Below is an essay, for lack of a better word, that I wrote about the lead-up and making of Tiger Pop Ten. It’s half-history lesson, half explanation of motive. You’ll see parts of this borrowed for various press releases and biographies, but this is the full text. Hoist your reading glasses!
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It started as a joke. (Sort of.)
When I recorded my first solo album, Tiger Pop, between the summers of 1999 and 2000, I set out to make the best record I could, to reproduce the sounds and ideas in my head as accurately as possible. I played all of the instruments myself out of stubbornness, but also out of necessity. I guess I thought I had something to prove—after years of making 4-track demos in my parents’ basement and burning through three bands with little more than a handful of demo tapes to show, I felt it was the time to put it all out there.
But I hadn’t given much thought to how the songs would be reproduced in concert. When the album was released, the solo-acoustic arrangements of these now rather lushly orchestrated songs were enough to get me by on the club circuit and gather some steam in the local press, but it seemed obvious that the songs needed a rhythm section to really come across live. So I went recruiting.
Keith Hosmer and I had been friends for a few years and we had a fair amount of common ground musically, and he and I started working out some songs on two guitars. My then-girlfriend worked with a kid who claimed to play bass; Ryan Battle joined us, and stayed in the quartet version of the band until late 2002. The newly minted Suggestions played one gig (the Tiger Pop CD release in Dec. 2000) with a dude Keith only ever referred to as Drummer Guy—and then that guy vanished. Literally: He left armloads of drum hardware at the practice space but we never heard from him again. (We heard later that he’d left town for a family emergency and simply did not return. It happens.)
I met Jason Schultz at a gig at the old Lark Tavern the following month. He and Keith had a gig with the funk band they played with on the side, and they asked me to play a warm-up set. As soon as I finished, Jay approached me and handed me his business card (“Jason Schultz, Drums”). Within weeks he knew every beat of every song and had purchased a vintage Ludwig kit to be more like Ringo. You just can’t say no to a guy like that.
As we played together and became better friends, we would often kid around about re-recording Tiger Pop. Having the Hosmer-Schultz rhythm section (Keith moved to bass when Ryan left) behind these tunes gave them a new life. Some grooved differently, while others sounded like entirely different songs. To cut a new version of the record would have been cost-prohibitive (and kind of uncalled for, right?) but it was an attractive idea—it certainly appealed to the part of me that doesn’t know how to settle on “finished.” The idea stuck in the back of my mind, and we even briefly experimented with such a project when we re-recorded “Changing Your Mind” for the Suggestions Mix Tape EP. At some point I said that we would redo the full album someday for the Platinum Edition, and that was that.
The Suggestions cut an album in 2004, the story of which warrants an essay (or more) of its own. We played our last gig in 2007 after three years of only intermittent activity. Keith relocated to Chicago, Jay to Denver, and I got married and moved to New York with my new band, Maggie Mayday, in tow—only to see the band splinter soon after. Another one bites the dust.
By early 2010, Tiger Pop had been out of print for nearly five years. I had long promised myself (and whoever reads my tweets or blogs or what have you) that I would reissue the album for its tenth birthday. I set about trying to make this happen by setting up a campaign with fund-raising website Pledge Music. My original plan was to tack a few lost tracks and new recordings onto the original disc. I had always wanted to try adding string accompaniment to a few tunes, especially “Masterpiece,” which wasn’t originally on Tiger Pop but was written just as the album was completed. (I had always considered it more of a piece with that album than Mix Tape, where it originally appeared.)
Roughly around the same time I launched the Pledge campaign, I got a call from Jay, saying he’d be back in the Northeast for a few weeks in the summer. We discussed the idea of doing a Suggestions show and possibly some recording. I batted the idea to Keith, who seemed into it. I booked a show, as well as a few days at our friend Brett Portzer’s studio in Albany. Brett’s involvement was a natural fit: He helped put together the original Tiger Pop artwork, and recorded and/or mixed a number of Suggestions tracks over the years.
In July, we got together at Jay’s old house in Vermont to rehearse for our long weekend, and we sounded as good as ever, if not better. After playing our first show in three years we headed to Brett’s place with just a few songs in mind. Quickly, we got on a roll—thanks to my ability to function on little or no sleep, and to engineer Ryan Slowey’s incredible patience, I left town a few days later with eight songs all but finished. The music was coming with a natural ease. The strange goal of making a new Tiger Pop was within reach; this idea we thought of as a goof so many years prior was coming to fruition. And while the Pledge campaign didn’t raise quite as much as I’d hoped, it was almost made up for by Brett allowing me to basically live in his studio for next to nothing. Can’t thank him enough.
In September, I booked a session in New York with Jenn McCarron and Meghan Tully, the rhythm section from Maggie Mayday. We recorded the remaining three Tiger Pop songs in one afternoon. Adrian Cohen, who I had worked with on a number of previous projects, agreed to record some piano and arrange the string parts I’d been dreaming about. A few favors were called in from musical acquaintances, to add some color here and there. The estimable Troy Pohl, a close friend who I’d worked with on an as-yet-unreleased new record, said he’d mix and master the project.
This time, I could say we made it. Tiger Pop Ten is a celebration of the musical and personal relationships that went into it, something we can all share as a reminder of our time together. And as indulgent as it seems, it’s in no way meant as a replacement for the original record. It just so happened that we were able to make this quickly and cheaply, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s just another step on the long path.
Coincidentally, it ended up being a damn good record. Without road maps (the original Tiger Pop sessions were quite carefully plotted) the songs found their own identities. They’re still part of my DNA, but they’ve also become their own beings. The rhythmic shifts, the changes in phrasing, the occasional altered lyric—all of those things were what the songs called for at this time. A great deal of what you hear on Tiger Pop Ten is what was played live in the room(s), while the vocal tracks were largely first or second takes, with minimal fussing.
So here you have it—them, rather. Two different versions of the same album: one recorded over 12 long months by an ambitious 20-something looking to make something of himself; the other recorded in a few weekends by a group of friends whose collective talents made everything a breeze. Maybe we’ll do it again in 10 years.