2003 was a difficult year for Tiger Army, one that took a lot of personal strength and courage to get through.
It started normally enough, they did a one-off show opening for Social Distortion at the House of Blues in Anaheim, CA in January 8th. They planned to record their new album and started work on Tiger Army III.
Then on Monday March 10th Fred Hell was shot by an intruder who broke into the apartment of the friend that Fred was visiting in Chino, California. From the band’s website –
As some of you may have heard, Tiger Army drummer Fred Hell was hospitalized on the night of Monday, March 10th after being shot four times. He was at a friend's apartment in Chino, CA when two men with guns entered the apartment in what was apparently a home invasion robbery. The events that follow are confused, but after a struggle Fred attempted to flee to safety while one of the perpetrators shot at him from behind in an act of extreme cowardice. Fred was found in a parking lot, hit once in the head, once in the chest and twice in the butt. He was airlifted by helicopter to a nearby hospital where he received multiple surgeries. His condition has stabilized and he was moved out of the intensive care unit Wednesday afternoon but he's still in the hospital at the current time. Amazingly, he's in good spirits, can speak and can move and feel his arms, legs, hands and toes -- thankfully his mind and memory appear to be okay. Anyone who's ever met Fred can attest that he's the nicest guy you'll ever meet and the last person who deserved to fall victim to such an act.
The shooting occurred while Nick 13 was in Hollywood with his friends AFI who were holding a record release signing for their latest album “Sing the Sorrow” – Nick only received word that Fred had been shot and was unable to get any further information for a while, one can only imagine the worry.
Fred was extremely lucky and got out of the hospital on May 14th (the bullet in his brain was left there as it would have been more dangerous to remove it) and started his recovery – he had to re-learn how to play drums but was determined to make a full recovery and the band chose to put things on hold for the time being and wait for Fred rather than replace him. They spent the summer practicing and working on new material and started recording in September.
The album was put on hold meanwhile when Tiger Army was offered the chance to open for Rancid on a national tour and off they went, starting November 5th in David, CA and winding eastward and back again to the west coast and winding up in late December.
Fred was doing well enough to play at the live shows and it was a huge relief to see him back onstage after all he’d been through. But unfortunately though he sounded fine playing live, in the studio things were slightly off and the difficult decision was made to get another drummer to record on the album. Mike Fasano had worked with Tiger Army on their previous albums as a tech and was good friends with them joined in and worked very closely with Fred to learn Fred’s style and play the songs as Fred would have had he been able.
Early 2004 saw Tiger Army in the studio finishing up on TIGER ARMY III: GHOST TIGERS RISE as the album had been pushed back a bit due to the Rancid tour. It also unfortunately meant they had to cancel a brief European tour planned for March but at this point the most important thing was getting the new album finished and readied for release.
On April 2nd they kicked off the Hellcat records “Punks Vs. Psychos” tour at the Soma in San Diego along with The Business, Roger Miret and The Disasters and US Roughnecks (the lineup changed along the way on the PvP tour). TA continued on the tour up to May 16th at the Masquerade in Atlanta and then were replaced by fellow Hellcat artists The Nekromantix. Meanwhile they posted a sneak preview MP3 of the new song “Ghostfire” on the official website and on Epitath’s and performed it nightly on tour to give folks a taste of the new material.
The tour wound up and down the west coast and then across the southern states anmd into Florida and Georgia where they were joined by their friends 12 Step Rebels, a psychobilly band from Albuquerque (or as they call it, “Albecracky”) New Mexico, 12 Step Rebels were the first band Geoff Kresge had signed to his new record label Dead Body Wreckerds and they were able to work on the mixing of their forthcoming album while on the road.
June 8th saw their first release of the year, a limited edition 10” picture disc with several songs off the new album and a non-LP B side, their cover of the Morrissey song “the Loop” that they had done regularly on the Fall 2003 tour with Rancid. It was followed on June 29th by the new album which also saw a limited vinyl release in two colors (white and grey) along with the CD. To celebrate the release, Tiger Army did an in-store signing at the Virgin Megastore at The Block in on June 30th.
