Tigers Jaw has toured the UK, appeared in NPR’s beloved “Tiny Desk Concert” series and earned coverage from indie tastemakers like Pitchfork and Stereogum, while placing albums on the Billboard charts. The band has played at Terminal 5 in New York City, Union Transfer and The Fillmore in Philadelphia, and shared stages with Manchester Orchestra, New Found Glory and Yellowcard.
But when the Scranton group was starting out in the mid-aughts, releasing a record on the tiny Prison Jazz label and playing shows in any space that would have them was considered success.
“In our early days we played in art spaces, basements, garages, restaurants, basically anywhere we could,” shares Tigers Jaw vocalist and guitarist Ben Walsh. “Then we would invite bands from outside the area and hope they’d return the favor.”
It’s safe to say Tigers Jaw won’t have to worry about flyering the streets of Scranton or trading gigs to get people to come out to a homecoming show on Friday, Oct. 19 at the Ritz Theatre in downtown Scranton.
Riding the momentum of the acclaimed 2017 album “Spin,” it’s another release — 2008’s self-titled album — that is the cause for celebration. The s/t record, tracked at JL Studios in Wyoming, Pa., initially released on Prison Jazz (they did it!), is celebrating a 10th birthday, complete with a deluxe reissue on Run For Cover Records and an anniversary tour, where Tigers Jaw is playing s/t in its entirety, as well as other material. The tour has already hit markets including Florida, Texas, Seattle and Los Angeles, touches down at Market Hotel in New York City on Tuesday, Oct. 16, and wraps up with the Scranton date.
We recently chatted in depth via email with Walsh and keyboard player/singer Brianna Collins about the band’s early days alongside the likes of Title Fight and The Menzingers, what it feels like to play in their hometown and a certain pizza place in Scranton.
How did the idea come about to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the s/t album by playing the whole thing live?
BW: We owe a lot to that record, and we still feel such a strong connection to the songs. We wanted to do something special to celebrate, because it’s so crazy to us that it’s been 10 years already. We thought it would be really fun to play the record in sequence, and we were right!
Which songs on the album had you NOT been playing the past few years?
BC: We hadn’t played “HEAT,” “Between Your Band” or “Meals On Wheels” in a long time before this tour.
Did you have to re-learn some of the songs?
BW: We had three long rehearsal days in Wilkes-Barre at Joe Nardone’s Rockology School. It definitely took a few passes to feel comfortable with some of the songs, but for me, the muscle memory was still pretty strong for the songs we hadn’t played in a while.
What memories came back as you ran through the s/t songs before the tour?
BC: The concept of the tour in general has made me really nostalgic, mostly thinking about how grateful I am to have met [former Tigers Jaw guitarist/vocalist Adam McIlwee] and Ben in 2005 or whatever and how it has shaped my life beyond what I could’ve imagined.
How does it feel to be playing songs you wrote when you were a teenager?
BW: It’s a really incredible feeling to see how strongly people connect with music. I can still relate to the lyrics and the energy of the self-titled album and it’s so cool to share that with an audience of people who feel the same way.
How have crowds reacted on this tour?
BC: The crowds have been amazing, and the crazy reactions to the s/t have definitely made the set super energetic, nostalgic and emotional.
When you were recording the s/t album, if someone told you that a decade later you’d be doing a 10th anniversary tour; would have toured all over the US and Europe; played major venues, etc., what would you have said to that person?
BW: I definitely wouldn’t believe it. We’ve always done this band because it was fun and fulfilling to play shows and make music with friends. The opportunities we’ve worked so hard to create have been truly amazing, and we are so lucky to be doing what we are doing.
Looking back, what was it about the “scene” in NEPA that made it a place that bands like Tigers Jaw, Title Fight, The Menzingers and Captain, We’re Sinking could develop a sound and an audience and become bands that would eventually expand beyond the NEPA area?
BW: When we were all starting up, there was mostly just a 21+ bar scene, so our bands all worked together to build an all-ages DIY scene by navigating the early internet/MySpace days and still printing physical flyers and promoting shows that way. It was definitely a situation where we all loved making music for the sake of making music, and we just did whatever it took to play as many shows as possible. That genuineness is what united so many bands, and made the whole country (and the rest of the world) feel a lot smaller and eventually we all got to see more and more of it.
Most of these bands eventually left NEPA. Hypothetical question: How would the growth of Tigers Jaw and your career gone if you guys didn’t move to Philadelphia?
BC: Technically 3/5 of the band didn’t move to Philadelphia, only myself and [former Tigers Jaw drummer Pat Brier] went to Temple but everyone else went to college in Scranton. I honestly don’t think things would’ve been much different; we still would’ve been doing the same thing — making music and trying to play shows whenever and wherever we could. I would still be using whatever college resources I could to make art for tigers jaw, even if I had ended up going to Marywood instead of Temple.
What advice would you give younger bands coming up in NEPA?
BW: Play as many shows as you can, but also go to as many shows as you can. Help build the scene organically by networking with other musicians. If you feel like there’s not enough happening, do what you can to make things happen. In our early days we played in art spaces, basements, garages, restaurants, basically anywhere we could. Then we would invite bands from outside the area and hope they’d return the favor. Then your network can organically grow outside of your hometown. You don’t need a manager or a booking agent to make things happen!
When you speak to people on tour, do interviews, etc., what are people from outside of NEPA’s impressions of NEPA and Scranton?
