It's hard to find a band that puts on an honest-to-God show anymore. Sure, some bands jump around and go through the motions, but very few bands go to the lengths that The Selby Tigers do to have fun and put on a show. Leisure suits. Glittering guitars. Beehive wigs. I've seen Arzu (guitars/vocals), Nate, (guitars/vocals), Dave (drums/vocals) and Dave (a.k.a. ... errr, better known as Sammy, the bass player) play twice. Each time, they've made my night - all windmills, scissors kicks and gunfighter gestures while playing ... with a fashion sense stolen from unoccupied bedrooms at 1970s swinger parties. Armed with a sound that falls somewhere between the Ramones and Devo (with a healthy pour of trashy three-chord rock thrown in for good measure), The Selby Tigers have rocked my world every time I've been privileged enough to see them play. I was able to sit down with Arzu and Dave at The Casbah some months ago and chat. Nate and Sammy also dropped in at varying times. For the record, they're all really swell folks. As Sammy might say in his stage voice, "It's so very nice to be able to see such beautiful people and hear such great music. Truly, the pleasure is all ours."
Please state your name and your instrument for the record so I can have a chance of transcribing this later.
Arzu: I'm Arzu and I play guitar and sing.
Dave: I'm Dave and I play drums and sing.
So who does the handclaps?
Arzu: That was me and Dave!
Dave: Yup. Us two.
Arzu: At two in the morning. Everyone was supposed to be there and we were the only ones that were.
All I've heard so far is "Charm City" and it was kind of hard to find here so could you start by telling me a little bit about the band's history?
Arzu: Well, Dave and I started this band about four years ago. We got a practice space and just the two of us were playing together. We had a different bass player than we do now, so the three of us played one show and then Nate, my husband, joined the band on the other guitar so we practiced for a little bit and then recorded our first EP which we have let run out of print because it was really old. Then we got a different bass player, Sammy, who we have now, and then we recorded another EP which we let run out as well. We were like, "Ah, limited pressing." Dave? You want to jump in or should I keep going?
Dave: Keep going, you're doing good.
Arzu: Okay, so we had those two little CD EPs, like six songs, four songs, and then we started talking to Hopeless and we wanted to put out something to go on tour so we put out a little 7" - it's "Sidewalk," the song you were talking about with the handclaps, but it has an electronic drum on it. It's the same song but it's a different recording.
The alternate version.
Arzu: The alternate version, yeah, so then we had that and we're on some comp or something but that's about it.
So "Charm City" is the first album.
Arzu: Yeah, definitely.
And it's going to stay in print for a while, right?
Arzu: Yeah, if we have anything to say about it.
Okay. So it won't be some limited collector's pressing.
Arzu: No, no, no. We put out everything else by ourselves so we just wanted to keep moving forward and not repressing our old stuff. We were kind of sick of some of the old stuff.
So how did you come up with the name? Is it a reference to Hubert Selby, Jr.?
Dave: No, we didn't know there was a guy named Selby. There was a Mark Selby.
Arzu: Wow, I didn't know that.
Dave: Yeah. It was like our street that we live on, Selby, and then Tigers were something I heard on the radio, like the army in Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers, so I thought they were talking about a sports team for five minutes and then I figured out it was a war, but it sounded like a game.
So something like the Detroit Tigers.
Dave: I thought they were talking about some cricket team or some team from somewhere. They kept saying routing and they were winning and it was an uneven match and stuff like that.
Arzu: And every sports team is the Tigers and we kind of like that too, even though we aren't really into sports.
So the band name actually came from a combination of the street you live on and a revolutionary group in Sri Lanka.
Dave: Pretty much.
Arzu: Pretty much, yeah.
So how does that apply to Minneapolis?
Arzu: Well, it's actually St. Paul that we live in and Selby is a street in St. Paul so people who live in St. Paul are really excited. A lot of our friends who live there and have total St. Paul pride are like, "Yeah, Selby!" Selby is just a really cool street in St. Paul and that's all it has to do with Minneapolis/St. Paul.
So what is Charm City?
