Miniature Tigers

Wonderland chats good vibes, art, and imperfection with Charlie Brand, the frontman for indie pop band Miniature Tigers.

Saying Miniature Tigers have an eclectic sound is putting it lightly, the foursome have long been proving they won’t be confined by genre. Sometimes they’re synthy 80’s-esque dream pop, sometimes they’re psychedelic rock and other times they’re a collection of awesome sensory noises – bubbles, bursts, wind-chimes – that you really can’t even begin to define, (think Neon Indian meets Vampire Weekend meets M83.) Woah. True to form, with their latest album, ‘I Dreamt I was a Cowboy’, they’ve given us something novel and unexpected.

While they’ve still got some rich electro vibes going on, (just feast your ears on the woody, hallucinatory ‘Dreaming’), this new release has taken a stripped back approach with less production than their previous work, leaving it raw and authentic. The record focuses more on accoustics and, dare we say, gives a delightfully twangy, country impression at times? It feels a little like good ole fashioned dusty traveling music (which would make sense, given that it was written on the road), and has the taste of a love story. Charlie’s vocals feel even more developed on this record, plus we get a taste of Mae Whitman (his girlfriend) on the title track. Seriously good vibes!

How did you get into music? Did you grow up around it?

I didn’t really grow up too much around it. My dad played guitar growing up and probably the first thing I really got into was Nirvana and that made me really want to start playing an instrument. I started playing the drums when I was maybe 10 or 11 I started playing guitar a little bit and I got really into Weezer. That was the thing that made me want to be a songwriter and start making my own music.

So you were kind of like a grunge kid, inspired by Nirvana.

Yeah! A 90’s grunge kid.

How has the release of ‘I Dreamt I was a Cowboy’ been going?

It’s going great so far. Everybody seems to be responding to it very positively.

I’ve heard that you’re really big into illustration and the cover is really beautiful. Did you do it yourself?

I did, yeah. I’ve been doing a lot of painting and visual art in the last like five years now; it’s kind of a new thing for me. I’m doing an art show in San Francisco and kind of just getting more into art and illustration.

Cool. How do you feel that art kind of interplays with the music? Is one kind of more personal to you? Are they both kind of outlets, or are you aiming to do different things with each medium?

There’s certain things that connect them, there are always similar threads in the artistic process. Like in the way you make an album or a song, you can sit there and tweak it all day and make it super detailed or you can do something minimal and I feel like that’s the common thread between painting and music. An artist can have all the technical ability in the world but sometimes they’ll do something very stripped back or decide to leave things imperfect. I’m always striving to not have things be perfect because I’m not into that sound or look. If I’m working on music and I’m stuck or I’m not enjoying myself I can shift focus to art and vice versa. It’s just an outlet for creativity.

I feel like each medium kinda brings you something different and is a new way to explore the world. Do you have any favourite artists or illustrators?

I think my favourite artist of all time is David Hockney. I also love Matisse. Those are my two main guys that I really, really love.

Do you want to tell me how you go about making a record? What is the vibe in the studio, how do your records start?

I suppose it depends. We’ve made something pretty different with each record, whether it’s how we produce it or the style of writing or the genres, we try to approach things in a new way so we’ve worked with different producers. It starts when I’m writing the songs, I make a pretty detailed demo with a full arrangement and I bring that into the studio with the band and then everybody will either play that part and put their own spin on it or will figure out a different way of doing it.

We work together as a band in the studio but this record was different. We usually end up working with producers but when I was writing this record I was kind of traveling around a lot and staying on friend’s couches so I was recording these songs using whatever instruments were lying around. I had collection of all these songs and when I listened to them I realised that this was the vibe of the record and that if we re-recorded them we would lose a lot of the energy and feeling behind the record. I decided to intentionally leave it raw. I think that’s the key to my paintings too, having negative space, or leaving something feeling unfinished. I’ve applied that same philosophy to making a record so I ended up mixing it myself and just turning the demos into an album.

What do you think you’re trying to put across with your music?

I wanna make people feel good. That’s the whole point. I’m into challenging the listener with new sounds, there have been records we’ve made where we’ve done something radically different really like changed genres knowing people would be thrown through a loop and we almost like got off on it because it was like ‘oh yeah they’ll be so shocked.’ I think it’s fun to experiment and hope people can go along with that but I think now I’m just at a point where you know I just want people to feel pleasure and have it be enjoyable to the ear and something that they can emotionally connect with. I’m not into making music that’s going to freak someone out right now. With Miniature Tigers we just wanted to make something with really nice songwriting and production.

Yeah, really good vibes.

Yeah! You can cancel everything I just said and just write good vibes.

So, what’s your live show like?

We try to make each show a little different, much like the record. It’s hard if you play a bad show but I like mistakes and when things go wrong I feel like those are the most exciting shows. We just played a show in San Francisco and it was our first show in two years. We did like two rehearsals before going into the show and we have like lots of synthesisers that are run off this computer. The computer dies right before we’re about to go on stage and that was like 40 or 50% of our set so we’re like ‘well what are we going to do we didn’t like write any other songs.’ We just ended up playing a show and just making it super punk and just going out there and piling through it. It wasn’t the show we wanted to play but it was a great show and people were crowd surfing into the mosh pit and everything. It was really exciting.

Cool, what have you got coming up next, what’s on the horizon?The album’s out and we’re talking about maybe touring a little more next year or at least just playing some more shows. I have this other project I’m writing for right now called Promises Limited that we put out an EP for a couple months ago. It’s a project with my friend Jeremy who has another project called Chrome Sparks which has a really synth heavy kind of vibe. I’m probably gonna write for that and then just be painting a lot and hopefully do some more art shows next year.

Your girlfriend sings on the album title track. What was it like working with her? Was it all very organic?

It was great. Yeah pretty much, she’s a really good singer, she has a very multi-layered voice that’s kind of moody and very stripped back but she also has a great pop voice. I just always knew that I wanted to record her voice on something and I was working on that song and just really hated the way my voice sounded on it so I was like ‘hey maybe would you sing on this and you know like layer my voice and it would sound well with like layered vocals.’ As soon as I heard her voice on it I just deleted my voice out of the song altogether and I was like ‘oh this is way better with you singing.’

One last question that I always like to ask people is: do you have a motto?

You know what? My motto is good vibes.

Elly Arden-Joly