Bucktown: Keyboarding tiger has earned his ‘stripes’
When Little Rock, Ark. native Joshua Hill started taking piano seriously in college about eight years ago, little did he know at the time that he would one day be playing the keyboard on stage at the world’s largest furry convention, pounding out a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the Fourth of July… in a full fursuit.
He did just that at Anthrocon 2009, and even to this day Hill, better known in the fandom as “Bucktown Tiger,” says that is his most cherished memory.
“Everyone stood up and saluted the flag,” Hill recalled. “That’s probably my favorite performance moment.”
Along the way, he has opened for acclaimed musician Matthew Ebel, and performed countless concerts at conventions across the United States.
Hill has also ventured into independent music publishing as the lead “shopwrecker” of Paw Recognize Paw Studios, and has put out a total of five albums since October 2007.
But, as most musicians can attest to, it has been a long and arduous path to success for one of the fandom’s finest musical talents.
FROM BRINKLEY TO BEETHOVEN
Hill was born and raised in the small town of Brinkley, Ark., which has a population of about 4,000.
Even as a youngster, there wasn’t any doubt to which animal he would receive a higher calling.
“I’ve really always felt the connection with tigers, ever since I was five or six years old,” Hill said. “I watched WCW wrestling, like probably all kids did back then, and my favorite wrestler was ‘Flyin’ Brian Pillman, who wore a tiger suit outfit.”
As he entered high school, he first came across “furry” characters – taking a particular liking to Jake, the tiger character from the book series Animorphs – but due to filtered internet access that blocked social networking and forum websites, he couldn’t pursue the interest much further.
A self-proclaimed “wannabe jock” in high school, he also was a star student in the classroom, and a leader on the Brinkley High School Knowledge Bowl team.
“At the time I was a straight-A student, a nerd, geek, read all the time, and got my share of teasing for that,” Hill admitted.
At the time, he was made aware of a local fur group in northwest Arkansas, which included 2 the Ranting Gryphon, but Hill’s lack of knowledge about the fandom, and some outside influences, kept him away for the time being.
“I had heard a lot of things about being furry, and it was negative stereotyping, Vanity Fair articles, etcetera,” Hill recalled. “I didn’t really pursue it until (my girlfriend) at the time and I broke up. She was very anti-anything different.”
While he didn’t attend his first convention until 2005, his unique name was ordained well before Hill joined the fandom.
Besides the mascot of Brinkley High being a tiger, the city’s nickname is “Bucktown,” and the 28-year-old noted that while in college at the University of Arkansas, one’s hometown was actually a method of identification.
“In my circle of friends, we were all from different towns,” Hill explained. “A lot of time we got called by where we were from. They asked me where I was from, and I’d say, ‘Bucktown.’”
After moving to Little Rock to attend college, Hill, who began taking piano lessons at the age of eight, really started taking music seriously. A fan of classical pieces, he used a well-known Beethoven tune as inspiration to get back on the keyboard.
“Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata, third movement, was pre-programmed on the piano I had at home growing up,” he said, adding that he had to ask music majors for a month, humming the tune, what the name of the song was before finally getting the correct answer. “I went and looked at the music and started playing, note by note, and then I discovered that was the song! So I learned it.”
EYE OF THE TIGER
Hill’s first furry convention was Mephit Fur Meet (MFM) 2005, and it came among rather unfortunate circumstances.
The devastating Hurricane Katrina had hit the gulf coast just the week before, and the con hotel, Holiday Inn Select, actually shared its room block that year with displaced victims of the disaster.
Hill himself got to the convention late due to working overtime with the relief efforts, but was able to get away on Saturday.
“I walked in to MFM right in the middle of the fursuit parade,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow.’”
While at MFM, as most first-time con-goers come to realize, Hill found out that he was not “the only furry in Little Rock,” in fact far from it.
He started making contacts that week and meeting other local anthropomorphics fans in person, and eventually played a role in forming the “Central Arkansas Furs” group that is still going strong today.
About a year and half later, at Further Confusion in 2007, Hill attended the con’s masquerade and saw a musician named Flare Starfire play a song in fursuit.
“I thought that was really, really cool,” said Hill on Flare’s performance. “I wanted to learn how to do it.”
Although the hand paws are specially made for keyboard playing, Hill noted that it still took him months to get used to playing in his new digits.
“I can pretty much feel the keys, but the difficult part is seeing the keys because of the fur over my hands… and the fursuit head,” he explained. “First, I have to learn a song and learn how to play it without looking, or very minimal looking. Then I have to re-learn how to play it in suit, because having your fingers in the paws changes the way your hands can move.”
