The Tiger Lillies
These three men, The Tiger Lillies, have created 25 full-length albums since their inception in 1994 including most notably, Shockheaded Peter & Gorey End. Recently, I was able to meet with The Tiger Lillies to discuss their history, current projects with freak shows and fairy tales, and their possible collaboration with Deviant Nation.
Writer:  omniphiliac Feb 22 09

Photographs by Scott Louis:
Upon meeting The Tiger Lillies I immediately felt as though they were apart of my family. Martyn Jacques was the surly uncle who told fantastical and bawdy tales, never really letting on to how much was embellishment. Adrian Huge was the funny uncle, not the “funny” uncle, but the one who was kind-hearted, listened with a smile and would follow up with a quip or a bizarre facial expression out of the blue. Adrian Stout is the intellectually hot cousin that you feel a little morally reprehensible having naughty thoughts about, but you do it anyways. These three men, The Tiger Lillies, have created 25 full-length albums since their inception in 1994 including most notably, Shockheaded Peter & Gorey End. Recently, I was able to meet with The Tiger Lillies to discuss their history, current projects with freak shows and fairy tales, and their possible collaboration with Deviant Nation.

How did you come about choosing the name Tiger Lillies?

Martyn Jacques: I had a picture of tiger lilies on my wall, so when I decided to form our band I just chose “Tiger Lillies.” What’s the city that makes all the cars? The Motor City? Detroit, I played there once. This guy running the club said “My mother was called ‘Tiger Lily,’ she always used to wear tiger skin.”

Adrian Stout: That was a famous punk club, wasn’t it? Iggy Pop used to play there. Wasn’t it called Tiger Lillies?

Jacques: Yeah, it was called Tiger Lillies, that’s right. There was a prostitute in Linz (Austria), well she wasn’t a prostitute she was a kind of a…what she used to do was she used to wear tiger skin and she used to sleep lots with the of the captains of industry, in that she was a secretary and she became quite notorious for being attractive and wearing tiger skin. And then she used to have affairs with all these kind of wealthy men. She became very famous in Linz. I believe her name was Tiger Lily.

Stout: I think it’s one of those words that’s got some sort of ambiguous qualities. Tigers are, you know, quite frightening but lilies are very (gestures to something beautiful) so it’s got this very ambiguous tone to it. So Martyn sings in this high voice, it seems to lend itself quite well. Sometimes people think we’re women. We used to get all the time, “oh, you’re men!” There’s an a capella group called Harvard or Boston Tiger Lillies, they’re a full female a capella group. So it’s got this female quality to it, so people tend to see it as a little bit ambiguous.

Jacques: We like to be a bit ambiguous.

Martyn Jacques

I’m a huge fan of Shockheaded Peter. Can you talk about how you came up with the idea to do a theatrical rendition of Shockheaded Peter and its success?

Jacques: There was a man who came and saw us play doing a childrens’ show called “The Bogey Man” and he liked the show. Well he didn’t like the show actually, he thought we were good in it. So then he had this idea to do another childrens’ book, and he approached us and asked us if we’d be interested in writing for it and originally he wanted us to do one song and he wanted these other people to do other songs. But that proved impossible so in the end he got us to write the music and then he got a very good directorial team and got them involved and so that was it really. That was the basic team, there was The Tiger Lillies, he was the producer, and his directorial team and then it went on from there. It wasn’t really supposed to be a great international hit, it was originally planned to run in West Yorkshire, then come to London for three weeks. The only other plan for it was to do an English tour of about four cities. That was supposed to be it, very much an art production. But it got wonderful reviews and it became a big hit and we traveled all over the world and we had an enormous hit in the West End, in London it got awards, Olivier Awards. So it snowballed into this enormous hit, so I guess that’s why we’re here today and we are quite as successful because of that show really.

Stout: Very much in an unexpected way because it was a devised show with a lot of improvised elements built around the song, and everything kind of worked around the set of songs we wrote. It was one of those shows that combined different elements that haven’t been put together quite that well. A good ensemble cast, great director, good ideas, everything to avoid those flashy modern theatre tactics, we a lot of cardboard, paper, more traditional images like that, fits right into that whole world. The way we play, anyway, fits into that subject matter.

What kind of stories are you attracted to for your songs as inspiration?

Jacques: Things that are a bit more dramatic, dark, or sinister. I’m not interested in writing about love. Well, conventional love really, maybe the love for a sheep. So I’m just interested in writing about unusual characters, situations, and unusual books.

I’m not interested in writing about love. Well, conventional love really, maybe the love for a sheep. So I’m just interested in writing about unusual characters, situations, and unusual books.

What was it about the seven deadly sins that appealed to you as inspiration?

Jacques: Well you know, they’re pretty dark, unpleasant, again it’s all a part of that general thing. If something is that unpleasant, dark, then I’m attracted to it. You know, Hieronymous Bosch, the painter, he’s very dark. Really horrible pictures.

Stout: Was it the triptych of the circular one?

Jacques: The triptych.

Stout: He does hell, heaven…

Jacques: Really horrible stuff.

Stout: People punished for their sins. Basically gluttony and the results of gluttony. Lust! They’re just meaty subjects for us to get on with.

Jacques: Yeah exactly, meaty subjects.

Stout: We definitely deal with the meat more than the flowers. Meat, blood…

Jacques: Bodily fluids, we write a lot about bodily fluids. So yeah, that’s what we’re interested in.

To each of you, which is your favorite of the seven deadly sins?

Adrian Huge: I’m rather partial to a bit of gluttony, myself.

Jacques: Me too, gluttony.

Stout: I don’t know, I quite like lust, that was always fun.

Huge: We’re not talking about our songs, we’re talking about ourselves (laughs).

What kind of emotions do you wish to conjure up with your album “7 Deadly Sins”?

Jacques: Well you know, probably fairly similar to most of them, you want to take people up and down. You want to disgust them, then make them feel uncomfortable, then make them feel sad or moved a little bit. So you just try to create a series of moods, series of different emotions. That’s pretty much what we do, or try to do.

Stout: We like the uncomfortable reaction, you know, where you kind of have jaunty melodies with unpleasant lyrics.

Huge: Everyone seems to know what the seven deadly sins are, but that’s the end of it isn’t it? So its nice to sing songs about the repercussions of it and not in a sort of “Thou Shalt Not”, don’t you think?

Jacques: Yeah, good answer. (All laugh).

Huge: We were interrupted, I had to think about it while I wandered the building looking for you even though you were hiding from me.

You have always been known for amazing stage performances, eclectic collections of performers, puppetry, etc. So what do fans have to expect with the current tour?

Jacques: Well we’re doing a lot of new songs from our two new shows called “Sinderella” which will be performed in London during Christmas at South Bank Center, and another album called “Freak Show,” which will be premiered in Greece in January. So songs from those two sources and on top of that we do old favorites.

Stout: We take requests.

Jacques: Yeah, we take requests. People shout and we do a few of the old songs.

Stout: Yeah, so the “Sinderella” is with the performer Justin Bond, so he’s Cinderella. We’re doing that in London in December. The “Freak Show” is more of a circus based show, we’ve got three people of restrictive growth, as they say.

Huge: You can’t call them that!

Stout: Is that right? Small people. And identical twin aerialists and a contortionist, which seems to be the line up. We’ll all do sorts of things, Huge will have three legs somehow. We did a circus show a long time ago called “The Tiger Lillies Circus” and this is kind of a second sort of reincarnation of the ideas from that. So it will be less jugglers this time.

Huge: More freak show, really.

Jacques: We’ll see how it goes. It’s a new show so we’ll have to see how it develops.

Adrian Huge

After the performance in Greece are there hopes for a tour of the show?

