Tiger Tooth is a bit of a unique project. A collaboration between musicians and a visual artist, former nightlife workers and impresarios, Johnny Siera, Will Broussard, and Sofia Szamosi, Tiger Tooth recently released their first album and series of videos, including their latest video for the song “Polka Dot”, which we’re excited to be premiering here today at Greenpointers.
Recently I visited these guys at Johnny and Sofia’s colorful one bedroom apartment and the first question I wanted to ask them was if they considered themselves to be a band?
“A band of artists,” Will said, and we all laughed.
“We make electronic music,” Johnny added. “But first and foremost we’re friends who came together who have their own little specific talents so in that way it’s more of an art project than a band? I mean it’s not that formulaic.”
Sitting in their living room, I got the scoop on how they all met and came together, what Johnny called “no pressure beginnings.” Johnny and Will were playing together in the seminal Baltimore/Brooklyn punk band The Death Set and Sofia was making visual art.
“Johnny and I met at a house party,” Sofia says. “My friend was house sitting and threw this weird party that Johnny came to and I read his tarot. And we both have these tiger tattoos and gold teeth and so we very quickly were like “Tiger Tooth! Tiger Tooth!” but it was more of a war cry, it was not a band or anything. It was just something we would say a lot. But with the hopes that there would be some kind of creative collaboration and over the next several years that crystalized into actually something.”
Since then, Johnny and Sofia have married, and continued their artistic collaborations. Sofia and Johnny work with the visuals while Will and Johnny helm the audio production of Tiger Tooth. And it all began at their apartment “one messy night.”
“About three years ago,” Johnny says, “it was five o’clock in the morning, Sofia is in a nightgown with a microphone attached to a broomstick and we wrote a song. And then we left if for a year. And when we came back to it, as soon as we came back, it was like ‘oh, fuck it, let’s do this.’ And we vomited out an album. As in, we vomited for a year every weekend.”
“The project came together, slowly,” says Will. “And all of a sudden we had a bunch of tunes and then it became something. First it was just a couple of songs, then it was an EP, then a full album.”
For Johnny, coming off of touring for years and years with The Death Set, the Tiger Tooth project and album felt like something completely different. “It’s a breath of fresh air to make something for the sake of making something,” Johnny says. “And I know that sounds corny. But to make something with no end goal, no end place, wherever it lands is totally fine… that was an attitude I’ve never had before. I’m really proud of the record. I think the record is a good document of an awesome, yet twisted time.”
It all started when Johnny and Will decided to book a few graveyard shifts at The Submarine studio, which is Dan Walker from The Death Set’s studio at New York Studio Factory in Bushwick. Dan Walker also mixed and mastered the record.
“So it’s like a family affair,” says Johnny of Dan’s involvement in the record. “It was kind of like pooling everyone’s talents, all my close friends’ talents, making something the best we could possibly make it.
“It’s a pool party,” Sofia says.
After completing about a dozen songs, Tiger Tooth thought what they had was maybe a little too weird and decided to try and add a few “dance songs” to the album.
“We wanted to write a house and techno record but we wrote a fuckin’ weird avant garde record and then added a few house and techno tracks at the end,” Johnny says.
“In hindsight,” Johnny says. “The record is pretty dark.”
“It sounds like nocturnal people made it,” Sofia says.
“Two dudes in a punk band and a visual artist who made a house and techno record,” Johnny says, laughing.
“It just kinda happened,” Will adds. “And then we had the music and thought, let’s make some videos.”
“Every video that we’ve made has been a bolt of inspiration and followed through on,” Sofia says. “The dancing live mix video? We couldn’t have planned that at all. It was just a long period of inspiration coming together.”
“Yeah, a bolt of inspiration followed by years of dreary work,” says Johnny, once again getting everyone laughing.
The album, to me, the entire project really, feels very cohesive and focused, as if someone had preplanned a strategy and then executed that strategy with very precise tactics. Tiger Tooth feels very polished, refined.
“Personally, I think the album is a clusterfuck” Johnny says. “But most responses have been ‘it’s cohesive’ which was really surprising. But I think the visuals help with that. It finishes the circle in a way.”
“If the whole project feels really consistent and focused,” Will adds, “It comes from everyone involved just being comfortable and being themselves.”
At the time, Johnny had joined Sofia in a practice where they would wake up in the morning and write three pages. “I think Tiger Tooth was birthed around that time,” Johnny says. “And we followed the whole project through, which was literally just whatever comes up, no thinking. I guess the whole idea of writing the three pages is to get whatever’s in your mind out so there’s no garbage, no daily drawl going on in your head.
“I wake up I write for an hour everyday,” Sofia says. “I will not not do that. Prioritizing… My creative life is my spiritual life and is my self care so it’s all connected. I just make a huge amount of time for it.”
“It helps when you’re not drinking and doing drugs,” says Johnny.
“None of this would’ve happened if we weren’t sober,” says Sofia.
