For several hours last night, New York-based singer/songwriter Tiger Darrow, covered in a thick layer of latex, sat statuesque in an inflatable splash pool placed atop a mechanically rotating chair. Why? Some might call it madness, others a vision. “You look like a cross between the robot in Ex Machina and something out of a Guillermo Del Toro movie,” said director Mike Donaghey.
Donaghey, the co-founder of creative agency Scratch Empire, stood behind a camera as he prepared to shoot the first music video for Darrow’s latest project, Tiger + Man. The “Man” (fellow songwriter, producer and boyfriend Andew Orkin) was also around, perched precariously above Darrow on a ladder as he prepared for his critical off-screen role. “I’m basically a glorified raincloud,” explained Orkin, whose modesty is only matched by his large head. If anything, this scene was a testament to the endurance of artistic collaboration in a city where such things are becoming increasingly hard to achieve.
“We wanted to do a video that wouldn’t distract you from the music,” explained Darrow a week earlier in Orkin’s studio at Williamsburg sound production company Fall On Your Sword, where the two produced and recorded their entire upcoming EP, currently in the process of being mastered. The writing and recording only took five months, but Darrow explains that it was the culmination of years of collaboration between the two musicians, who first met through NYU’s Steinhardt School of Music.
“It took us three years to work out a cohesive sound we wanted to put out into the world,” said Darrow, who estimates the two composed over 50 songs before striking it right. “We’ve written full songs, weird electronic stuff, cinematic but we were never really focused.”
That was, of course, until Tiger + Man.
“Both of us come from songwriting worlds, so we aren’t happy with simply a hook that works,” explained Orkin, who received an undergraduate degree in music back in South Africa before moving to New York to pursue a career in film scoring. In combining their respective “music nerd backgrounds,” the primary goal for the pair was to strike a balance between their need for complexity and desire for pop. “There was a lot of pushing and pulling in wanting to have something interesting and different harmonically, but also figuring out how to reign it in and make it more accessible — something people can hum along to,” added Darrow.
The result surely speaks for itself. Blurring the analogue/digital divide, it could be said of Tiger + Man that it continues along a trail blazed by the likes of the 2012 St. Vincent and David Byrne album Love This Giant, and more recent sounds of multi-instrumentalist Son Lux. “We’re interested in that fusion of electronic and acoustic music and finding cohesion,” said Orkin, who spent endless hours tinkering in his studio to achieve the right sound. “Electronic music has a lot of range which often means it can come across a bit washy, while the beauty of acoustic instruments is that they limit your musical palette. When you combine those two properly, though, there’s that awesome mix of grit and power.”
Although Darrow and Orkin have done everything in their power to guarantee Tiger + Man’s success (bringing on Scott Jacoby, producer for Vampire Weekend as a mix engineer for the tracks), whether this will translate to a wider audience is never a certainty in this song-saturated internet land. Bearing that in mind, and in the spirit of collaboration that has defined their project, the pair recently launched a Kickstarter to help raise funds to produce several music videos. More than providing a strong visual identity for the project, the inspiration behind the videos is rooted in a desire to share their creative energy key to building momentum.
Enter Scratch Empire. Having previously worked with artists like Santigold and Moon Casale, Donaghey’s involvement, like most of Tiger + Man’s collaborators, is rooted less in his need for the work and more a belief in the project. “They were willing to put up the budget, so I was willing to put down my camera and creative brain and try find something fun. Ultimately, money shouldn’t be the thing that motivates us,” he said.
Towards midnight, I found myself lying on my back, manually rotating what was essentially a giant lazy susan, while a stoic Darrow sat before Donaghey as he captured the shots he needed. “This is the joy we’re having with working with the music video people, it’s all hands-on,” noted Orkin, who’s words ring truer now than ever.
Prior to being drenched in latex, Darrow explained the lengths she’s prepared to go to for her art. “Songwriting is my way of communicating something to somebody and one thing I’ve always wanted to do in my writing is give people something to latch onto that can help them in some way.” Given the dedication already commited to Tiger + Man , together with the videos on their way, Darrow can rest assured there’ll be more than enough to latch onto.