Old Tiger is ostensibly an overnight success—regionally speaking. They headlined their first show at Brick by Brick in San Diego, and a keen ear in the crowd, belonging to a KPBS producer, singled the group out. From that small bit of serendipity, the band was offered a 30-minute set on “These Days,” a radio show that not only gave them the chance to perform and discuss their music, but also provided a platform through which they could be discovered by potential fans. But like every band whose rise to notoriety appears instantaneous, Old Tiger had to put in the work. Nearly four months of writing, recording and figuring out their dynamic meant that the San Diego trio was built, as the name of their first venue suggests, brick by brick.
Though they now call San Diego home, none of the members of Old Tiger—Matt Phillips, Eric Boone and Dustin Lothspeich—are Southern California natives. They hail from different corners of the country, and made their way to the port city at different times and for different reasons. Boone, born in Tennessee, even said, only half-joking, that he moved to San Diego “for the weather, of course.” But despite their dissimilar backgrounds, on the coast they came together for decidedly musical purposes.
The history of their influences unfolds in much the same fashion as their respective immigration to Southern California. Phillips enjoys ’30s and ’40s big band. Boone nods along to hip-hop (old-school and new). Lothspeich is somewhat of a soul man. But, as a band, they are able to use their divergent areas of expertise to produce a singular sound together. The full tone they are able to accomplish—difficult for a three-piece outfit—is made possible by the heterogeneity of their musical personalities. But this doesn’t mean that the members don’t have common ground; they all share a fierce love for Stax Records and Motown, among other things.
The synthesis Old Tiger achieves can be traced back to their decision to set limitations on band growth. By choosing to keep the group at three members, the band, that is playing a free show at The Press in Claremont on Friday, constructed a complicated sound originating from multiple influences without ever sounding muddled or overwrought. Phillips believes that with three members “it is easy to communicate with each other,” and that the “tight” sound that can result from such restriction can be “amazing.” Boone, speaking from a practical standpoint, said that, quite simply, “it’s fewer egos to maintain and keep happy.”
But performing within these self-imposed limits leaves little room for mistakes, especially live. “I have to focus on what I’m playing, which, for me, makes it hard to do things like sing backup vocals,” Phillips explained, adding that to make matters worse, vocal lines and bass lines tend to be “quite opposite.”
The trio, which is also playing two upcoming benefits for the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation (one at Winestyles in Claremont on Saturday and the other on March 19 at Sierra La Verne Country Club), remains hopeful for their future. They would like to one day be a national success, but for now are content just to be able to play their music for receptive local audiences.
“Cover[ing] the cost of touring is not easy or cheap, so you have to be in it to have fun too,” Phillips said. “I think Old Tiger could become a touring band one day, but we all have to hold down jobs to live, too.”
Old Tiger at The Press Restaurant, 129 Harvard Ave., Claremont, (909) 625-4808; www.thepressrestaurant.com, oldtigermusic.com. Fri, March 11. 10PM. Free.