Despite the challenges, Hill kept at it, and eventually made his fursuit piano performance debut back at his home convention, MFM, in 2007, where he played “Eye of the Tiger.”
But not before a little first-timer’s stage fright.
“I was really nervous, but eventually I started getting into the rhythm, and everybody started clapping,” he said. “My first concert was at Megaplex 2008, where I got to open for Matthew Ebel. That was really, really cool. Have keyboard, will travel.”
From that first concert onward, Hill has grown his brand considerably. He had released his first album, “Orange + Black,” that past October, and eventually released “Shop Music,” an original hip-hop album and “Scritching the Ivories,” featuring instrumental piano, in the following years.
As he was developing “Shop Music,” Hill began streaming sessions live on Ustream to enhance the facilitative process between a musician and his fans.
“I was really running up against a wall for a lack of creative juices,” he recalled. ” I’m just happy to see my supporters and friends watch me work on new music and perform existing music, each Tuesday night. It’s something I’m grateful to have, and hopefully it changes the way music is created in general, where you get a lot of listener feedback and really have your listeners collaborate with your songs.
“It gives you new ideas.”
Hill, who said that his next concert will likely be Furry Fiesta in late February, added that he usually gets between 30 and 50 Ustream viewers each week, and has had as many as 70 tune in for a session.
“I try to make a point to greet everyone by name when they come in,” he noted. “Respect for listeners is very important in my shop, and overall I’m just really happy they’ve been a part of my music.”
As for the future of Paw Recognize paw, Hill, having just released his second instrumental and hip-hop albums, “The Purring Piano” and “Ready Fur the World,” respectively, has set some very lofty goals for himself as an independent musician.
“I want to get to the point where I’m doing an instrumental piano album and a hip-hop album each year,” he said. “I know that’s probably a lot to undertake, but I think it’s possible.”
For more information or to purchase his albums, visit www.bucktowntiger.com.
Additional Q & A with Joshua Hill, “Bucktown Tiger”
Q: Who are some of your musical heroes or inspirations that have helped you get to where you are today?
A: I’ve taken to “Sub-Level 03″ a whole lot, they were my first inspiration back at my first con, I saw them perform in concert, and they sounded like a professional touring band. I found out they were furries, and they do this in their garage. I thought that was really cool, and it inspired me to create my own music.
Later on I met Matthew Ebel, he also is an independent musician and does everything in his, he calls it the “dining room studio.” Being self-produced and independent, it’s really been an inspiration for a lot of the stuff I do.
As far as mainstream, definitely Lil’ Wayne. I know it’s kinda cliche, but I like the way he flows. Especially his album “Tha Carter III,” it was really good. Eminem, definitely positive, as far as the way he rhymes. There’s also another band, “Lord T & Eloise,” they’re probably my favorite non-furry act. They’re also costumers, they dress as 17th century aristocrats.
Q: You were crowned as the recent winner of the Fandom’s Favorite Fursuit Fracas, do you have anything to say to all of your loyal fans and supporters out there that carried you through that tournament?
A: I don’t know if I really won the Fandom’s Favorite Fursuit Fracas, as much as my fans won “Furry’s Finest Fanbase Fracas.” I definitely could not have done it without my fans and supporters. We had a war-room type deal going on, we were working around the clock putting up websites, showing people how to vote, how to sign up, calling people and talking to people. It really was a collaborative effort by a bunch of people. I’m just really happy that there’s so many people out there that support my music, and fursuit music in general.
It was an honor to go up against Twitch, who is also a fursuit musician, and it was a really positive experience. I hope the next generation is as thrilling and exciting as this year’s.
Q: If you could play only three more songs in your life, which ones would they be?
A: Sing for the Moment by Eminem, the Aerosmith cover. It talks about why musicians do what we do. Definitely my song ‘Rolling up Coins,’ which I end every concert and every shop with, talks about living life to the fullest and living every day like it’s your last.
For a third song, probably ‘Don’t Take the Girl,’ because it’s really sweet. It’s sad, but happy at the end… I wrote (my wife Rettina) a song, called ‘How I Love You,’ and in fact I’d probably take ‘Don’t Take the Girl’ off and put ‘How I Love You’ on there. It was her song and I definitely hope we have many, many years together.
Editor’s note: The FNN Featured Fursuiter of the Month is a bi-monthly profile series written by Kijani. Every other month he will choose one well-recognized figure in the fandom’s fursuiting community, offering a unique “behind the mask” look at their characters and lives outside of fursuiting, as well as how they found the furry fandom.
The next feature will be released in February 2012.