Tiger Bear Wolf [Twiropa, June 2005]

Tiger Bear Wolf Save Rock and Roll

What can I say about Tiger Bear Wolf that I didn’t already say in last month’s review of their recently released self-titled record?  The mysterious North Carolina swamp-punk band has seen universal acclaim from those lucky enough to have heard Tiger Bear Wolf, from major online rag Stylus Magazine.com (or as I like to call it, What Pitchfork Should Be Doing) to yours truly.  The record is an incredible synthesis of Dischord-era post-punk, Muddy Waters’ blues, and the fiery power of Iggy & the Stooges.   They don’t have the broad crossover appeal of the Arcade Fire or the marketing team of Modest Mouse (seriously, how the hell did a band that strange become that popular?), but they fit perfectly for anyone who misses pure, soul-ripping rock and roll, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry all pissed off for 2005.  July sees TBW leaving the hill country for their first ever trek across the States, which includes a stop here in the almost-swamps of New Orleans at Twiropa.  So how did the unknown foursome from Greensboro make what may be the best record of the year and go from literal obscurity to status seekers’ darlings? ANTIGRAVITY gave guitarist Jonathan Moore a call to see if he could shed a bit more light on the dark, unholy hybrid of a beast that is Tiger Bear Wolf.  Watch out for the corners, they’re sharp.

MG:  How long have you guys been together?
JM:  I guess since August of 2002.
MG:  Is this record your first release as a band?
JM:  No, we had a self-released record.  That was in August of 2003.
MG:  So how did you guys come together?  Your music is pretty unique in your part of the world, with Ryan Adams and Ben Folds being North Carolina’s big music exports.  How did you guys find a sound that was so different from everything else going on?
JM:  We all went to school together here in Greensboro.  Noah [Howard, guitar] grew up in Chapel Hill, he listened to the Archers [of Loaf], Polvo, stuff like that.  We all were into punk rock and stuff like that, but also like, it’s hard to forget bands like Led Zeppelin and the Who.
MG:  Which bands growing up were big influences?
JM:  For me it probably has to be like the Who, they’re one of the big ones.  Growing up, I really only listened to late-era Who.  Then I came around.  That band just has so much variation throughout their career.  But I never got into Tommy at all, heh heh.
MG:  Are you surprised that the reaction that your album has gotten?  Every review that I’ve read of it is beyond glowing.
JM:  Yeah, I have been kinda surprised.  Not because I don’t think it’s a good record or anything like that but just because it’s just kinda out of the ordinary for that to happen to a band like us.
MG:  Tell me some about the recording of the album.
JM:  Well we did it Athens at the label, Hello Sir [Records].  They all live in this house outside of Athens, in this town called Winterville.  We did it on a sixteen track 2” machine.  I think we did it in ten days total, but the first eight days there were problems with the tape machine, so most of the record happened within like four working days.
MG:  So you recorded it on analog?
JM:  Yeah, and then we converted it down to ¼”.
MG:  Yeah, it’s definitely got that warm feel to it.
JM:  We definitely wanted to be able to have that, because we didn’t have that opportunity for the last one.  We just wanted that kind of intangible quality that tape has.
MG:  What is your opinion on the current mainstream of rock and roll bands, the whole 80s revivalists thing?
JM:  You mean like the Darkness?
MG:  Yeah, the Darkness and Franz Ferdinand and all of those guys.
JM:  I don’t really like the Darkness that much but that guy’s voice is amazing.  The rest of it is pretty good, I guess.  All that stuff is okay, that Franz Ferdinand record is really easy to listen to; I’ve only heard it once.  I don’t listen to a lot of mainstream stuff I guess.  I think it’s cool, I guess, that people are listening to that kind of music again, but I just kinda hope it’s not in some kitschy way.  That’s what I’d be worried about, that it’s some kind of ironic statement, rather than being any actual enjoyment of it, it’s just some sort of joke.  It’s not musical, it’s comedy, you know?
MG:  Which records that have come out this year are you guys listening to a lot?
JM:  We listen to that new Hot Snakes record a lot.  I love Dead Meadow.  Those are probably my two favorite bands that are playing music right now.  Most of my favorite bands are my friends’ bands.  There’s a band here from Durham called Desark; they’re really amazing.  Somehow the guy is friends with J. Mascis [of Dinosaur Jr.].  I think he was his amp tech on tour or something, so they got J. to produce the record and it sounds pretty phenomenal.  They’re a great band.  It’s kind of a small area, so you get to see your friends’ bands over and over, you know?
MG:  What type of people are typically at your shows?  Because your music sort of goes across boundaries; it’s definitely loud and punk rock, but at the same time, it’s pretty brainy.
JM:  Well, we haven’t really had a lot of experience with out of town people who have already heard us and are coming to the shows because of the record or anything like that.  Most of the people in town that come are college students, some high school kids have started to come out and get into it.  I guess a lot of indie rock casualties.  People who are into the whole indie rock thing but want to have a more expansive rock and roll experience.
MG:  I hear a lot of Rust Never Sleeps-era Neil Young in what you guys play.  Are you guys big Neil Young fans?
JM:  You know, that’s kinda interesting because I never was before, but just recently I started getting into him a lot more.  I don’t think that I’ve heard that record, but I just got a copy of Everybody Knows This is Nowhere for my birthday, and I’ve really been getting into it.  Going to bed listening to it, stuff like that.  That’s how records really sink in for me, if I listen to them while I’m drifting off.  I’ve been listening to that a lot.  The beginning of that first song sounds so much like a Stooges riff, it’s kinda blowing my mind.
MG:  “Cinnamon Girl”?
JM:  Yeah, yeah.  But I’m totally starting to come around to Neil Young.  It’s taken a while for me, but I’m into it now.

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