Arzu: Well, Charm City is Baltimore, actually, but I guess they don't really call it that anymore so we're trying to reclaim it for St. Paul but it's actually a total homage to John Waters because we were looking for all these record names and we couldn't agree on anything and then I saw John Waters on Conan O'Brien or something, I love John Waters so much and we all like his movies a lot, and I was looking through my John Waters book and there was this big billboard that said "Welcome to Charm City!" I just really liked the name and I asked the guys what they thought and they liked it. It's just about John Waters, actually.
So has John Waters influenced the band in any way?
Dave: Dave's mustache.
Arzu: Dave's mustache, yeah. He has a pencil thin mustache and I always wear big beehive wigs. We don't talk about him in songs or anything.
So what is the Selby Tiger way?
Arzu: Oh, that's your lyric.
Dave: I don't know. I just heard a lot of old songs where people name drop themselves so I thought it would be funny to name drop ourselves in a song.
So it's not a way to walk or some sort of revolutionary youth movement.
Dave: It's everything. It's all encompassing. It's the way. It's the path. The Selby path.
So how does the songwriting break down?
Arzu: In the practice space, everybody will kind of bring in different songs or different parts and then we work on it from there. Dave writes his songs kind of different because he's the drummer but he plays guitar too at home, so sometimes he'll bring in a guitar part. He writes a lot of the songs too, so we all write, really.
[At this point, we moved the interview due to loud music at the back bar. We stepped outside where Nate and Sammy joined us - only to have the loud music replaced by jet planes on final approach to Lindbergh Field ...]
So Nate, you play guitar.
Nate: I do.
[Plane passes overhead]
Arzu: Woo hoo!
If it's not one thing, it's another. Now Sammy, you play bass, right?
Sammy: I do.
So we were talking about how you write songs; whether you go into rehearsal with something written, whether you jam it out, whether you do parts.
Nate: Kind of all three.
Arzu: We don't ever write stuff in the studio, we don't have the money to do that, but yeah, sometimes we bring in a completed song or a part and then we kind of, I hate the word jam, but we all kind of work on it. Please don't say jam. Work, please.
Sammy: Jamz with a z.
So one of the things that really grabbed me about the music is that seems to be influenced by older punk. You're doing straight-forward three-chord guitar parts and I really like the paradiddles that you use on some of the songs. How did you settle on the sound?
Nate: I think it's just what came out of us. There wasn't a ton of thought about it. I don't know. I think that period of music is all pretty influential to us.
Nate: Maybe that's where we all come together musically. Does that make sense?
Arzu: Yeah. It's just fun.
Sammy: Yeah, it's like a confluence.
Nate: That's a good word.
Arzu: We just like to be fun and dance.
So you aren't a very serious band.
Arzu: Well, I don't know. I wouldn't say that. There are some people who say we don't have anything to say but a lot of Dave's lyrics are serious. I don't mean to say that yours and mine aren't. Mine kind of sometimes are. They're about my good friends or different things. I don't have total fluff songs, if that's what you mean by serious.
Sammy: Serious implies a lack of humor and I don't think you can discuss issues of gravity without having elements of humor. I think if you try and mix those, you often get branded as not being serious. I think it's important to not take things seriously.
Right, comedy is tragedy plus time.
Nate: There you go.
Dave: I love sarcasm too, like the old school stuff had sarcasm. People could laugh at themselves.
Like old Dead Kennedys.
Dave: Yeah, yeah, totally.
So does that explain "Droid" and "A Robot's Perspective"?
Arzu: Yeah. All the robot songs have a common theme, obviously robots, but it's more just about conformity. It's kind of what you want to interpret from it. Some people thought I was singing about a boy. No, it's not about a boy.
So you do have a message to your songs.
Arzu: Yeah, yeah.
Nate: We don't necessarily even write a message into it that's specific. I think a lot of what we write is open to interpretation maybe, and maybe that's intentional in some ways. We aren't trying to be overly political. Our songs aren't necessarily directly political, but there are elements ...
Sammy: It's not directly political, it just happens.
Sammy: I mean, politics are inherently the way that people interact with one another. That's what life is about.
