Tigers Jaw talk new LP ‘spin’ & new label with Will Yip in BV Q&A, share “Guardian”
After Tigers Jaw recorded 2014's great Charmer, longtime members Adam McIlwee, Dennis Mishko, and Pat Brier left the band, leaving Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins to continue on as a duo. In the time since, they've played with various touring lineups (and have also done duo shows), and now they're finally set to release another record. Ben and Brianna recorded everything on it themselves, including drums (Ben was originally Tigers Jaw's drummer), and it's got Brianna taking more lead vocal and songwriting duties than ever. It's called spin, and it'll be out on May 19.
Charmer came out on Run For Cover, but spin will be the inaugural release for Black Cement, a new imprint of Atlantic Records. Will Yip, who has worked closely with Tigers Jaw for years and produced spin, is the ambassador for the label. Black Cement is not to be confused with Will's Memory Music label, which he describes to us as his "passion project," which Tigers Jaw released a live acoustic album on in 2015.
The first single off the new album is "Guardian," which is a great taste of what to expect from spin. "Guardian" picks up where Charmer left off -- driving and powerful with just the right amount of restraint. Lyrically, it takes on the balance between working out your own mental health issues while trying to be there for your loved ones too. Watch the video for the song below (via NPR).
Tigers Jaw will support the album on tour with indie folk band Saintseneca and Smidley, the solo project of Foxing singer Conor Murphy. As far as indie rock with a punk mentality goes, that's a pretty great triple bill.
I caught up with Ben Walsh and Will Yip to discuss the new record and the new label. Read on to check out our chat...
Ben, you guys had a pretty major lineup change since the recording of Charmer. Besides you and Brianna, who plays on spin?
Ben: spin was just me and Brianna. We thought a lot about how to approach this record and what felt the most like Tigers Jaw. Over ten years ago when the band started, it was just two people, and initially I was mostly playing drums. It quickly changed from that setup, but the initial version of the band was just two people writing and recording everything. We've been through a lot in the past couple years and it just made the most sense for us to kind of bring things back to where Tigers Jaw started and record it as two-piece and just play all the instruments ourselves.
Being that the record was just the two of you, what are your plans for touring?
Ben: We've been super lucky to have a pretty solid touring lineup of people that are really really talented and really invested in the band, and just like, fall right in with our style. It's a seamless thing to transition from the songs on the record to bringing them to life with the touring band.
How did writing spin differ from previous records, since it was just the two of you?
Ben: For me personally, I've always written a certain way, where -- you know, since I have a background in playing drums and everything -- a lot of the parts kind of come naturally when I'm writing. I sorta know how I envision songs to play out. It always starts on guitar but I can pretty quickly fill in the rest of the pieces. So I'll write and demo things out almost completely. But it was definitely different for this record, because this was the first record where Brianna actually brought songs to the table. And it's amazing that the first batch of songs that she really wrote were as strong as they are, and they were a lot of fun to collaborate with her on. So for her songs, the process was a bit more collaborative. Her demos were mostly just like a basic guitar track and some keyboards and at least most of the vocals. So we then took those skeletons of the songs and built them up together. And Will played a big role in that as well.
How did the Will Yip/Tigers Jaw connection initially come together, and how would you say it's progressed over the years?
Will: Ever since I've been working with bands from this world of music, Tigers Jaw had always been one that I'd always wanted to work with... since 2008 or 2009. Around 2009 I was working with Blacklisted and then started working with Title Fight, and they put me on to Tigers Jaw and I was like "man, I gotta work with this band." Fast forward five years, and we do a record together. It kinda happened organically, you know? I don't like doing records with people unless it's right, unless the band is into it, and unless we connect. And the second we met, the first time that Ben was in the studio and Title Fight wasn't there, we just connected. We connected on things outside of music too, just like, how we look at things. And we knew that we were gonna make good music together, knew that we were gonna be friends for a long time, and creative friends for a long time.
So in 2013 we did Charmer. As with every first record, I feel like I kinda have to earn my trust with every band and really let the band be them and help them paint their picture without getting in the way too much. And we had a great time doing Charmer. It was a stressful record because we only had about a week to do it, but our relationship kept growing. We grew to be more collaborative. This record's the best one, not because of my input, just because of everyone's openness and everyone trying to do the best thing for the record.
When I do a Tigers Jaw record my goal is to be a member of Tigers Jaw. Not for them to adjust to the way I do things. I think, "How can we work to get the best version of Tigers Jaw out?" and that's what I try to do with every single band. I try to join the band, be a member of the band -- not have them be a member of my process, but have me be a member of their process.