Jacques: Hopefully, it’s funny when you start a new show you never really know. Obviously presenters have to come and see it and it’s like “Shockheaded Peter” and then it’s all about if it’s good or not. So we have to see. But if it’s good, I’m sure it’ll get booked. If it isn’t, it’ll DIE in Greece. That’s the way it goes.

Huge: The fans might like it, but the presenters have to think if it’s suitable for their festival and make them look good, those sorts of things. Another world in a way.

Jacques: All we can do is make the show.

Huge: Yeah, do what we do best.

Stout: So we’re doing songs from those two shows at the moment, plus our usual selection of whatever people can shout out loudest.

Huge: I’m looking forward to it because it’s no good coming back and playing the same songs every year. Give them a whole new set and the ones they ask for at the end.

What did you all do before The Tiger Lillies?

Huge: *grits teeth* I worked in a bank for two years, I was an accountant for about five years, I worked in a butchers shop, a fish and chips shop, a motorbike shop. *sighs* It was great fun.

Jacques: I dealt drugs and lived off the immoral earnings of my girlfriend. That’s pretty much it, really.

Huge: There’s a name for someone like you. (All laugh) A ne’er do well.

Jacques: I turned it around, didn’t I? I didn’t become another one of those, I actually make a respectable living…semi-respectable.

Huge: In those days I might have looked down my nose at you, but now not at all.

Stout: I did various bits and pieces. Worked in a record shop, worked in a recording studio, I was playing in various bands. When I joined the Tiger Lillies I was studying philosophy and film studies in kind of an aimless kind of way. Seemed like a good idea at the time. A fantastic degree in philosophic film studies! Yeah, film critic. Descartian view of some latest super hero film. I’d be a deconstructivist film critic.

You’ve described yourselves as record companies worst nightmare, why is that?

Stout: We can’t even describe what we do sometimes, I mean people say “what kind of music is it?” and we don’t know. How are you supposed to sell that? It touches on so many different areas. We’ve literally been in the classical music section of record shops, theatre section, alternative section. We’ve been in every…

Huge: World music.

Stout: It’s ridiculous…categories are difficult. Record companies want to categorize something. Because we’ve done so many different types of situations. The music’s always the same, we’ve done dance companies and theatre companies, it’s always hopefully different. We’re not looking to repeat too much, we want to explore different things. It’s just very hard to market something like that.

We’re not looking to repeat too much, we want to explore different things. It’s just very hard to market something like that.

(To Adrian Huge) You’ve described The Tiger Lillies as “Satanic Folk,” right?

Huge: Oh yeah, that’s a deliberate conversation stopper. Not with you. As you know we always wear hats and when we get on planes people say, “Hey! Are you guys in a band?!” And we say “Yes.” “What sort of music is it?” And we say, “Sort of caberet, jazzy…” Then they say, “like Duke Ellington?” “No no, it’s more like…” it then becomes an hours conversation without ever getting to the point of what sort of music it is and we end up sounding pretentious because we’re so original that you cannot be described. So one of us decided to say satanic folk, and that stopped the conversation. The second time I did it the person just said, “Yeah, I thought so.”

The singing saw and the Theremin are brilliant additions, how did that idea come about?

Stout: I’ve been playing the saw for a few years now, because we did a couple of albums with a guy from “Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band,” they were a very famous band in the 1960’s.

Huge: You should check them out.

Stout: They were quite eccentric and they used to old time music, but they were quite hip in the 60’s. George Harrison, the Beatles liked them, another guy called Vivian Stanshall was in the band. This guy Vernon was the saw player in Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and we had him play on a couple of albums of ours and I tried to play one. It’s an unusual instrument, I bought one and taught myself how to play and recently when we were doing “Seven Deadly Sins” there were two songs I was playing on the saw and I thought was a bit boring so I thought I’d get a Theremin and play one of the songs with the Theremin, sort of a bit of variety. It’s kind of working out all right at the moment. It’s just another thing that seems to fit. We never really gone for keyboards, or too much electronics really, but that’s such an odd instrument it’s almost like an antique instrument.

