Just a quick disclaimer for those not familiar: The artist Nick 13 already has an extremely loyal fanbase in place due to his years in the punk scene, with his band Tiger Army. Many of you who are reading this will be here because of that very connection and devotion.
However, simply speaking as a mainstream country blogger, I happened to hear Nick's solo debut--a collection of traditional/vintage-flavored country--and was startled by how much I liked it. Having covered many artists who have crossed genres into the country world, I had a bit of initial skepticism regarding his project when I was first introduced to it. However, I'm more than happy to report it's just plain good, solid, beautiful stuff that I want to listen to over and over again...and I hope lots of country fans will as well.
That said, Nick and I share a common bond in being California-based country aficionados. Currently living in Los Angeles, he's played the West Coast's famed Stagecoach fest, and is happy to discuss the state's place in country history--from Bakersfield to the San Fernando Valley. He's been a longtime fan of "hillbilly" and midcentury country (which can be fact-checked by researching past Tiger Army interviews conducted before he even started work on a country album).
Nick's solo album came out last year, but is still gaining momentum with the release of his latest video for single "Carry My Body Down," as well as an appearance here on Ram Country doing a live version of "Nashville Winter." I've included a video of him in his role as Tiger Army frontman so you can see the flexibility of his musical talent. Enjoy!
Our Country: So, can you tell me about your experience breaking into the country world? I have spoken to artists such as Aaron Lewis [from hard rock band Staind], who've told me that their existing fan bases were very supportive of a country project--but that Nashville was a little bit tougher to win over.
Nick 13: My experience was definitely similar to the artists you mentioned in that, even though Tiger Army's music is quite different at times, the existing fanbase was very open to the new stuff and were supportive. I think the country world--and Nashville in particular--tends to be a bit guarded, and I can't say as I blame them for that. There are definitely a lot of people who try to come into the country world with varying intentions. Sometimes it's very clearly an attempt to make money, and there doesn't seem to be a real knowledge or love of the music. And, let's face it, there have been a lot of bad country records made by people coming from other genres.
So I understand why a lot of people in Nashville and the country world [feel] you have to prove yourself. Instead of the standpoint of "Oh cool, what's this," it's more like "Who is this guy? Is his heart in the right place? Does he even know what he's doing or trying to do?"
But at the same time it's kind of a paradox, because it's also a very welcoming place. The people there are very friendly and supportive. There were a lot of people who were happy to show me around and turn me on to different musicians I should meet or shows I should see.
Our Country: There's also the fact that you are from California. The perception of our state, and in particular Los Angeles, can sometimes be a little warped.
There were people that I met who implicitly--or sometimes explicitly--didn't regard California very highly. Their attitude is "What do you know about country music, coming from California?" But the reality is, even though we haven't stayed in touch with it the way Tennessee or Texas has, there's still an incredibly strong history and tradition of country music in this state.
Our Country: I think a lot of people are surprised to find out just how many country music fans there are in L.A. and California overall.
I think playing Stagecoach for the first time really opened my eyes to that. Because there are tens of thousands of people there, and most of those people are from California.
Our Country: Speaking of Stagecoach. How were you received by the mainstream country audience when you played there?
I was very fortunate in the slot I was given--it was immediately before Ray Price, and then Merle Haggard followed him on the same stage. And because of the setup of that particular stage, everyone gets their lawn chair--and they're there. They probably would have watched me whether they liked me or not! But, because of that particular lineup and that particular stage, it was a really traditional audience. Stagecoach has a really mixed audience--some people are there for the traditional stuff, and then you have the hottest mainstream acts as well.
Our Country: Remind me--who were the headliners that year?
Sugarland, and let's see...it was 2010...Brooks & Dunn.
Our Country: What did you think of the lineup overall?
To be honest, I've heard most of the names; I'm aware these people are huge stars, but I've probably never actually heard them. If you took the top 10 country acts...unless they're older, I've probably never heard them. There's nothing wrong with them, it's just not my cup of tea. But I do find that people who are fans of new country still appreciate traditional country. Doesn't always go both ways, but when you put something that's a little more traditional sounding in front of new fans, they tend to dig it. At least out here.
Our Country: I'm curious about your Stagecoach experience particularly, because I think there is a strong parallel between the punk world and the country world in that hardcore fans often have a set of arbitrary rules that one must adhere to in order to "pass the legit test." You must be familiar with that from all your years in Tiger Army.
Definitely, there are people who kinda want to test you. But the fact is, even though I haven't necessarily been playing this kind of music, I've been listening to it for many years. And I feel I certainly know as much about it as anyone my age. There are certainly people who know more. But I know the roots of it, I know the history of it, I have a real appreciation for those things. So I think once people feel comfortable with that...
Our Country: So you did manage to impress some hardcore country fans, then?
When we played at Stagecoach, there were people in their 70s and 80s and even older--as legit as you can get these days--and the fact that they enjoyed it was a compliment. They've heard it all, they've seen the greats, and if they don't dig it they certainly aren't going to waste their time acting like they do. And mainstream country fans as well--I think it's really cool when people who have never heard of Tiger Army come across this music I'm making now, and enjoy it. That's really cool.
Our Country: I know you spent a good deal of time in Nashville. Did you practice your live set out there?
I wound up playing live there later, like at the end of last year. There was a time I was living there for about a season, and I was pretty much just writing. That was before I started recording.
Our Country: It seems that Nashville made a huge impact on you.
Tennessee was the place where I had the epiphany that I needed to make a record. It was in 2008--January--Tiger Army was on tour. We had a year of touring that was already booked in front of us, supporting our new album at the time...and it's something that I thought about for years. Tiger Army had some songs like "Outlaw Heart" and "The Orchard" that delved into this musical territory. We had a day off and we got to spend it in Nashville, and I got to go to places...I think I might have been in the Ernest Tubb store on Broadway, and I had a stack of CDs, and just hearing so much great music and soaking it in, I decided: I have to actually make this record instead of just thinking about it. When I hit a bit of writer's block in L.A., I decided since [Nashville] was the place that inspired me, that I would go back there and try to connect with it.
Our Country: Have you been to Memphis too? Both cities are just so full of music history and vibes.
I have. It's in the air, it just kind of soaks into your skin.
Our Country: So, once you got to town, did you have anyone helping you, or were you kind of on your own figuring it all out?
I didn't know very many people, there were a couple friends of friends. I kind of decided to just go for it.
Our Country: That's pretty brave.
It was a big risk, because the album that Tiger Army had just done--that was our biggest visibility nationally in terms of some of the press we got, late-night shows, radio. So it was a pretty rash decision, you know--instead of following that up, shift gears and do this risky thing that may not work.
Our Country: And here you are. You do realize how hard it is to do what you have done--that is, make a critically acclaimed shift into country music as you have?
It's funny, one thing just kind of led to another!