Adulthood can change people, often forcing arbitrary deadlines and a reprioritisation of goals. But while the current climate makes planning things such as tours more uncertain, the band is more hungry for their future than ever.
Words: Kristy Diaz Photo: Rebecca Lader
The enduring appeal of a band rests on two things: its ability to evolve, and its ability to stay the same. After 15 years, making something – anything – that still feels fresh and vital without veering off-track or becoming stale and cynical is a conflict; a delicate balance of adding new elements and taking others away, throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, deciding what is fundamental and what can be loved but left behind.
As Tigers Jaw’s sixth record I Won’t Care How You Remember Me opens, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d hit play on self-titled instead. It’s bare, pulled back to nothing but founding member Ben Walsh’s vocal and an acoustic guitar strummed lightly over the same kind of emotional sentiments as their 2008 breakthrough. But it starts to unfold, with carefully accenting keys and a second vocalist in Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull, before building to a spectacular full-band crescendo. It’s both title-track and statement of intent – an opener for the fucking ages – and a microcosm of a band that started with nothing but honest songwriting which found itself constantly reimagined into something bolder and braver.
Their previous record, 2017’s spin, embodied that ambition with a range of textures and multi-layered vocal harmonies throughout, but on I Won’t Care How You Remember Me the band returns to a less complicated path. “We were trying to have the record sound and feel like how it sounds and feels when we play live,” explains keyboard player and vocalist Brianna Collins. “There’s something special about playing songs together for weeks in a row, locking them in and feeling really connected to each other musically.” And while the live experience – one we’re all longing for – certainly influenced their return to simplicity, the collective songwriting effort from the whole band elevates it, showing that stripping something back doesn’t equate to watering it down.
“That’s always been how Tigers Jaw is,” Collins says. “If someone has a song idea, they bring it to the table and we go from there. But there was just so much more collaboration [on this record] from even the earliest stages of the songwriting process.” Completed by drummer Teddy Roberts and Colin Gorman on bass, the band also credit their longtime producer and collaborator Will Yip, whose influence couldn’t be more apparent in this record. It achieves as big a sound as any contemporary pop-punk heavyweight without sounding contrived. Every element shines in isolation as well as a whole, bringing the songs to life with incredible clarity – the result of a process Collins describes as “very reflective of who we are as a band right now”.
I Won’t Care How You Remember Me also marks a development in Collins as a lead songwriter. A member of Tigers Jaw since 2006, her primary role in the band had initially been keys and back-up vocals – until spin, where she took on more of the writing responsibility, resulting in some of the strongest songs in their back catalogue. “I had never really considered that part of my identity until I started writing songs for spin,” she says. “I felt very comfortable playing keyboard and doing art in the band, and now that I’ve started I see how much I love it and that I needed to do it; it’s something that happened to me at the right time.”
Speaking with Collins, it’s easy to get the impression that centre-stage isn’t a place she has always felt comfortable. She’s quietly unassuming and always quick to highlight the support she has from her bandmates, making the strength of their unit clear at every turn. “I’ve always really enjoyed being a band member because I love the collaborative nature of it and how there isn’t always necessarily pressure on one person to be the front of the band,” she continues. “The band itself has always had multiple vocalists, and I think it has helped my own self-confidence to try to let go of any anxieties I have about having that kind of attention.”
The album’s first single, ‘Cat’s Cradle’ – written and sung by Collins – sees her taking on that leading role with aplomb. It crashes in sensationally after the opener, a catchy synth-led melody that introduces an element of fun into a song that concludes sometimes letting go is the only way to move forward. The song’s video also positions Collins front-and-centre: “The way that I wrote [it], I’m not playing keyboard the whole time… so I was like, ‘do I stand behind the keyboard?’ and Ben [Walsh] was like ‘well if you’re just singing then why don’t you just take the mic and sing it?’ That’s what I love about Tigers Jaw, there’s always an opportunity to continue to grow as an artist. I never feel stifled or stagnant in it. There’s always something challenging me, and it’s been fun,” she concludes, laughing: “Like, scary fun.”
The journey has been a long, reflective and deeply personal one, but it’s clear that while spin ushered in the Brianna era, I Won’t CareHow You Remember Me shows her at her most powerful as an artist. ‘Lemon Mouth’, the album’s second single and standout moment, sees Collins analysing her personality traits in a dreamlike stream-of-consciousness (“Bad with faces, bad with names / quick to procrastinate / roll my shoulders back / set my clocks ten minutes fast”) before changing pace with an energetic shoegaze-meets-indie-punk guitar line. It’s self-critique, but not criticism: “I can get so locked into feeling anxious or stressed and negative that I continue to do things that are self-sabotaging. Procrastination, for example, is something I really have a hard time with. Like starting a project before it’s imminently due, which ends up making me feel like, ‘why do I do this to myself?’
“But there’s also something about the urgency in the way that I do things, and I don’t know if I would have the same result that I feel as confident about or I like as much if it didn’t come from a place like that. It’s self-reflection; there are some things about myself that I might not necessarily be able to change, but how can I lean into the positive aspects of these things that at times cause me anxiety and stress, and find balance in that?”
These patterns and behaviours she describes as incredibly specific to her experiences, in fact, turned out to be more widely understood. When the song’s video was released, YouTube commenters pointed out that she was describing their experience of having ADHD – not knowing that Collins has it, too. “I feel seen because I didn’t say that at all! I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about it because it is kind of a newer thing to process in my life,” she explains. “I love that they got that part of me from the song without me having to say it.”
It’s indicative of a band putting all of themselves into the songs across an extended period. “We’ve grown up doing this,” Collins states, pointing out that she joined the band as a teenager and is now approaching 30. Adulthood can change people, often forcing arbitrary deadlines and a reprioritisation of goals. But while the current climate makes planning things such as tours more uncertain, the band is more hungry for their future than ever. “All I can hope for is that I continue doing it for as long as it is fulfilling,” says Collins. “It feels so intrinsic to my sense of self and identity, and I hope that we can continue to grow as a band while also doing things the way that we have been – always doing as much as we can on our own because we enjoy it.”
There’s no doubt there are bigger ambitions at play: their recent signing to pop-punk titans Hopeless Records, as well as experimenting with some of the high-end elements in their videos and artwork, certainly point to that – though for every ‘Cat’s Cradle’ there’s a ‘Hesitation’, which the band filmed and produced entirely on their own. But in reality, the answer is more simple. Their continued success as one of the most revered bands of the 2010s ‘emo revival’ is in their steadfast commitment to remaining true to themselves, Collins asserts. “I want to be remembered as a band who loved what they were doing.”
On closer ‘Anniversary’, the album’s final moments are just as it began – with a quiet voice and an acoustic guitar as Walsh declares, “We all fall apart in the same way”. Sure, a lot has changed over the course of the band’s lifespan, but a lot has stayed the same. With I Won’t Care How You Remember Me, Tigers Jaw have defined precisely who they are and who they will continue to be.