Even in a world saturated by mass-marketed hard rock bands, no one can accuse Flying Tigers of manufacturing angst. The band's tuneful, turbulent self-titled debut was born of frustration and hard times, and the group profits from the pain.
The disc chronicles the former lives of frontman Ryan Martin and drummer Gary Benson in their grungy power-pop band Frankie Machine, and what happened in the days following the release of that band's debut album, One, in 2000.
"The week it came out everyone at the label got fired, then we got dropped," Martin recalled. "At the time we thought it was the end of the world."
Song titles like "What's Become of Me," "Why," "I Got Away" and "Here We Are" practically retell the tale without the need for lyrics, but it's the Nirvana-esque first single, "Maybe," that most succinctly sums up the band's plight: "I can't take this/ Maybe you would know my name/ Maybe we could be the same/ Maybe you would take me in/ Maybe?"
"When you get a record deal, you get in this mode where you think you're gonna do something big, and then you realize it's tough," Martin said. "It's a big business and I don't think we realized how quickly things can change. So you kind of question yourself, but something keeps you going and you just hope that people will latch onto you eventually."
In the fallout of Frankie Machine, Martin and Benson decided to keep going under a different name. They chose Flying Tigers because they liked the images it invoked of underdog World War II volunteers in a squadron of ill-equipped fighter planes that nonetheless kicked ass.
"I'm kind of a World War II history buff, and I was on the Internet one day with a friend looking up warplanes," Martin said. "He said, 'I thought that name's too obvious and it's gotta be taken.' But I looked it up and there are no bands that have ever used it successfully. So we were like, 'Man, let's grab that.' "
The Flying Tigers landed a record deal from songs they demoed for different labels, but even after they had an album contract, they had trouble finding a suitable bassist. So Martin played the basic rhythm lines on bass, then producer Brendan O'Brien (Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against the Machine) came in and laid down the more involved bass fills. Soon after the album was recorded, a mutual friend hooked them up with Dorian Heartsong, who had just left Powerman 5000.
"I'm totally proud of everything we did in that band and I love those guys, I just wanted to make some new, fresh music," Heartsong said. "September 11 helped me make up my mind. You strip off those layers of insulation of your daily life, and you really ask yourself what you want to accomplish. This is exactly what I was looking for something a little more melodic."
With a record deal in place and a bunch of songs written, Flying Tigers seemed well on their way to making a mark. The hours spent in the rehearsal room and recording studio, however, took their toll on the members.
"Gary went through a divorce and I'm still married, but I almost separated," Martin admitted. "So while all these great things were happening with the band, our personal lives were going to hell. We definitely got put through the ringer, but it made for some great songs."
Flying Tigers are currently touring with Trik Turner.