Adrian Stout

Your albums and songs seem to span different genres. Is there any style of music that you haven’t tried out that you’d like to dabble in? Like Hip Hop?

Jacques: I think the songs of Sinderella are about the hip hop artist called “Prince Charmer,” who Sinderella falls in love with. Sinderella is a crack whore. So it’s got a rap content of it in the lyrics. I say fuck a lot, as well. I think that’s about as close to rap as we’ve ever got. Justin is American as well, not very macho. But anyway, he’s in love with Prince Charmer. Any other genres that we haven’t…you never really know, do you? But I can’t think of anything. Off the top of my head we’ve tried most things, we’ve tried jazz, classical music…

Stout: Experimental music that had electronic elements, HP Lovecraft, had a lot of electronic textures.

Jacques: I think we’ve explored a lot of areas, obviously if someone had an idea. There was Love & War when we worked with a Baroque orchestra.

Huge: I don’t think we’d make a hard rock album or anything like that.

Jacques: We’ve used electric guitar on various tracks. I was open to try out different things but obviously you want to try to keep some of your own identity. Some things I wouldn’t like to do.

Stout: I don’t think we’d do an electronic album with no acoustics what so ever. It would be weird.

Jacques: Probably not.

Stout: But you never know, someone might come up with a great idea.

Jacques: It is funny that whole electronic thing, you could play them in the right kind of way I think we could try and do something electronic but it’s all about making things sound not machine-like. But I suppose Kraftwerk made something machine-like but they still made some interesting music. I don’t know, it’s hard to say.

Huge: We have listened to albums of people we admired when they got to the 70’s. Who was the guy Nomi?

Jacques: Naomi Campbell?

Huge: That’s right.

Jacques: You’re a fan of her music, aren’t you?

Huge: Klaus Nomi, he did disco albums in the 70’s or something like that and it was a bit of a shock. Then there’s Iva Bittova who’s a Czech Gypsy singer who does fantastic stuff. We bought some album of hers, she did an album at some point where someone decided it was good idea for her to do a rock album and it was jarring. I’m not saying these people should have carried on with what they were doing but it’s a bit dangerous to suddenly take some contemporary sound. So if we did a rap album or drum and bass or something it would probably be horrible in two years time.

Jacques: I don’t know, I’d be quite interested working with some kind of rapper. That’d be quite interesting. Probably he’d have to come towards us, rather than…there’s some nasty macho thug, I’d be interested in doing a few tracks with him. I don’t think all rappers are nasty, macho thugs, but they appear to be. See, I think rap music is a bad genre of music which has not been helpful. It’s a bit like skinhead music in England in the 1980’s there was a style of music called Skinhead music. It kind of encouraged young men to be violent and macho, and I think that rap music – from my very white, middle aged perspective – appears to encourage young men to be macho. That’s why I like working with people like Justin Bond because he’s not macho at all. I really find machismo as something that’s a really bad thing in males. So anything which is proud of that or encourages machismo I’m quite opposed to that.

Stout: There’s a guy that does Nerdcore, they’re rappers that are nerds. MC Chris, he’s quite funny.

Jacques: There was Morris and Miners, that was nerd rap and they were quite funny.

Stout: This is now. He’s really White and has this high pitched, nasally voice and he takes a piss a bit. He’s quite serious about how good of a rapper he is, but he’s quite funny, and his lyrics are amusing.

Jacques: I suppose…I really don’t think it’s very wholesome to be really macho.

Stout: It’s very unironic, most rap. That’s the problem, there’s all sorts music that’s too serious, they don’t have any self-irony.

Jacques: But you say that, but maybe there is irony.

Stout: Most of rap is macho posturing, they try to kind of big themselves up.

Jacques: Big themselves up? Okay.

