A band is often like a mythical phoenix. It can die, but something always seems to rise from the ashes.
Such is the case with the Tarlatans, an Americana-rock group formed in Clemson that was based in Charleston for about three years. They played regularly at special events and local venues such as the Royal American and the Pour House until about a year ago, when the band’s name started to fade from the local music scene.
Then along came Beach Tiger, which made its debut at the Jail Break arts festival in October. They played a set of rhythmic indie pop, bearing no resemblance to the Tarlatans’ brand of folk-rock.
Without knowing the back story, you wouldn’t have guessed that the guys on stage included three of the Tarlatans’ four founding members.
Beach Tiger’s lead singer Taylor McCleskey explained earlier this week that when one of the Tarlatans’ founding members, Ryan Williams, wanted to leave the band last year, the remaining three members (McCleskey, bassist Eric Mixon and drummer Blake Shorter) decided to stick together and pursue a whole new sound.
“We reached a fork in the road where we wanted to go do a different style of music, and the other singer (Williams) was like, ‘You know what, I wouldn’t mind going solo and doing my own thing,’” McCleskey said.
The Tarlatans were phased out — no farewell shows or big announcements on Facebook — and Williams moved to Greenville with his wife. It was an amicable split, McCleskey said, because the two vocalists had sparred on artistic direction for so long.
“We had such different writing styles and we came from such different backgrounds. ... I love pop music and he loves old, outlaw country like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson,” McCleskey said. “He would try to convince the band like, ‘Let’s write this old-school country song,’ and I’d be like, ‘No, let’s try to write this power pop anthem song.’ And it just created so much tension.”
To maintain a middle ground, McCleskey said both band leaders got in the habit of fitting the mold of the Tarlatans rather than writing songs they would prefer to play and listen to.
Once McCleskey started experimenting with his own music in his bedroom studio at night, the seed of Beach Tiger was planted, and that was “the beginning of the end” for the Tarlatans, he said.
Since Williams and the rest of the band went their separate ways, everybody seems to be happier, he added.
“It feels good to be living out your truth, and it’s good for Ryan, too. We’ve become closer friends since he left the group,” he said, adding that Ryan is working on new music. “I’m excited to see where his career takes him.”
To round out the new band, McCleskey, Mixon and Shorter hired their longtime friend and keys player Zac Crocker, a Greenville native who recently moved to Charleston.
While they could have continued with the same band name, all the members agreed it was time for a fresh start. McCleskey thought of the name Beach Tiger pretty soon afterward, and it stuck because nobody could think of a better alternative. While there’s not really any deeper meaning to the name, it is easier for people to remember than the Tarlatans.
“With the Tarlatans, if we were in a loud bar and we had just played, and somebody was like, ‘Hey, what’s your band name?’ ... They would be so confused, they’d repeat it back to us and they’d say it wrong,” he said. “Beach Tiger, those are two very distinct words, that if we’re in a loud bar, and you want to know who we are, you’re going to know how to spell it, you’re going to be able to Google it when you get home.”
The group has released a debut single, “Just Woke Up,” available through iTunes and most major streaming platforms such as Spotify and SoundCloud. They’re working on the full-length album with New York producer Kyle Patrick and local recording engineer Ryan Zimmerman, who’s produced other Charleston-based artists such as SUSTO, Johnny Delaware and Hermit’s Victory.
McCleskey said the recent successes of those bands and several others have found in the Lowcountry encourages Beach Tiger to stay planted here.
“Right now, I think there’s a really cool musical movement happening in Charleston,” he said. “I’d like to be part of the fabric of what’s happening here. I think if we keep going in this direction, I think the music industry is going to place the spotlight on Charleston.”
Beach Tiger is headlining the Royal American on Saturday, with local acts Human Resources and Youth Model playing opening sets starting at 9 p.m. The cover charge is $5. For more information, visit www.theroyalamerican.com/schedule.
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail