it’s more about actualizing a particular vision for a song with little deviation.
Discuss the process of recording the solo album. Did you use seasoned country musicians and producers? The steel guitar in particular is incredible, and the timbre and tone of the standup bass reminds me of a few songs from the last Tiger Army album (2007's Music from Regions Beyond). Is there any Tiger Army musician overlap on your solo album?
The only overlap as far as players is producer Greg Leisz; he’s played pedal steel on all four Tiger Army albums. He produced the album with James Intveld. They’re both known more as players than producers, but their incredible musicality and multi-instrumental ability made them a great team.
Josh Grange, who plays with Dwight Yoakam and k.d. lang, played on most of the record; Eddie Perez [Dwight Yoakam, Mavericks] does some amazing Bakersfield-style shredding on a couple of tracks.