Stout: Say how great they are.

Huge: We’re not very good at bigging ourselves up, are we?

Jacques: Not very good.

You talked about Justin Bond, I was going to bring up how you collaborated with Kronos Quartet. Are there any more collaborations planned out or who you would like to collaborate with in the future?

Jacques: A nasty, macho rapper. No, I’d like to, it would be really funny. Actually we worked with someone who was quite nasty. We worked on an album in Leningrad, this Russian Ska band.

Stout: They’re huge, they play in enormous stadiums. They use this form of slang in their lyrics called “Mot” which is a street gutter talk and it’s never been used in a musical form before. Their first album is actually called “Mot.” This singer is quite tough and quite smart as well. He knows his Russian literature, as well as knowing his football. So you mix the two together and he speaks to the intelligencia and to the total hooligans simultaneously. So they have massive support from the hooligans who just want to drink, have fun and have the girls, he kind of talks to them. But the intelligencia in Russia like him as well because they see this irony and subtlety in what he’s doing. They’re able to play both sides.

Huge: We were a little afraid of him, he pretended to not be able to speak very good English most of the time. They weren’t the vodka swilling people we thought they’d be.

Stout: They did drink.

Huge: Okay, well they did drink quite a lot.

Stout: So collaborations usually happen spontaneously, people usually kind of come to us and say they’d like to do something then we try and fit them in. So Kronos came and saw us in Shockheaded Peter here and they came and saw a concert and we had a sort of set of Gorey songs that we thought would work quite well with them really.

Jacques: Quite a diverse bunch of people we’ve worked with, if you think about it. Like the Kronos Quartet, then Snur in Leningrad, and Alexander Hack, and Justin Bond. They’re all very different kinds of people, aren’t they? So yeah, that’s what you want if you’ve recorded twenty-four albums, you want to work with different people to create different atmospheres.

Huge: Some things just come along out of the blue. In Sweden, a place called Umea, they’ve been trying to get us to play for five or six years they told us. One year they were having a chamber music festival so they had this orchestra knocking about getting paid for not doing much at all, sort of an orchestra on call. So we just tried record an album, sent them a demo of that and someone arranged it.

Stout: Yeah it was twelve or thirteen songs, so we performed it with a thirty-five piece orchestra.

Huge: For one night only. Luckily they had a mobile recording studio in a van outside, so we recorded it and it went out as the album called Urine Palace.

Jacques: Someone said it sounded like “pornographic Walt Disney.”

Someone said it sounded like “pornographic Walt Disney.”
Being that a lot of your songs deal with sexuality and what not, do you have any tips for those who want to be sexually adventurous?

Huge:…be more adventurous.

Jacques: Animals, animals. That’s the future. Animal brothels.

Stout: Whole clubs.

Jacques: That would be something, wouldn’t it?

Animals, animals. That’s the future. Animal brothels.

Did you hear about in Washington state there was a ranch where you could pay to have sex with animals, and a man died. His name was Mr. Hands.

Jacques: Yeah, yeah, he got kicked to death?

No, fucked to death.

Jacques: Fucked to death? Really? Fantastic. Well not fantastic, well sort of fantastic. Not fantastic for Mr. Hands but somehow colorful.

Stout: I don’t think we have advice for sexual deviancy, we just like to hear about it and we could write songs about it. We’ve always wanted to do a musical of barnyard filth.

Jacques: Yeah.

Stout: People dressed up, a big chorus line of sheep.

Jacques: Maybe Deviant Nation could become the producers of “Farmyard Filth: The Musical.” If you have any rich patrons, they could all chip and we could do a “Deviant Nation Produces The Tiger Lillies Farmyard Filth” and we could get a lot of tattooed girls, tattooed boys as well, dress them all up in various animal costumes.

Huge: Tattooed animals of course.

Jacques: Tattooed animal costumes. We’d have lots of penises and stuff and make it a pornographic animal opera.

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