Tiger Army frontman Nick 13 says he's never been one to play it safe stylistically. "Progression has always been an important thing to me musically, especially in the making of albums," says the singer-guitarist. "There are bands I remember where they would make a great record, and then they would make that same record over and over, but kind of with diminishing results ...
"So to move things along a little bit, take a few chances, do a few things that people might not expect might not even like that's important to me as an artist."
13, whose band played its first gig at Berkeley's 924 Gilman Street back in 1996, is true to his word on Tiger Army's most recent CD, Music from Regions Beyond. Having carved out a unique niche with a darkly hued, super-fueled style of rockabilly commonly referred to as psychobilly, Tiger Army has re-emerged with a first-rate CD that takes the band beyond the boundaries of its first three albums.
Not that it's abandoning its signature sound: Songs like "Hotprowl," "Spring Forward" and "Ghosts of Memory" are catchy, potent psychobilly numbers ripe with incendiary guitar riffs, galloping beats and fleet-fingered bass lines.
But a number of these newer songs suggest that 13, drummer James Meza and stand-up bassist Jeff Roffredo were determined to push the limits of the Tiger Army sound.
On "As the Cold Rain Falls," for instance, they create a synth-pop tune that wouldn't be out of place on a New Order album.
"I think melancholy or dark music has always been a part of what we do," says 13.
Another track, the western ballad "Where the Moss Slowly Grows," makes full use of a country music influence that had surfaced only in subtle ways on earlier albums. "Hechizo de Amor," meanwhile, transports the Tiger Army sound south of the border with Spanish lyrics and Latin-tinged rhythms and guitar parts.
"There were times in the past where I had musical ideas we couldn't pull off," 13 says. "One thing that pushed the writing forward with Regions Beyond was that it was really the first time that anything I could conceive of could be played as I heard it in my head."
The arrivals of Meza and Roffredo were among the latest in a series of lineup changes that have bedeviled Tiger Army since its inception. In fact, the lineup shifted yet again this year, with Roffredo leaving and Geoff Kresge, Tiger Army's bassist from 1999 until mid-2004, returning.
"I like how we sound now," says 13 of the current lineup. "Live, we definitely hold onto the energy and aggression of the old days, and musically I think it's stepped up a little bit to the point where I can be proud of it as well."