Will, a couple years ago you started the Memory Music label in partnership with Run For Cover, and you released that acoustic Tigers Jaw album that they recorded at your studio. Is Black Cement in addition to Memory Music, or instead of?
Will: For me, it's in addition to Memory Music, for my life. But they have nothing to do with each other. Memory will always be my passion project, which I kind of take care of everything for. It's my kinda little baby label, you know, that I can do anything small that I or an artist wants to do. Basically Memory is a place for my friends at Studio 4, that if we needed a place to put something out that we were passionate about, we did it. And not to take anything away from that, it was always a passion project for me and I love it and I'm gonna do it forever, just because I always will love a small thing like that that we have 100% control of. It's just a place for my friends to put out music and for us to record it. But Black Cement is something completely different. It's just a different arm of what I'm doing with my life right now with music. I think the reach is gonna be bigger than anything I've ever been a part of, especially -- obviously -- with Atlantic behind it.
How did you and Tigers Jaw get hooked up with Atlantic, and what made you make the jump to a major?
Will: In January of 2015, a couple of guys from the Roadrunner side of Atlantic came down -- and I didn't even know they were coming down -- to the studio. They wanted to meet and chat. And they basically said that they love this world of music, that they love your Title Fights, your Turnstiles, your Nothings, all these bands from our world. And that they wanted to give this world a bigger voice, a bigger reach. They didn't wanna change this world, they didn't wanna buy this world and mold it into a major record label bullshit thing. No, they wanted to just fuel this world. To let this world have the opportunity to have major resources and reach as many ears as it deserves, you know? Like in my mind, I think everyone in the world should be listening to Tigers Jaw. That's how much I believe in the band and the material, and how much I believe they can connect with people. And I couldn't ignore it. I've always had my reservations obviously and I've never worked with a major record label to that capacity. I was thinking, "Is this real? Is this fake? Are they really about not controlling what we do and not being this old school cliche of a creative control-y type of record label?" And for over the next year and a half to two years of working out the possibility of starting this imprint label, they proved to me that they were keeping their word and they backed what we did. They wanted to invest and throw resources this way to help this community and help this world grow. And of course the first band that I thought of was Tigers Jaw. They asked me from the beginning, "What are bands that you think would work here?", and Tigers Jaw was the first one. And it just worked out.
Ben: When this band started and when I first started getting into music -- there was a point in time when the relationships that punk bands and major labels had were just all horror stories. So this was never something that we thought could be a possibility. But then Will brought it to our attention and we were definitely skeptical, but at this point Will and I have been really close friends for so long that I was like, "Well if you're not completely turned off by this, I'm down to hear them out." So what really impressed me initially, was that it was such a long, careful, respectful process, where they just observed our world for a long time so that they knew, before they started making any moves, what bands like us were trying to do. Throughout this whole process they've been really respectful about how we do things, and they've been learning from us to kind of tailor what they do to what we do, instead of the other way around. It's never been a forceful thing. Our band has always done things based on what feels right, what feels like a natural growth. And we've always had a really tight-knit group. We've been self-managed for a really long time, our booking agent is one of our close friends -- we just have a very tight knit crew, and it takes a lot to bridge that trust with us. But all the people at Black Cement have been really great, really respectful, and have really proven to us that they are about us, they care about the music, and they have a lot of respect for what we've already accomplished.
It always seemed like bands like Tigers Jaw started out as a reaction to punk's TRL phase, to get it back to where it was before that. And now that this world does have a lot of success, it still sounds like you're saying "okay we're giving punk another go on a more mainstream level, but we're not gonna let it end up like last time."
Ben: I think that there was this period where punk music had the spotlight on it and there were bands that were making millions of dollars. By the time that we started, that wasn't even a possibility -- the age of like, massive contracts and multi-platinum sales. That never figured into our aspirations at all. And since the major label was innately tied into that, it was just never something that was on our radar. So for over a decade we just did things the way that we wanted to do them, did what we could to establish ourselves, and not try to pay attention to what was trendy at the time or anything, but just keep making music that we wanted to make and that we felt good about and that was fulfilling to us. And then when a label such as Atlantic -- such a big machine -- started to take notice of these unique, genuine, hard-working bands... You know, they could've seen it as an opportunity to just capitalize on something that they could make a quick buck off of. But everyone at Black Cement really took the time to get to know our world and to approach it from a place of respect. It was never about something being trendy or something they could capitalize off of, it was "this is something special, and we want to use our tools to bring it in front of a wider audience."
To backtrack to Charmer for a second -- that album sounded like a pretty noticeable change from the earlier material. Looking back on it now, do you have any hindsight on what inspired that change in direction?