So what you're saying, if I understand you correctly, is that you don't write songs that are so narrowly defined that people can't draw their own meanings.
Nate: Exactly. Or specific, like they have the same Politics with a capital P. Songs that are maybe related to a specific incident politically.
Sammy: Well, you can talk about "Sidewalk."
Dave: Yeah, that's about a highway they ran through a park, this really old park, but I like it because it can be about a lot of other things, like everyone's street and the stuff that goes on and being forced to move but it's about one specific road.
So there's specific intent behind it, but the meanings are generalized enough so that anyone forced out by, in that case, eminent domain can identify with it.
Dave: Right. I could name the highway in the song, but then it pins it down instead of letting it apply to everything. It's like putting a date in a song. It locks it to a time.
So it doesn't sound like you'll be writing a song about, say, Jesse Ventura doing XFL announcing.
Sammy: No, but I'm sure that Jesse Ventura, whether it's during his XFL announcing or not, affects us in Minnesota in ways that I'm sure it rings into our songs.
Right. So besides "Sidewalk," are there any other political songs that the band has written?
Nate: I don't know.
Dave: Not political, because it's more social stuff.
It seems your songs are fairly personal in the sense that they seem to be about how you were affected by a situation or how you think about something. It's not necessarily a specific thing, but more like the general idea of working a 9-to-5 job or something along those lines.
Nate: Yeah. Well, some of that can still carry a social or moral - or whatever you want to call it - aspect related to someone's personal experience but they're kind of intertwined in some ways.
Sammy: I can only speak for the only song I ever wrote any lyrics for, and that's "Geometry Is A Lie" which is just about the fundamental displacing of the idea of better living through science, that science is somehow infallible and math is somehow infallible. In reality, I think we need a hard look at everything.
Especially with human cloning coming down the pike. We've already seen where science has led us over the past 100 years with neutron and hydrogen bombs and other instruments of mass destruction and now science wants to clone people.
Sammy: Yeah. I just think that, in general, we aren't taught to think critically and to analyze and question even something as basic as two 45 degree angles adding up to a 90 degree angle. Instead, it's the proof idea which doesn't make any sense.
So you aren't a big fan of corollaries or theorems.
Sammy: Yeah, I am, I just think that everything has largely a subjective meaning and I don't even necessarily think that things in a completely physical realm are totally defined. What something is to one person may be completely different to another and that perspective, in many cases, can be just as relevant as the object itself.
So how does "Cutting School" fit into this? Was it just about being bored with school and ditching or was there something more to it?
Nate: Yeah, I think it was more of a lighthearted song. It was pretty much a direct personal experience. It's about how, in a similar way, being in that structure at that young of an age can be a really hard thing. That's not too heavy of a song as far as that goes. It was more of a personal experience that I had.
Now, tell me a little bit about the stage show if you could. I've heard that Sammy wears powder blue leisure suits, orange scarves and the like, and I'm not sure if that only pertains to Sammy or if all of you take part.
Arzu: Well, you basically just described Sammy. I have the wigs, Nate wears the suit. We use polyester leisure suits too. I usually wear a lot of glitter. Yes, it's everybody but what you were just describing was mostly Sammy.
So is there a point behind that or is it for fun?
Arzu: It's fun.
Sammy: I think that's the point. When we played in New York, we were lucky enough to play a big place and played a good show, we came in and there was this older sound guy who had been through the New York punk heyday and I felt like he paid us a really high compliment. What he liked about us was the idea that you couldn't take yourself that seriously, that part of the reason you were there was for entertainment's sake and, like part of the creative process, and I think it makes it more fun for all of us, rather than seeing somebody kind of go through the cases.
So you actually put on a show. You don't just show up, load in, play 10 songs and load out.
Sammy: No, I don't think I would ever want to do that.
Arzu: Ever put on a show?
Sammy: No, I mean I don't think I would ever just want to show up and play guitar. I think the only reason that all of us do this and put a lot of aspects of our lives on hold, like personal lives, work and stuff, is because it's fun and I think the reason it's fun for all of us is because we put a lot into it and I would never want to feel like it's a routine. At least for me, that's what drove me out of working a 9-to-5 job, the inability to function within that same structure.
