By Peter Lindblad
With Twin Tigers, much has been made of the now-defunct romantic relationship between its two principals, guitarist/vocalist Matthew Rain and bassist Aimee Morris. But love dies, and you have to move on, which they did … together.
Not willing to undergo a musical separation, Rain and Morris persevered, engineering the dark, spacey, shoegazer supernova “Gray Waves,” an LP that combines the DNA of My Bloody Valentine, U2 and the Velvet Underground with newer sonic storm bringers like Liars into something even more tempest tossed than their own eruptions.
It all began for Twin Tigers at Grit, an Athens, Ga., restaurant owned by R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. Rain and Morris met there and dated, and as they did so, their other bands broke apart. Eventually, they fizzled out as a couple, but Twin Tigers carried on, despite a series of personnel changes that would have wrecked weaker bonds.
In February 2008, Twin Tigers issued the “Curious Faces Violet Future” EP and toured relentlessly with the likes of Les Savy Fav, Black Lips, Snowden, Dungen, A Place To Bury Strangers and other hot-shot indie upstarts.
Keeping the ship afloat, Twin Tigers settled on guitarist Forrest Hall and drummer Doug Crump as permanent members, and together, the foursome rained sonic fire down on SXSW 2008. In the aftermath, they headed into the studio to record what would become “Gray Waves” with Joel Hatstat at Athens’ famed Bakery Studio. Rain talked about the tough times Twin Tigers have seen, and how they got through it.
Tell us how the band was formed and how you came to work at Michael Stipe’s restaurant?
Matthew Rain: I moved to Athens, Ga., when I was 15, when I was still in high school, with my dad. Of course, he moved off shortly thereafter, right after I graduated high school. But I stayed here. My whole reason for wanting to move to Athens was the fact that R.E.M. was from here.
Of course, now I know about so many other awesome bands that are from here, but when I was that age, it was kind of that sort of thing, so, I came to eat there a bit, because it’s a vegetarian restaurant. It’s the only vegetarian restaurant in town, so, I ended up eating there a little bit and then started working there. So, one thing leads to another.
What do you do there?
MR: I wait tables. I still do that when we’re home. And yeah, they’re really great. They’re extremely supportive of the band, so we’re able to come and go, which is pretty often.
I guess if you’re going to be in a band and have a boss, Michael Stipe is pretty understanding.
MR: Oh, I’m not making any claims that he spends any time at the restaurant (laughs).
How long have you been working at the restaurant?
MR: I’ve been working there for the last five years. I’ve been in Athens for a minute, but with that job, it’s just like ... I was playing in another band called Psychic Hearts right before I started doing this band. And we toured a bit, too. So it’s been kind of a base foundation for a while just being able to come back here.
Athens is such a cheap place to live, compared to most places where you could live where there is also a music scene. Lots of people play here.
Your sound is a little different from what people consider, I guess, the Athens sound.
MR: Yeah, and I think that’s worked out for us pretty well. The only thing that works against you is when you’re trying to put a bill together with local bands. A lot of times ... there’s not a lot of bands trying to go for the same thing, but outside of that, it’s good, because people immediately are able to pick up on the fact that you’re doing a different thing.
Athens has been really supportive of the band from the very get-go, which is nice ’cause, I mean, seriously, everybody in this whole town is in a band. There are only 70,000 people who live here, and I think there’s something like 4,500 bands. So you do the math on that. Some of those people are in multiple bands, but at the end of the day, you’ve got a lot of people that play.
Talk about the relationship between you and Aimee and how Twin Tigers carried on after the breakup. How were you able to put that aside?
MR: I feel like reading the little thing that was sent out … that might have been a little overplayed between me and her, you know.
But as far as the whole thing is, that’s the dynamic that was worthwhile. I mean, relationships come and go, especially when you see it kind of go up and down. But as far as music, it’s like that was kind of our focal interest, the main interest between us from the time we met each other, so, to me, that’s not much of a surprise.
You had a revolving door with the guitar and drum slots in the band. How did you settle on Doug and Forrest?
MR: We went through people, because we were teaching people our songs. What kept the band working was when we would lose people, we weren’t canceling shows or breaking off tours. It was like, you know, you find somebody that you know that plays, and it’s like, “Hey, we’ve got these shows.” And sometimes, you have literally three days, so you have these marathon, 12-hour practices go on, and [you ’re] just trying to teach people everything in a very short amount of time, which can be kind of stressful.
