The Republic Tigers Biography
"It's a sound that's half organic and half synthetic, kind of like how all our lives are now," says singer/multi-instrumentalist Kenn Jankowski. "It's the common theme throughout all of the songs and we tried to approach it audibly as well."
A pastor's son, Jankowski grew up all over the US, ultimately winding up in the Springfield suburb of Republic, Missouri. In 1999, he moved to Kansas City where he began playing guitar in The People, a rock outfit later to become known as The Golden Republic. Around the same time, he became friendly with another local musician, Adam McGill, then playing in a local band. The two shared a common interest in modern pop and avant-garde electronica, subgenres that didn't necessarily fit the modus operandi of their full-time bands.
When the Golden Republic split in early 2006, Jankowski immediately reached out to McGill. Demos were exchanged, common bonds reaffirmed and The Republic Tigers were born.
"'The Republic Tiger' was my high-school mascot," Jankowski says of the moniker, "and the name always rang to me in a nice way. I don't like band names very much and I don't like thinking about them either, so I just took something that I knew was timeless to me, and big enough that we could color it with our music and create its meaning with our songs."
The line-up quickly expanded over the following months, with guitarist/pianist Ryan Pinkston, bassist Marc Pepperman, and drummer Justin Tricomi each bringing a new color to the paintbox. "It was what we'd all always dreamed of," Jankowski says, "which was to work with other people kind of like us."
"Everybody in the band is a multi-instrumentalist," explains McGill, "so when someone brings a demo to the table it's usually a close-to-complete song. The stuff that's missing is where the other members contribute. We just pass things back and forth until we're all happy with it."
Over the next year, The Republic Tigers recorded a series of demos, with each member working individually on home-recordings which were then enmeshed into a single unified whole. The goal from the start was to incorporate elements of indie, electronica, pop, and even classical music into something distinctive and idiosyncratically their own. Jankowski was determined to bring "a different approach to each song. I wanted each song to be a story in its own world, like a little book."
A self-released EP emerged in late 2007, but The Republic Tigers' intent was always geared towards the longform and the album more than fulfills their lofty aspirations. From the rapid-fire "Golden Sand" to the swirling chorale of "Contortionists," the Keep Color album is ambitious, imaginative, and utterly unforgettable – all ringing guitars, sweeping orchestrations, and immense marching beats.
The elaborate sound belies the fact that the band continued to record the bulk of the material in the comfort of their own residences, though additional tracking was done at KC's TK Studios, as well as at Run Riot Recordings, where Tricomi works as an engineer. Mixing for the album was done at The Ballroom in Hollywood, CA with engineer Mark Needham (The Killers, Louis XIV, We Are Scientists). Still, the album remains an essentially homespun affair, with Jankowski going so far as to record the majority of his vocals in his bedroom.
"If you listen carefully," he suggests, "you might hear crickets and traffic and cop cars, creaking of the floors and drunk roommates running into the walls."
The Republic Tigers' naturalistic approach includes the prodigious use of acoustic guitars, accordion, trumpet, and trombone, though such old school instrumentation is countered by seemingly infinite waves of blissed-out synths, programmed strings and multi-tracked harmonies. The band revel in blurring the boundaries between the authentic and the ersatz, with the contrast and combination adding up to an ingenious, indefinable sound all its own.
That aural ambiguity is matched by the album's inspired lyrical content, with tracks like "Feelin' The Future" or the incendiary "Give Arm To Its Socket" offering a veritable moebius-strip of textual undertones. Jankowski's "stories" span the political to the personal, as finely etched character studies give way to frank introspection.
The band is well aware of how their variety of muso craftsmanship can lose its way when taken out of the studio confines. They began playing out mere months after getting together, taking great care to translate the music's elaborate energy to fit the constraints of live performance.
"We have to sift through everything to find what's essential to the vibe," McGill says. "If there are 12 keyboard tracks in a song, you can't really play that many parts in a live setting. You only have a certain number of fingers and let's face it, keyboards just aren't that interesting to watch people play live. So we'll pull the essential tracks and play our live instrumentation along with them."
With the completion of Keep Color, the band has already begun setting their sights forward, looking into new ways of constructing and expanding their beguiling brand of widescreen bedroom symphonies.
"It already feels like more orchestral things will work their way into the mix," McGill notes, "while maintaining that pop songwriting sensibility at the core. That's what we all love. We're not ashamed to say we love pop music; it's not something to be embarrassed of."
"It's growing and it's changing," Jankowski says. "We've been experimenting with writing all together, even occasionally jamming some things. We just want to try as many things as we can think of."