They also filmed a promo video for the new album for the song “Rose of the Devil’s Garden” – it was directed by Vincent Haycock and filmed in the historic Alexandria Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. The video also featured model Masuimi Max. This was the first time Nick 13 let somebody else direct one of their videos – Haycock has also worked on the TV show Nip/Tuck and done videos for H.I.M. and the Movielife.
On July 10th and 11th, Tiger Army held two record release parties at the West Hollywood House of Blues Club to celebrate the release of TIGER ARMY III: GHOST TIGERS RISE. These shows sold out pretty quickly and tickets were in hot demand on ebay. Opening for Tiger Army the first night were the electro-industrial band Psyclon_Nine from San Francisco and TA’s Albecracky buddies, 12 Step Rebels. The second night saw SoCal psychobillies The Black Rose Phantoms (whose singer Oswaldo did guest backup vocals on Ghost Tigers Rise) and the punk band Pistol Grip as openers. A special commemorative poster was done in a limited edition of 1,000 copies with artwork by tattoo artist Chris Conn and given to some of the folks at the front of the line. Realizing that many fans would attend both nights they changed the set lists around and played a variety of old and new material – during the first show they had a special surprise guest appearance from Davey Havok who dashed onstage during “Incorporeal” to add some guest vocals.
Two weeks later Tiger Army went on the road on the second half of the 2004 Warped Tour but sadly it was without drummer Fred Hell who was experiencing health problems tracing back to the 2003 shooting. Luckily they were able to get the best possible replacement in Mike Fasano who had played drums on the album and worked closely with Fred and already knew the material. They joined the Warped tour on July 20th in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and went through until the end in Foxboro, MA on August 19th (28 shows in one month). They performed a half hour set each show that could take place at any time – the Warped tour organizers determine the band’s playing times each morning by lottery and post them as they open for the day. Besides the sets they also did a signing at almost every, usually at the Alternative Press, Epitath or Hot Topic booths.
After the last Warped show, Geoff left the band to pursue other interests. (In November he joined The Horrorpops on guitar to replace the departing Karsten and join his lovely wife Kamilla who is one of their dancers).
On September 7th, Nick 13 posted the following to the official website:
“As you've just read or may have heard, Geoff Kresge has left the band. It's not the way I would've wanted things, but I respect his decision. For the people who say things won't be the same, no, they won't be the same. Every player has always brought their own unique qualities to Tiger Army. But for the people who say it's over? They can't know anything about Tiger Army. Geoff was the third stand-up player the band's had, and I can't begin to count the number of drummers we've played with, although most of them were friends helping out rather than actual band members. For the people who say it won't be as good? Don't be so sure... Jeff R. is an AMAZING stand-up bass player, as many people in Southern California & elsewhere are already aware. There aren't too many people around who could step into Geoff's shoes, but Jeff is one of them. James is a great drummer. The chemistry is there, that can't be faked. Those who know me or know anything about me know that I have too much pride in the Tiger Army name to step onstage with a line-up that can't live up to the reputation we've built through the hard work of the last few years. To people who are truly part of the Tiger Army, much love & respect, we'll see you on the road this fall -- TxAxNxDx!"
Nick recruited two very talented musicians to join Tiger Army – Jeff Roffredo and James Meza (also known as “Wasted James”), from the southern California psychobilly group The Resurex (formerly known as “Lobo Negro”). Jeff Roffredo had also been in the acclaimed original lineup Calavera and in Cosmic Voodoo. James had played with many local bands and had also filled in on drums for the Nekromantix in the US.
They only had a few weeks to rehearse but went on the road almost immediately opening for Social Distortion along with The Explosion – the tour kicked off in Corpus Christi, TX on September 24th and ran for 9 ½ weeks, winding up with 5 nights at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles on the night before Thanksgiving and the four nights immediately after.
At present they are taking a well deserved break and will go back on tour in the United Kingdom in mid January – a full US headlining club tour will take place in April-May 2005.