So what's the most rewarding part of being in the band for you?
Nate: I think, for me, it's meeting all kinds of people everywhere. Sometimes it's weird. You can spend a lot of time hanging out with people in your social circle but I've had experiences that are more rewarding just hanging out with somebody for a day and getting to know them within a 24-hour period of being in a town. That's really rewarding, to get to know people all over the country and in some respects all over the world.
Do you think part of that is due to the limited time you have to spend with them?
Nate: I think so. Yeah. But it's also that I think that period is where people affect you the most, the kind of initial interactions you have with people. At least for me. For me, I think that's the most rewarding.
Dave: You get to learn stuff, something new every day that wouldn't come tripping through my apartment or my neighborhood. I'm forced to blow through everywhere and see things I wouldn't see and have to deal with situations that I would never have to deal with. Then I get to play drums every day and see different drummers and learn things from them. I learn more from watching someone for a half hour than playing at home alone.
Do you also find that playing drums is a good way for you to release aggression?
Dave: I'm not that aggressive. I don't have a lot of frustrations.
Arzu: Come on.
Yeah, you seem really pissed off.
Dave: I am so pissed right now.
Arzu: We try to get him really worked up before the show.
Sammy: In the zone.
Give him a pot of coffee, get him spun up.
Sammy: Get a sports psychologist on the phone.
So he can throw strikes again?
How about you, Sammy?
Sammy: I think a lot of it is similar to Dave. It reaffirms, to a certain degree, my faith in people. When I think of traveling, I think of being in airports and every time I'm in an airport, and I think I've even said this to you guys, I come back and I fucking hate Americans. I fucking hate them, but being on tour, what I'm constantly reminded of is that I actually love Americans. I'm constantly astounded by people's generosity and kindness. I don't know what it is about the experiences of touring versus the experiences of traveling that seem to be so fundamentally different, but in the middle of our last tour, we had to cancel 10 days worth of shows. My grandfather was dying and I had to leave and go see him for one last time before he died and that really drove that point home to me. I haven't been able to figure it out and I think about it, I try and figure out what it is that makes it such a different experience.
I think at least part of it is the way people behave in airports. I just came back from Europe and people were so rude and pushy. They were shoving past each other to get on a plane that was going to sit on the runway for two hours.
Nate: Yeah, it's true.
How about you, Arzu?
Arzu: Well, my answer has already been taken. It's a combination of everything that those guys said, but especially the people and getting to go to a new city every day and getting to travel the U.S. and hopefully the world at some point. We're talking about going different places, hopefully overseas, but it's just getting to travel around with three of my best friends and play guitar every night. It's just fun. Each tour just gets better and better and now when we look out, there is someone singing the lyrics and we're like, "Wow! There's actually someone that knows some of the songs!" Each thing gets cooler and better.
Here's something I hadn't thought about until you mentioned the stage show. How much do design and presentation figure into this? You dress up for the shows, the album has a really cool color scheme and layout. Do you think about this stuff when you're putting it all together?
Nate: I think we did. We talked about a concept or an era of records we liked and a feel to the records that we really liked and basically relayed that to our friend Dan Sinker who does Punk Planet and he did the layout and design for it and just kind of interpreted that in a way that made all of us really happy. Our friend Tad took some amazing photos for it, but as far as the final product, I don't feel like I can claim responsibility.
Sammy: I think we're all capable thinkers so in that sense, everything from the songs we write to why you have these shoes on and why you bought those drums has elements of aesthetics.
I'm not sure if this is true or not, but I had heard that "Charm City" was supposed to be a concept album.
Sammy: False rumor.
Okay. When I hear things like that, I like to clear them up.
Sammy: I'm going to have think about that. I saw a person who wrote all the lyrics for a band have the realization about two-thirds of the way through recording the record, because I was recording it, that he had written a concept album, that he had done this. He was finishing lyrics for one unfinished song and realized he had written a concept album so it would just be curious if, in some way, you could link all the songs together to make it a concept record.
So you're a recording engineer?
What do you for work?
