Decided to repost my interview with Jag Tanna of I Mother Earth in one single post in advance of this week’s shows. I’ll have full recaps of both shows (assuming Air Canada doesn’t screw me over and prevent my Thursday evening flight from arriving on time), although I’m not bringing a laptop, so unless I feel like typing it all out on my iPhone, I may wait until I return to Cape Breton to Post them.
In light of I Mother Earth’s recent decision to record some new material and schedule their first live shows in almost a decade, I approached guitarist Jag Tanna about doing an interview. He graciously agreed to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some of my questions by e-mail. I sent him a pretty lengthy list and his answers were pretty comprehensive, so I’m going to post his responses in three installments over the next several days.
So, where have you guys been for the past eight years? Just a brief rundown, for the record.
Basically we’ve been all over the place! Mostly making babies and leading a somewhat normal existence as ‘family guys’. I started a content/marketing company called Segment X back in ’04 (big news on that very soon!), Bruce headed down to Orlando to join the BlueManGroup as a non-painted member of course, Brian had some fun with his solo thing and has been tattooing like a savage, and Chris is GM of an awesome venue, oddly enough called ‘The Venue’ and is also a coordinator for a local entertainment entity. Actually, we are all pretty excited and proud of the things we do outside of IME and don’t plan on stopping any time soon.
Why reunite now?
There is no actual timing to it. It happened when it happened. I think we are back together because things aligned in such a way where we just naturally ended up back in each others lives, without forcing it. It felt ‘non-musical’, which tells me that we were put back together for a just cause. Discussions inevitably lead to music, after all, it IS what we are… and it kept feeling good. I think i’ve already been up on the soap-box about the idea of reunions and how a lot of times they really reek of ego and greed, and if we were going to ‘go there’, it can never be about that. We simply took a break cause it was sucking for us. Not healthy for us, or for our fans. So hiatus over…. for now.
For us getting back together, I think we might have had to stop and discuss any outstanding baggage that might be kicking around in our heads all of these years just in case. To tell you the truth, I can barely remember if we actually had any, which makes me believe that they couldn’t have been all that important. “Can somebody remind me
why I was mad so I feel better about the whole ‘being mad’ thing??” Maybe a little clarification was all that was needed. We’re big boys now…. sort of.
I’ve read some things in the media that have tried to lump us in with some others who have apparently reunited. I say to them, ‘take us off your little bullshit list and try a little harder’. Maybe perhaps dig a little and find out some info about the bands you’re writing about and then see who fits where. We have absolutely nothing in common with
these bands but only time will tell once the novelty of these reunions wear off, and the money dries up. Mark my words, there will be more of these because there is just too much money involved, if you are indeed willing to whore it up a bit. It’s amazing what people will pay for nostalgia’s sake and hey, musician’s are only human right? Get while the gettins good… You know, dust off the old singles and show ‘em you’re still cool. We are the complete opposite of that idealogy, and wouldn’t even think about it unless creativity was still a part of it. New songs, new directions, new business, new fans… or forget about it.
Would you have gotten back together if any of the guys said no?
Short and long answer : no. Four brothers make the mothers.
I read that Daniel Mansilla is back too? How important was he to the equation?
Obviously, percussion has always been a huge focus for us. We got a little bit away from it on the last record but it’s back in the new stuff. Daniel is a key component of what we are live…. he’s more ‘rock’ than all of us put together. We were just in the studio together and I hadn’t seen him since the last gig in ’03. Nothing’s changed. He
brought soup, we had a good laugh, job well done. Hmmmmm….. maybe 5 brothers!
I often read stories that I write and focus on how I should have worded things better. Based on your responses on the new blog, you view IME songs the same way. Do you sometimes have difficulty listening to them?
I can’t stand listening to any of them!! lol! Seriously. We are in rehearsals now and it’s torture having to listen to songs just to figure out parts and such. It’s too bad because there are definitely moments where a bit of pride creeps in on a section but it’s always short lived. I hate that I feel that way but what can I do? My god, anytime I put Dig on I could cry.
