A few months ago we did a few entries on Tiger’s on Trains and The Republic of Wolves:
Tigers on Trains; New Demo on Myspace
The Republic of Wolves; “The Clouds” Demo
Mason Covers Vampire Weekend
Tigers on Trains is a two piece band from Long Island, New York consisting of Mason Maggio and Christian Van Deurs. They have been getting quite a lot of attention over here, and we were lucky enough to be granted the opportunity to do an interview with them. This is their first official interview as a band, and we hope you guys enjoy it as much we did!
There is more to these two men then the music they make. Their answers are incredibly insightful and thoughtful and even at time, humorous. Tigers on Trains is in a word, brilliant and it is with great hope and eager paws/hooves that more ears will allow the hearts below them to flutter with emotion and the mind above to indulge itself in creative thought. While they may be new to the music scene, Maggio and Van Deurs are wise beyond their years – the proof is in the lyrics, the melody and the delivery.
Be sure to check out their music and keep an eye out for these guys! Listen to some songs below from their full length Grandfather:
A Year In The Garden Shed
Here’s the interview, click below for the rest and enjoy!
Wolves Among The Sheep: Alright, let’s begin with some background information. How and when was Tigers on Trains born? Were you two friends beforehand or did the music bring you together?
Mason: Well we’ve been good friends since 9th grade, a couple years before we started this project, but it was definitely music that brought us together. We met through a mutual friend and the first thing I said to Christian was “Wanna join an emo band?” The first thing he said to me was “No.” This repeated a few times until we actually became friends and started playing together. We were in a couple of “bands” together until we decided (in October of 2006) that all we needed were two acoustic guitars and our voices to make the music that we wanted to make.
WATS: What the story behind the name of the band? Do you guys love animals as much as we do?
Love is a strong word. But both of us definitely respect animals, and appreciate their wide range of skill sets. The name of the band came from a lyric in one of the early songs we wrote (before Tigers on Trains existed), entitled “Indian Ocean.” There’s little chance of anyone ever hearing that song. But lyrically the “tigers on trains” were a metaphor whose meaning was quickly forgotten, if it ever had one.
“That’s one of the things that’s great about art. You can create something out of thin air, something totally unrelated to reality, and that can carry an emotional power of its own and evoke that feeling in not only the listener, but also the artists themselves.”
WATS: What is the lyric writing process like? What usually comes first, the words or the melody?
That really depends on the song, since there’s no one fixed method to our writing. In most cases there’s one or two initial lines, sometimes just loose lyrical ideas, which we play around with until we find a good melody for them. At the same time we try to find a chord progression that’s fitting for the rhythm and melody of the line(s). Once that first lyric is set to a melody the other lyrics just kind of come together around it. Sometimes it takes alot of work and sometimes it’s kind of subconscious, like the song has a natural flow and just sort of writes itself.
WATS: There are a couple of references to aspects of the Muslim religion within some of the songs on Grandfather along with other references to God. It’s an interesting viewpoint that we find many artists don’t usually sing about. What inspired that viewpoint, as far as the lyrics are concerned?
Well lyrically our songs have always had alot of references to things like religion, history and mythology, and in a literary sense we’re definitely inspired by alot of different cultural traditions. I guess some of our metaphors make direct reference to the Muslim religion because it’s one of those things we find to be interesting culturally, and it definitely evokes a unique image, kind of foreign or even cryptic. There’s no specific intention behind all of those metaphors as a whole, though. If the Islamic references seem to stand out in significance then that was something accidental, or at least subconscious. Religion in general, though, is definitely a recurring theme in most of our songs, and is the main subject of a couple of them.
WATS: We’ve noticed that a majority of Tigers on Trains songs tend to take on the second person perspective. What is the purpose of this and is it some sort of intentional device?
Our lyrics are very narrative, and it just feels natural to tell the stories from an interior point of view, even if they’re not autobiographical (which they rarely are), or if they’re not addressed to a specific real-life person. Whatever is happening in the song definitely feels more real if you perceive it as a primary source rather than a secondary account.
“We’ve been able to spread our music around to alot of people, and I think that really shows that the internet is changing the music industry in a huge way.”
WATS: For an unsigned band, your songs sound professionally recorded. What is the recording process like for you guys?
