Miniature Tigers is officially back with their first release since 2014. I Dreamt I Was A Cowboy, the new 11-track LP from the indie rock band is a short departure from the group’s previous releases–often unpolished, organic, and lovingly displaying the dirt and hiccups that come from recording via couch surfing. Charlie Brand, the band’s vocalist, guitarist, and one of the main forces spearheading the recording of the album, was kind enough to talk to us about the making of the record, his inspiration, and some of the gear that gives the band their distinctive feel.
What was your initial motivation to form a band, when you initially started playing?
I had been writing music in my bedroom for a couple years. During this time I was sending music to my friend Rick Alvin, who would encourage me. I ended up moving from Arizona to California so that I could start playing shows with Rick.
Is there a real or virtual instrument/tool that recently got you as excited as when you first started making music?
I ended up using many techniques in electronic music (sampling drums, chopping vocals etc.), but applied that to more folk-y arrangements–trying to make it sound like it was recorded on tape in the 60’s.
I spent a lot of time experimenting with more electronic sounds on the last two records that I wanted to come back to more organic instruments and figure out new ways to use them. That has me excited.
What’s been inspiring you lately? Have your sources of inspiration changed from the early releases?
I find myself inspired by many different things for each album. Once an album is finished I end up moving on pretty radically. The first two albums were all about making it as organic as possible–even live-tracking to tape. Around album 3 and 4 I became way more interested in synths. My biggest inspiration for this record was recording it while bouncing around on friends couches and not having a studio. I also wanted this record to be very organic sounding. So I ended up using many techniques in electronic music (sampling drums, chopping vocals etc.), but applied that to more folk-y arrangements–trying to make it sound like it was recorded on tape in the 60’s.
What’s the songwriting/arranging process in the band? To what extent is each band member’s role defined?
I’ve written a majority of the music since the beginning. I record fully arranged demos that we end up re-translating together as a band in the studio later on. Everybody brings their own voice and feeling to the parts. This album I wrote/produced/mixed and mastered myself. Some of the songs were recorded on a friend’s couch and never re-recorded. So much of the feeling behind this record depended on keeping that vibe intact.
Who deals with electronic sounds and programming?
Mostly we do. On “Mia Pharaoh”, my friend Jeremy Malvin (Chrome Sparks) produced a couple of the more synth-heavy songs. On our last album, Cruel Runnings, we turned complete control over to our producer Chris Zane when it came to synths. He’s a genius.
What are the plug in effects and “in the box” tools you use and abuse?
I write and record everything in Ableton. I put Waves CLA Unplugged on almost everything. I also run a lot of sounds through Guitar Rig. I’m not a gear head and like to keep things somewhat simple.
Is there an instrument that has become some sort of signature sound in your latest record?
I experimented with some new instruments that I had never considered like the dulcimer and lapsteel. 12-string guitar was a big thing too. Really was inspired by Joni Mitchell‘s guitar tones.
Does your guitarist use guitar pedals ? If so, please list the ones you use the most and let us know why you love them.
What synths/samplers (real or virtual) do you use in your music and why do you love them?
On this record there’s not a lot of synth other than some random soft synths like Massive and a Juno model. The last record we used a real Juno and a Prophet. I’m not really a synth guy so I couldn’t even tell you the exact models.
Is there a person outside the band that’s been important in perfecting your recorded and/or live sound?
I think the producers we work with on albums have a huge hand in what the album ends up sounding like. We don’t really think about our live show when making a record. So when it comes time to play live its usually us figuring out how to translate the album and that’s what gives our live show it’s voice. We also try not to over-rehearse. We like things to feel loose and like it could fall apart at any second.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flip-side, what aspects are the most rewarding?
The biggest challenge is keeping perspective. When you are writing and listening to the same 10 songs for a year, its hard to know if it’s any good. It’s important to have people you trust around you to bounce ideas off of and take breaks in between writing to go outside or see a movie. The most rewarding aspect is holding a finished record in your hand.
What’s your perspective on the current state of the NYC scene, and what other local artists do you admire?
I’m living in Los Angeles now and I was never super connected to the NYC scene to begin with. My favorite New York band is Bear Hands. I am also really into Fritz Cook, who is playing with us at our Brooklyn show.