You are really honest with the blog. You seem like you have a lot to say. What motivates that?
I think throughout my whole career I’ve always been the surly one that just likes to be alone. My nickname on tour was The Barnacle because I would never leave the back of the bus!! I just latched onto my spot and never let it go!!! I feel like I always needed that safe zone for my brain to operate effectively. Silence to me is golden. It wasn’t
until we stepped out of the business that I got back in touch with who I am as a person…the real ‘me’ so to speak. My brain never shuts off and having peace and quiet and being left alone used to really work for me, at least I thought so at the time. However, I now find that my personal relationships and my entire life works better by being involved vs. shutting down to cope with the stress of being an ‘artist’. The love I have for family and friends makes me want to speak now more than ever and be involved. If I don’t, my head will literally pop off. I actually think the blog helps me cleanse a little… a viral data dump. In person I may not have a lot to say as I’m usually a little uncomfortable and awkward socially. The other reason for all of the blabbing is that we are now controlling our own message to our fans, and a more focused approach to getting the info out there is working for us. We live and die by our own words and efforts now and we like it. Not to mention, I type and text like a freaking savage.
How was it working with the record label around the release of TQMD? From the perspective of people who followed the band, there seemed to be some tension.
Fans were more frustrated than us I think. It was obvious when the label had given up on a record that shouldn’t have been given up on. I think that we looked at it less like tension and more like an overall misunderstanding of what we were trying to do as a band, which lead to the frustration. I mean, what did we really expect when the label finally gets to hear something and I play “Meat Dreams”, a standing O for creativity, or a grave concern that they are about to lose a whack of money if they promote it!? That’s just business and I don’t fault them at all … I would have dropped us WAY before that!
There are a ton of great people working at labels who really are quite passionate about music, and it’s natural to have a few turds mixed in there just like at any company… I still have friends at both labels we were affiliated with and try to think more about the positive things that happened vs. the actual ‘business’ side of the relationship. Good people are good people, albeit sometimes in bad situations.
Something that surprised me about reading your blog was that you didn’t play guitar for 2-3 years. Why, you didn’t pick it up at all?
I’m a little extreme in the way I react to things sometimes. I remember after Dig, I gave away most of my possessions to get back to basics to write Scenery. When we finished the last show, I put all of my equipment away and just lived as an ‘ex-artist’ for awhile. I feel like if you aren’t trying to be better at your craft, or don’t have anything new to say with your instrument, pack it up and make room for other people. I’m just wasting space at that point, and I refuse to ‘dabble’.
I worked with a few folks after producing/engineering and playing a bit of guitar but really felt unfulfilled in almost every way. I think I was just bored with music and with the people in it. So, one guitar sat in a corner for years without me touching it. Then one day….boom. I am definitely a way better musician now for doing so. Better hands, better ears, better heart.
What got you back into it?
I take a lot of guidance from the gut. It was as simple as walking over, picking it up and feeling my hands get back in touch, and my gut telling me that it was time. I had zero motive for doing so, and I felt like a kid again learning Rush tunes in the basement for eight hours a day. Except this time it wasn’t my Mom telling me to go to bed or come
upstairs to eat, it was my kids! Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose… yeah that’s right, i said it!! It was simply the right time to play guitar again. Didn’t even question it.
Obviously you and Christian have been in contact. What was it like reaching out to the other guys, how and who initiated it.
Nervous at first… more so because so much time had passed without any contact as we all got into our personal lives more and just drifted away from each other. The funniest thing is that we were all such a massive part of each others personal lives for so many years… and then, absolutely nothing. Silence. It’s always easy just to ignore things from your past and just move on, but the closeness of working together for so long doesn’t simply disappear. It’s a special bond that most wouldn’t understand. These are my guys. Most people reading this have their college and university buds, but in bands, you only truly have each other. The problems that arise because of the business situations you get put in doesn’t negate your personal relationships, although it tries very hard to.