Having all worked at the former Southside club The Flat, and Sofia having worked at Verboten since the club first opened, they each have a very keen understanding of the high demands and perhaps toxic lifestyle that comes with working in nightlife. And it seems that after leaving that world behind, and subsequently getting sober, they’ve each been able to hone their artistic practices and collaborate to produce a substantial body of work that is Tiger Tooth.
“I think working in nightlife is cool for a bit and then it’s just not,” Johnny says. “It get’s old. We’re all super burnt out on working in nightlight. The Flat was a legendary, infamous, nefarious place that self-imploded and left behind a pile of police tickets, ashes, and cocaine bags. I’m super grateful for being part of The Flat and I think it was really awesome. And in hindsight all the parties and promoters were just insane. It was an insane scene, when you’re cramming 300 people over the course of the night into a 70-person bar? It’s gonna get shut down. At the time I was probably screaming about The State and why they’re doing this to us when I have to go to court but now I know why I was in court. I was throwing insane parties. The Flat shut down because it was too crazy.”
“I’ve seen 3,000 shows in the course of working there,” Will says. “And I just knew I wanted to be on that side of the interaction, rather than serving. it was almost like every week my creative fire was fueled. No matter how good or bad the performance is, they’re performing now and I’m not.”
“Any night spot that’s lasting more than two years, I tip my hat,” Johnny says. “Just personally being in court all the time, dealing with hundreds of drunk people every night, and police harassment, straight up police harassment.”
“On just the most basic level,” Sofia says. “Sleep is so important. When you miss just a little bit of sleep, your body begins breaking down and we live in the city that doesn’t sleep. That side of the world is sick. I’m not trying to be dark, it’s just based only on the fact that you’re not sleeping. You’re sickly and you’re dealing with a bunch of sickly people and you have to compensate for this sickness by being high or drinking too much coffee or whatever. It’s just taxing on your body in such a profound way you become jaded.”
“All three of us got pretty dark,” Johnny says. “To the point where we had to make changes. And being creatively active ran parallel with making the changes that we had to make.
“Johnny and I were really just bottomed out,” Sofia says “Deeply deeply frustrated with the lack of creative outpouring, especially Johnny. He was so frustrated not to be making things, and I felt like I was not even aware.”
“It’s this weird thing when you’re partying all the time,” Will says. You’re constantly in this up and down and it’s really easy to feel like you’re doing something. But when you turn your attention and energy into a more disciplined fashion and that whole other area of your life is muted, for me at least, I suddenly wanted to create a bunch of stuff and I had the energy and focus to finish it.”
Using the example of that one messy night years ago when they wrote one song, Sofia says, “I was in a state of creative constipation. Maybe we could eek out this one song, this one thing, but then after getting sober it was like turning on a faucet.”
“I was always scared of doing something I didn’t know I could do well,” Johnny says. “I had no confidence that I could write this record at all. And I think getting fucked up all the time, ya know, was just coming out of a place of living in that fear, knowing that I could do some things but I wasn’t willing to try to do other things. So the whole album was, like, let’s do this, let’s throw ourselves in the mix and be willing to fuck up and be willing to make something bad.”
“It’s more important to have stuff out there,” Will says. “You’re either stoked or uncomfortable with it, but it’s out there. And that’s better for artists.
“Better out than in,” Sofia says.
“Only a fool holds in a fart,” Johnny says.
Since leaving nightlife, Sofia has returned to school as a full-time student at NYU’s Gallatin program. And Johnny has transitioned into working in video and media, collaborating with fellow Aussies at Convicts.
And with all the personal changes Johnny, Will, and Sofia have gone through in recent years, they are also considering the changes in the neighborhood.
“Look, it’s like a frat house on the weekends but I mean…” Johnny says. “I lived in West Baltimore and North Philly before New York, so I will take a frat house over getting a knife pulled on me. That conversation is very important, but I’m glad that I can walk my dog down the street. We go to Bliss, I walk my dog in the park… we’re pretty chill.”
“We just like to walk” Sofia says. “We do these intense walk exploration days. That’s kind of our main activity. We just walk in any direction and see where we end up.”
“We still find something new all the time,” Johnny says.
But at the same time, the new aspects of the neighborhood have gotten them thinking about what’s next.
“I’ve probably been here a decade or so and this year has been the first time I’ve fantasized about leaving,” Johnny says. Maybe taking Tiger Tooth out for an extensive road trip.
But for now, they’re focused on their work and playing gigs, mostly at underground Brooklyn raves like one earlier this month held at an abandoned bank in Bed-Stuy. Listen to their live set here.
“In New York, you just fucking hustle,” Johnny says. “It’s the same old New York story, everyone just hustles like fuck, really. Everyone works and makes art. Like, why else do you come here? What’re you doing here if your’e not willing to work your ass off and make art? Or party full time. Either one of those! I wish I could be the person who parties all the time and makes art, I wish that was me but that’s not me.It’s just not in my constitution.”
“Not in my constellation,” Sofia says.
“I don’t have the budget for Keith Richards blood transfusions,” Johnny says.
To hear more music and watch more videos, visit TigerToothMusic.com