After first gaining recognition when named "one of the 25 best bands on Myspace” by Rolling Stone in 2006, Miniature Tigers released their sticky-sweet sing-along debut Tell It To The Volcano two years later. Now with three EPs and three full-length albums under their belts, Phoenix-born and Brooklyn-bred pop foursome are back at it and more polished than ever with “Swimming Pool Blues,” the first single from their upcoming LP, Cruel Runnings, just in time for the weather to (hopefully) begin warming up.
In support of these new releases, frontman and guitarist Charlie Brand, guitarist Algernon Quashie (better known as AJ), keyboardist Rick Alvin Schaier and bassist Brandon Lee recently embarked on a tour with co-headliners Bear Hands and opening act Total Slacker. Ahead of their show at the Empty Bottle in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village we got the chance to speak with the band after being instructed to climb into their large, unmarked black van as it pulled up to the sidewalk outside.
Transverso: Do you kidnap all of your journalists?
So how’s touring going so far?
Charlie: It’s going good. I just had strep throat recently so I’m getting over that and pretty much back to normal now.
Did you miss any shows from that?
Charlie: Just some South By [Southwest] shows.
How was SXSW?
Charlie: It was good, we played three shows the first day and then had a day off, and then were gonna do more and then that’s when the strep throat happened, so we canceled the rest of it.
Were you anywhere near [the hit-and-run incident]?
Charlie: No, not really.
You toured with fun. not too long ago, what was it like playing like in a large arena type venue versus a more intimate setting like this?
Charlie: Well it’s a whole different thing, really, and, I don’t know, the energy is different. I mean, I guess for them their crowd is pretty receptive and cool and, yeah, it’s trippy playing in front of that many people and playing to that large of an audience, but then we also love playing more intimate shows and smaller clubs and things like that too, so that’s kind of more where we’re at as a headlining band.
Are there any other bands you’d like to play with down the road? What’s been your favorite band to play with so far?
Charlie: Man, I mean that fun. tour was awesome. We’re on tour with this band Bear Hands and Total Slacker, and those guys are really rad, [we’re] loving being on tour with them. Who would you like to tour with, AJ?
AJ: Who would I like to tour with? Man, maybe the Paul McKenna All-Stars, but for people we have toured with, yeah, fun. has been awesome, Kevin Devine and that crew, Spinto Band.
Charlie: Spinto Band, love ‘em.
Your upcoming album was recorded in Jamaica and produced by Chris Zane. How has this influenced your sound and what should we expect this spring?
Charlie: I definitely feel Jamaica influenced it. It was just a more laid back recording process, and we were really relaxed making it, so it felt very effortless to record it and make it, but it doesn’t really sound like an island record, really. It’s very clean and poppy and there’s lots of big drums and things like that.
You’ve done a lot of your album artwork in the past. What inspires this crossover between mediums?
Charlie: That’s a good question. It usually kind of happens after everything’s already done. Rick painted the first two album covers and the third one, we just shot this photo, and this [new record] we’re on the cover for the first time. We’ve never really done anything like that, and just kind of had this idea inspired by the Memphis design group with lots of 80s interior design kind of stuff, like really pastel-y colors and [we] wanted to basically create this room and put ourselves in it.
What is your songwriting process?
Charlie: I’ll just kind of like sit down and start fucking around and record demos, and most times I’ll like send it to these guys and they’ll write little parts and we’ll all kind of tinker with shit, and once we get in the studio, then that’s kinda when the songs really take shape and we all contribute our parts and weigh in on how we’re gonna approach the production and stuff.
Do you have any other side projects that you’re working on?
Charlie: Yeah, pretty much everyone has other projects outside the band and these guys can tell you more about that.
AJ: Yeah, everyone has their own little thing. Rick has the Alvin Band, Rick and I have a little group called Spooky, I make beats, Brandon, he has his own solo project, too, so we all just keep it moving. [Laughs]
You’re currently on tour with Bear Hands and so I have to ask: who would win in a fight between a man with bear hands and a group of miniature tigers?
AJ: Hmm… a group of tigers.
Charlie: Yeah, probably a group of tigers.
AJ: How many are these tigers?
I don’t know, there’s four of you.
Charlie: Yeah, ‘cause what’s a bear’s hand? It’s like, okay that’s something, but I’d be more afraid of the mouth area.
AJ: Mhm, yeah.
Charlie: Does this guy have like a bear mouth too?
AJ: And a group of tigers, what is that called?
Charlie: Is the man the size of an upright bear?
AJ: Are we talking about a normal sized man, or like..?
I’m realizing I haven’t thought this through enough.
Charlie: [Laughs] You have to think of all the angles!
AJ: We’re in a van a lot so this kind of thing comes up.
Charlie: Okay, I personally think the pack of miniature tigers would win, but ultimately, who would win in a fight between Miniature Tigers and Bear Hands?
AJ: You mean the bands?
Charlie: Yeah. I think Bear Hands, dude. I mean, I’ve had some fights, I guess, but I think they’d ultimately beat the shit out of us.
J: Yeah, they’d probably beat us.
Rick: Yeah, I think we’d lose.
AJ: TJ [Orscher, Bear Hands’ drummer] is pretty jacked.
My center of gravity is too high, I wouldn’t be very good.
Charlie: Yeah I feel ya, we’re all kinda tall too, so.
AJ: Except for me.
Charlie: Except for you.
AJ: But I do have patience, and patience wins fights.
Charlie: You have patience, yeah, you Hollywood ‘em.
Well, sounds good. So am I gonna make it out of this van alive?
Charlie: [Laughs] Probably not.
Cruel Runnings is out May 27 on Modern Art Records.