New York-based electro-rock act Year of the Tiger have been quietly making noise in a busy city. The duo have been crafting their brand with attitude-a-plenty, taking the best from influential figures like Karen O and infusing it with their own personality. They’re music savvy, industry intelligent and hungry to claw through the buzz-heavy capitol of the music world.
You can check out a stream of their brand new track, “Push”, at the end of the interview.
Year of the Tiger is a musical endeavor you do with…?
Sable: Henry is my BFF– we’ve been best friends since we happened to be neighbors our junior year at SUNY Purchase. I think for a while we were “married” on Facebook, which while endearingly cute probably just ended up cock-blocking each other. We always thought it’d be cool to do a musical project together and then we finally did (3 years later, natch) this past winter around the time we both lost our jobs and had the free time to do it.
The three bands that immediately come to mind for me are: Goldfrapp, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Peaches. Hot or cold with this assessment?
S: Hot, hot hot! We are so inspired by all three of those bands—I’m more so from the YYY camp than Goldfrapp and Peaches. Considering it’s just us—Henry on the computer/trigger board, and me with the microphone—it’s like front woman duty x10. And as far as stellar front women go, you really can’t top Karen O. She’s brilliant.
Henry: I really love elements from all three – the rock out, adrenaline fueling rawness of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the brilliant production and melodies from Goldfrapp, and the heavy, grinding, explicitness of Peaches. As well as the feeling throughout of total confidence – like they know exactly what they’re doing, and don’t give a fuck. And they all put on some badass shows. So yeah. That’s inspiration all right.
Is there an accurate term you’d want people to describe the music as? Electro-pop?
S: We’ve been called electro-clash, pop-rock, electro-rock, electro-grunge… I guess when I describe our genre I’d probably be most likely to say “electronic rock.” To me it doesn’t sound so pop, but to everyone else it seems to. It’s not as important to us that people can accurately label us so much as they enjoy what they’re listening to.
H: Christopher Weingarten (music blogger for the Village Voice) dubbed Rockit as “anthemic noise pop,” which I thought was interesting. I guess I don’t really know where we fit exactly; electro rock perhaps? Or rather, I don’t really care all that much.
How does the songwriting take place? Is there a natural process to it?
S: The backing tracks are all made using Ableton and Digital Performer and then come the lyrics. The words sometimes get changed or moved around when Henry shows the songs to me, but otherwise that’s as natural as it gets. So far I’ve only written lyrics for one song, “White Flag”, that Henry made the beats for afterwards.
H: Yup, that’s pretty much it. Though sometimes the lyrics or even just a generic idea comes first.
What are your instruments of choice?
H: A lot of guitar, a lot of chopped, gritty synths, and heavy drums.
S: Yelling. Mostly yelling. And wrath.
I’m really liking the up-tempo, harder hitting nature of “White Flag”- which artists would you say have been an indirect influence to your music outside of the electro realm?
S: Thanks! (That’s the ONE song I’ve written lyrics for so far) Well, I suppose this goes back to Karen O. She can pretty much do no wrong in my book. But otherwise we’re influenced by a lot of stuff when songwriting—David Bowie, Arcade Fire, Metric, The White Stripes, Quentin Tarantino, La Femme Nikita… pretty much anything badass that just doesn’t give a F**k.
H: For me, I find I get a lot of inspiration from anything that really captures a specific feeling or theme, regardless of media type. Not literally, but stylistically and emotionally. Whenever I write, I always try to do that. For example, rather than scream ‘I’m angry’ or something, I’d rather whisper fuck over the sound of a distorted siren or something.
This is an entirely DIY project thus far- how are you both approaching the idea of labels and the music industry? A positive or a negative?
