“What a goddamn year this has been. I’m fucking exhausted.”
Exhaustion. We’re all feeling it as we dip into the final months of 2020. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, we all have somehow been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic that has swept the nation.
“I swear things made sense once, now I’m scared that we lost it.”
Those are the opening two lines to the debut single Exhausted, from new Columbus act A Tiger Made of Lightning. The project is a solo effort from former We Are The Movies guitarist Mike O’Leary.
“I actually started writing Exhausted in earnest after the shooting in Dayton last year,” says O’Leary.
It may be trendy or even cliché to write music about the pandemic, but O’Leary says that wasn’t his intention – in fact quite the opposite.
“People write what they experience, and we’re all experiencing it. The question is, what is the context of this song…,” he paused. “I wrote this song because I truly feel it in my soul, and I want to connect with people. We can’t connect to people right now!”
This writer can definitely sympathize with that sentiment, not having been able to attend a show since springtime. It’s bizarre to think that for many people I know, this is the longest they’ve ever gone without playing or attending a concert.
And personally, I’ve always found live music as a form of therapy. Something about the roar of amplifiers, the rumble of drums and the personal connection between audience and performer – it’s almost a spiritual experience. O’Leary says it’s been tough to go without, but he has filled the time with writing.
“We all have too much to think about, to care about, and to worry about. It’s hard to intentionally break away from it all and breathe.”
The concept of the single seems simple enough, but what about the band? O’Leary says that he had been wanting to do a solo project for a while, and the timing just felt right with this specific song.
“I’m a firm believer of when you need to do something, the universe screams at you to do it,” he explains. “It’s crazy how long I had been ignoring that screaming.”
The band is amusingly named after a Cards Against Humanity white card, which reads “David Bowie flying in on a tiger made of lightning.” With a plethora of silly and ridiculous quotes, both O’Leary and I were surprised that more bands hadn’t named themselves after items from the popular game.
“I always keep a backlog of band names in the back of my head,” he said. “Whenever I hear a funny phrase or interesting word combination, I’m always like, cool band name, I call it!
“I’m only half kidding –but all of those names sound really cool. This one really stuck with me for a long time, and so here we are.”
After six years of bending the strings for WATM, O’Leary says he hadn’t really ever thought of doing anything different. But once the opportunity arose, he says things fell into place pretty quickly.
“I got in touch with (producer) Will Carlson, I got some people to do photos and (get) design work done,” he opined with a smile. “It felt like it was the right thing for me to do, like I said, that the universe was screaming.
“Fortunately, I’ve made enough connections through my time in the scene that I’ve been able to find the people I need for the things that I need done.”
O’Leary is currently the only member of this project, and he told me that with the pandemic happening, he’s not really looking for other members to participate. He says that he’s taken the time to get better learn how to things other than just playing guitar and singing.
“I feel like it’s a nice project for me to do at my own pace and do what I want. I just wanna be happy and make music that I really love,” he continued. “I want to help people and exorcise my own demons at the same time.”
There is a catharsis in great music. A certain lyric can cut straight through your soul. One particular note, and you’re immediately transported to another time and place. Music is the universal language that can take us to another world in and instant, and I’ve always found it a great tool to knock out the lingering darkness of the surrounding world.
O’Leary says it’s important to him to be able to help people do the same.
“I want to write stuff that matters to me. I’m in my thirties; I love my wife and my job. It would be inauthentic for me to write a song about how girls don’t like me, or something,” he chuckled. “What matters to me is helping people make their life count.”
When it comes to helping people make their life count, O’Leary wanted to take things a little further, so he’s donating 100 percent of the proceeds from the single to LSS Choices, an organization that provides emergency shelter, advocacy and legal help for survivors of domestic abuse.
“My wife has spent time volunteering there, and I saw some really sad statistics where partner abuse went up during the pandemic,” he explained. “It stuck in my mind. If there was a way I could support people like that – they’re way more exhausted than I am – I want to send any support I can that way.”
As far as the future of A Tiger Made of Lightning goes, O’Leary admits he’s just taking things as they come.
“I didn’t really have any kind of agenda with this. I’ve always wanted to do an emo or hardcore side project,” he expounds. “Pop punk is fun, but I felt like this was something where I wanted to do something like this. It was my time to go after something to do that I love.
“But, I am really excited to write more songs. I’ve got the bones of a couple already, it’s just a matter of getting my butt in gear and finishing them!” he laughed. “I have a song about my kids that’s loud, bombastic and joyful, like Andrew WK. We need to celebrate positivity! Also, I want to give back with every song, in any way I can.
“That’s the thing about this project,” he offers “I’ve got an emo side, a hardcore side, a punk side… I want to explore all of them. I mean, there’s nothing else to do right now – why not explore what I can learn to do musically?”
Why not, indeed. I suppose we all have a little extra free time on our hands without shows or sports to attend, without work to do and people to be around. With that in mind, the final line of Exhausted sums up O’Leary’s creed.
“…so let’s find our friends and hold on to each other – when everything’s falling apart, we won’t let this all fall apart”
And as far as advice for those who are struggling in these trying times?
“Slow down, pay attention, and don’t be afraid to ask the questions of who we are and how we will live through this. I hope my music reminds people that it is okay to ask for help and seek support whenever they need it.”
Exhausted drops at midnight, October 2nd. You can find A Tiger Made of Lightning’s social feeds here.
Credit all images: Kaitlyn Johnson