June 04. 2014 1:31AM By Rich Howells Weekender Editor
Tigers Jaw acoustic CD release show with Esta Coda: June 6, 7 p.m., Gallery of Sound (186 Mundy St., Wilkes-Barre). Free admission and free pizza, all-ages. Buy 'Charmer' on CD or LP and get a wristband for guaranteed entry to see the show and meet the band.
With full U.S. and European tours booked and recording studio time already set aside, it took Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins by surprise when their three bandmates suddenly decided to depart Tigers Jaw. For most bands, that would be the end of the story, but they've come out even stronger as a two-piece, releasing “Charmer” yesterday officially after the album leaked online. Like their friends in The Menzingers, Walsh and Collins are performing an acoustic set at the Gallery of Sound in Wilkes-Barre on Friday, June 6 to celebrate the new record before taking a full band on tours with Pity Sex and Touché Amoré throughout the summer. Walsh talked with the Weekender about the Scranton band's early influences, their development since their abrupt lineup change, the creative risks they took on “Charmer,” and the positive side of having your music pirated. WEEKENDER: How did you first get into music and playing guitar? BEN WALSH: My mom always had a guitar around the house because she used to play when she was in college, but I tried learning how to play and was just horrible at it, so I gave up after a little while. But then probably when I was about 14 or 15, I went to see my cousin's band play, that was The Sw!ms, and kind of fell in love with it, the idea of playing live music and writing songs and the whole thing, like touring. It just opened up this whole world that I knew I wanted to be in. W: Were you also influenced by Okay Paddy? BW: Yes, definitely. I mean, the first time I saw The Sw!ms was with Okay Paddy, and those two bands really did a lot to influence me in regular songwriting. They were definitely two of our favorites, (former guitarist/vocalist) Adam (McIlwee) and myself. When we started a band, they were the two bands that we kind of wanted to sound like. We wanted to get on the same label that they were on. W: How is the local music scene today in comparison? BW: As far as I've seen it, it definitely comes in waves. Around 2007, 2008, when The Sw!ms and Okay Paddy both kind of called it a day, that scene was starting to fade away a little bit and that kind of gave our band an opportunity to start booking shows and bringing in bands from out of town and stuff like that, so we saw it come and go in waves. As of today, it doesn't seem that there's as many spots that the bands are playing anymore, so I'm kind of hoping that some of the younger kids will pick up where we left off and try to book shows wherever they can book shows, like basements and fire halls and stuff like that. In our area, a lot of people just kind of focus on cover bands and DJs and stuff like that, so there's a lot of local talent that's kind of going unnoticed. It's sort of frustrating when there's so many cool bands that people just aren't paying attention to. W: So, creatively, were you and the other guys just going different directions when they left the band? BW: I think so. It felt very natural. They kind of just explained how they were feeling and how this wasn't something they wanted to keep doing right now. People change, and we'd been playing as that lineup for years, so it's definitely weird and it was definitely sad to part ways with them, but we have kind of a mutual understanding about what the other members are all doing. W: What made you and Brianna decide to continue with Tigers Jaw together? BW: The day that they told us that they were going to stop playing with the band, we knew that we had a lot of decisions to make about the tour, about the studio time, and things like that, so we knew straight off the bat that we definitely didn't want to cancel all the touring because we made a commitment early on that we all wanted to finish school before we gave the band a real full-time push, so we had never really had the opportunity to do a whole lot of touring. And this was the first summer that I had off because I had been in grad school and I had summer classes every summer, so we would tour for like two weeks at a time tops, so this was the first time we really had an extended amount of time to do the touring. There's a lot of cities that we hadn't played and things like that, so we knew right off the bat that we definitely wanted to keep as much of the tour as we could. W: What kind of place were you in when you sat down and started writing these songs on “Charmer?” BW: I'd say more than half of it was pretty much ready to go before they left the band, so we had all been in various stages in college and kind of just getting used to being a pseudo-adult and dealing with the realities that come with more responsibilities, so things like that definitely played their part. W: So what did you draw from personally? BW: I try to keep an open mind and take inspiration from as many different things as I can. I don't think that there's one area that I can constantly pull from. The songwriting process for me definitely ranges from song to song. Sometimes it's really difficult and I'm sitting on something for six months, and then other times I can write a full song in a day with an idea that just kind of comes to me. Definitely relationships, both present and past. We've been pretty heavily influenced by some TV shows, such as “Twin Peaks.” There's a lot of really dark and cool themes in that show; it's kind of cool to put yourself into the mindset of a character and write from their perspective. W: Are there any recurring themes on the album? BW: They're pretty widespread, coming from different people writing them, but there seems to be sort of an underlying theme of duality throughout the record, just how something can be interpreted in more than one way – even the word “Charmer,” the album title itself. When someone is called a charmer, that can be sort of like a sarcastic thing and maybe they can manipulate people to get their way, or maybe they're a genuinely good person. W: How was it working with producer Will Yip on this record? BW: It was a phenomenal experience. We had hung out with him a couple times before we decided to work with him, and I knew from the start that I personally didn't want to work with anyone else. He just had a really great understanding of what we wanted to accomplish. He came to a show that we played in Philly and came up to us after and was like, “I really want to do this record. I think I can make it sound huge.” He really did. He really came through and I think got our best takes and really helped us to be the best that we could be. W: What do you hope that people take away from these songs when they hear them? BW: I hope they see it as a progression because I definitely see it as a progression. We've come a long way as musicians and as songwriters, so I hope people have an understanding of what really goes into it. We definitely tried to explore some new sonic territory on the new record and do some things that we hadn't done in the past, so hopefully people are open to that because we didn't want to write the same record again. We wanted to try some new things. W: What was your reaction when you heard that the album had leaked online before its official release date? BW: It's an interesting thing to deal with because it is frustrating because it does mean that there was somebody that had access to the record that abused their privilege, I guess, but we were very eager for everyone to hear it, so it was a frustrating situation on one end, but on the other end, we had been kind of sitting on the record for a year at that point and we're just relieved now that it's out there and people can hear it. But Run For Cover (Records) did an awesome job of strategizing and putting the album up on Bandcamp to kind of sway people away from downloading the leaked version because I believe the files were a lesser quality and there was also a song or two missing and one of the songs was swapped out for the acoustic version of it, so it definitely was not how we intended for the record to be presented to people. We were glad that Run For Cover was on it right away and got the high-quality, official version download up and also activated all the codes for the people that had bought the physical copy because those are the people that cared about it enough to pre-order it and spend their own money on it, so I was happy that they could get access to their codes right away. W: For the upcoming show at the Gallery of Sound, do you approach an acoustic show like that differently than you would an electric set? BW: Yeah, definitely. For me, playing guitar is completely differently. I have to be a lot cleaner at my playing. I'm by no means a great guitar player, so I really have to kind of clean up my style and rearrange the parts so that they translate better to an acoustic guitar. And then we work on our harmonies and different things, like I might sing a lower register for a song and then maybe sing a lower harmony and Brianna will take the melody for some and things like that. W: What are you most looking forward to about Friday? BW: Playing new songs. We did the record last year and it was still in the mixing phase while we were on tour, so we really didn't play any of the new songs. Since then, we've really only played “Hum” at live shows, so I'm really excited to start to play some more of the new songs.