cover art by Chad Kessler
Artist: A Tiger Made of Lightning
Album / Label: It’s Chaos, Be Kind / Unsigned
When I last spoke with Mike O’Leary, sonic wizard for A Tiger Made of Lightning, we were smack-dab in the middle of the 2020 lockdown and feeling the effects of a world fraught with turmoil and chaos. His aptly titled debut single “Exhausted” garnered over 35k streams just from Spotify alone in the last year, showing that his music has a resonating effect on the world.
“I’d say we got a nice response to Exhausted, yeah…” he chuckled fondly.
O’Leary decided to start writing for an EP over the past winter and said that even though he’s played music for years, almost everything was a learning experience for him.
“I spent most of the winter playing around with ideas and learning how to record and do things less and less badly,” he smiled. “It was like learning to write in cursive – finally it was good enough so that other people could read it!”
With a handful of songs ready to record, O’Leary approached friend and fellow musician Knox Fields to record a 5 track EP, titled It’s Chaos, Be Kind. The EP is set to release on October 1st.
“I wanted to be very positive and encouraging with this EP,” he explained. “I could’ve just titled it “Reflections on the Pandemic”, but that would’ve felt ham-fisted and potentially would have worked me into a box.”
O’Leary handled most of the instruments on the EP, with help from Fields, Jordan Sloan and Myles Claiborne on drums. But he had initially created the project to be collaborative, and so he set out on the task of finding other members to fill out the live lineup.
“That actually ended up working out great! All four people I reached out to said yes!” he beamed. “I am also fortunate enough to have had a bunch of other people say they’d be willing to fill in, should I ever need it.”
“The thing is, the four guys I chose are now a part of the band. I don’t look at them as just touring musicians,” he continued. “I brought them in because they each had their own particular flair.”
Anyone from Columbus will recognize the super-group of talent that O’Leary has assembled. Guitarists Colin Cavanaugh (Courtney from Work) and Landen Gruszewski (Something Else) are joined by bassist Alex Kessis (Rockstead) and drummer Steve Hatmaker (Zoo Trippin). If nothing else, this list of musicians all have one thing in common – an energetic live presence.
“We’re all on the same page, and we all have the same mission statement,” concluded O’Leary. “We’re here to have a good time and make music people can enjoy. I don’t wanna get too confident just yet, but it’s been coming along so well.”
It is fortuitous that O’Leary wanted to bring along so much energy, because ATMoL’s new EP It’s Chaos, Be Kind has some absolute slammers on it, starting with You Are Who You Choose To Be, a reference to one of my all-time favorite animated films, The Iron Giant.
“The song is about growing pains, and what I’ve learned in how to better use my time. The original working title was 10/27/85, a callback from Back To The Future,” he explained “which is why I used the clip from that movie at the beginning. But after finishing the lyrics, I felt like “You Are Who You Choose To Be” fit better.”
The music feels like it was shot out of a cannon, and the song clocks in at just over a minute. O’Leary says that his goal was to come out swinging on the EP.
“It’s just a powerhouse emo-punk-rock song. Emo is any feeling that makes you feel alive!”
“Also, when I was recording it I was kind of thinking about how I could just make it a minute long and share it on TikTok…” he trailed off, laughing.
Up next is Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose. If nothing else, O’Leary loves his pop-punk reference titles, and this one comes from the show Friday Night Lights. His clever lyrical wit is on full display, with an opening line of “I’m righting all the wrongs that live up inside my head – I’m facing demons I tried to hard to leave unsaid.”
“Lyrical content is one of the most important things for me throughout the EP,” he says. “If I were to sum up the entire thing, it would be the last line of that song – I’m done shrinking myself down to fit into places that I didn’t belong.”
The song dials the tempo back, which O’Leary says was also intentional, but it still kicks hard with a pop-punk flair and a sing-along chorus that is guaranteed to get live crowds ramped up.
“I think it’ll be a lot of fun live!” he agreed. “I gave it a little finesse to mix it up on the EP – I didn’t want to blow it all right at the beginning.”
The emotional, lyrical and sonic high-point of the entire EP is at the midway point, in Little Birds. The song was written about O’Leary’s two daughters, Fiona Wren and Thora Lark, and couldn’t be a more powerfully positive parenting anthem.
“I’ve heard a lot of wonderful songs about being a parent,” reflected O’Leary “but they’re all sappy and soft. I’ve never heard a celebratory, ‘how much I love being a parent’ song.”
“It’s just a loud, raucous, joyful song about how much I love my kids!”
Almost every single lyric in the song is a positive affirmation or beautiful moment of reminiscence. Even if it were just the chorus, it would still be the most amazing father-daughter love song:
Little birds, let’s practice singing loud, come on, let’s go explore a million things. And take care, to take it all in stride. I’ll never hold you back from taking off, just know that I will catch you if you fall. And trust me, you’ve got this… you’ll fly high!
