Army Men

Fort Collins's Tanger moves to the front line of innovative punk.

On the surface, it would appear that Tanger has a real thing for war. To wit: The Fort Collins band's press kit ships with a standard-issue "survival kit," complete with compass, binoculars, army knife and dog tags; and their Web site, www.forttanger.com, features detailed field coordinates for the band's upcoming tours, along with "surveillance" photos (the band photo archive), a "munitions" dump (a rundown of the band's gear) and an "enlistment" page, where fans can sign up for the official Tanger newsletter. Then, of course, there's Tanger's new self-titled LP on Owned and Operated Records. Sporting artwork lifted straight from a Propaganda 101 textbook, the record boasts song titles that would provoke even the laziest of peaceniks to raise a picket sign in protest.

Tanger bassist Jason Cope insists the gesture would be entirely unfounded, however, as he and his mates (guitarist/vocalist Jason Chinnock and drummer Jon Linn) are merely war buffs, not warmongers. "We're not pro-war or anti-war or anything like that," he explains. "For me, it's just something I've been interested in since childhood. I have a pretty large army collection, and I like to watch all the stuff on TV about it. Personally, I just like the look of it all. It's really strong stuff, and I think it sends of a strong message.

"We're definitely not into watering things down," Chinnock concurs. "When someone sees our record, they'll know right off that it's going to be something powerful and that we're not the type of band that's just going to sit there and plink through things. We're really going to lay it down."

That they do. In fact, the twelve plink-free, punk-informed cuts on the release deliver enough sonic firepower to level your average Hard Rock Cafe. Yet Chinnock and company are more than your average three-chord monkey rockers. Rather, they play a heady, complex strain of punk that at its best recalls the glory days of the Jesus Lizard, the Effigies and even the soon-to-be-canonized Minutemen. The band isn't averse to injecting some good ol' fashioned riffs into the mix, either, as they do on songs like "The Night I Bombed Dresden" and "Coax." It's at these times, Chinnock reveals, that Tanger's fondness for AC/DC and Canadian prog-rockers Rush rears its ugly head.

"I think we like the vastness and complexity of Rush's music," he confesses. "But we also like the listenability of bands that are more simplistic, too. Because when music gets too complicated, it gets boring. It's like, 'God, I can't listen to this guy noodling forever,' and you turn it off. So I guess you could say what we do is take that sort of music and dumb it up. We make it a little more tolerable."

Bill Stevenson of O & O Records, for one, digs the strategy. After hearing Tanger perform at a local club, the producer and former Black Flag/Descendents drummer took an immediate shine to the band and offered to back a record. The threesome has since become quite tight with Stevenson (Chinnock is now part owner of O & O), but at the time, the guitarist admits, he was somewhat awestruck with the punk icon.

"It was kind of threatening in a way," he recalls, "because at the time, I didn't know him personally or anything. All I could think was, 'Man, this guy was in Black Flag!' I mean, the reason I grew up an angry kid was because of Black Flag."

Stevenson later mastered Tanger's LP at Fort Collins's Blasting Room Studios. The production chores, in the meantime, were handled by Steve Albini, the man responsible for Nirvana's In Utero, as well as recordings by PJ Harvey, Cheap Trick and the aforementioned Jesus Lizard. Known for his rather loose, laissez-faire production techniques (In Utero was said to have been completed in just a few days), Albini managed to capture the trio's confrontational live sound in all its locked-and-loaded glory. Still, Chinnock says there were times when he felt somewhat disconcerted by the producer's visceral, sometimes rushed approach. "He's a really down-to-earth guy," he elaborates. "But when we went into his studio, I guess we expected things out of him that he just doesn't do. Like critiquing performances. When you're playing, you can't always hear all your little fuck-ups and mistakes, so it helps to get a little feedback. But I understand why he doesn't do that. He doesn't want to go in there and color the band's music. He just wants to be able to capture it, and that's it. He did offer up some small opinions, though, and I think, overall, they helped."

At first blush, Tanger has all the ingredients of a hit punk record in the making -- in spades. Still, the group isn't taking any chances. In fact, the players have already mapped out a battle strategy that will carry them well into the year 2000, including an upcoming jaunt across the West Coast and a tour of the East Coast early next year ("after the whole Christmas thing expires," Chinnock notes). New Tanger songs are also in the works, says Cope: "We'll probably be experimenting with some new things. We're always into growing our sound. But I think the things coming up are probably going to be in the same vein. We're getting heavier and grittier, or at least I like to think so."

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