10 Songs That Helped Make Nick 13's Country Debut
Tiger Army's Nick 13 delivered his self-titled solo debut this year, and the lead singer of one of the past decade's biggest psychobilly bands has made one of the most enjoyable traditional country records of 2011 not called Photographs. Yes, this 10-song set from the man you first met on those genre-bending Tiger Army albums, belting like a rockabilly Danzig, is a more-than-worthy country statement. Nick 13 strikes a surprising pose as a country crooner, but the record proves the heavily tattooed artist is no novice when it comes to the genre. Nick 13's smart and sharp flattop screams George Jones, but his dark, hip-swiveling quiver of a voice screams Chris Isaak and Dwight Yoakam. He didn't skimp on the guests either, with Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins laying down fiddle on the collection of cuts, and steel guitar legend Lloyd Green chipping in his own magic. He also remakes two Tiger Army songs, "In The Orchard" and "Cupid's Victim" from Tiger Army II: Power of Moonlite.
It's been making waves on the the mainstream country charts too, debuting at No. 22 back in June, not too bad in an industry dominated by the likes of the Zac Brown Band and Lady Antebellum. If the pop charts can see entries from aural throwbacks like Mumford & Sons and Adele, it only stands to reason that the country crowd would thirst for something that sounds like it could come from their grandparents' record collection. Some would say that Nick 13 is helping convert rockabilly folk to cowboy boots and pearl snaps, but we all know that the two styles of twang already go hand in hand. Some steadfast Tiger Army fans are put off by the volumes and tempos on the solo album, but the accolades are drowning them out. We asked him to list the 10 country cuts that helped him create his album, and he came through in fine form.
He could have gone for 13, but why push your luck?
"Big Iron," Marty Robbins
Nick: It might sound strange to refer to Marty Robbins' Western songs as "modern," but a late-'50s album like Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs did have a modern sound and feel when compared with Western music from the '30s or '40s, not to mention the fact that it influenced almost all Western songs that followed in some way. My own songs on the new record that use Western elements are no exception - "Carry My Body Down," for example.
"Kaw-Liga," Hank Williams Sr.
Nick: This song was a reference for the "Indian" feel in my song "All Alone." Of course, I didn't actually listen to it again before throwing the idea out there during the arrangement process, but sometimes the feeling a reference is meant to evoke is more important than the real-life resemblance. I could have said "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Lost Highway" or any number of others - the stage was set for my writing "All Alone" by many years of being moved by the lonesome feeling in Hank Williams' best singles.
"Alabama," The Louvin Brothers
Nick: While I didn't have this song in mind specifically when I wrote "101," it represents the kind of song I was thinking of. Country music odes to states like Texas, Tennessee and Kentucky are many, I wanted to do the same for my home state of California. There's more to "101" than that lyrically; it's also a story about my life, but "Alabama" would've been one of the first state-based songs I came across in my exploration of vintage hillbilly, and the Louvins were some of the first country artists whose work I really fell in love with.
"I Don't Care (Just As Long As You Love Me)," Buck Owens
Nick: The biting guitar sound of the great Don Rich was obviously another influence on "101". He could transform a Fender Telecaster into an angry hornet if he desired. We were going for overall feel more than referencing this particular song in the studio, but it's a great example of his fretboard work.
"Congratulations," Ricky Nelson
Nick: There's no one place that my song "Cupid's Victim" came from; the original version that I did with my band Tiger Army was influenced by Buddy Holly and The Ramones. One of the touchstones for the slower, countrified version on my solo album was the idea of Ricky Nelson's early work - his easy swagger and the rootsy, rockin' playing of guitarist James Burton were in our minds as we re-cut it ("we" being myself and producers James Intveld and Greg Leisz). "Congratulations" is a good place to hear both the elements we were thinking of in one place before they were added into the stew.
"From Hell To Paradise", The Mavericks
Nick: I must confess that I'm still ignorant of much country music made after the close of the '60s. One of the few contemporary acts to catch my attention in the '90s was The Mavericks. This song exemplifies what I loved about their sound, with its driving acoustics, Tex-Mex influence and Raul Malo's soaring vocals, all of which influenced my solo sound in general and specifically "Restless Moon."
"Hickory Wind," The Byrds
Nick: While I definitely appreciate late 60s country rock from the Parsons/Byrds pantheon, I never considered it to be something I was "going" for. Nonetheless, I hear elements of it on my record in songs like "Nashville Winter" and "Nighttime Sky". Something subconscious or a case of parallel evolution, perhaps some kind of California thing? Either way, this song exemplifies an influence that pops up here and there on my solo album.
"Excuse Me (I Think I've Got a Heartache)," Buck Owens
Nick: The vocal harmony on my song "Someday" was a relatively late addition to the track, writing-wise. While I've always been a fan of harmony and could site the Louvins again, or the Monroe Brothers, it was the harmonies of Don Rich over Buck Owens that I was thinking of here (certainly during mixing), and this song is a great example. I wasn't thinking of what Rich would have done with "Someday" note-wise, but rather feel-wise. Eddie Perez sang the chorus harmony in the studio, and while he's primarily known for his fretboard work, his highly skilled harmony singing shouldn't be underestimated.
"Love Hurts," Roy Orbison
Nick: In addition to being one of my musical heroes, Roy Orbison was an influence on my song "In The Orchard", originally recorded with Tiger Army about a decade ago. I wanted to rerecord it for the solo album and producer James Intveld came up with an idea to bring the Orbison influence to the forefront in the new arrangement. I now forget which song we used as a reference when cutting the verse piano, but this might have been it. No specific track was referenced for the drumbeat used in the new version, but it's signature Orbison.
"Sleepwalk", Santo & Johnny
Nick: We used this song as a reference in the new version of "Orchard" - the signature riff in the original was played by Greg Leisz on a pedal steel guitar after I whistled it to him. I wanted this version to be unique, so we decided to cut the signature riff in the new version on a lap steel instead, with "Sleepwalk" as a reference for sound and cadence, giving a slightly different feel although the melody remains unchanged. Josh Grange played the lap for the signature riff and Greg laid down some additional textural work.