S: When we first put our stuff out there this past February and emailed a handful of music bloggers for press, we actually had a really great reception, much to our surprise (and delight). We believed that our material was worth listening to so it was really encouraging that the internet was into Year of the Tiger as well. A label isn’t all that necessary for us as far as production is concerned. We piqued the interest of a major label very early on based off that initial press, but I think we’re much too new for them. I’m pretty sure majors want an up-and-coming buzz band with an established fan base that they can sort of “take it from there.” We’d actually prefer a booker or booking agent first rather than a label since they can get you on good bills to build said fan base. So we’d be more interested in courting those types at this point. We just want to play awesome shows! Labels will come when they’re ready for us and hopefully we’ll be ready for them when they do. So… positive until it’s negative?
H: Make awesome music. Get people who like it. Get big enough for label attention, license your music to them, give them a cut and let them do what they do best. Basically, I think labels are good for the business and technical end of things like tour management, publicity and promo, but as far as giving away rights, I think not. I’m not sold on the idea that the goal is to get ‘signed’ – that doesn’t hold much water for me. It’s what helps us get our music out, and makes it easier for people who like our stuff to get it.
What are your likely tour goals?
S: We’ve been toying with the idea of doing one-off weekend tours to neighboring cities like Philly or Boston to play shows. Only problem is we don’t know anyone or have any connections in pretty much any city outside NY. Bummer, right? I figure that’s the way to DIY, but we definitely wouldn’t be opposed to touring with a bigger band as a supporting act.
S: We’re always writing new material and recording (we do all the recording and mixing in Henry’s apartment in Brooklyn) and it’s coming along pretty well so far—we’re a pretty minimal operation thankfully making the whole process pretty efficient. We have our demo but we want to have enough songs so that we can sort of curate an album rather than just put the first dozen songs we recorded on a CD. So far I don’t think we’re even at one dozen yet!
H: We record all the time, and test our new stuff live. We like to make rough tracks, see if people are dancing at the show and how it’s received, and then decide if it’s worth keeping.
How friendly is the New York scene- do you see it as a great place to start music in 2010 and beyond?
S: As much I’m in love with this city (more of a love-hate maybe) and it’s been my home my whole life, it’s really not the most fertile environment for new bands starting out. The NYC scene is pretty full of itself and you have to work extra hard for the attention. And then once you get it you’ve still got to prove that you’re worth your weight. It’s a pressure cooker for anyone with grandiose dreams, which definitely weeds out the dilettantes and talentless hacks but at the same time, can be unduly discouraging. There’s a lot of attitude and bullshit you’ve got to push through to get your foot in but once you do, you learn pretty quickly whether or not you’ve got a good thing going, or else you just get chewed up and spit out. NYC has a pretty discerning eye for posers and generally does not take kindly.
The show-going culture in NYC is definitely much more apathetic than elsewhere and for the most part is pretty passive. I tend to chalk it up to the fact that there’s just so much going on every single night that every event’s got competition. Also, everyone’s either got their heads up their own ass or else is working their asses off in this city and probably too tired, stressed out and broke to go out. So on a weeknight at some dive venue, if you can get a crowd on their feet and rock their worlds, it’s doubly gratifying! New York presents a unique challenge in whatever you do just because of its insular nature, but it’s not without rewards. It gives back as much as you put in and it will work for you if you work for it. Which to me is just a thrilling and terrifying concept. It’s kind of like going to see The Wizard (of Oz, I mean).
H: I think it’s a challenge – we’ve been received great online, but it’s another thing to transfer that elsewhere. I love the atmosphere of NYC for music. I just find the scene a bit claustrophobic. We’re not big networkers, and we don’t schmooze, unfortunately… so it’s tricky as we don’t necessarily do that. You really have to party with/know the right people. It adds some extra steps and cold calling, but we’re doing ok so far. We’ve been finding some awesome people along the way who are really into what we do – not just waiting to see what happens. We figure it’s far better to be surrounded by a few genuine people who are great than a lot of people who are marginally interested. The whole point of our project was just to get people to dance, not give a fuck and feel something. Anything. It was never about networking or business! If it’s not fun, what’s the point? We just say fuck it – it’s true that if we can do it here, then we can do it anywhere, and that’s definitely motivating.