There’s a special novelty to Milwaukee glam-rockers Tigernite. The flashy outfits, face-paint and big, rock-and-roll personalities that the band wears so well are aesthetically-pleasing throwbacks to the glam-rock and rock-and-roll golden years. They even have a name for their fan base: Tiger Knights.
But it would be untrue to label Tigernite as just a novelty or a throwback band.
Tigernite is the result of a group of art kids coming together and playing the kind of music that they grew up loving and putting on the kind of shows that they would love to attend. Everything they do is high-energy, fun and for the Tiger Knights, and their live shows are like all-inclusive parties.
This is a band that held a contest where fans pitched song ideas, resulting in Tigernite writing and recording a holiday song called “(Suck) My North Pole” in a single day. It’s this kind of dedication to the fun and weird that makes Tigernite stand out in Milwaukee’s busy music scene.
Tigernite have released their second full-length album today, titled Sublunary. The release comes before yet another busy summer for the band, consisting of a plethora of shows and a spot on the Milwaukee Record stage at this year’s PrideFest. Purple vinyl copies of the record, a color that was chosen by Tiger Knights through an online poll, can be purchased at the band’s record release show at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn on May 19. Wisconsin Gazette spoke with vocalist Molly Roberts about the band’s new record, inclusivity in music and what it means to be a Tiger Knight.
Wisconsin Gazette: The definition I read for the word sublunary is: Belonging to this world as contrasted with a better or more spiritual one. How does this album fit into this definition, or does it fall into a different definition of the word?
Molly Roberts: I think that one works, but I like “ruled by the moon” or “everything under the moon.” We were playing off of our previous EP Blood Moon that we had written, which was a teeny-tiny rock opera that took place in this fantasy world we made. We wanted to take it to the next level. What’s the world under that world? It’s a reference to lyrics in the song “Summerland” (off of Sublunary). We decided to roll with it.
So, is Sublunary a rock opera?
You could look at it that way. It’s different from our first album because our first full length was a collection of songs that we had (written) up to that point. This series of songs, we wanted there to be an arch, not necessarily a full-blown narrative, one song into another. But we kind of wrote what we felt the record needed as we progressed. I hope that when people listen to it that they’ll be able to sense an arch and put their own story on top of it.
What song are you most excited for people to hear off of the new record and why?
I think with every band your favorite song is the one you wrote last. “A Little Blood” is a really fun song for us, it’s a launching point. It’s the one that convinced us to take the record in this direction. It’s a lot of fun to perform and a lot of fun to record. We’ve played it stripped down as an acoustic number and we enjoy it that way too. It’s fun to see the way it unfolds (in different settings).
Your debut album came with a 20-page booklet, are you doing anything like that for the release of Sublunary?
We did work with a Milwaukee artist Kelly Wagner, who did illustrations for us and it was a really fun process to go through lyrics and reference books with her. She worked really close with us on developing the artwork for the album which I’m really excited about. We’ve had a strong response to the cover art.
How long have you been a band for? Can you give me a brief history of how the band came together?
This is going to be our fifth year together. Our drummer and I, Alex Becker, we’ve been playing together since we were in middle school playing in talent shows. When we were at UWM, we met Maxwell Emmet (guitar). We flipped burgers together at the Union. The idea to start Tigernite was Maxwell’s idea, he wanted to start a power-trio. We were in another band currently and it didn’t feel like a good fit. I was a really bad bass player and wanted to focus on being a frontman. We then found Jeff Van Dreel (bass) when our bands played together. We didn’t play a show for a while after we started, but it will have been five years since our first practice.
What has changed about the band in the three years since the debut full length?
This collection of songs in particular, we were sort of known for having a certain amount of levity and even sort of a goofiness about the music. I feel like there’s been enough time in between where I felt like I wanted some permission to have some other kinds of feelings to be able to explore different landscapes. I really think this one does cover some darker territory. The world has changed in the past three years and we’ve changed as people, the lens that we see things through has changed. There’s some stuff about anxiety, discomfort and death but it still has magic, vampires and lasers because magic is important (laughs).
What is a Tiger Knight?
Anybody who wants to come to the party. It started as a one-off joke and people started using the hashtag and referring to themselves as Tiger Knights in posts about our shows. We thought it was endearing and lovely. (Growing up), music was my life, but I just never used to feel like I could get in. There is some wall, the clique was just too strong. So, I’m really pumped that people enjoy the music and come to the shows that they feel like they belong together, and I couldn’t ask for anything better. We want to hang out with you and we’re really grateful.
What does it mean to you to be invited to play PrideFest?
We’re really honored to have the opportunity. Milwaukee Pride in particular does such a stellar job. We’ve been to other pride festivals around the country and it’s just not the same. We really do feel honored to be invited into that space and I feel like everybody learns a lot, like we learn a lot from each other every time we’re there. Honestly, it’s our favorite show the entire year. You want to talk about a place where you can really let your hair down and really be vulnerable and really be met by people, this is the place. It’s also an all-ages show.
Your band gives off a very fun, care-free vibe, but you’re taken very seriously as a band and are asked to play big events all of the time. How do you balance being fun and professional?
I think the campiness is fun. It’s fun for us. Everyone in the band has always had the visual element that’s important. I think about myself as performer, not as a musician. Part of my job is to bring people in and make sure they’re taken care of and are having a good time. Its earnest, I think we put on the kind of shows that we would like to see, that we would like to attend. I think it comes down to, you can take what you do and your craft very seriously without taking yourself very seriously. And I think that’s the line for us that we walk.
Where does Tigernite draw its 70s-influenced, glam-punk vibes from?
We all had really diverse musical backgrounds, but the lovely thing about rock and roll is that even though there are thousands of sub genres at this point, it is still rock and roll. We all love guitar-driven rock, we’re all interested in melody. That’s what it boiled down to for us. I grew up really loving Heart and Joan Jett and Queen. The guys drew a lot from Thin Lizzy and we’ll all go see shows like Cheap Trick, The Sword and The Darkness. But yeah big guitar has always been part of it and that big melody.
How did you come up with the idea to immortalize a fan idea with a song and video?
Most ideas start as sort of a half joke at some point, but as far as the Tiger Knights, they are really just appreciative. There’s so much going on and there’s so much music to listen to, that anybody who cares about anything you do is a miracle with the amount of stuff out there. We thought it’d just be sort of a fun way to give you something, even though it was really challenging to write. At the end of the day, Tigernite is a band because of you, so we love bringing them in any way that we can. They decided on the vinyl cover, we talked about the songs they would like to hear recorded and we love doing Facebook live.
Stream Sublunary in its entirety below.
Tigernite is celebrating the release of Sublunary at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn with Bruiser Queen and Indonesian Junk on May 19. The show starts at 9 p.m. and is $8 to get in. CD and digital copies of the record can be purchased at https://tigernite.bandcamp.com.