Matt Bierce came to Charlottesville in 1997 to attend UVA, and has lived in the area on-and-off ever since. He’s played in several rock bands over the years, including Gulf Coast Army, Nekrolog, and Infinite Jets, and his style is fairly consistent from one group to the next—energetic and direct punk songs delivered in a hearty bellow, reminiscent of Hüsker Dü or The Exploding Hearts.
Drunk Tigers formed in late 2008 when Bierce returned to Charlottesville from California and began writing songs with Zach Carter. Carter plays lead guitar and has penned a few ballads (including the local love/hate anthem “Small Town”). He also adds a small-scale, classic rock touch reminiscent of The Replacements, which balances perfectly with Bierce’s meat-and-potatoes college radio sensibilities.
The original Tigers line-up included first-time drummer Mike Parisi and a rotating cast of bass players, including Invisible Hand’s Jon Bray and finally Dan Sebring. Carter at one point cited the band’s No. 1 spot at the top of WTJU’s weekly charts as the group’s highest goal. “Any level of success above that would just become a pain in the ass,” he said. In its short tenure, the band self-released two EPs and appeared on a split with Andrew Cedermark, before unofficially dissolving in 2010, at an informal farewell concert in October of that year.
“That was our last supper,” said Bierce. “I think we kind of closed up shop for the foreseeable future. We didn’t have any plans. We didn’t want to technically kill it, but we definitely took a break.” The hiatus was cemented months later when Carter relocated to D.C., to work as the senior economic reporter for the Huffington Post. “There’s more we could have done with the material,” Bierce said. “We had some stuff in the works that we just kind of dropped.”
For a lot of bands, that would have been the end. Many non-professional acts don’t last, no matter how great the music. But Drunk Tigers always seemed to embody the essence of great art rising from small ambition. Songs like “Overland,” “Ocean Boogie,” and “Outer Banks, Inner Peace” already felt tinged with nostalgia the first time they were played, and it was hard not to miss them once they were gone.
Luckily, Bierce and Carter felt the same way. “Matt and I always stayed in touch,” Carter said. “He’d been coming up to D.C. to hang out ever since I moved. Every time we got together, we would say ‘Drunk Tigers was so good!’ Eventually it got kind of sad, like a 50-year-old talking about his football championship.”
“There’s a really standard cycle in my life where I play in a band for two or three years, I get really depressed and swear off of music, and then go and get a real job. And after two or three years of working in an office, I get bored and start wanting to play rock and roll again. I had been trying to start a group with Arthur Delaney, who’s another Huffington Post reporter, we were trying to play something a little more like Fugazi. We couldn’t hold down a bass player. Anybody who wanted to do something as casual as we wanted to do, was too casual to actually show up.”
Bierce had also been planning his next move, after the dissolution of his post-Tigers band, Infinite Jets. “I moved to a cabin outside of town, partly to focus on writing songs, to try things out. I’ve written a lot of material in the past couple years, some of it made its way into Infinite Jets, some of it didn’t quite fit that band. Some of it hasn’t found a home yet. It’s been a good period of time to focus on the craft.”
Eventually Bierce’s visits to D.C. became a weekly occurrence, and the pair decided to revive Drunk Tigers. Delaney was recruited as the drummer, and they began the search for a bassist, running through three or for candidates before eventually settling on Carter’s cousin, Stefan DiFazio.
“We asked both Dan and Mike if they wanted to be in the band again,” said Carter, “but Dan has a bunch of other stuff going on, and Mike moved to Philadelphia, and neither one of them really wanted to commute to D.C. all the time.”
But for Bierce, the two-hour drive north was worth it. “I’ve now been up and down Route 29 way more than I would ever need to,” he said. “If you’re looking for recommendations for restrooms or fast food, I’m more of an expert than the truck drivers at this point.”
Since re-uniting this winter, the Tigers have played a handful of shows, written several new songs, and rewritten some leftover material, and recorded it with the help of another of Carter’s former bandmates from a previous project, Thomas Orgren. While both Carter and Bierce are happy to be working on new material and looking forward, it seems the essence of the band remains true to their first incarnation.
“There’s something about playing the blues with a lot of distortion,” Bierce said. “As much as I try to evolve, it’s the same sort of shit I liked in high school, with more developed emotional content.”
“The basic philosophy [of the band’s new line-up] is very similar,” Carter said. “Arthur’s much more assertive, and has a sillier personality than Mike. The bass can be a little looser. We’re a little louder, goofier, and more aggressive. It sounds different, but it’s clearly coming from the same point. It makes sense to call it Drunk Tigers.”
Drunk Tigers makes its return to Charlottesville on Saturday, May 11, at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar. The show begins 9pm.
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