Thank you! We recorded our full-length album in the basement studio of our friend (and bandmate in The Republic of Wolves) Gregg Andrew. He did most of the mixing/mastering/engineering so we owe him alot for that, but production-wise we had complete control over how we wanted the songs to sound. We really enjoy the independent recording process because there’s no time constraints and we’re basically calling all the shots, and it’s always a good time. For every song we’ve recorded in Gregg’s studio there have probably been 10 or 20 joke songs written. These will be released on our comedy album, coming in 2015.
WATS: What are some of the differences between playing as a duo with Tigers on Trains and as a quintet with The Republic of Wolves?
Well it’s definitely more complicated with more people involved, both in terms of recording and performance, but it’s also more interesting and exciting for the most part. The Tigers on Trains music usually focuses on simplicity, and since it’s just the two of us kind of bouncing ideas off of each other there’s not alot of variables, and it’s pretty straightforward. But in a full band like The Republic of Wolves it’s sort of three-dimensional, with a bunch of ideas and elements coming together kind of chaotically. It’s like a puzzle that we all have to work together to solve, but it’s a fun challenge.
WATS: What does the future look like for Tigers on Trains? Will you set this aside to focus on The Republic of Wolves?
As of now it’s definitely taken a back seat to The Republic of Wolves, since that project is definitely getting more attention and publicity right now and we’re kind of excited to see where it goes. But we certainly plan on continuing Tigers on Trains as a secondary project, and we’ll probably start recording some more songs within the next few weeks. We’ve got school and stuff right now but throughout the spring we’ll probably be using our free time to record for both projects, with the goal of having a full-length Wolves album and a Tigers on Trains EP finished (or close to it) by the end of summer.
WATS: The internet today makes it extremely easy to get full albums without paying for them. As individuals who are both musicians and avid music listeners, how do you feel about this accessibility?
It’s definitely kind of a necessary evil these days. Obviously we’re not particularly happy about people downloading our music for free rather than buying it, but in the long run it’s good that our music is getting out to a lot of listeners, whether they’re paying for it or not. And we’d probably be nowhere right now if it wasn’t for the internet in general. We’ve been able to spread our music around to alot of people, and I think that really shows that the internet is changing the music industry in a huge way.
WATS: What do you guys think of classic rock and its influence on musicians today?
I guess that depends on your definition of classic rock. We can’t say we’re personally influenced by bands like Led Zeppelin or The Rolling Stones in any direct way, but there are some older “classic” acts that have impacted our style, the most important of these definitely being Bob Dylan (who might be our biggest lyrical influence). In terms of classic rock’s influence on musicians in general, you can’t really deny that it’s been an integral part to the development of the music we know and love today. And we certainly respect most popular classic rock bands, because in their own context they really were doing brilliant things and in that era it definitely required merit to become popular, let alone to stand the test of time. And we also love Aerosmith, in a half-joking kind of way.
” For every song we’ve recorded in Gregg’s studio there have probably been 10 or 20 joke songs written. These will be released on our comedy album, coming in 2015.”
WATS: We’ve come to the conclusion, after reading a TROW interview, that you guys listen to a lot of the same stuff that we do. With that being said, what are some albums that you feel are timeless for you?
Deja Entendu, Transatlanticism, Lifted, For Emma Forever Ago, Hello Dear Wind, Is A Real Boy, Tell All Your Friends, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Floating World, Drunk Like Bible Times, Anything Else But The Truth, Make The Clocks Move
WATS: If you could each choose only three songs to listen to for the rest of your life, which ones would you pick?
Mason: I’m sure I’ll change my mind by tomorrow, but right now I’m thinking “Re: Stacks” by Bon Iver, “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot” by Brand New, and (if we’re being totally honest) “Cute Without the E” by Taking Back Sunday. Mostly for nostalgic reasons.
Christian: This is such a hard question for me. I would have to say “4 Minute Warning” by Radiohead, “The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us” by Sufjan Stevens, and “Cause I’m So Scared Of Dying” by Right Away Great Captain. I chose them just because of differences in moods, and they are some of my favorite songs, but like Mason said, I won’t feel the same tomorrow.
WATS: We know this is hard, but what would you each say your all-time favorite lyric or line from a song is?
