i will be honest. I’ve never heard the voice of any member of Tiger Bear Wolf. I have free rein to assign them the shrill timbres of childhood bullies, embittered bus drivers, or smarmy bar maidens should I wish. I insist this is still an interview. One with four musicians who play cranky guitar music as mesmerizing as it is blunt and bruised. Instead of a stock list of journalistic needling, I asked Tiger Bear Wolf to tell me about their new record in their own time and space. Each member sat down while touring to promote the record they call “Bear” and sent me a Word .doc of anything that occurred to them about the band and this record. The results, spread through my own rough thoughts on the same issues, should shed some light on this bewitching new band. Or at least prove that I should never, ever have access to a band’s inner sanctum from this moment forward. . .

Punk music is the cacophonous smear of spirit dumb and blind. Anarchy is too crude a word to put to such a thing, and it’s an idiotic simplification. If I were wiser, I’d forego trying to put any label on it. Of course, given the treatment of popular meta-consciousness and platinum-sellers, the word loses its letters and its form. If it returns, and it never comes back in the same garb, pock-marked and deadly-thin, it sounds nothing like CBGBs. Why would it? That seems a horrific defeat of purpose. It has to sound like something else, maybe even something we’ve seen and smelled before.

Perhaps in the ideal case, it’s an amalgamation of everything we’ve alternately loved and dismissed. Maybe it’s embraced anew, while we recognize out of hand our pre-cog familiarity with this fresh snarl. In the case of Tiger Bear Wolf, it comes back as a hybrid of classic rock, bluesy whiplash fire, and a snippet of prime-era DC hardcore. Their second album and first for the rapidly developing roster of Hello Sir Records, which includes such cult faves as We Vs. The Shark, Tiger Bear Wolf is rank and desperate, bleeding its salty Siren screams through shreds of feedback and multiple, interlocking guitar leads. This is rock as your older siblings loved it, and punk as it may look fourth-generation.

Though, “Bear,” as the band refers to it for the Kodiak on its cover, is actually the band’s second release, thanks to Hello Sir’s distribution, it’s the first to see relatively wide exposure. But members of the band have been tight since youth, forging relationships that have strengthened and increased in number across the years. Bassist Matt Bostick recalls their start:
“I suppose Tiger Bear Wolf, or tiger bearwolf or tigerwerewolf or whatever happens to end up on our flyers, began for me when I met our drummer Lawrence over twelve years ago at a summer camp in TN. He denies it to this day, but I actually met him when I swam a giant inflatable tube to his rescue at the Little Goat Island swimming hole during some shitty boyscout camp.”
Sounds about right. How many life-long friendships start exactly thus? The two would find themselves in the same class room that fall. “Big L,” as Bostick refers to drummer Larry Holdsworth, was “scrawny and in his brother’s Panter t-shirt.” They bonded over �speed metal and pop-shuvits at local skate spots,’ before moving on to Guilford College together. There, at this �hippie Quaker college,’ something Bostick refuses to make any apologies for, they met guitarists Jonathan Moore and Noah Howard and slowly began to develop the bonds that would form Tiger Bear Wolf. Bostick explains about their early college years:
“We began a Fifteen and Leatherface idol worshipping punk band called Hooray for Everything who toured places like that barn in Chattanooga and that other barn in KY where all those cool looking moths were dying.”
Sadly, no, I’ve never been to either of those places. Those descriptions do help to give a properly eerie sense of the sort of back-woods depositories the band played in their college days, something that you can’t help but hear in the tattered tantrums and beer-stained sound on Tiger Bear Wolf.

