Oct 312011


Who are you and where did you come from?

“I’m Martyn, I come from a little town outside Slough (Berkshire, England) where I lived a happy childhood and a nightmarish adolescence.”

This is Martyn Jacques, the “criminal castrati,” a mastermind of sorts as the principal creative force and founder of the Tiger Lillies. The Tiger Lillies could be described as Brechtian Street Opera (after German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht) or Gypsy Cabaret and I’ve called them macabre Vaudeville because of their twisted Something Wicked This Way Comes, 19th century carnival feel. There is a nursery rhyme quality to the foreboding tales of vice, death and debauchery woven into their songs. Not the sugarcoated, modern stories for children, but the dreary and awful stories of disease and death that often spawn these tales.

Does that make sense? Do those tales influence the storytelling in some of your songs?

“Well I’m not a big fan of great words and my tunes – at least when they are first born – are always very simple… almost childish you could say. My songs speak about the dark side of human beings which is I guess the basis of the storylines you refer to.”

Martyn finds it difficult to describe the music of the Tiger Lillies because it is “the music that just comes out of my head.” He touches on the broad influences of “cabaret, punk, blues, and old eastern music” as the music he loves to listen to. And it is all in there – elements of the east in Jacques’ ominous accordion spliced together with the raw energy and straight-forward savagery of punk, the dingy glamour of cabaret, and adorned with twisted takes on theatrical and literary themes. All of this blends with so many influences to create one of the most interesting collections of music and performances in modern music. That is why Martyn continues, “So I can’t give you a ‘label’ I’m afraid, but I can say that I believe our music has developed and changed a lot since we started – 22 years ago.”

Martyn’s musical ability – playing the accordion, ukulele, and piano among other things – and his approach to songwriting contribute to the unique world of the Tiger Lillies, but it is his voice that puts the signature on the body of work.

Describe your voice, I mean, how would one classify your vocal style?

“I’m a self-taught singer. I tried attending singing classes in my 20’s and absolutely hated it. Our teacher would use all these different signing techniques, but in my opinion the sound, either way, was absolutely boring. So I guess a voice production “expert” (like he was) would find all sorts of technical flaws in my singing. Its pretty clear that I’m not big on classification, isn’t it?”

(I chuckle) Yes.

“But as we are discussing vocal styles I think I should mention that these days I use both my high voice (that people are more familiar with and has become a trademark of sorts for the Tiger Lillies) and my low voice. They are very different in the sense that my low voice is much more harsh and untrained than the high one. I love using both on stage and when we record, because I think it creates variety, shifting the mood of the songs.”

“The Dreadful Story of Harriet and the Matches” – The tale of a little girls grim brush with pyromania

How did the Lillies come to be? How did the sound and themes and members come together?

“The sound and themes were born inside my head after spending a decade in London staying in my flat all day learning how to play various instruments and training my voice. I had a great view from my window; on one side of the flat there was the playground of a nursery school – on the other, Beak Street of Soho, full of drunks, prostitutes and drug dealers. The band members (originally Adrian Huge and Phil Butcher – who was later replaced by Adrian Stout) were the only two people that got in touch with me when I put an ad on Loot looking for a bassist and drummer.”

It is certainly Mr. Jacques previously mentioned “nightmarish adolescence” and the time in his Soho apartment that spawned the themes in the Tiger Lillies music. His 10 years “embedded” in west London privy to the daily dramas of the dregs of Soho served as research for their music while feeding a fascination with the underbelly of society.

They have numbers like “Heroin and Cocaine” which chronicles a school boy’s addiction and eventual death, “Larder” about a dead body decaying in a larder, “QRV”- a story about a mysterious drug that the whole town is abusing and dying from, “Snip Snip” about a young boy who is warned by his mother to stop sucking his thumbs or an ominous tall tailor will cut them off with his shears (he does), and so many more including “Whore,” “Besotted Mother,” “Pimps, Pushers, and Thieves” “Sodsville,” and “Hamsters” a descriptive tale that harkens the urban myth of Richard Gere notoriety. Their discography is long – beginning in 1989 – and all creepily awesome.

