What’s the old joke about listening to a country song in reverse? You get back your dog, your truck, and your wife? If loss is the key ingredient to country music, Nick 13’s new solo project is primed for success. As frontman and songwriter for Berkeley, CA psychobilly band Tiger Army, Nick 13 has had to replace six bandmates, one of whom was forced to leave after suffering a head injury during an armed robbery. He’s kept the band going strong for 13 years despite the multiple departures and is now in the process of recording a solo album of country and acoustic songs.
Nick 13 took some time to talk to LA Music Blog about the new project, the roots of rockabilly, and how Nashville caused him to change up his songwriting process.
How has touring been so far?
Pretty much this entire year has been on the road for us. We were on the road straight for a year and a half, almost two years, for the release of our last record, and we went all over the world. We wrapped it up with October Flame last year in Orange Country. We did one show in Vegas this year, and these four shows—two in LA and two in OC—[were] our only shows for the rest of the year.
In the meantime, I’ve kind of been taking a little time off, relaxing, ‘cause we were on the road for a long time before this. I’ve been just kicking back a little bit, definitely writing and authoring. The next thing I’m going to do is going to be a country solo project.
What’s the name of the project?
It’s just going to be called Nick 13, and it’s going to be a five piece. I’m going to be playing mostly acoustic guitar, and I’m going to have a lead guitar player. There’s also going to be a pedal steel player, and then stand-up bass and drums. It’s going to be, kind of more country, American roots music, early rock influenced. A lot of the inspirations it’s drawing on go back to the ‘40s and 50’s and early ‘60s.
Tiger Army hasn’t broken up. It’s still something that’s going to happen in the future, but this year was mostly about relaxing and writing and preparing the new project. Next year is going to be about actually getting that record out and getting out there and playing shows, and my focus will return to Tiger Army after that.
What made you want to branch off from Tiger Army and kind of get away from the rockabilly/psychobilly thing to go more country?
When I was younger, the first music that really grabbed me was punk rock. When I followed the roots of that backwards in time that leads to 1950s rock and roll and rockabilly. When you get into the roots of rockabilly—really just a couple of years before that was happening, early ‘50s—honky tonk and hillbilly music was one of the primary ingredients, so it’s a style I’ve loved for a long time.
It’s also a style that Tiger Army has dabbled in on every record going back to our first album in 1999. We had a song called “Outlaw Harder” on our first record that had pedal steel guitar and was heavily country influenced. The idea to do a whole project like that and like that style actually came from fans. Whether they were talking about that song or on our second album we did a song with pedal steel called “In the Orchard,” a lot of people said, “The songs [you] do in that style are my favorite songs. I would love to hear a whole record like that.” As it turned out, that’s an idea I’ve had myself and sounded good to me.
When Tiger Army was on the road, I guess it’d be last year, beginning of 2008, we stopped in Nashville for a few days to play a show, and then we had a day off. Hanging out there was really inspiring and it made me realize that I love what I do, but I’ve been wanting to do this other thing for a number of years. Tiger Army had four albums at this point, it’s time to actually make this happen. I couldn’t actually start working on that ‘til the end of last year because we had so much touring planned. Now that it’s underway, I’m really excited about it.
How has the experience been for you to go into the studio with a different set of musicians than your typical band?
It’s been a lot of fun. I mean, Tiger Army has always been a three piece. To expand the sound in a rehearsal setting and work with some different people is something new for me, and it’s definitely kind of energized me.
Would you say you prefer playing live or working in the studio?
I prefer playing live. The studio is really important to me, but there’s a lot of pressure. I kind of feel like this thing I’ve created in my mind, sometimes it’s difficult to bring it into the world the way you hear it in your head. It’s definitely a great feeling when you’re done, and you hear something you’ve created. You can hear it, and everyone else can hear it for the first time. That feeling’s the best part, but the actual process isn’t something I enjoy that much. That’s when it feels like work to me, but I do it because I love the songs, and I want to bring them into the world, whereas playing live is just fun. It’s a blast and it’s something I love doing. It’s one of my favorite things in the world.
How did the songwriting process differ from Tiger Army to the Nick 13 project?
That’s a good question. For the first time I actually went somewhere to write. This summer I went to Nashville for a while just to soak up all the music there. I wound up writing some stuff there. It’s probably a little bit looser, a little bit more organic in a way.
What are your current favorite albums?
Let’s see. I just got the new AFI record, Crash Love. That’s a great album. I was there for some of the making of it, but I just recently got to hear the finished product. The new album by Richard Hawley, which is called True Love’s Gutter, that’s an amazing record. He’s a guy from England who kind of mixes rockabilly and early ‘60s pop in kind of a unique way. Amazing songwriter. His new album’s great, that just came out. The Quakes have a new album called Negative Charge. That’s one of the best rockabilly albums I’ve heard in a while. Other than that, I haven’t been listening to a lot of new music. I’ve been listening to a lot of ‘50s country.
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