After their first record, Tiger Bear Wolf began to gain steam as musical partners and studio cohorts. Having graduated from college, the band found itself with far more time to devote to TBW. Bostick insists:
“Our second album is highly more reflective of our current sound. It captured a magnificent time for us musically and individually, as we could all spend more time on such a project after graduating. We also had the benefit of working enough to afford some well needed equipment upgrades that could truly power the sound we needed. I felt during the time that we were writing material for that album that every song seemed to be better than the last in terms of our compositions and cooperation.”
It’s a sentiment that the band, to a member, seems to agree upon. Gaining experience in the production of their sound, they managed to maintain its coarse, earthy quality while flushing out the various instrumental components. The vocals seethe with a sort of revolving fury, often indecipherable slurs and grunts as much as lyrics. Noah Howard, one of the band’s two dueling guitarists, maintains that’s how the band wants it:
“We have ideas in our words, but I feel that a majority of our ideas are within the other parts of our music. Vocal choices are considered as elements and are not the sole carrier for the meaning of a song. I would hate for people to miss some of the other stuff going on because of the words.”
Of course, in order to put this grit to tape, the band manipulated the studio set-up in a way to make their sound as much like their live shows as possible. Says Bostick:
“We minimized punch-ins and only used overdubs to record our feedback transition track before the �song guitar’ kicks in to maximize the rawness of the sound and reveal an honest transcription of what we sound like live. Usually, the PA at the places we play isn’t kind to our vocals, so hearing what they are saying and the tones they achieve in unison sound great on CD.”
But that’s far too academic, too much studio-garb, for the putrid squalls they achieved. To hear Jonathan Moore describe it, there was as much accident to their mayhem as devise:
“When we were doing the recording, the tape machine was all fucked up and it kept speeding up and slowing down. It wasn’t swinging to extremes of anything, but we noticed that the guitars were wobbling around a lot. I think we spent ten days at the house, and did all the guitars and bass in the last three because it took that long to get the tape machine fixer out to the house.”
Fucking tape machine fixers man. Bane of the industry. Either way, the band achieved a certain dissonance and depth by putting two cabinets to each guitar, and leaving one in the stairwell and the other in the small room.

Yet, after the science of sound, and after all the nuances to the recording of the magnificent Tiger Bear Wolf, it’s clear that this is still just a tightly knit foursome with a fondness for frothy Pabst and steamy Southern farmhouses. If there was one theme that tied the sentiments of each member together, it was that of cohesion and amity. They could never consider doing this without any individual part, and the process of recording an album is simply the sum of the time they get to spend together. The most terse member of the band, in writing at least, Noah Howard’s thoughts circled this central notion:
“We each have an important role in each other’s lives. Somehow we are able to translate these relationships into sounds. I hope one thing evident in this is our love for music and our love for each other. I appreciate the moments when it’s most obvious that we are four people making noise. . .One of our primary goals was to make sure that each of us was fairly represented by the recording. Some songs reached that goal more than others, and I’m grateful for that knowledge for the next time we record.”
In his statement, you can feel the only thing he views worthy of discussion, that which he needs his band mates to know (though they surely do) as much as he probably resents having to say this to an outsider. I was for all intents a �reporter’ to him, ear as microphone, and he wasn’t speaking to me. These words were for those three he knew would read my reproduction. I offered him the chance, but though these notions were repeated across each band member’s thoughts, they never came across as false. They didn’t seem to be promoting a unity they couldn’t feel, trying to maintain group singularity amidst the pullings and grindings of individual personas, cryptic personalities. Bostick, the most giving of the four word-wise, reiterates the bond’s influence on their record:
“The result is very reflective of our friendships within the band, as our musical inspiration tends to wax and wane with our communication on a personal level with one another. Nothing feels better than when we relax over some brews, listen to each other’s bullshit, have some laughs, and rock like it’s our last day on earth.”
Sure, it’s the kind of thing you’ve read a million times, the sort of drudgery that fills most band one-sheeters, but Christ with TBW it makes so much sense. This is the sizzle of uniformity and disparity when they really steam together, tearing at each other’s hair but gluing it back in place when through. Drummer Larry Holdsworth pounds it home:
“I’m interested in being a band that can produce a diversity of styles within a single song or record without it sounding confused or scattered. There is also the hope that we can create something new and specific that can only exist when Matt, Lawrence, Jonathan, and Noah get together and play. The music should take advantage of our particular strengths as musicians and the strength of our relationship together as much as it should be grounded in a (sub)cultural context.”
I can see your eyes harden. I can smell your cynicism. Are they fucking Smurfs? This is Ernie and Bert stuff. Right on. You combine such churlish sentimentality with their notoriety for sweat-matted screamo lines like “I pick up my guitar/ �cause I know one thing worth saving is rock and roll” and you tune them out unheard. That’s a mistake. One listen to Tiger Bear Wolf will soften that post-aught flex, or at the very least replace it with a lightning-spined erectness. Oddly, referring to the aforementioned bravado, drummer Holdsworth insists they “as self-conscious and insecure as the next band.” I think he needs to play his record again.

*Photo copyright: Lane Sowinski


By: Derek Miller
Published on: 2005-07-04
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