Tigers Jaw Isn't Afraid to Evolve From Its Roots

Tigers Jaw Isn't Afraid to Evolve From Its Roots
Wes Teshome
Pop punk has always been about youth: the trials, tribulations, heartbreaks — and that wall between being young and becoming an adult. Out of all the bands that have embodied this ethos, Tigers Jaw is one of the most enduring.

When the group hit the Scranton, Pennsylvania, scene in 2005 as an outfit of scrappy high school kids attempting to find their footing, they had no idea their music would help trigger a resurgence of Northeastern emo-rock alongside bands like Title Fight, The Mezingers, and The Wonder Years. Scranton and its surrounding areas proved to be a breeding ground for music that would go on to be the soundtrack to the lives of young pop-punk fans everywhere.

This year, Tigers Jaw is celebrating the ten-year anniversary of its breakthrough self-titled LP. A testament to youth, long nights, and the kind of love that feels like it's swelling up in your chest, the album has withstood the test of time as a pop-punk staple to this day, all the way down to its Run for Cover Records reissue in 2010, which boasted album art of someone eagerly grabbing a slice of pizza from a hot pan.

Despite its endurance, Tigers Jaw isn't the same band it was in 2008. In 2013, three founding members, vocalist/guitarist Adam Mcllwee, bassist Dennis Mishko, and drummer Pat Brier all left the band, leaving only keyboardist/vocalist Brianna Collins and guitarist/vocalist Ben Walsh to continue as Tigers Jaw. Walsh and Collins have proved to be an effective two-piece, releasing Spin, their first album as an official duo, in 2017.

Westword spoke with Walsh and Collins over email to discuss their upcoming anniversary tour, which hits Denver's Marquis Theater on October 9.

Westword: In the ten years since your self-titled LP came out, how do you feel you've changed as people and musicians?

Tigers Jaw: I think that when we were recording the self-titled album, being in a band was just something that was fun and that we used to escape school and our other responsibilities. Now, it's fortunately morphed into our livelihood and our careers, so it carries a different weight now. It has a much different place in our life now as adults. We are always trying to grow as songwriters and musicians, to experience more life and more music and pull from a wider array of influences, and when we compare that to being seventeen, writing the songs for the self-titled album, there was a raw energy back then. We didn't know what we were doing or how to do it, but it was this fun and exciting thing. You're always going to progress from your early material, but you're always going to try to capture that raw, youthful energy.

How would you contrast the first album with the music you're trying to make now?

These days, we're just trying to expand on [what we accomplished on the self-titled LP]. In a similar way, we're still trying to write without rules, because when we write a song, bring it to the table, and work it out beyond its initial stages, it sounds like Tigers Jaw. Whatever intangible quality that makes it a Tigers Jaw song is still going to be there, because it's still coming from the same place. But sonically, there's more layers to the tracks, there's more deliberation, and there's more structure to our later material, as opposed to our early stuff, where there weren't a lot of repeating themes, the songs were shorter, and it was all a bit more erratic.

What challenges does celebrating the anniversary of this album bring, considering you both are the only remaining members of the band?

It references back to that time in our lives, because the band started with only Ben and Adam, and I [Brianna] joined a year later. We started off playing with rotating members. What we're doing now is still true to that original ethos, though. The band has existed for thirteen years now, and any group — except maybe U2 — is bound to go through some changes. Tigers Jaw is a living, breathing entity, and the people that are playing with us on this tour have been a part of this band since the start, so we feel confident celebrating these songs, despite the changes we've undergone since it was released.

Can it be difficult to revive the songs in their original form because the band's lineup has changed so much since the album was released?

I don’t think there’s any pressure to “revive the songs” to their original form. All bands go through all sorts of changes — personnel, sonic, image, etc. Luke, Ted and Colin, [the musicians we're currently touring with] have been a part of this band for literally half of the life of the self-titled album, which says a lot. I think it’s important to be true to who you are as a performer at the time of the performance. We are performing the songs with lots of passion and energy, and with ten-plus years of touring and performing experience since being seventeen-eighteen year old kids. The songs have a life of their own, and we have loved playing them throughout our career, and it’s so amazing that they still resonate with us and with listeners so much.

click to enlarge BRIANNA COLLINS
Brianna Collins
I love the album because it feels like an ode to youth; falling too hard, being reckless, not fully considering the future. How do you both feel about that album lyrically now that you're both older and have grown as musicians and people? What do you think the material represents, looking back?

The record definitely captures a moment in our lives where music was this huge uncharted territory, and there were no rules or expectations. The lyrics are honest and relatable, even now. We think the material represents trying to find your place in the world and trying to mean something to someone else.

What can fans expect from these anniversary shows?

Fans can expect to see an energized and fun performance of the self-titled album's songs and also post-self-titled songs as well. That album is only about a half-hour long, so first we play a set of songs that span the rest of our career. They can also expect an added visual flair, as we added a light show and a stage prop in the style of the original album art.

Do you see these shows as an opportunity to create a nostalgic experience for longtime fans, or to appeal to a new generation of listeners?

Hopefully both! I know there’s some people that haven’t paid much attention to what we’ve released since that album, so this is their chance to get caught up and see where our journey as a band has taken us.

Your music has evolved a lot since the self-titled album, both thematically and musically. Do you think that album would garner the same cult following it's achieved if it were released today considering new expectations and sensibilities within the scene?

It was completely arbitrary, of course, but I think we released our self-titled album at a pivotal time before the Internet fully took over. There is a lot of oversaturation and so much music coming out all the time that people’s attention spans grow increasingly shorter, and it seems that they don’t spend as much time appreciating an album as they used to.

How do you feel expectations/sensibilities surrounding pop-punk/emo rock have changed since this album came out? How has the genre/scene changed over the past ten years, and what trajectory do you see it heading in over time?

We don’t see too many commonalities in the actual execution of the music of the bands that are considered our contemporaries. I think the common thread is how genuine the bands are. Everyone is true to themselves and not trying to sound like a current trend. I think the biggest change is the bands pulling influence from a wider range of music and keeping things interesting so they’re not remaking the same record they made ten years ago.

Tigers Jaw with The Sidekicks and Cherry, 7 p.m. October 9, Marquis Theater, 2009 Larimer Street. Buy your tickets, $16 to 18, at the Marquis website.
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Brody Coronelli discovered his love for writing and journalism as a teenager, and thousands of words later, that passion has come to frame his life. He writes about music and art for Westword, and enjoys obsessing about music and film, food and wine, creative writing, and making his own music when he's not too busy writing about it.
Contact: Brody Coronelli