Tiger Lillies make most of their macabre topics, unusual sounds
NEW YORK - By their own admission, the musical trio The Tiger Lillies are a "marketing man's nightmare." from Winston-Salem Journal - Jan 5, 2006
NEW YORK - By their own admission, the musical trio The Tiger Lillies are a "marketing man's nightmare."
The hulking lead singer, Martyn Jacques, plays the accordion, ukulele
and piano and sings in a falsetto voice that belies his physical size.
The drummer, Adrian Huge, plays a child's drum kit, and the bassist,
Adrian Stout, sometimes uses a saw. Oh, and their songs depict
prostitution, crucifixion, murder and other depravity.
"Maybe I just lack subtlety," said Jacques, who writes all the lyrics
and is quite polite and soft-spoken in person. "I just couldn't write a
whole album of John Denver songs about birds and prairies and beautiful
senoritas and all that. I couldn't actually write it. For me, it's a
question of keeping myself interested and actually writing about
Best known in the U.S. for appearing in the off-Broadway production of
Shockheaded Peter - a collection of cautionary children's tales in
which most of the kids meet with nefarious ends - the Tiger Lillies
have been described as "Satanic folk" and would almost certainly draw
hordes of protesters if they were more well known.
However, the Tiger Lillies' CDs are available almost exclusively
through their Web site (www.tigerlillies.com) or at the 200-250 shows
they play around the world each year.
"That's sort of the main triumph of the band," Stout said, "that we make a living and continue to do it."
On stage, the Tiger Lillies cut a memorable swath. Jacques, with a long
ponytail that reaches down his back and his face painted white, is an
almost ethereal figure, alternating his singular voice between whispers
Huge, a burly man with black-rimmed glasses and a porkpie hat, comes
across as a percussion savant using objects as diverse as baby dolls,
plastic hammers and rubber chickens as aural objects. This guy's been
described as "James Joyce on drums" by David Byrne, the former lead
singer of Talking Heads. The lanky Stout almost seems to be the
straight man in the group, casting a somewhat bemused eye at the antics
of his bandmates.
The band formed about 16 years ago after Jacques, then a 30-year-old
who had spent a significant amount of time living above a brothel in
the Soho section of London, first acquired an accordion. Influenced by
works such as Three Penny Opera and gypsy music, he began to experiment
with different sounds.
"I just found that singing with a high voice and playing the accordion
was an interesting and unusual combination, which I didn't really think
anyone had ever done before," he said. "Probably loads of people had
done it before."
"And died of starvation," Stout added dryly.
In its earliest incarnation, the band had most of its gigs in small
"folk cellars." Soon, it moved to playing in bars - and competing for
the attention of the not-always-interested patrons.
"You've got lots of people, they're all drunk, they're all shouting and
you're performing through bad PAs," Jacques said. "So, the music
actually evolved through performing in the bars and it became much more
raucous and aggressive to compete with all these people shouting."
While far from a commercial smash - Huge doesn't think the band would
be financially feasible if there were four members - the Tiger Lillies
have managed to make a living by touring almost constantly and
collaborating in works such as Shockheaded Peter. The band has also
appeared in another experimental piece called The Little Match Girl,
based on a tale by Hans Christian Andersen, and is also involved in a
piece inspired by the macabre stories of H.P. Lovecraft.
For the people who know the Tiger Lillies only from their stint
off-Broadway - Jacques won an Olivier Award, the British equivalent of
a Tony, for his performance in London - attending one of the band's
concerts can be a jolting experience.
The subject matter can include everything from drunken sailors and the
prostitutes who service them to a guy who has fun kicking babies "or
maybe an old lady" down stairs. A recent concert in Brooklyn included a
jaunty song with the chorus "cancer, it's so good for you." One of
their albums, Farmyard Filth, is about bestiality.
"I like to take people up and down. Make them laugh, make them feel
sad, disgusted, scared, you know, all sorts of stuff," Jacques said.
"Shocking people is actually getting a reaction out of people, and
that's actually something that I want to do. It's not just that I want
to shock them, but it's one of the range of emotions and responses that
And it seems to resonate with a loyal audience. During the Brooklyn
concert, Jacques approached the microphone near the end of the
performance and inquired in a menacing whisper if there were any
requests. Audience members began shouting out song names, with the most
prominent being "Banging in the Nails," sung from the perspective of
one of Christ's unrepentant crucifiers.
Blasphemous? The Tiger Lillies wouldn't argue otherwise.
"We're all messed up but some of them (the audience members) actually
know it and they actually understand and get what Martyn's singing
about," Huge said. "They are people that actually get it and there's
not much to get in a lot of other music. We'll have people that come up
to us and say 'You're the only band I've ever heard that understands
me."' Jacques quickly adds with a laugh, "They usually twitch when they