Ben: The first few releases -- the first full length and the first couple of splits -- were a lot of songs that were written before there was any sort of solid lineup. They were written and recorded in our own home, in our practice space. So those songs kind of came from a place in time and then were re-worked over the years. The process for Charmer was quite a bit different. We had started touring a bit more -- but were still balancing school and work and everything -- but we were also getting older and listening to a lot of different things, and getting better at playing our instruments, and just trying to expand what we could accomplish with our skill set. Nothing about it seemed really intentional or forced, it's just representative of what we were listening to and doing at the time.
What were you listening to when you were writing spin?
Ben: In theme with what I was talking about, about kind of bringing things back to where the band started... the band name is actually a reference to a Microphones lyric, and I've listened to a lot of The Microphones and Mount Eerie just to kind of get back into the mindset of when we were starting the band. Same with a band called Okay Paddy, which was a Scranton band that we were really into when the band started, and still into. I sorta tried to just think back and just sort of recapture some of the early influences... we were listening to a lot of different things this time around. Like, a lot of David Bazan, a lot of Land of Talk, some more current stuff like Alex G. And some older stuff, like after we did that Cure cover last year, that sort of crept into our influences as well.
Has anything in your life, or in current events, inspired the record lyrically?
Ben: Yeah, definitely. Getting older and making the band a full-time thing and balancing that this is a fully creative, artistic pursuit, but it's also something that we have to try to live off of. It's crucially important to do everything in a way where you're not compromising the integrity of the band, because at the end of the day if it's not fulfilling, if it's not creative and special, then it's not worth doing. So we've been coming to terms with the fact that this is a fully creative pursuit, but you have to treat some of it as a business, because you are trying to make a living off of it. Because if you can't do that, then you can't put your full attention into it. And it's really hard to strike up that balance. So I think that since the band became a full-time thing, that's become a predominant factor in our lives.
I would also say in a general sense that mental health played a role in some of the lyrical content, with my own life and people that I have relationships with -- romantic relationships or family or whatever. A lot of the lyrics kind of touch on the juxtaposition of being someone's support system but maybe neglecting your own issues. And just kind of coming to terms with pursuing art as a career, and getting older and thinking about all these social conventions that I'll feel pressure about, like raising a family or getting married or having a more serious job. Just trying to develop confidence in artistic pursuits definitely plays into some of the lyrical content as well.
So the first single you're releasing from the record is "Guardian." Can you tell me a bit about that one?
Ben: That one plays in very directly to the point that I was making about realizing that you're putting a lot of effort into being someone else's support system but sort of pushing off your own issues. Just making yourself busy and distracting yourself with other things, and then realizing that the issues you've been ignoring don't actually go away. They just come back stronger when you're no longer full of distractions. That song is a lot about that.
4. Escape Plan
5. Blurry Vision
8. Brass Ring
9. Oh Time
10. Same Stone
11. Make It Up.
Tigers Jaw -- 2017 Tour Dates
5/19 - WASHINGTON, D.C. - ROCK & ROLL HOTEL
5/22 - RICHMOND, VA - THE BROADBERRY
5/23 - CARRBORO, NC - CAT’S CRADLE
5/24 - ATLANTA, GA - THE MASQUERADE
5/25 - JACKSONVILLE, FL - 1904 MUSIC HALL
5/26 - TAMPA, FL - THE CROWBAR
5/27 - LAKE PARK, FL - KELSEY THEATRE
5/29 - HOUSTON, TX - WHITE OAK MUSIC HALL
5/30 - AUSTIN, TX - THE MOHAWK
5/31 - DALLAS, TX - GAS MONKEY BAR & GRILL
6/2 - MESA, AZ - THE NILE
6/3 - POMONA, CA - THE GLASS HOUSE
6/4 - LOS ANGELES, CA - THE REGENT
6/6 - SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SLIM’S
6/7 - SACRAMENTO, CA - GOLDFIELD TRADING POST
6/9 - PORTLAND, OR - HAWTHORNE THEATRE
6/10 - SEATTLE, WA - EL CORAZON
6/12 - SALT LAKE CITY, UT - THE COMPLEX
6/13 - DENVER, CO - MARQUIS THEATRE
6/15 - CHICAGO, IL - METRO
6/16 - MINNEAPOLIS, MN - CABOOZE
6/17 - DETROIT, MI - EL CLUB
6/18 - TORONTO, ON - VELVET UNDERGROUND
6/20 - CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, OH - GROG SHOP
6/21 - PITTSBURGH, PA - REX THEATER
6/22 - NEW YORK, NY - WEBSTER HALL
6/23 - PHILADELPHIA, PA - UNION TRANSFER
6/24 - BOSTON, MA - ROYALE
all dates with Saintseneca and Smidley