By Roger Barrett
New Science Projects and Viking Moses, Tony has played hundreds of shows over the years, mostly in houses and nontraditional venues all over the United States and Europe.
As Real Live Tigers, Tony’s recorded a few EPs, a split with Super Famicom and a full length record “This is Sometimes a Riverbed,” which contains his best songs “Beard of Bees” and “Floodplains.”
A blend of country (he’s been covering George Strait at recent live shows), folk, gospel and pop, Real Live Tigers is often stark and sometimes depressing, think Smog or Castanets.
Lyrically, Tony writes sharply, avoiding directness and cliche that has almost killed off the singer/songwriter genre. His words are literary, and do what great writing does, offering hints of a story without overstating. All of his records seem to be giving away pieces of a bigger picture, a longing for the unknown and lost, sorted apologies and wanting to bring back what is gone.
Mainly a solo artist and performer, Real Live Tigers has also been the stage for a revolving cast of DIY folk mainstays. Karrie Hopper (www.myspace.com/karriehopper) lends haunting and childlike vocals to “This Is Sometimes a Riverbed” and is the album’s secret weapon. Currently, the Real Live Tigers live band is home to Dan Dean, formerly of Fizzgig, Full Service Quartet and II Dean Crew.
I recently asked Tony some questions over coffee at Arsaga’s in the Fayetteville Public Library. He was unable to walk away, and therefore had to answer.
Your last record “This Is Sometimes a Riverbed” was released a few years ago. What have you been doing lately? Any new recordings in the works?
I toured on the last record for a full year and got really burnt out on what I was doing. I also knew how easy it would be to write and record another two albums that were essentially the same thing, and so I spent a lot of time away from music and more time just working and learning new routines. We’re finally getting around to doing some recording this month, which will be used for a series of seven-inch records coming out later this year.
Besides Fayetteville, you’ve been living in Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas. Do these temporary residencies affect your writing process?
Moving around definitely slows down my productivity. I write in spurts and I keep an ongoing notebook of fragments and things that come to me, and so when I’m in a productive period it’s easy to thread things together and edit out what doesn’t work.
You write about the past a lot, are you singing about personal experience or making broader statements? Do you prefer to sing about yourself or about other characters or situations?
I don’t know if my singing about the past has more to do with my slow writing process or my yearning for simpler, less complicated times. I definitely learn more about myself when I scrape myself out and reflect on my past. So most of what I write is autobiographical, but there are a handful of songs written from other characters’ points-of-view, usually someone more familiar with something I’m yearning for … a sense of family or a sense of purpose or community.
What other nonmusical art helps you write?
I’m pretty obsessed with the idea of people crawling inside of these worlds that only their art inhabits, people like the visual artist Henry Darger and performers like Harry Houdini. And then I like the realism that exists in David Gordon Green’s movies and Stewart O’Nan’s novels. I like finding the intersection between real life and people’s inner lives. Those are things that have helped me write lately.
You have a band now, how did that happen? Is this going to coexist with performing solo?
I got bored playing solo and wanted to play louder, more physical music. Dan Dean of The Rox plays drums and Joel Bunch formerly of Storm the Castle! plays bass. I’d like to just play full band shows, but playing and touring solo is still, logistically, a lot easier to do.
Do you have any upcoming shows?
We play Tulsa on May 1 and we’re playing at The Groj here in Fayetteville on May 12.
Listen to songs by Real Live Tigers at www.myspace.com/