The Lillies are prolific to say the least. It seems that – for the most part – the albums are concept driven and so are the shows / tours / residencies that follow. How do these concepts come about? Where do you find inspiration for these songs that range in subject from whores, drugs and transsexuals to rape, murder, bestiality, and sometimes even love?

“Oh … everywhere around me. All these things are out there for everyone to see. Its more about wanting to look and think about them… and finding a way of doing it that can turn them into art.”

The other permanent members of the Lillies are the Adrian’s, Adrian Huge on drums / percussion and Adrian Stout on stand-up bass. Huge is a talented percussionist that has found a way to play the drums in a non-traditional style for a non-traditional music by bringing the songs to life with anything from percussive instruments to silverware and spatulas. Stout, if you listen, is a solid bass player rooted in jazz. If Martyn gives the songs bite I feel Stout gives them legs. Looking beyond their musical abilities, Jacques adds, “The Adrians contribute not only to the sound but also, and more importantly, to the world of the Tiger Lillies. We never rehearse, we never practice – I write songs at home (or more likely in some hotel room), I turn up at the sound check right before a gig and I play them. They both pick them up instantly and add their own elements to them… musically and theatrically.”

“Crack of Doom” Live from Russia:

Your success wouldn’t be defined as a commercial smash, but you’ve built a strong international following and earned the admiration of so-called stars. Could you name a few?

“I’m crap with stars – especially TV ones as I don’t watch any. Whenever we play in places like L.A. some famous people come at the CD signing and say hello and I honestly feel bad because I don’t know who they are.”

Ha! You are most certainly better off for it.

To elaborate a little on what I was poking around for is that the Tiger Lillies, although not at mainstream blockbuster status, enjoy an underground popularity and respect that true artists earn. Their fans include everyone from international composers and dramatists to Simpson creator, Matt Groening, The Talking Heads’ David Byrne, and Marilyn Manson. They were even commissioned by the Biennale of Sydney to create a “song cycle of crime” for the festivals 17th running in 2010 that was recorded and released as Cockatoo Prison.

Has Manson – a Tampa boy – ever contacted you about collaborating? Would something like that interest you?

“No he hasn’t, but I know he played our music at his wedding. I’m always open to new collaborations, I enjoy anything that gives me another reason to write music.”


Speaking of collaboration, the Lillies have been a part of some amazing and inventive collaborations like Symphony Orchestra of Norrlandsoperan, photographer Nan Goldin, and Russian band, Leningrad. The ‘sort-of’ collaboration with Edward Gorey (American Illustrator and Author), The Gorey End, is fantastic and the vehicle that brought me to your sound. I mean – it seemed so perfect – when I would see his work it was like Tiger Lillies music was coming out of the page and that was before I discovered you! How did that idea come about? What was the story behind it?

“Edward Gorey sent me a letter asking me to go visit him to discuss a collaboration. I was thrilled of course but just before taking the flight to go see him, he died. It’s almost too ironic to be true. We made the album anyway and I think its one of our greatest ones as his work is very inspiring for me, but it’s a real shame he wasn’t around to listen to it.”

I am dying to know what QRV is. What is it? I’ve never found anything on it. Not that I want to take it or anything …

“I’m dying to know too. I would have asked Edward Gorey if he hadn’t died days before our first meeting.”

You are coming off a residency in Vienna where you played a show called Woyzeck. Could you explain that show – the premise and its origins?

It’s about Franz Woyzeck – a great character: to earn an extra buck he has become a guinea pig and eats nothing but peas. He starts hallucinating and goes paranoid, which doesn’t help when he realizes the mother of his child is cheating on him with the sleazy, wealthy and butch drum major.  It’s a wonderfully dark play and I think that the production I was in was a great one too. The run in Vienna went very well – hopefully we will tour it one day.


Stephanie Mohr, who directed The Weberischen (Another Tiger Lillies production with a dark and lusty interpretation of the women in Mozart’s life) in 2006, asked me to write some songs for Woyzeck that was the next project she wanted to work with us on. I wasn’t familiar at the time with Buchner’s (Georg Buchner is an early 19th century German dramatist) work, but I loved the play and I found it really relevant to the Tiger Lillies world.”

How was the stint in Vienna? Do you have any reflections on the city and your time there?

