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Setting the record straight: The parallel lives of Tigers Jaw and Three Man Cannon

Tigers Jaw | Photo courtesy of the artist
Tigers Jaw | Photo courtesy of the artist

Ben Walsh likens it to being in a relationship with someone nearly eight years when they to suddenly tell you, “I can’t do this anymore.”

“Obviously it took us by surprise when they told us that they weren’t going to continue on with the band,” he says of when three of the five members of his Scranton-bred, indie-leaning pop punk band Tigers Jaw decided to leave. “We kind of weren’t sure what was going to happen.”

Walsh and band mate Brianna Collins broke the news that vocalist/guitarist Adam McIlwee, bassist Dennis Mishko and drummer Pat Brier to fans via their Tumblr page in March 2013. Many followers interpreted the message as a definite end of the band. But now it’s more than a year later, and Tigers Jaw’s just released its third LP Charmer – an album that debuted at number 49 on the Billboard charts, and one the departed members still helped Walsh and Collins record when they decided to carry on as the band’s sole permanent line-up.

“We talked about the record and got them back on board because it was something that we all worked so hard on and were really proud of the songs,” Walsh says, adding that more than half of the songs for the album had been written when McIlwee, Mishko and Brier announced they were leaving. “We all wanted to see it come into fruition.”

What came to fruition on Charmer is what Walsh calls the band’s most cohesive record, and what Collins says is “exactly how I was picturing our band would sound recorded at the time.” If the album art for their break-out 2010 self-titled release – an unidentifiable 20-something preparing to eat a slice of stringy cheese pizza – was a sign of Tiger Jaw’s then youthful energy, Charmer’s artwork – an ornate doily handmade by Collins – is an apt sign of the band’s maturity.

“There’s a mix of slower, more delicate parts and there’s plenty of faster, more hard-hitting parts as well,” Walsh says of the album. “We were able to cover a lot of ground on the record, and still managed to make it sound pretty cohesive. We were able to experiment a little bit more with dynamics and layering not only vocals, but layering acoustic guitars and things like that that we haven’t really done a lot of in the past. Another big difference was getting Brianna more involved with writing and singing.”

“Working with Will had a huge impact,” adds Collins of Studio 4′s Will Yip, who produced the record. “Layering vocals and all of his little input and ideas that were really on the same page with, at least in my opinion, what we were trying to do.”

Walsh and Collins have been through a lot in the past few years that has forced them to grow up, not only stemming from their experiences with Tigers Jaw. Both came to the end of college and were faced with many new responsibilities, along with new freedoms. It’s this transition that Walsh is responsible for Charmer’s darker vibe, both lyrically and in the way it sounds.

“There’s still a lot of energy put into it,” he says. “Maybe [it’s] not as raucous as some of the earlier stuff, but just as much enthusiasm was put into these songs as any other songs that we’ve written, if not more.”

Though he’s sometimes heavily influenced by what he’s going through personally, writing for Charmer was the first time that Walsh really turned to another medium for inspiration. More specifically, it was interplay between characters on the show Twin Peaks, which is even cited by name in the song “Nervous Kids.” Both Walsh and Collins really enjoy the show.

Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | http://jeremy-zim.com/
Brianna Collins and Ben Walsh of Tigers Jaw performing an instore in Philadelphia | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | http://jeremy-zim.com/

“It’s so interesting. It’s so in depth and the themes are so dark,” Walsh says. “I got pulled in by just the small town interactions that everybody has, where there is so much going on underneath the surface. I think that’s the really cool thing, you go to a place that may be completely different than what you expected based on its outside appearance. I think there are a lot of themes on this record of duality, and things that can maybe be taken more than one way. That’s definitely something that we pulled from a lot of the stuff that happens in Twin Peaks.”

While they’re not writing music or binge-watching TV, both Walsh and Collins have also almost completed all requirements for becoming teachers in their designated fields – Collins for art whilst living in Kingston and Walsh for speech therapy while working at a school in Central Pennsylvania.

“Nobody at my job knows what I do,” Walsh says. “None of my kids, none of my coworkers or anything, know that I play in a band or anything like that. It’s kind of a strange separation. It’s almost like working two full-time jobs [because] we don’t work with a manager, so we both have a lot of extra responsibilities apart from our jobs and also from writing and practicing music. So it’s a lot, it’s a big commitment, but it’s been totally worth it.”

“It was weird today, I had to tell my bosses that because they were like, ‘What are your plans for the summer?’ being like, ‘Yeah, I’m traveling and having a life. I am actually in a band,’” adds Collins. “‘My hair will be blue tomorrow, so be warned.’”

Tigers Jaw will start their summer tour on Monday when they headline Union Transfer. Playing in Philly feels much like playing to a hometown audience, Collins says, with Walsh adding that it’s one of the next best things now that Scranton is almost devoid of places to perform.

They’ll be supported by a new live line-up, including Elliot Babi from Touche Amore on drums, Luke Schwartz from Make Do And Mend on bass and Jake Woodruff from Defeater on guitar.

“It’s definitely different working with different musicians when we’ve played with the same people for so long,” Walsh says. “It’s sort of refreshing. I kind of miss the styles of the guys who aren’t in the band anymore, but at the same time it’s cool having some new experiences and drawing influence from the new people we’re playing with.”

Three Man Cannon | Photo by Jessica Flynn
Three Man Cannon | Photo by Jessica Flynn

Walsh says that he’s still very much on good terms with the band’s former members. McIlwee is still making music under his solo moniker, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, while Brier and Mishko remain in Philly’s own Three Man Cannon.

“They’ve always been one of my favorite bands and they don’t get nearly as much attention as they deserve,” he says of Three Man Cannon, who released a new album just one week before Charmer was scheduled to drop.

“Hopefully more people start to pay attention. I’ve definitely been seeing them get some more press, seeing song premieres on different websites and stuff, which is not something their band has really gone after too much in the past. But it’s really nice to see them getting some credit for the great art that they create.”

When news broke that Three Man Cannon was set to release its new LP, Pretty Many People, on May 27 via Lame-O Records, most headlines made sure to include that the band featured “ex-members of Tigers Jaw.” Drummer Pat Brier deems that widespread association, well, kind of silly.

“Dennis and I, we were in Three Man Cannon for about two years before we joined Tigers Jaw,” he says. “We weren’t actually in the band, we were just filling in. … For me, and I think Dennis and I have talked about it, it’s so silly because none of us really thought about it like that with either band. It’s something that is very much, unfortunately, fabricated. Not fabricated, but just totally taken out of perspective.” Continue reading →

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