The first time I heard the song was on an Instagram Live basement session where O’Leary was doing “Emo Karaoke Night” and decided to play his newest ATMoL effort. I definitely had tears in my eyes by the end of it, even if it just Mike with an acoustic guitar.
“I knew I wanted to write a song for them for a while. I came up with the chorus when Thora was born six years ago, but I was always afraid it wasn’t going to be as good as I wanted to be,” he admitted. “Now that I’ve recorded it? It’s exactly as good as I wanted it to be!”
“I just let it all out when I was penning it. I decided to get out of my own way, express myself and let the words fall out. It’s perfect for me.”
The song caught fire quickly and caught the attention of the writers over at Scary Mommy, who passed it along and had it subsequently picked up by Yahoo. The song is accompanied by a wonderfully cheesy video with what O’Leary calls “heavy Trapper Keeper energy.”
“The idea was to do it like one of those corny photo montages you see at a high school graduations,” he chuckled. “Maybe I’ll do a 10 year retrospect when Fiona turns 18 with updated pictures!”
I cannot stress enough how amazingly powerful the lyrics are in this song. Quotes like “pay attention to these moments and cement them in my brain”, “love yourself as hard as you can, and don’t take on any more than you can stand” and “I will always be there” push the sonic fervor into the stratosphere.
Honestly though, I’m just imaging what the pit would be like for a song like that, or for the up-tempo banger that follows, titled My Friends, You Bow To No One, a Lord of the Rings quote and further proof that O’Leary loves commas and long song titles.
“We’re not quite on Fall Out Boy’s level just yet, but we’re working on it…” he flashed a grin.
The song sounds like it was written by Rise Against, with a super melodic chorus, pummeling double-bass verses, and another crushing gang vocal chant of “you deserve love, you deserve happiness” to fire up the listeners at home.
“The goal on My Friends was to celebrate the people who have done the work in the last two years, whatever that work is for them,” he explained. “I realize how hard it has been for everyone, for a long time. I actually think the word ‘finally’ pops up in every song, because every one of them is a reflection about how I finally got to where I wanted to be.”
It really is hard to argue with a mantra like that. A lot of what I’ve heard in popular music from the pandemic is about how difficult it was, or how much people are mad about it. Instead, O’Leary has chosen to build the world back up to a place where we can all heal together.
“I honestly wanted this to be the Ted Lasso of EP’s. I’m all about some posi-core. I want to be everyone’s emo dad and be there to tell them that things will be okay”
The title track rounds out the EP, and it is decidedly different from the four previous offerings. It’s Chaos, Be Kind is a near 5-minute semi-acoustic ballad featuring Micah Stromsoe-DeLorenzo of Forever Unknown on vocals.
“I wanted to leave people with something to think about at the end. It’s Chaos, Be Kind is a summation of the entire EP’s theme,” O’Leary explained. “That particular phrase has been on the back of my guitar for a few years. It’s the most important thing I’ve learned recently.”
“I’d been so angry for so long, and so sad and confused that I felt helpess, and hopeless,” he continued. “I had to reevaluate how I spent my time, and who I spent it with. The biggest question I asked myself was ‘are these things worth my energy?’ and that’s where I kept landing.”
The title is a quote that Patton Oswalt shared after the passing of his wife, and although the comedian’s special aired in 2017, it is still a timely reminder in any season. Stromsoe-DeLorenzo’s vocals are a direct contrast to O’Leary’s and provide a sense of pained longing. She also asks an amazingly deep question in the second verse – “Will I ever tell the difference between pain and medicine?”
“I wanted to work with Micah no matter what – she was a no-brainer for this song,” O’Leary confessed.
The song reaches its climax shortly after the 3-minute mark when the drums and amplifiers join in, and O’Leary repeats the chorus. Like the four songs prior, it embeds itself deep with clever and poignant lyrics matching the strength of the instrumentation. O’Leary says it was important to him to be able to drive home what he wanted to communicate.
“I think these are some of the best songs I’ve ever written. I’m here to help people find the perspective they need or help them find a way to forgive themselves.”
While the pandemic is still dividing the nation and the rest of the world, it’s good to take a step back and remember that we can all still find a way to love and support one another. Self-care might be one of the most important things that we overlook when struggling to get through our daily lives, but with the help of O’Leary and A Tiger Made of Lightning, we will all have a sonic reminder to treat ourselves better.
It’s Chaos, Be Kind is set to release October 1st. You can pre-save it and find all of the band’s social media profiles here.
- You Are Who You Choose To Be
- Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose
- Little Birds
- My Friends, You Bow To No One
- It’s Chaos, Be Kind