Nate: I work at a really nerdy guitar store, Rich's Guitar Store.
Arzu: It's not nerdy. It's really nice.
Dave: I temp. Anywhere.
Arzu: I work for a catering company at weddings and stuff and then I'm a karaoke hostess.
So I can understand how Nate and Sammy's jobs fit in. Do you think that catering and temping fit into any of the songs?
Dave: Oh, temping fucking rules my lyrics. I kind of like it because it's so mindless and I have a lot of time to write, but if I was doing something like they were doing, I would have no time to write lyrics at work or something like that. Plus I get a lot of subject matter from people that I would never deal with ever.
You've seen them in their natural environment.
Dave: Every single one of them is jealous of what we're doing. Every single one. They all want to be gone from what they're doing.
Sammy: It would be pretty interesting to see how much they would be envious if they actually got into it.
Right, showers every three days and such.
Sammy: Right. My best friend from high school works for CNNsi and he was freaked out about the fact that we didn't know where we were going to be staying that night. "You guys don't know?" "No, we don't." It really depends on a lot of factors and at this point it just seems routine to accept that certain aspects of the structure will be gone.
The chaos is in effect.
Sammy: Yeah. It almost seems routine to me.
Arzu: Yeah. When we travel in summer it can be a little scarier because if everything falls apart, like if no one shows up, none of your friends or whatever, sometimes the hotels are full too, but we don't really tour in the summer any more because that's when a lot of the bigger tours are going on so then there's never a problem finding a hotel if everything falls apart. It's not that scary. We used to be able to sleep in the van but now we don't have it set up quite as well.
So does catering figure into your lyrics at all?
Arzu: It hasn't yet but it's more just the thought that, as I'm serving all these dinners, I'm not going to be doing this for the rest of my life. It's inspires me to work hard at this. If that supports me being able to do this, then that's cool, but I don't want to do that for a living. I don't particularly enjoy it.
So it motivates you.
Arzu: Yes, but I haven't written a song about serving dinners.
What's the worst thing that ever happened to you on the road?
Arzu: Probably Santa Cruz. Maybe not, but our van got broken into last time we were there.
Sammy: But in some ways, that doesn't seem like the worst thing because I feel like learned some really important stuff. Yeah, it sucked. What was really weird is that it was a total junkie smash, they stole all our personal CDs, Dave's keyboard, Dave's little Walkman, my underwear, my duffel bag and this really expensive pair of earplugs that I had, but on the way back, Dave was able to thrift his Casio SK-1 for about $30.
Dave: Yeah, I saved $5.
Sammy: Yeah. He was able to get his keyboard. I mean, I lost every CD that I own but it could have been so much worse. Initially, I was like, "Oh fuck, I was going to sleep in the van" and then we saw this crowbar and I was like, "You know what? If I had slept in the van, we might have our CDs but I might have a really big hole in my head." I don't know. It could have been so much worse.
Arzu: Yeah, but that's the first thing that came to my mind. Otherwise, sometimes we'll play with a band that's kind of offensive or something and we'll be like, "Ewwww."
Nate: I think we've been pretty fortunate as far as experiences go. It's mostly positive.
So what keeps you doing this?
Nate: I don't know. I guess when that question is asked, it's probably going to be at the point when we're done. I think it's something we all focus a lot of energy on, but we don't sit around analyzing exactly why we're writing certain kinds of songs. We like going on tour because we like being on tour. It's a fun way to live. I love seeing people every day, I love playing music every day. We can do it and actually do it in a way that we aren't going into horrible debt, as much as we were the first tour we were on. It gets better each time so that's partially why it's attractive, I think.
Which tour is this?
Arzu: I think it's the 11th, actually. It depends on how you look at it. If it's every time we go home, then it's about 11.
Sammy: That's a lot. We bought the van in March, either the 17th or the 22nd, of the year 2000. It had 16,000 miles on it. It now has 71,000 miles on it. When it's home, I don't really drive it so those are all tour miles.
And it's about 3,000 miles across the U.S.
Is there anything else you'd like to add or that I left out?
Nate: Thanks for doing the interview.