I can’t remember who got in touch with who or anything though, it just kind of happened and I don’t think about it as a series of small events. One minute I haven’t seen anybody, the next Brian lives down the street and we have shows coming up. Everything is kind of blurry!
Do you have nerves about performing live again? Are you rusty?
Of course we’re rusty! I think Bruce is probably the only one in game shape technically speaking. I guess it would be different if we were more of a straight up singles band but if you look at our catalog, there’s a LOT of playing going on. Actually yesterday we were playing a tune and I had no idea there was this whole other section. Even though Chris and Brian kept going and he’s singing right at my face, I still didn’t even recognize what the hell part they were on! No worries, I was always cramming for the exam, i’ll be ready.
Are we nervous? Hells yeah! We have a neat relationship with our fans though and they’ll help us through it. The other guys have all performed over the years, I haven’t even walked onto a stage since Barrie. We never promise perfection, but always offer up the best we can without fail… except that one time in Alabama.
How have the rehearsals and writing processes worked, with Bruce being in Florida?
We are about to have our first rehearsal with Bruce this weekend and it will be the first time we have all been together since the Barrie show. Daniel is coming too.. I can’t even describe how I’m feeling about it, and I don’t think anyone can truly understand it either. We might sound like a train wreck at first but it will be SO GOOD!! Just add some congas and be done with it…. we have 2 full days with Bruce, then 3 more leading up to the show. So, 8 years, 5 rehearsals, 2.5 hours x2 of crazy music…. i quit.
We had the first song done without bass awhile back and Bruce just cut it in Florida. He’s in the middle of a huge change in the BlueMan show and us bugging him couldn’t be at a worse time. He’s at rehearsals all day, relearning our catalog, and trying to record all at the same time. Anyhow, when he’s up, we will be sorting through what was recorded, make any adjustments and that’s it, done… next up, song #2.
The question that everyone will kill me if I don’t ask you: What happened to the footage taken at the Barrie show? Will it see the light of day?
You too??? Man, I can’t escape this one! We talked about it the other day and to tell you the truth, I can’t remember where I put the tapes! They are here somewhere and they’ll turn up. I’m looking forward to having a look at them (i never have… remember that ‘extreme reaction’ thing?) I’ll get on it after these shows…
Christian indicated in the Edge interview that the newer stuff that’s been written is mining the Scenery & Fish era. Can you elaborate on that.
Nope. I don’t know where he got that. The first song may taste a bit like that, as we are back in percussion land and the song has a ton of melody, but the 2nd one is totally not ‘that’. Maybe it’s wishful thinking on his part which is cool, but the songs are just going to be whatever they want to be. 2 minutes long, 15 minutes long, whatever … don’t care. As long as we feel like it’s cool and we don’t sound like a bunch of old farts trying too hard it’ll be ok. People will definitely dig it though. The one thing I love is that within the first 2 bars of the guitar riff of the first song, you know it’s us.
Doing it on your own terms – is it liberating?
Our ‘terms’ have always been our own. Nobody forced us to write Another Sunday, Astronaut, Summertime or Like the Sun. They just happened naturally and as an artist, you get lucky sometimes that the things you create connect with the masses. As much as we were part of a corporate machine we were about as independent as you could possibly be. You have to understand that record labels aren’t filled with these crazy people trying to control every step you take as much as just trying to bridge creativity with commerce. Both are good no? Of course as in any business relationship, there are hurdles and bumps along the road that is natural when trying to get commerce people and creative people to understand one another. We don’t think we can build a relationship that would be effective for the way we want to exist and do things so we figure we’ll just do it as we feel it should be done. Not better or worse, just different and ‘right’ for us at this particular time.
This being said… extremely liberating. We don’t ‘have’ to actually do anything. That’s the liberating part. I’m going to do these shows, come home and wrestle with my kids. That’s what I HAVE to do.
How have you felt about the way people have reacted to the news about your nonreunion?
