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Republic Tigers

by Selena Fragassi 

The last time the Republic Tigers were in Chicago, it was the dead of winter and the Kansas City quartet took to Schubas stage for a short set at the Tomorrow Never Knows music fest, one of the only reasons to come out of hibernation before March. 

In the short span of just a couple of months, the band has sprung to new life, with positive press and near full-time touring commitments to support the notable 2008 release, Keep Color (Chop Shop Records), including a recent showcase at the SXSW festival and an opening gig for Travis which comes into town this Saturday, April 18 at the Vic Theatre. 

Formed in the little town of Republic, Missouri by lead singer Kenn Jankowski and lead guitarist Adam McGill, Republic Tigers is branded by its geography – named for both the town they hail from and the local high school’s mascot, an ironic twist considering the band’s multicultural sound that could just as well come from the U.K. 

“We’re in the middle of the country and there’s a lot of influences that diverge there,” says McGill of Kansas City’s eclectic music scene. We catch up during a phone conversation as the band is en route to the west coast for the current leg of the tour. “That factor has probably influenced our sound more than anything.” 

But perhaps just as important as location is the inherent diversity in the band, if not just the fact that the five members have owned very different character roles, dating back to the hallways of Republic High School. 

“Ken and Justin [Tricomi], our drummer, were sort of the band geeks, the marching band kids,” McGill says. “[Guitarist] Ryan [Pinkston] was the jock, the real meathead and he had never really had been in any serious gigging bands. I played in punk rock bands and our bass player Marc [Pepperman] was into alt-country and alternative type bands.” 

Knowing each other from certain cliques brought them together in a common love of music. “When we all finally met, each of us had a lot of demo songs that we had been working on individually, but they had similar themes and elements that fit together,” notes McGill. 

Much of this burgeoning roster became the early ingredients for Keep Color. “The recording was pretty natural and a collective process. We’d usually have some Pro Tools session and we’d hand off the early files to one another and lay ideas on top of the other contributions,” says McGill, praising the Republic Tigers’ democratic recording process. “Everybody in the band brings a lot of ideas to the table. The work ethic that everyone has is something I haven’t seen in any other group of musicians.” 

Soon after the demo was made, the band became the first to sign to Chop Shop Records, started by the executive television soundtracks scouts for shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Gossip Girl and The O.C., a factor that helped them land their tunes on many of the same primetime programs and garnered attention for original tracks like “Buildings and Mountains” and “Fight Song”. 

Not knowing exactly where to pin the band’s dimensional sound, critics compared them to everything from Death Cab for Cutie, The Shins, and even Enya. “The Enya comparison – I think I understand where it came from. There’s a lot of ambient textures in our music,” jokes McGill, “but I think for future reference, we should try to be less original and then nobody will have problems trying to compare us to anybody.” 

One of their main techniques is incorporating the sounds of ancient video games. “Ken is a big video gamer. We all love a lot of music that was in old eight-bit Nintendo and Atari games – when you have only eight bits to work with, for some reason it sounds so cool,” says McGill. “We have definitely sampled a lot of those sounds. I’m not sure what’s dorkier – being a gamer or sampling video game sounds to put in your music.” 

The advent of modern technology has also moved the band to the next level. “Today’s technology has helped us out drastically. Twitter was the main reason our SXSW shows were so packed and Myspace itself was the way we first got record label attention. Without it, we wouldn’t be doing all the touring we’re doing now or have the record deal,” McGill notes. 

But with a record deal in tow, Republic Tigers has already moved on to the next chapter, and with it comes more “breathing room”: “Before, we were cramming a lot into every song and now we’re trying to be more selective,” he says. “When you work a lot in the studio, it’s extremely tempting to keep piling on layer after layer after layer, like a Phil Spector production. But now I think we’re trying to only keep the parts that really, really matter.” 

The Republic Tigers support Travis on Saturday, April 18th at the Vic Theatre (3145 N Sheffield Ave). 


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