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Tiger by the tail

Nick 13 tracks down his own Bakersfield sound



In the very first line of his self-titled solo album, Tiger Army frontman Nick 13 states his premise clearly: "Sometimes something calls a man to roam / He's got to leave behind all the comforts of home."

Starting with the loping pedal-steel plaint called "Nashville Winter" that opens the album, the musician builds his case with forlorn acoustic-twanged originals like "101," "Restless Moon" and the funereal "Carry My Body Down." The former Bay Area native, who currently resides in Los Angeles, chose to make an old-school, Music-Row-reverent C&W album. And he had to leave California to do it.

Tiger Army was renowned for its propulsive brand of punkabilly. But when Nick 13 decided to step out on his own, he wanted to do something more in line with one of his longtime passions, the historic Bakersfield sound.

"Something I wanted to do on this record was try to reconnect both myself and the listening audience with the California country sound, because there's so much great country music that's come out of California," says the singer, who warbles in a light, feathery voice reminiscent of early Chris Isaak. "And I feel like a lot of people have lost touch with that. I mean, Bob Wills lived and recorded there, in addition to homegrown talent like Speedy West, Jimmy Bryant, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Rose Maddox. I think there are a lot of people who would appreciate that music if they only knew about it, so I hope maybe my music might inspire them to dig into it a little more."

There was just one problem: The California country sound doesn't really exist in California anymore. So the artist ended up relocating to Nashville, Tenn., in the winter, where he lived above Printers Alley in an old office building now converted to lofts.

"I decided to leave L.A. because creatively, at the time, it just wasn't happening," he says. "So my place in Nashville was right in the heart of it, and I didn't really know when I was coming back, or what was gonna happen, which was kind of nice."

The pompadoured, Western-garbed musician blended right into his new surroundings. He jammed around town at various musicians' homes, was out seeing live country music almost every night, and would then return to his apartment to compose songs until nearly dawn.

"And when I was there, it was wintertime, when they do the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman instead of the big new place," he says. "So I got to see a lot of great stuff at the Opry, on the actual Ryman stage where it all went down in the '50s and '60s. I saw Charlie Louvin before he passed away. I saw Ralph Mooney play pedal steel before he passed away. And I saw Little Jimmy Dickens — it was so cool to see all these amazing artists from the middle of the last century, still on stage and doing it."

Ultimately, Nick 13 found what he was looking for. "When I went out there, it was almost out of desperation, because I had this writer's block, and the original path that I'd hoped to follow with this record had led to some dead ends. So I wanted to go out to Nashville and just absorb things and be inspired. And by going out there, those things definitely happened."

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