BC: Something we hear a lot when people know we are from Scranton is, “Oh, like ‘The Office’!” which is something I don’t personally mind because we love “The Office.” There’s also usually mention of the bands that we have been so lucky to play with and grow up alongside of in NEPA.
When you do come home, what are some of your favorite things to do/ places to go/ eat/ drink etc.?
BC: I personally love spending a day in Scranton, usually eating at Eden and shopping at Freed Love and maybe getting a coffee at Northern Light. I also love Canteen Park and Something Special in Kingston for food/drinks. As far as activities go, I’m a serious homebody when I’m not on tour and I love watching a movie on my couch or hanging with my friends.
Is that Buona Pizza on the reissue cover?
BC: Yes! When I was conceptualizing the art for the Run For Cover Records 2010 release of s/t I thought it would be cool to photograph us as a band hanging out and doing what we would have been doing in 2008, which consisted of hanging out in Scranton and always eventually eating at Buona Pizza. The cover photo ended up being my favorite from all of the photos I took that day. We love Buona Pizza, it’s good stuff.
Why was the song “Okay Paddy” changed to “Meals on Wheels”?
BW: I’m not entirely sure but we love Okay Paddy and we love “Twin Peaks,” so it was a lateral move.
What role did Scranton record label Prison Jazz play in your early career?
BW: In the early days, Prison Jazz was our highest aspiration. We loved The Sw!ms and Okay Paddy and the Green Chair, and looked up to the label so much. We wanted to be on that label so badly, so we went to see as many Prison Jazz bands live as we possibly could and supported them and eventually became good friends. They took a chance on our self-titled album and we will always appreciate that.
How would you compare the energy of a hometown show to a show in other towns?
BW: There is just something special in the air knowing you’re playing the songs in the place where you started out. You take into perspective all the amazing opportunities you’ve had since those early days and it just makes you so appreciative for where you grew up. Also there’s always family and longtime friends around and it’s so fun to reminisce.
You have been playing with “touring members” for a while now. How is that dynamic on stage/on tour vs. the days of everyone being full members of the band?
BW: The members aren’t touring members, they are now integrated as full members of the band. Luke [Schwartz], Teddy [Roberts] and Colin [Gorman] have been involved in tigers jaw for years now, literally half the life of the self-titled album, so it’s been really amazing to feel like such a tight knit unit and to grow together and put on the best live show we possibly can. We’ve been lucky to play with so many amazing musicians and these three are so integral to the identity of the band and the growth that we have had. We are excited for what is to come, more touring, writing, and eventually another album.
Brianna, Why did it take until “Spin” for you to write songs for Tigers Jaw? What was the songwriting process like for you? Do you now plan to write for subsequent albums too?
BC: I think I felt very content with my role in the band prior to the time leading up to recording “spin.” When I joined the band it was because I knew how to play piano, and I was so excited and happy to be playing in a band in general with songwriters whose songs I loved. I also sort of took on the role of “creative director” in regards to albums, merch and anything else that requires designs, and have done all of the album artwork from s/t onward. When Adam left the band, that left the role of a primary songwriter open and with Ben’s encouragement I just went for it without any expectations of my songs even ending up on the record. I feel like that whole experience taught me something new about myself and really challenged me to do something I never thought I’d even be capable of doing. I really have Ben to thank for believing in me and helping me through that whole process.
Ben, what was your initial reaction to the songs Brianna brought in?
BW: I was so excited to see her bring those ideas to life. She really stepped up and created some amazing songs, and it was really fun to work together to help round out the arrangements. It was so cool seeing her experience the process of seeing an early demo through all the way to releasing it on an album and performing it live and seeing people’s reactions to it.
How did having that additional songwriting voice impact “Spin” as a whole?
BW: The record is so much better off for it. Brianna’s songs add a different vibe that is still very much tigers jaw, but a new perspective and a new style. I love Brianna’s songwriting and am excited for what is to come next.
Tell us a bit about the other bands on the tour.
BW: All of the bands have been super close friends of ours since the days when the self- titled came out, so we felt it appropriate and special to make the tour sort of a celebration of our friendships as well as the record. The sidekicks are the band we did our first full US tour with in 2010 and we did a split 7” with them where we covered an old Okay Paddy song. Cave People and Cherry are both fronted by two of my closest friends who I’ve been playing shows with for years. Dave writes amazing songs and is an amazing person. Our bands have played a bunch of shows together and I’ve been lucky enough to play in his band sometimes. Russell from Cherry was in a band called The Mother/Daughter Team, who we met at Cafe Metropolis in 2006 and started doing show trades with. When we played their hometown of Tamaqua, it was by far the furthest show we’d played from Scranton. They were the first band we really networked with outside of SWB. These bands are all comprised of some of my favorite songwriters and most creative friends.
What does Tigers Jaw have in the works as far as new material?
BW: There are a few things we tracked during “spin” that were kept off the album. We will release those at some point soon, and we’ve started writing a new album too. It’s in the very early stages but we have some ideas I’m super excited about.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about the s/t album, the tour or anything else going on with the band?
TJ: Just that we are so grateful for the opportunities the self-titled album created for us, all the people that have connected to it over the years. We are so lucky to do what we love. tigers jaw forever.
Tigers Jaw will perform with The Sidekicks, Cave People and Cherry on Friday, Oct. 19 at the Ritz Theatre (222 Washington St., Scranton, PA 18509. Doors 7 p.m., show 8 p.m. For ticket info, click here.
Lead photo by @biganphoto