Pet Tigers Earn Their Stripes

With a revamped lineup and a new album, the local new wave group is on the hunt

Pet Tigers' rehearsal space has dance floor lighting, and why not? | Photo by Krystal Ramirez.

Pet Tigers’ rehearsal space has dance floor lighting, and why not? | Photo by Krystal Ramirez.

Pet Tigers’ Lizzy Minx and Jeremy Keith meet me in their rehearsal space. It’s basically a nice, square box, part of a hive of rehearsal spaces located in an industrial park just off of Valley View Boulevard. (The Killers’ home studio, Battle Born, is within walking distance.) As we talk, a band in the next space over rips through a couple of brash, speedy punk numbers.

“Yup, that’s the Hard Pipe Hitters,” says Keith, seated at his drum kit and bobbing his head in admiration.

Pet Tigers are heavy hitters themselves. The local power-pop band occupies this space for several hours five nights a week, rehearsing their songs and writing new ones. The band has just self-released its second album, Short Leash—available for download at iTunes and Bandcamp—but they’re already well into writing the third. These Tigers are burning bright.

“Regardless of whether Short Leash blows up, we’ll just keep putting out albums,” Keith says. “Liz and I will just continue to put music out and making it better and better.”

He’s right: Short Leash improves on the band’s self-titled 2013 debut album in nearly every way. Where the band’s first LP was tentative and spare, the Pet Tigers of Short Leash is seemingly unafraid to take its sound as far as it can go. It’s the sound of a band that’s gone back to its core strength—its uncanny, atavistic love of the new wave sound of the 1980s—and built something new and different upon it.

Admittedly, Pet Tigers 2015 might not be the same band you knew. Two of the band’s original members, bassist Ryan Arcoraci and drummer Jesse Moran, have left the group. (No hard feelings, Minx says: “We were just going in different directions.”) But some things are still the same. Minx still has her remarkable spill of platinum blond hair, done up in a stylish new wave ‘do; still dresses in the fashion of the 1980s; and still rocks a keytar onstage. (She also picks up a trumpet every now and again—an instrument she mastered at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse.) Only now, Keith joins her at the front of the stage—keyboards and drums together, front and center. And it’s a new approach you can hear clearly on Short Leash.

Scarcely 20 seconds into Pet Tigers’ current single “You’re My Favorite Flavor,” you almost forget that new wave hasn’t been “new” for three decades-plus. Missing Persons-like synths swirl over Keith’s heavy-footed drums like water over rocks, while Minx’s kittenish vocal begs comparison to everyone from Bow Wow Wow’s Annabella Lwin to Metric’s Emily Haines. (Minx herself loves Cyndi Lauper and Pat Benatar, and strives to emulate their best qualities: Lauper’s cuteness, Benatar’s power. “I think a lot of female vocalists today don’t want to show as much as those two did,” she says.)

Many of Short Leash’s best tracks, most notably “Ride,” “Sorry Not Sorry” and “Come on Over,” are the work of a band that is unafraid to be fun. There’s no pathos in Pet Tigers’ sound, only a sheer, giddy enthusiasm.

“I never listened to ’90s music during the ’90s,” Minx says. “I only listened to ’80s music, because the ’90s were so depressing and the ’80s were so joyful and happy and hopeful. I mean, the ’90s almost felt like a backlash against the ’80s, against the neon and everything.”

“We love the ’80s,” Keith says. “We’re not trying to bring them back, but there’s a big bubble of ’80s style around us.”

Crouching Tigers: Jeremy Keith and Lizzy Minx are ready to pounce. | Photo by Krystal Ramirez.

Crouching Tigers: Jeremy Keith and Lizzy Minx are ready to pounce. | Photo by Krystal Ramirez.

The two found each other in December 2013, just as the band’s original lineup was beginning to fracture. They had an almost immediate simpatico, despite the fact that they hail from radically different places—Keith is from Southern California, Minx from Wisconsin. But Keith was impressed with Minx’s style and musicality, while Minx liked Keith’s heavy-footed drumming, fueled by his love of hip-hop and the Deftones. And they both wanted to have real fun.

“It wasn’t really that hard for us to start writing songs,” Keith says. “We really meld together when we’re playing.”

Once Short Leash came together, however, Pet Tigers faced a fork in the road. The band’s first album was released on local label SquidHat, and while Minx and Keith have nothing but good things to say about the label, they also give the tacit impression that they feel like Pet Tigers didn’t really belong on that label’s primarily punk roster of bands. So they made a decision: They would release Short Leash themselves, do their own promotion and book their own tour dates.

“We’re definitely planning a West Coast tour next year, probably spring,” Minx says. “We’ve got to support this record, so anywhere we can go, we’ll go.”

“We’re funding it ourselves,” Keith says. “There’s no roadies; it’s just her and I. We’ll throw our stuff in the van and get going. You talk to the right people, do the right stuff and then when you’re out on the road, hopefully it all works out.”

They might have to drive that van to the airport. One of the benefits of releasing your record via the Internet is that it can travel farther than you can. “We’ve been able to get our music out to people from all over the world, and one of our largest demographics seems to be Japan,” Keith says, adding that they’re mulling over a visit to Tokyo.

In the meantime, though, Pet Tigers has plenty of work to do in Vegas. The band has played a bunch of local shows recently, with more still to come. And there’s a lot more work that needs to be done in this rehearsal space, which I suspect will resume the second this interview is over. There’s fun that needs making.

“The constant of being an artist is you have to play,” Minx says. “Some people are gym rats, they have to work out. We have to continue to write and continue to play. Being an artist, it’s your responsibility to put the human condition into something tangible, something that helps people to release negative emotions. You need to be able to explain the human experience, if only but for a short two minutes.”