Mason: I think it’d take me several months to procure an accurate answer to this question. It’s especially hard because I rarely, if ever, examine specific lyrics outside of the context of the songs containing them. One of my favorite lines (really more of an entire verse) that seems to stand on its own is in “Waste of Paint” by Bright Eyes: “And I love their love and I am thankful that someone actually receives the prize that was promised by all those fairy tales that drugged us. And they still do me. I’m sick, lonely, no laurel tree, just green envy. Will my number come up eventually? Like love is some kind of lottery where you scratch and see what’s underneath. It’s ‘Sorry. Just one cherry. Play again. Get lucky.'” It’s such an honest line that kind of explains something so relatable in a brilliant way.
Christian: I feel like this is more impossible than the previous question was, if impossible has different levels. I had a very difficult time choosing between almost every song I enjoy. I looked though my iTunes like ten times and decided that out of context I had to chose between Bon Iver, Kevin Devine, Bright Eyes, and The Shins. As of this moment, on a personal level I would say a line from “Pink Bullets” by The Shins. The line is “Cool of a temperate breeze from dark skies to wet grass. We fell in a field it seems now a thousand summers passed. When our kite lines first crossed we tied them into knots, and to finally fly apart we had to cut them off.” My answer will change from day to day. There are so many lines that can be considered my favorite, depending on how I feel. There is no way for me to give a definitive answer though.
“Perfection is creating a work of art that means something to you and satisfies you as an artist.”
WATS: Name three things, tangible or intangible, that each of you could not live without?
Mason: Coffee, the internet, and humor/comedy (assuming that music is a given).
Christian: Love, Humor, and Books.
WATS: Can perfection ever be achieved? If so what does it feel like? What’s the closest you’ve come to perfection?
I think in terms of music (and art in general) there’s no singular definition of perfection, and for that reason I believe it’s achieved all the time, in one way or another. In its most subjective sense, perfection is creating a work of art that means something to you and satisfies you as an artist. It doesn’t have to fit any sort of mold and it doesn’t have to fulfill a predetermined vision, it just has to serve its own purpose to the best extent that it can. In that way I think we’ve achieved our own personal form of perfection with every song that we’ve made and been truly satisfied with. A more universal perfection certainly exists, but to try and define it would be a bit too philosophical for an interview about music.
WATS: You have one chance to have the words of your choice written somewhere that everyone in the world can see them. What would you each write for everyone to see?
Mason: I really have no idea. Probably something preaching kindness and acceptance, but so many words throughout history have tried to send that message and failed. I’d probably end up directing people to our myspace page. If you can’t change people you might as well get them to listen to your music.
Christian: “Love is Real”
WATS: Finally, we want to end with a quote from one of our favorite music movies; “Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?” How do you guys feel about this quote? How does it relate to you as musicians?
That’s a great movie. And a great question. But there’s no easy answer, I don’t think, at least not to the third part. You definitely don’t have to be depressed or in love to write a sad song or a love song, respectively. But the question of whether or not personal experience makes a song better is more of a gray area. Real emotion on the part of the artist definitely can make a song better, since the lyrics are being driven by actual sentiments and that can make them feel more authentic, especially when that emotion comes out audibly in the delivery. But this feeling of authenticity can be achieved even if the writer/singer (in the most extreme case) has no sentimental connection to the lyrics at all. A regular listener generally can’t tell what the person on the other end is putting into a song in terms of emotion, they can only perceive the song in their own personal way, as a third party.
That being said, we think any songwriter has some kind of emotional tie to whatever he or she writes, as long as it means something. It doesn’t have to be about something that really happened, and it doesn’t even have to be inspired by anything real, and that’s one of the things that’s great about art. You can create something out of thin air, something totally unrelated to reality, and that can carry an emotional power of its own and evoke that feeling in not only the listener, but also the artists themselves. So an artificial emotion can become very real on both sides. As our songs are usually not autobiographical, the emotions contained in them are both the products and the driving forces of the stories they tell. Nonetheless, there’s no denying the power of real-life emotion in making a song meaningful and authentic. It’s just that it’s not the only way to do so.
- Wolves Among The Sheep
P.S. We would like to genuinely thank Mason Maggio and Christian Van Deurs for their time spent answering our long winded questions (felt like a midterm, didn’t it?) and for the amazing music that they have made, are making and will hopefully continue to make for years to come. You guys are awesome. Thank you so much.