But we just kept going through people that had different personal issues in their lives that were keeping them out — other ambitions or whatever. It just depended on who it was. Then we did this tour with Snowden at the end of last year and realized we were going to be losing our guitar player and our drummer at the same time, and we had this show with Les Savy Fav booked at The Earl at the very beginning of the year.
We knew Doug and had this other guy who we were going to have play guitar, but we met Doug, and he was like, “I’ve got this friend, Forrest [and] he plays guitar. He’s pretty good.” And the other guy, Nick, was supposed to come in and play and he canceled. So we were like, “Well, invite your friend over, and we’ll all play together.”
And it was kind of one of those fireworks things from the very get-go, you know, where it’s just like, okay, this is good. We should keep doing this together. So, it just happened very suddenly. And that was the pace of things we were working with for a while. And then, luckily, that’s changed, because I just don’t know how long we would have been able to maintain with the changing crew every couple of months.
But then we got everything together. We started playing with those guys real heavy and went over to South By Southwest, and Aimee and I had already put together a bunch of songs that made it toward the record. We wrote a couple more and then we recorded it. So, that’s the process there.
It’s funny you mention the word “fireworks.” That word came immediately to mind in listening to the new album.
MR: People will ask you about the whole thing of like “[what are you] going for?” and I don’t really know ... I mean, I know there’s an aesthetic in the back of your mind that you probably want to keep at, but I don’t know that we ever sit down and say, “Well, this is the kind of thing we’re going for.”
I write songs and then we start playing on them, and they become what they are. There are so many different possibilities for what they could be. It’s just kind of what comes together naturally. I don’t know that we really sat down and picked any sort of concept or feel that we wanted from the get-go of this record, which just turned out to be kind of nice.
I guess it does feel like a confluence of your influences, like My Bloody Valentine, U2. You can definitely sense those coming to the fore. How do you make it your own?
MR: I think the way you do that, more than anything, is that you have to be inspired to write whatever it is that you’re making or do whatever it is that you’re making, and if it’s like you’re in that mindset, where you’re creating something, because of something that you’re feeling or something that’s going on, it ends up having its own feel, because part of it isn’t just the sound. It’s the emotion that’s sort of the undertone to it, whatever the song is.
So maybe that’s what it is. Maybe it’s just … the group overall are big fans of music spanning a pretty good amount of time, too. A lot of our favorite groups are from the mid-’60s, and then glam-rock and, you know, post-rock and shoegaze ... all these different things that have come along, so you listen to these things long enough and it just mixes up in your mind into this whole other thing.
What’s your favorite song off the new record?
MR: This is the first piece of music where I’ve felt really good about all the songs on the record. I think it’d be kind of between “Passive Idol” and “Gray Waves,” just as far as like, those songs have the dynamics, lots of sound in them — little bits of sound going up and down between all that. And those are the last two songs written for the record, so maybe that’s why I’m partial to them. But yeah, you know, “Sexless Love” comes off really well every time we play it live. It seems to be a song people like a lot.
You mentioned “Passive Idol” and “Gray Waves” being the last two songs written for the new record. Do they indicate where you’re going with the next record?
MR: Maybe a little bit with this next EP. The next album, the stuff that’s being put together for that, may be a little bit darker, a little more far out than that stuff.
But it’s hard to tell. This record hasn’t even come out yet, but we’ve probably got eight different little songs that we’re playing between. Some of that will go towards an EP. Some of that will go towards an album that’s probably a year away. So it’s hard to know for sure what’s going to make it, but everything that we do next is going to be just a little bit more far out.
The Twin Tigers are touring (along with Interpol) to support “Gray Waves.” More dates are scheduled to be announced soon, but upcoming dates, venues and cities scheduled as of presstime are:
July 5 — Blue Note, Columbia, Mo.
July 8 — 40 Watt Club, Athens, Ga.
July 10 — The Music Farm, Charleston, S.C.
July 14 — Ram’s Head Live, Baltimore
July 20 — Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, Providence, R.I.
July 21 — Toad’s Place, New Haven, Conn.
July 23 — Northern Lights, Clifton Park, N.Y.
July 24 — Chameleon, Lancaster, Pa.