It’s been mind blowing. Could easily have been a total disaster. I mean, who actually cares after all of these years? Apparently a lot of people. I think to many people, music has become this disposable ‘product’ that you don’t really need to think about. A listener doesn’t actually have to invest anything into the relationship as much as they used to. A lot of music out there is definitely manufactured to be disposable or at least feels that way, and I think that there is a huge backlash against that. More and more people have turned off the radio, less people buy records and just buy (or borrow) singles etc. and spend more time online trying to find the artists that really matter to them, ignoring the ones that are being fed to them. I think we do represent a positive moment in music where the ‘album’ mattered, and kept a fan base that was connected to way more than the latest single. We have over 4 hours of challenging music that our fans know every nook and cranny of, we kicked ass live, and best of all, they know we cared. These shows represent a celebration of that relationship. The IMEnation has become way more united and apparently larger than the business expected. Extremely gratifying.
What can people expect at the March 22-23 shows?
If you’ve followed us, you might have a different expectation than if you’re a first timer (of which I am proud to say are many!) To our current fans, expect a really great and long night, with us just doing our thing as we’ve always done. To the uninitiated, be prepared. We aren’t your usual rock band beating you over the head with a bunch of songs that sound the same, nor will we be staring at our shoes and playing out of tune like the uber-indie too cool for schoolers. We are an old school kick ass rock band. We are unapologetically who we are, and I really hope you dig it.
Were you watching people watching the countdown to the official announcement? How did that feel?
Weird, weird night. Felt awesome…. I was pacing around the house, kicking the dog, yelling at kids, biting my nails off etc. (just like old times!) I was watching the whole thing and directing all of the changes to the site with my friend. I almost freaked when the countdown ended and nothing happened… turns out, my buddy’s timer and my timer were a little off! Then Bookie had a technical difficulty and the announce got pushed, AND Chris’ interview had to be recorded etc. A series of small little heart attacks. We held on to this secret for months and months and I was kind of impressed that nobody had any clue whatsoever what was going to happen. Then of course, with 2.5 minutes to go, some wad on facebook says “hey, ticketmaster says something about IME at the sound academy blah blah blah…”. I was virtually stabbing him in the eyes!! (…and other places about the neck and head) So close.
How high can you jump these days?
Still quite high, it’s sticking the landing that I’m not so good at. I’ll have to come up with some more moves that don’t include me EVER leaving the ground. Old guys shouldn’t jump. It’s creepy and weird and kind of jiggly.
What will it take IME to keep it going past the March 22-23 show, what do fans need to do. Are larger tours and more recording feasible given the geographics with you guys and Bruce, his Blue Man Group commitments and the fact that you’re indie?
While we did say that we won’t decide until after the shows, we have been plotting and planning some possible scenarios that could work for everybody. First, we need to see and hear if we suck or not then move forward from that point. The second piece to all of this is music. As we write and record things, we will one hundred percent be relying on support from fans. If they get behind the songs by buying/donating to download, or steal it and promise to give it to a hundred people, request it at radio stations, or just help us promote this new strategy, we will keep creating. If nobody cares, what’s the point. My dream would be to find a way to get everyone involved, and hopefully take in small bits of money along the way, just enough to continually allow us to make more. No more, no less…It doesn’t need to stop.
And how great is it to be indie and finally control your own destiny? Do you feel like you’re losing anything.
We feel awesome because we have nothing to lose. Your destiny is what you make it… ours is to do something for the fans that have stuck with us for 20 years, and show new fans that this is what all the hoopla has been about and that they are now a part of our special family. If we manage to have some great nights, and they leave satisfied and
we justify their support… it’s perfect. Done for now.
Btw: The word indie feels a little dirty to me… it almost never is truly ‘independent’. It just seems to be another label to help the hipsters divide up the ‘cool’. Fuck that… Indie to me is a band that uses its own money to produce, distribute and market their own original product, doing it for the right reasons… nothing cooler than that. I guess that’s us now… although I prefer the term ‘unemployed.
Check out I Mother Earth at the Sound Academy in Toronto March 22 and 23. Keep up with band developments and word on new music at IMotherEarth.ca.