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THE PV Q&A: Tigers Jaw’s Brianna Collins on ‘spin’: ‘It was like I wrote the songs for a reason. I wrote knowing people would hear them.’

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By Geoff Burns

As Pennsylvania’s indie rock duo Tigers Jaw release their newest album, spin, this week, a few aspects contribute more significantly than others with this next chapter in the band’s career. The 12-song album is the inaugural release on Black Cement Records, a new imprint under major label Atlantic Records represented by producer Will Yip [Citizen, Title Fight, The Wonder Years] It’s also the first time singer/keyboardist Brianna Collins composed songs in her 10 years of being in the band.

“How do people do this? How do you let strangers into your life in that way?” says the singer/keyboardist during a phone interview a month before the release of their new album, spin, referring to her thoughts while beginning to write songs for the album. “It was like I wrote the songs for a reason. I wrote knowing people would hear them.”

Collins talks about writing songs for the first time on spin, transitioning to Black Cement Records from Run For Cover and her motivations in reaching a wider audience.

PUREVOLUME: This is the first time you’ve written your own songs. What motivated you to do that for this album?
Brianna Collins: I joined Tigers Jaw when it was already a band. I think I just felt really comfortable in that role playing keyboard and not being a primary songwriter. I loved the songs they wrote. It was never something I thought I would do. Tigers Jaw has always been two songwriters and I thought I might as well give it a try and see. If the songs don’t work then they don’t work. When we were working on Charmer, Ben [Walsh] asked if I would write a line in “Hum” and I was like, ‘Okay, I'll try,’ and I did it. It wasn’t as daunting as I thought it would be for me. It was a two-line little thing. I was like, ‘Okay, maybe I can do this.’ For this record I sat down and played guitar, which is an instrument I don’t play and I just pushed myself to do it.
PV: How were you able to find the strength to do this?
BC: We were done touring with Charmer and we were home and had time off to focus on doing this. I still worked substitute teaching and other stuff but I had time at home to focus on doing it. I had a lot of help from Ben. My boyfriend helped and I’m so critical to begin with and to go to Ben who has done this for 10 years and ask him, ‘What is your method to your madness? How do you do this? How do you record your own demos? I’m not good at guitar, I’m just self-taught and pretty much on the top of the neck, much easier to play, and Ben has a way of taking the chords I want and making them more complex. I think working collaborate made it a lot less scary and very fun. I had a lot of fun working with other people to make the songs happen.
PV: I read that lyrically “June” is about your best friend. What were some other personal topics you decided to embrace lyrically for the songs you wrote on this album?
BC: I have three songs on the record. They are each about a specific thing, “June” being about my best friend. I wrote a love song. I’ve been in a relationship for nine years with someone and I found it hard to not write about that. I also wrote a song about not getting what you want even though you’re trying hard and being passive aggressive with things doesn’t help any situation. Everything is personal to me that I write about. The only time I’ve written lyrics before were those two lines in “Hum.” I started writing lyrics down before the songwriting process in general. I got in the habit of writing down anything that came to me in the notes of my phone. I found it cathartic to look at my notes on my phone. [Writing lyrics] reminds me of poetry and writing rhythmically.
PV: You guys joined Black Cement Records. Why did you decide to join this imprint of major label Atlantic Records?
BC: We’ve been on Run For Cover for a long time since our first full-length we put out. They did such a good job helping us get to this point. We thought it might be good to see what else is out there. Will [Yip, producer/label founder] had a huge influence on it. He doesn’t work with anything he doesn’t believe in. After meeting the people behind Black Cement it felt like such a genuine group who like the music and believed in how we operated as a band without label influence. That was something that was huge. We wanted the next label we worked with to feel the same as it did with Run For Cover, which is we were friends with them and had complete creative control. There was no pressure. We could do what we want and it was a great relationship for both of us. It was kind of crazy to find that same vibe with an imprint on a major label. I really like every person we work with at Black Cement. It does present a lot of opportunities that we never dreamed would. We do this because we love it. It’s a plus to really go for it in this way.
PV: What are your motivations in being a part of this family aimed at introducing new music to people throughout the world while essentially on a major label.
BC: I feel really excited about it. I love listening to the radio but you listen to the radio and then go to a show and see bands you think are so amazing and they’re just not getting the recognition they deserve. There are bands that work so hard and are writing their own music and are touring and trying to grind it out and it's hard to make a living off of doing this. Now, we're adults, we have bills, we have lives. If we're spending the time and energy doing this we need to be able to live off if it, too. The bands that Will works with, the bands in our scene in general, have done so much on our own and with the fans and people who love the music supporting them to get to this point without any kind of major label influence. I think it’s great that Black Cement sees this is as an important thing that could be translated into more mainstream. You listen to indie-alternative radio and you hear songs and go, ‘Is that really an alternative song? It’s confusing.’ I think it would be cool to have bands in our world find success outside of our world, too.




PV: Would you say Tigers Jaw even needs a label in 2017 to be successful?
BC: I do think we could’ve done it on our own. We could’ve done it with another label, too. Just having the support people at Black Cement are providing to us, having a team where there is a person for every single thing you need and someone that makes sure everything you want the band needs gets done. It relieves the pressure from Ben and I who have done pretty much everything on our own. We don’t have a manager. We just dedicate a lot of time making sure the band operates how we want. We hadn’t had a full time band until two years ago, a year after Charmer came out. The fact people still care about the music and come out and support us is great and mind-boggling. I believe in it so much. Up until this record I wasn’t a songwriter. I literally loved Tigers Jaw. I think we could’ve done it without a label, but I’m happy we do have Black Cement to give us the support I don’t think we’ve had before.
PV: What does the title spin personally mean to you?
BC: Coming up with the record title was one of the hardest parts about the record. The word “spin” itself is in two of Ben’s songs. The way I’ve perceived it is this overwhelming feeling where you feel like your head is spinning. You’re overwhelmed. It could be any emotion. It could be you’re so stressed out, like your head is spinning or you’re happy and your head is spinning. It’s an overarching term. It's one word. Simple, but tied in a lot of themes throughout the record with just one word.
PV: Stepping up your game as a musician on this record, how did this experience change your perspective on music?
BC: I’ve had to exercise parts of my brain that I’ve never had to exercise before and thinking about song structure. Being in a band for 10 years, those are things you pick up on even when I wasn’t writing songs. I was still there for recording and practicing, talking about everything coming together. That helped me a lot in being able to write my own songs just for 10 years being around other people with their songs they wrote. It’s a very daunting thing to have your personal experiences out into the world. Before “June” came out my anxiety was off the charts. I was like, ‘Holy shit.’ Oh, I'm sorry, Oh my goodness. Don’t print the “S” word, I don’t want my mom to get mad [laughs]. It was so crazy, though, to think, ‘How do people do this? How do you let strangers into your life in that way?’ It was like I wrote the songs for a reason. I wrote knowing people would hear them. I get so much listening out of other people’s songs so it was just like this is something I wanted to do. I didn’t know what people would think of it. Are people going to think this is a Tigers Jaw song? I think it's helped me try to be more confident in what I believe in and what I love doing. It was gratifying to see it was a good response and see people did respond to it in a way I had hoped. It was a big moment for me in my life to have songs out in the world. I’m excited to do more. I have three songs on the record and I’m like, ‘Damn, I can’t wait for the next record to write more songs.’

 
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