By Michael Lello
Tigers Jaw has only been releasing albums since 2006, but in those five years the Scranton band has been logging a lot of time on the road, crisscrossing the country on various tours while their profile continues to grow.
The biggest show of their career thus far — at least in terms of scale — will come this weekend at the massive Bamboozle festival at the Meadowlands Complex in East Rutherford, N.J., a festival that features the likes of Lil Wayne, Motley Crue, The Gaslight Anthem, 30 Seconds To Mars, Taking Back Sunday and Wiz Khalifa. Furthermore, Spin magazine has named Tigers Jaw as one of the festival’s 10 Must-Hear Breakout Acts.
First up and closer to home, Tigers Jaw — Adam McIlwee (guitar/vocals), Ben Walsh (guitar/vocals), Brianna Collins (keyboards), Dennis Mishko (bass) and Pat Brier (drums) — have two much more decidedly low-key shows on the docket this week. On Thursday, they’ll play an acoustic set at Embassy Vinyl in Scranton, and on Friday they’ll do the same at a photo showcase at Redwood Art Space in Plains.
We spoke with Adam McIlwee recently to find out how Tigers Jaw is gearing up for the acoustic shows, the “weird” gig at Bamboozle, the most recent album “Two Worlds” and how the now-defunct Prison Jazz Records scene of Scranton — for whom Tigers Jaw was briefly a part of — influenced the band.
H81R: You have the acoustic shows coming up at Embassy Vinyl and Redwood Art Space. How do you go about adapting your songs to an acoustic setting?
AM: We don’t really do it that much. We rearranged some of the songs. All of my songs are just honest. I’m not good at planning out full-band songs. Not that my songs translate well, that’s just how they sound when I play them. And Ben’s really good at figuring out what songs will translate well.
H81R: You’re playing Bamboozle. How did that come about?
AM: I think a lot of bands from Run For Cover Records played it last year. I know Title Fight did, and within the past few years we started playing on Run For Cover; I think (Bamboozle) sort of started taking some of those bands. It makes me a little nervous because I know I’ll say something stupid or mess something up. I don’t know. It was a weird thing for us to agree to do in the first place. I know Brianna goes, she went last year and the year before. It’s just a weird thing. I have a feeling the stage will be large in size
H81R: Do you consider Bamboozle to be the biggest Tigers Jaw show so far?
AM: Yeah, I guess so. There will probably be the most people there.
H81R: How do you feel about the way Tigers Jaw has grown in popularity over the past few years — doing better tours, getting more reviews and press, and so on?
AM: It’s something I’m totally uncomfortable with, but it’s really fun. We get to play places that I never thought we’d play. We played in Virginia (recently), and I never thought I’d drive to Virginia to play with all these bands I love. … Even The Menzingers, they’re from Scranton, I kind of grew up around them. It’s been really cool. Now we’re really good friends, and it’s really awesome. It’s extra awesome and flattering, just so cool, to be hanging out in the same room as them.
H81R: Were there some new things you guys tried on “Two Worlds” that maybe you didn’t try on, say, your previous release, the EP “Spirit Desire”?
AM: Well, we when we went to record we knew that we had a specific sound in mind. And I think we did have a similar sound in mind for our other albums, but we didn’t really push it.
H81R: It sounds like you were able to balance a garage-type sound with a well-produced sound. Do you feel that was the case?
AM: Well, yeah. We wanted it to sound raw. We didn’t want it to sound stupid and overproduced. Being too raw was never a problem, it was just the opposite — (we were concerned) that it would sound too polished. We told the guy who recorded us, “We want it to sound raw, but don’t polish it up.”
H81R: Was there an effort to make Brianna’s keyboards more prominent on this album?
AM: They’re louder. And she has better parts on this one. Before, a lot of the songs were written before she was in the band.
H81R: There are some songs on “Two Worlds” named after places in Scranton, specifically the songs “Test Pattern” and “Buona Pizza.” Can you tell us a bit more about that?
AM: We’re not good at naming songs. The Buona Pizza thing, I released a CD years ago under that name, and the song that’s on “Two Worlds” is one of those songs. “Test Pattern,” I don’t know, that’s Ben’s. I know we both really liked that place.
H81R: One of my favorite parts of the album is how you end “I Saw The Wolf,” which is very quiet and tender, and then blast into “Buona Pizza.” Was that contrast in the album sequencing there intentional?
AM: Yeah, it definitely is. I didn’t want that song (“I Saw The Wolf”) to be the last song on the album. A lot of people do that, have the most different song end the album. It was the only way to really fit it in. It’s obviously quieter than everything else and just creates that contrast.
H81R: In some towns there are many venues for young bands to play, but that’s not the case in Northeastern Pa. What challenges did that present for you when you guys were starting out?
AM: It sucked, because we were playing awful shows. I remember playing battle of the bands, and we hated doing that, and we knew those were not the types of things we wanted to play, but they were the only things we could play. Once Test Pattern opened, they let us play as much as we wanted there, and they were so nice in letting us do what we wanted to do booking wise. Ben worked there, then I worked there, too. They really helped us out.
H81R: Who were Tigers Jaw’s influences?
AM: When we first started, I wanted to sound like The Microphones, and obviously we don’t sound anything like them and we never did. And then me and Ben wanted to start a band that sounded like the Prison Jazz Records bands like Okay Paddy and The Sw!ms and The Green Chair; they were huge influences. We decided to be in a band the first time I saw Okay Paddy, and I think it was a Sw!ms show, too. The Prison Jazz Records scene, or whatever all those bands, were always there, and we were always going to see them. These are the groups we wanted to sound like. We wanted to be on that label. That was the goal. It worked out. It definitely has. I don’t even know why we went into studios. I don’t know how that happened, but that polished things up for us a bit. I don’t love it. But way more people started listening to us, and I think the bands that we kept playing with — we toured with Title Fight and Kite Party — playing with those bands every night really influenced how we write our songs subconsciously.
H81R: And what have you been listening to lately?
AM: I’ve been listening to The Clash and Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, I’ve been listening to The Menzingers, I’ve been listening to Ben’s brother’s band called Halfling. They’re really good. They’re sophomores in high school. They’re so good. They’re, like, way better than we are. They have a demo out that’s fantastic.