“Civilized is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Vienna. I know the city pretty well as I’ve done a few long runs there. When you travel a lot you develop certain “habits” in certain places. So it’s always good to be back and go to your favorite restaurants, bars, and galleries – walk down your favorite street. The Woyzeck run was very successful so it was a good experience altogether.”

There seems to be a strong kinship with Germany – from the themes of albums and homage to German writers and artistic movements. You also appear to do a lot of recording in Germany. Why is that?

“On one hand German cabaret as well as the Twopenny Opera (A Tiger Lilly interpretation of Bertolt Brecht’s musical, Theepenny Opera) by Kurt Weil (Original composer on Brect’s Threepenny Opera) have been very inspiring for me, so its possible that this influence on my work is something German audiences can relate to. We’ve also had some really good German agents. So over the last 22 years we visited Germany countless times; from big cities to small towns. As for the recordings, we always do them when we are on the road; it makes sense as we are almost never “at home” anyway. And as we spent so much time in Germany we have recorded a few albums there.”

The sound and mood of the music harkens bleak Dickensian squalor – for me anyway. Even though these themes are timeless, the presentation gives the songs a sort of antiquated feel – like it was captured from a bygone era. Do you draw any inspiration or fodder from current events like the current wars, the fleecing of the world by bankers, the imminent economic collapse of the world, and 2012 doomsday prophesies? All seem like they could fall in Tiger Lilly territory.

“I used to be rather indifferent to current events – but I think this is changing as years go by. Last summer I was in Athens where people were protesting at austerity measures. The committee of the protesters got in touch and invited us to perform in Syntagma Square, opposite the Greek Parliament. We performed in front of hundreds of thousands of people with tear gas grenades being fired everywhere around us. I felt what I was doing gained a whole new meaning. It was definitely one of the most important performances in my career.”

The Tiger Lillies Play Greek Parliament During Protests

The Tiger Lillies Play Greek Parliament During Protests

Are the songs developed with the shows in mind or do the shows sort of write themselves as the album tells its story?

“It can and has worked both ways.”

Since I’ve followed you I can’t recall you visiting the states. Do you tour here much? What is the stateside reception of your music?

“We used to come to the States every year, usually in the fall – around Halloween. Last year we had a big tour around Europe with the “Tiger Lillies Freakshow” (a show built around their ’99 album Circus Songs, which could be likened to a musical version of Tod Browning’s 1932 classic horror film, Freaks), so we didn’t make it. Its great touring here, we have many really devoted fans that are also wildly enthusiastic as they don’t see us that often.”

What kind of fans does it seem to attract over here? It almost seems like the themes and nature are too clever for us – like only literature professors and theater majors would “get it.”

I suppose I’ll take that as a compliment. I don’t however see your point. I don’t think my songs are that clever, and I definitely don’t think Americans are stupid. As in the rest of the world we attract different kinds of people; from 16 year-old Goths to middle aged couples. We even have some elderly ladies that follow us around.”


I would beg to disagree with Martyn’s assertion that, “I don’t think my songs are that clever.” As I see it, a band that is highly sought by the international musical and theatre community that can pull off albums dedicated to bestiality (Farmyard Filth, 2003) on one end of the spectrum and creating a musical translation of Francois Rabelais’s medieval novel Gargantua & Pantagruel (Here I Am Human, 2010) on the other is pretty damn clever. Just take a look at their long list of albums and their brief synopsis to get a glance at the magnitude of their themes and collaborations: www. http://tigerlillies.com/shop/

What can fans in Tampa expect? Will this be a more traditional concert as compared to the themes and concepts of Woyzeck and Freakshow?

“Oh yes. Doing runs with shows is great but eventually I get tired of performing the same songs each night. So now I’m really looking forward to some Tiger Lillies gigs where I can do whatever I like with the set list.”

“Bully Boys” – A brutal tale of revenge from the perspective of a bullied kid:

What do the Tiger Lillies have in store for us in the coming year?

“I’m working on many projects at the moment, but the one that might actually make it to the US is a new production of Hamlet. It will open in Copenhagen in the spring and hopefully next year it will tour the States.”

