Don't Panic, it's Organic: Miniature Tigers Overcome their Own Hype

When Rolling Stone magazine listed Miniature Tigers as one of the Top 25 Bands on My Space in 2006, Charlie Brand took it in stride. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate the ink. He did. But to him, it represented the difference between life in the virtual world and what he calls the organic approach to building a fan base.

“We got that early on,” the singer/guitarist says by phone from New York of the RS mention. “We hadn't even played a show yet.”


The organic approach, Brand explains, is about plain old fashioned
hitting the road. “We see bands that come out of nowhere and instantly
get blown up on, like, Pitchfork.” Their fan base, he says, if they
ever even have one will be flakey. “We've been building our fan base
over the last two years of touring.”

Indeed. The group that Spin called one of the nine hottest bands at
the prestigious CMJ (College Music Journal) Music Marathon in 2008
hasn't spent much time at home in the years since they began gigging in
earnest. Miniature Tigers toured eight months on the road during 2009
alone, part of which was in support of Ben Folds.

“We did, like, a month with Folds which was really crazy, going from
playing [our own] small local shows to opening up for him in these huge
theaters. After that, we went straight into another tour with another
Arizona band and were playing to, like, 10 people a night in Boise
Idaho and stuff like that.”

“Gold Skull” by Miniature Tigers from Ben Collins on Vimeo.

On the eve of their tour launch with the Freelance Whales, Brand
says the Tigers are not yet jaded. “I started this band just writing
songs in my bedroom and sending demos to friends and stuff and now here
we are, staying at the Hudson Hotel and playing a show tonight with the
Roots. It really doesn't feel real to me.”

But Charlie Brand has big ideas, and one wonders if Miniature Tigers
have room enough to accommodate them all. If Tell It to the Volcano was
a slightly nerdy power pop diary of Brand's relationship troubles (“It
went from a bad thing to a good thing. That was the theme of that
album,”) then this year's Fortress is a darker-toned tour of isolation.

“I like solitude,” he says, “but at the same time solitude has a
downside. I was writing about that and about the emotional walls that
people put around themselves.” Each album has some kind of theme, he
says, a thread that connects all the pieces. “But, I could never sit
down and say OK, I'm going to write a concept album.”

Then again, Brand says that self-diagnosis is a faulty science. “As
an artist, it's hard to observe the things that you do yourself.”

Fortress has a musical complexity not present in Volcano, as if
things were orchestrated this time around by spirits with gifts on the
order of a Brian Wilson. There's always been a vintage
Liverpool-meets-the-1960s-California-coast flavor to Brand's
songwriting, but Fortress takes that to another level entirely.

“When bands make the same record over and over it's kind of a buzz
kill. I like it when bands make sharp left turns.” But can the fans,
whether organic, virtual, or otherwise hang with change?

“That's the hope,” says Brand. “Fortress was definitely a left turn
for a lot of people. But for us, it was a natural progression. Our last
album was written when I was maybe 19 or 20. I've matured as a
songwriter since then, and my tastes have changed.”

That said, it wasn't Brand's intention to make a complex psychedelic
record and turn his fans off. “Those were the songs,” he says, “that
came out.”

“We don't want to alienate people. When we were making Fortress we
thought that fans of Tell it to the Volcano would be pretty put off by
the new stuff but there was nothing that would make us change direction

Brand says he already has enough material written for another album
and that even though he's ahead of schedule he hopes to get Miniature
Tigers into the studio next year. The new songs, he says, carry the
footprint of Simon and Garfunkel.

“My foundation is the Beatles and the Beach Boys, and I like a lot
of modern bands like Dirty Projectors and Animal Collective. Those
bands are really inspiring. I also listen to '60s stuff like Van Dyke
Parks. But Simon and Garfunkel are like, a huge influence right now. It
changes,” he says. “I go through phases.”

Miniature Tigers perform with Freelance Whales at Detroit Bar on Tuesday, Nov. 16.

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