The music of Miniature Tigers sounds like it has its roots in the sunnier, more upbeat end of '60s guitar rock, utilizing spare melodies with melodic atmospheres that have an nostalgic immediacy -- as though your future self could sing a song to you with words of compassion and comfort for your current ills. Fans of MGMT and latter day Flaming Lips will find something to like in Minature Tigers' subtle psychedelia and its penchant for breezy dynamics and upbeat songs that shrug off the melancholy of the subject matter. We had a chance to speak with the affable and charming Charlie Brand, singer and guitarist of Minature Tigers (due tonight at the Larimer Lounge with the Spinto Band and the Don'ts and Be Carefuls), about Fortress, the new album, the importance of evolution for artists of all kinds and the joys and shortcomings of being in a touring band that hasn't broken to wide audiences as yet.
Westword: The cover art for Fortress looks like someone imitating Michaelangelo and Daniel Johnston. Who did the artwork, and has this person done the artwork for your other releases?
CB: Our drummer, Rick Schaier, did the artwork for Tell It to the Volcano, as well. He didn't do the artwork for the EPs; that was our friend Brandon. We tried a couple of different ideas for the cover. One was a take-off of a David Hawking, with this guy laying in bed with his pants off kind of thing. It wasn't really working, and Rick started painting this woman in a chair, and the other images tied into what we thought the album felt like to us.
Ww: The song titles on the new album read like chapters from a modern fantasy novel written by Tom Robbins. Were there any particular themes or imagery you had in mind when writing this set of songs or selecting them to be on the record?
CB: For Tell It to the Volcano, we had so many songs written over so many years, and we hadn't released a full-length album yet, so we had a lot of songs to choose from. For the last album, we went into the studio with ten songs written, and that's what it ended up being. To me, it deals with what I went through over the last year. It feels like a cohesive story but it's not intentionally a story album.
Ww: Your music strikes me as nice balance of power pop and electronic music. What other artists that have that kind of balance do you like and why?
CB: That's a good question. I'm not sure what power pop means anymore. I feel like The Flaming Lips have that kind of thing going on combining electronic elements with rock music. Did you have anyone in mind?
Ww: I think the Lips are a good example. In another way ELO had that in their way, and MGMT, now.
CB: Oh yeah, I like their new record a lot. It's divisive -- people either love it or don't. I like when bands change. I'm always hoping the album is totally different -- it's more exciting that way. With our new record, we tried to make it different, and we tried not to repeat ourselves. I went to a website where they reviewed our album and it wasn't bad but it was backhanded. It was something like, "I was hoping for Tell It to the Volcano 2."
I enjoy reading stuff like that, because it makes me feel like I did something right, because that's something we set out to do: Not alienate people, but not repeat ourselves at all. If we had repeated ourselves the comment would have been, "Oh, these guys are just treading water."
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Ww: What's are the least glamorous aspects of being a touring band at your level of notoriety, and what are the best things?
CB: One of the least glamorous things is all cramming into a bed at a Motel 6 and spending hours on end in a little van. Eating bad food. That's not very glamorous. I'll go to a family dinner or a family function, and my mom is proud will talk about me being a big rocker. Then a family member will grill me and ask, "So what's it like being a rock star?" I'm not a rock star at all. I try to explain the reality of what a touring musician's life is like. I think people's impression of that sort of thing isn't too accurate.
The things I love about it is... I read an interview with Kurt Cobain once, and he talked about how his favorite time being in a band was when they were traveling in a van before they blew up. He was looking back, and thinking that, at that time, all they wanted to be was huge and famous, and they looked back on that time as the best time.
I can understand that, not that I can fully understand it, because we're not a big band, I love being able to just hang out and meet people every night. Talk to people. It's more interesting when you're playing small clubs. If we ever got to the point where were selling out arenas or the like, it seems as though there would be a huge disconnect with your fan base. You can't really go out and hang out.