Through their own initiative, the organic, alternative-folk tunes of Rin Tin Tiger have reached listeners across the world. The band itself, however, has managed to keep its roots firmly planted in the Bay Area.
The dual act of the Sullivan brothers, Kevin, on guitar and vocals, and Sean, on bass and vocals, joined forces with drummer Andrew Skewes-Cox in 2010 and have been playing as Rin Tin Tiger ever since, sticking to stripped-down sounds and an indie approach to the music business.
“We all have a wide range of stuff that we listen to from hip-hop to classical to metal, and so we fuse that in with our playing, but it’s all rooted in Kevin’s songwriting,” said Sean. “And we just throw a lot of rhythm on it, but it’s still pretty stripped back.”
Students may have caught Rin Tin Tiger performing on campus last semester. Sean, a 2011 graduate of the SF State creative writing program, said that the band enjoys sticking close by. They have close ties to The Depot, and with fellow musicians here like broadcast and electronic communications major Derek Schultz of the band Owl Paws.
“They’re a new take on folk with a classic sound, new energy and really good lyrics,” said Schultz, who has shared the stage and recorded with Rin Tin Tiger. “They have a great energy and it definitely comes through in their music.”
But Rin Tin Tiger isn’t just bringing that energy to local stages. While the band guarantees that their best shows take place at Bottom of the Hill, they said they’ve been the most successful in getting their music out through good old-fashioned busking.
“We, hands down, sell more CDs playing on the street than at shows or on iTunes, or anything,” said Sean. “It’s the street hustle. People love it.”
Through playing on the streets, usually at Powell and Market streets during the spring and summer months, the band has gained a wider audience than Internet presence alone ever could have achieved.
“We’ve sold CDs to people in Denmark and France and Spain and England and Germany,” said Sean. “Probably one of the coolest things that happened was we were playing on the street near the mall and someone bought a CD, and then they gave it to their friend in Alabama, who’s like a DJ, and now they play one of our songs on Alabama public radio, which plays across the whole state.”
While the band knows that Facebook and iTunes are helpful tools for indie artists like themselves, they also know that nothing beats persistence and interaction in the real world.
“(Sean is) great at pestering people and being shameless,” said Kevin, in reference to how the band landed a Noise Pop gig last year opening for Max Bemis.
Some of their best opportunities have come through performing at Bottom of the Hill, where they have formed a solid relationship with Ramona Downey, who is in charge of booking the talent for the venue.
“We liked them so much, they became a main supporting act,” said Downey. “They are so good on those alternative-rock bills.”
It’s Sean’s initiative that gets them on those bills, which tend to draw impressive crowds who stick around and stay enthusiastic for all the acts.
“Sean is one of those people who must check our website daily,” said Downey. “He’s very proactive. It’s doing half of my work for me!”
This persistence has paid off. With 2011 Noise Pop, 2010 Left Coast Live, an EP and several Bay Area appearances under their belt, Rin Tin Tiger is getting ready to release a brand new, eight song recording.
Recently completed at the Tiny Telephone studio, the new release was recorded completely live to two-inch tape, without the use of editing software. This reflects the band’s personal preference for live, raw, classic albums.
“It’s something we’ve all sort of romanticized about being able to record on a tape machine,” said Sean. “When you’re in a room with a computer, there’s all this temptation to look at things, to look at files, to pull other things up, to get super into it. When you’re with a (tape) machine, all you have is, you wait for it to rewind. And that’s all you hear, just music and tape noise.”
The band has the release date for their new recording set tentatively for this summer. Fans can visit their Kickstarter page to help fund the release, get updates on the recording process and pre-order the new recording.
“We’re kind of inviting fans to come along with us on the journey of recording through these exclusive updates on the Kickstarter,” said Sean.
Catch their next show Feb. 18 at Art Boutiki in San Jose.