The Tiger Lillies wrapped up Woyzeck in Vienna in mid-October then went on to a brief stint at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn to perform Sinderella with avant-garde actor, Vivian Bond. This is the tale of Cinderella Tiger Lillies style as “Sinderella” is a crack-whore battling with drug addiction and domestic abuse. I wonder why Disney hasn’t come calling?

Martyn Jacques, Adrian Stout, and Adrian Huge will bring their bizarre, beautiful, and darkly funny brilliance to the Straz Center in Tampa on Thursday, November 3rd.

The Tiger Lillies Facebook page

The Tiger Lillies on Twitter

The Tiger Lillies official website

See the interview on Tampa’s Best Music Website, Suburban Apologist

Oct 102011

kisses-and-noise_orlando_blog_yuck-showYuck caught my ear when I saw them open for the Smith Westerns at BackBooth where they summarily blew SW off the stage. They were a scraggly bunch with the Smashing Pumpkin / Sonic Youth girl bass player configuration. Like those bands they also wielded a crunching avalanche of sound with their embrace of squelching feedback guitar heroics. Yuck received nothing but praise for their debut and kept the momentum going by touring with bands like Modest Mouse and Teenage Fanclub and recently re-releasing a deluxe version of their album with 6 new songs.

“Go Away” sounds like a catchier Dinosaur JR. song …

Get Away by Yuck

They’re big guitar sound also lets them get a little psychedelic and experimental like on this performance of “Rubber” from Room 205

They will be at The Social tonight with Porcelain Raft. So go.

Jan 132011

of-montreal_orlando_firestone_kisses-and-noiseThere is something in the Athens, GA water that nourishes alternative music or something. From the breakthrough sounds of the B-52′s and R.E.M to the country rock of Drive-By Truckers or the new pop of Danger Mouse to the hip indie power of Neutral Milk Hotel Athens is home to a wide range of great musicians. Of Montreal adds a little swagger and glam pageantry to the mix. For some reason I’ve missed them by minutes at several festivals and spaced on their last 2 or 3 visits to Orlando. I will try to end the streak this week and see wildman Kevin Barnes and company touring behind the adventurous False Priest. This album is more organic compared to the ultra-catchy electronic pop of Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and that combined with lights, stage antics, and costume changes that made them festival favorites will make for a great show.

The newer stuff has a more organic instrumentation than previous albums.

Nov 092010
Su-i-cidal! Su-i-cidal!

Su-i-cidal! Su-i-cidal!

Oh man. I haven’t thought about these guys in a while. The SoCal punk with a weird angst-y gang influence, turned thrash, then prog-metal, then funk-metal band is certain to shred Firestone with energy and volume. Although Mike Muir (the badass with the low-slung blue bandanna) is really the only original member, I’m sure the band he’s assembled can carry the load minus the insanely shreddy Rocky George (and his Pittsburgh Pirates hat) and now-Metallica bassist, Robert Trujillo (this guy is such a better fit for ST than Metallica).

suicidal tendencies_join-the-army_kisses-and-noise

I had this t-shirt!

“All I wanted was a Pepsi!” “I went to your schools / I went to your churches / I went to your institutional learning facilities” – As a middle-schooler ST’s “Institutionalized” is probably one of the most quotable songs I ever heard next to the Beastie Boy’s “Paul Revere.” The song captured the disillusionment, disenfranchisement, and overall alienation of the “tween” so perfectly, then turned everything on its ass by meshing punk sentiment with hardcore metal. Suicidal Tendencies are true punk / thrash / funk pioneers and definitely worth your Tuesday evening. With Head PE tonight @ 8PM.

Fucking great song. How do you NOT want to punch someone in the face after hearing this? This video marked a period of my youth where I wore Vans, white socks, blue jeans, and half shirts. Wow.

Oct 272010

Thievery on stage in Houston 2008

Thievery on stage in Houston 2008

Massive Attack is back with a lush and powerful new album in Heigoland and Thievery Corporation is on the heels of their first retrospective release, It Takes a Thief, and debut of the Eric Hilton produced, conspiracy tinged, attack-on-the-establishment film, Babylon Central. My guess is Massive is headlining, but Thievery is sure to steal the show at Hard Rock. TC “brings it” live with a touring entourage of musicians, dancers, singers and rappers. TC’s Outernational sound is fleshed out with live instrument arrangements as they assemble the necessary talent for each song in their eclectic catalog. Let’s not kid each other fellas, this sort of music – the chill, down tempo electronica – brings out the the laaaaaay-deeeez! What, what?!

