“I fear being too specific and dread coming off as a showoff. Does that make sense?” Meet Rasmus Kellerman. This is the guy behind Tiger Lou. It’s a band; for all intents and purposes, he’s the band. He writes the songs, plays and produces them. For now.
Kellerman will tell you not to look too close at “just an indie band, like many other indie bands, with a big heart.” But not listening closely to Tiger Lou would be to sell it short. The Loyal, the band’s second album, is on the surface, just music. A bunch of songs written by some guy from Oxelösund, Sweden. Only these tunes breathe-they’re dynamic, alive. Straight from the heart of some guy now living in Stockholm. And he wouldn’t say the band had heart if, to some extent, he wanted you to know the music was sincere.
Eeeewwww. Sounds mushy. Fake. How many times have you heard the word sincere-or genuine-in a bio? That’s the go-to adjective for the self-contained acts: singer-songwriters, one-man bands. These words, this bio-speak, is as trite and cheap as “I love you” at last call. So here’s the music. Thirteen atmospheric, incorporeal (but alive) tracks that, if you put them under a microscope, would reveal a molecular pattern (and movement) identical to Kellerman’s. Maybe that’s why he’d like you to look plainly upon his work: he’s already seen himself at such a high magnification-a potentially painful zoom into who and what he is, and where he came from. Oxelösund, we know is Kellerman’s birthplace. He arrived in the small harbor town on his mother’s birthday, 1980. Life there was “easy peasy Japanese-y. I skateboarded most of the time, not caring for anything besides that.” In 1990 the Kellermans relocated to Nyköping, “a very normal town” of 50,000 residents where Rasmus attended “a normal school.” During this time, Rasmus’ older brother and sister hipped him to Slowdive, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Kraftwerk, My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver, Skinny Puppy. A year later, Rasmus and a friend formed The Womb, releasing a demo tape called Ovulation. “For being the novelty work of one 11- and one 12-year-old, it’s ain’t all that bad,” Kellerman recalls.
In 1994, Kellerman discovered the harsher punk and hardcore sounds of Swedish bands Refused, Randy and Shreadhead. He calls this the biggest musical epiphany of his life. That summer, he stage-dove for the first time, found fanzines and millions of new bands-then started a fanzine of his own, SpinSign. He started booking shows, formed and broke-up numerous bands. Of his prior bands, he says EM is the only one that matters. Later called Music By EM, the band asked Kellerman to be its bassist in 1996. Before the first practice, the vocalist is fired and Kellerman is asked to sing. It worked out; by 1997 Music by EM had a publishing deal with Universal Publishing. The band dropped out of high school, moved to a big house in Stockholm, and worked toward its first record deal (Sony, in 1999) and completed an album (to date unreleased). Kellerman quit music. “I concentrated on love,” he says. “I moved to London to be with my present wife. And I was working shit jobs-bus boy, hair salon receptionist, juice-maker, etc.” During this seemingly idle time, a friend found a live acoustic recording Kellerman made shortly after the break-up. He suggested making a three-song seven-inch, to which Kellerman agreed. He chose the name Tiger Lou from a Jet Li film called Fong Sai Yuk. “The rest, as they say, is history.” Over two years, Tiger Lou and Kellerman’s “main project,” Araki, flowed into each other. “Today, I don’t really differ them,” says Kellerman. The projects’ respective sounds-TL’s neo-folk, Araki’s atmospheric soundscapes-exist within the one band.
The Loyal joins the personal, introspective element of one with the sonically expressive traits of the other, and incorporates the spunk of some of Kellerman’s punk influences, to create songs that are molecularly and musically unique. “The Loyal” pulses insistently, muted acoustic strumming locked in with marching 4/4 drums beneath Kellerman’s subdued but burdened vocals. He questions the merits of sightless loyalty in what might be construed as the voice of young soldiers facing deployment.
The song maintains this tense, hypnotic groove for much of its 5:35 running time-even through the comparatively bright chorus and, as with the sentiments expressed therein, does not resolve to anything but taut, catatonic resignation. The New Order-esque “Patterns” asks us to interpret “the marks on me,” referring perhaps to a palm-reading, where Kellerman wants to know the details and also hopes to revise them. Henceforth, the story finds our hero desiring to know his “Function” in this mortal coil; pledging not to stop searching “Until I’m There.” Henceforth are more promises, some mention of his own blood, and the realization that whatever we’ve found, we’ve brought on ourselves-and what matters is what was there all along. Again, probably too deep an analysis for one who has already done the introspective equivalent of staring into the sun.
We haven’t even mentioned that Tiger Lou played 250 gigs throughout Sweden and Germany in the past three years. And they’ve sold around 50,000 records worldwide between two albums (Is My Head Still On? was released in ten countries in 2004), one EP (Trouble and Desire came out in ’03 and resulted in a month-long U.S. tour) and several singles and seven-inches. There’s also the Swedish Grammy nomination (for Best Video), a Best New Act nod at the Manifest awards (an indie version of the Grammys). Or that The Loyal was produced and mixed by producer/mixer Peter Katis (Interpol, Denali, The Dylan Group, The National).
“Sure, Tiger Lou has done some stuff worth mentioning,” says Kellerman. “But… let’s just concentrate on what it is, and not what we want it to be.” Other than the indie/big heart thing, his list is simple: 1. Tiger Lou is a solo project, 2. Tiger Lou is a four-piece live band. That’s mostly his brain talking. The band with heart says, “I just want to affect people. Hit them in the guts, but make them wanna dance at the same time. I wanna present Tiger Lou as a very personal thing. That’s why I do all my own design work. That’s why I try to respond to all the guestbook entries. To make people feel like I’m there, you know? It’s not just some band, it’s a real person behind it all… a person that is within reach.”
Mathias – Guitar
Pontus – Drums
Erik – Bass
Rasmus – Guitar/Vocals