I love this song – “Sweet Tides” – from Thievery’s Radio Retaliation. A step back from Outernational and into pure pop electronica. It has a cinematic quality, sad and beautiful, and reminds me a bit of Massive Attack.

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“Lebanese Blonde” from HoB, Orlando 2009:


A little help with the reggae

Backstage in Houston

Backstage in Houston

Eric and Rob

Eric and Rob

The Lovely Natalia Clavier

The Lovely Natalia Clavier


International sound with Brazilian, Princess Karina


Belly Dancer!

Rob GarzaRob Garza

Karina and Lou Lou

Lulu & Rob

Lou Lou & Rob

Loulou Ghelichkhani in Houston 2008

Loulou Ghelichkhani in Houston 2008

See more video from Thievery Corporation’s last visit to Orlando

Oct 252010

mgmt_live_orlando-music-blog_kisses-and-noiseI absolutely adored “Time to Pretend” off their first album, but as other songs from Oracular Spectacular were released MGMT came off sort of flat to me. That, coupled with reports of their live performances being somewhat lacking or flat made me lose interest as well. Apparently they have juiced up the live show and added some key musicians to help the duo expand on their sound. Their latest album, Congratulations, is more complete and seems to have drawn a lot of inspiration from The Elevator Drops (The best band you never heard) or at least The Drops’ influences. This show at Hard Rock is definitely one of the more anticipated shows this month.

“Let’s make some money, make some music, find some models for wives / I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin and fuck with the stars” – I love that.

Oct 182010

caribou_backbooth_orlando_kisses-and-noiseCaribou is bringing his darkly danceable brand of indie-electronica to town this evening at Backbooth. I think this may be the first trip to Orlando and could be a really good show for the intimate venue. In my Rocktober run-down last month, I deemed this a “do not miss” show and I’m going to stick to my guns even though I have nothing but a few cool albums to back it up.

Oct 152010

school-of-seven-bells_the-social_orlando_kisses-and-noiseAnother promising show in Orlando at The Social Tonight. School of Seven Bells brings their hot chick dream pop along with the eerily sublime and uber-talented Active Child. SVIIB is a Brooklyn trio with pretty songs that could deliver or be a snoozer like Au Revoir Simone – not sure. Active Child could be interesting if he is able to re-create the darkly beautiful lushness on his debut Curtis Lane. It’s electronic with random live instruments – including the harp – and choir-like vocal presentation. If it is a one man show (Pat Grossi) it could be difficult to pull off, but if there are additional musicians it could add power and tension for a moving live performance. Listen to “I’m in Your Church at Night” to get a sense of the hymn-like subtle beauty.

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Oct 142010
Wayne Coyne in the space bubble - Langerado 2006 (I think, I can't remember)

Wayne Coyne in the space bubble - Langerado 2006 (I think, I can't remember)

I knew it would come to this – with so many shows this month there was bound to be overlapping. Well, there wouldn’t be if the Lips didn’t cancel part of their tour when they were supposed to be here a few months back. I get ticket, they cancel, they reschedule on the same night another powerhouse plays The Social. I’ve seen both bands before, but the allure of seeing a band like Built to Spill in a place like The Social vs. the psychedelic carnival of The Flaming Lips at HOB is indeed a conundrum. My heart goes with the smaller band at the intimate venue while my ticket situation (and my wife) lean toward the Lips. Wayne in the bubble for the first time @ Coachella 2004

Better, full version of “Conventional Wisdom” here.

Oct 132010

ted-leo-and-the-pharmacists_live_the-social_orlando_kisses-and-noiseHere is another acclaimed talent coming to town this month. He is an example of another cult talent that I’m aware of and heard many times, but don’t know much about. Like The National, he seems to accrue fans that absolutely adore his work. Ted’s proto-punk has morphed into a sort of anthemic, low-fi indie rock. Pharmacist shows are known to be raw and rife with kinetic energy.