Gary Tanin enjoying some rare down time playing a communal piano in Denver CO during a recent run of "A Day For Grace" featuring Sam Llanas and Doug Vincent.

Gary Tanin enjoying some rare down time playing a communal piano in Denver CO during a recent run of “A Day For Grace” featuring Sam Llanas and Doug Vincent.

Dr. Who, South Park, Robot Chicken, all mention it (among others).  But it’s not just a concept in fiction or animation…  It’s real!  What’s that?  Cloning.  Remember Dolly the sheep?  If there was ever someone who could benefit from cloning, it has to be Gary Tanin.  It is amazing to see this person’s body of work as it is, but when you get down to digging into this man’s history, you realize he surpasses the definition of multi-faceted.

Many of you may not have even heard of him, but I would bet the farm you’ve heard his work.  From national JC Penney ads to a Wisconsin based “Who’s Who” of musicians. However I know that won’t satiate you, you still want to know why I am dedicating this column space to someone you consider a virtual unknown.  Yeah, he’s so unknown, my best thing to ever happen to me studied telecommunications, and Gary Tanin was mentioned as part of the curriculum of study.

You don’t get to be part of a major East coast college curriculum by being a nothing.

But if that isn’t good enough, if you read my column, you know about Todd Rundgren.  Rundgren had a keyboardist for many years (starting with Rundgren around 1974) by the name of Roger Powell.  Now you’re saying “Who the fuck is Roger Powell???”.  Now comes the part I love, where I get to shut you up!  If you have ever touched an Apple computer loaded with Garageband, Tanin became involved with Garageband when it was only an online site through working with Jerry Harrison (Apple acquired the rights to the name from the site, there is no correlation between the site and the program).  I’ll bet you know Jerry Harrison’s  name, if not, let me refresh your memory.  Harrison started out with a band called Modern Lovers, then joined a little unit out of the Rhode Island School of Design with a guy by the name of David Byrne, and a couple who were not only the rhythm section of this little combo, but ended up married.  Their names are Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz.  That combo that Harrison joined was Talking Heads.  Not good enough?  Let me finish my train of thought on Powell, as I KNOW you have played Electronic Arts video games.  Well before becoming a head sound designer for Electronic Arts, Powell worked at Apple computers.  So if you have ever used Final Cut Pro or iDVD on any computer to accomplish video editing , you have most likely enjoyed Powell’s programming prowess.  Tanin then worked on Powell’s first solo project since 1980’s Air Pocket by becoming one-third of Fossil Poets, which included Powell, Tanin and guitarist Greg Koch and was released in 2006 under the same name.  Then in 2008, Tanin helped co-produce Powell’s next solo album of piano improvisations called Blue Note Ridge.

Roger Powell in the foreground, Tanin in the background working on the Inner Knot debut of Fossil Poets.  Photo courtesy Gary Tanin

Roger Powell in the foreground, Tanin in the background working on the Inner Knot debut of Fossil Poets. Photo courtesy Gary Tanin

Knowing how discerning you readers can be, let me go into more degrees of separation to satiate your growing curiosity, you’ve heard of Genesis, right?  Please tell me you’ve heard of Genesis…  Well Tanin has worked with another Milwaukee native by the name Daryl Stuermer, who, in the live configuration of Genesis plays bass and guitar, and was a member of the Phil Collins Band before Collins retired due to severe carpal tunnel in his hands.  That is one of music’s greatest losses as those distinct shuffle beats of Collins will never be recorded again.  Still not good enough?  Perhaps the Violent Femmes are more your style.  Their drummer Victor DeLorenzo hired Tanin to place his magic touch on his project.  Tanin has won numerous awards, both local to Wisconsin and nationally, as well as collaborated with artists around the world, most notably the collaboration with a Japanese counterpart by the name of Toshi Hiraoka in a project called XPensive Dogs.  This sounds really intriguing to me, as it is a hybrid of Tokyo Techno with American hard rock harmonies.

I think that should suffice as to who Gary Tanin is.  But that is only his resume, Gary Tanin himself is a far more interesting, engaging and (in my personal experience) pleasant person to be around.  Which leads the reader to wonder where my usual, Harvey Levin-esque dig-up-the-dirt-on-this-guy approach is languishing?  Therein lies the issue:  There is no dirt on this guy!  He has been beaten up by the industry as much as the next guy.  He started in this business at an early age, and perhaps it was through sage advice, inherent smarts, or observation, but Gary Tanin has kept himself out of trouble for a 40 plus year career.  His early attempt at a band, Otto and The Elevators was regionally well received, critically acclaimed and would have grown legs (as they say on Broadway, and we will touch on his involvement with Broadway, or at least the good theater, off-Broadway, later) had it not been for the bad habits of some of the other members of the band.  There, that should satiate you dirt lovers.  It better, because that’s all there is.  How does someone so immersed in the industry keep themselves from falling victim to the pratfalls of the music biz?  From Tanin himself:

“Everything we do is a diversion from true purpose. All the many “obsessions”, “compulsions” and so on in our daily lives are naturally geared to divert our focus from true personal understanding as I see it.

Our true goal is to find and understand our “purpose” and once we do, to move toward fulfillment of that purpose, as we understand it…  Always refining the focus and installation of that we see ourselves fulfilling.

I refer to purpose in the spiritual sense. Spiritual goals are the most difficult to attain because [of] the obstacles to their achievement abound.

Why would that be?  Perhaps if a society is geared to true spiritual growth for its members it becomes painfully obvious that the consumerism and the life of consuming are antithetical to its achievement.

I am plagued with character defects and shortcomings that prevent my achieving my purposes in life because (like consumerism, or an obsession or compulsion) they shift my focus from the main goal.  Once I recognize that I am again operating under [the influence of] one of these, it diverts me from right thinking about true purpose and spiritual goals. This happens all the time, day in and day out.”

Tanin posing proudly with one of his many awards.  Photo courtesy Gary Tanin

Tanin posing proudly with one of his many awards. Photo courtesy Gary Tanin

Truly noble sentiments.  If these are Tanin’s guiding principles, it becomes easier to see how he can maintain focus, remain productive and in terms of the industry, pure.

In outlining this entry, I came up with the realization that Tanin is a multi-faceted person.  Facet number one is a producer.  This role encompasses anything from making sure the levels on the recorder don’t max out, which by default makes him an engineer as well.  But the role of producer also includes having that critical ear to say to the artist or musician “here, at this point, that doesn’t sound right/good/correct/proper/appropriate…” but such a task requires an amount of diplomacy and gentility so as not to disengage the artist from the process via alienation.  I can site this incidence with the aforementioned Rundgren and one of his production clients, that of Bourgeois Tagg vocalist/keyboardist Brent Bourgeois, who, upon hearing Rundgren criticize one of Bourgeois’ compositions without that diplomacy, drove Bourgeois to write a scathing answer to Rundgren in the form of a song.  Which, ironically, Rundgren approved of more than the original composition.  But having that ability to constructively criticize without having the “temperamental artist” storm off and waste valuable studio time is, in itself, an art form.

In case you couldn’t read between those lines, I have been in the producer’s chair myself, and while I like to think I have some amount of that diplomacy, sometimes the artist is a bloated sac of misogynist antagonist who knows far more than any producer and would argue with the likes of Rundgren and Tanin, let alone a nobody like me.

Another, and the final aspect of the producer’s role, at least in Tanin’s case, is mastering engineer.  This is the equivalent step to quality control and overall match of the level of the finished piece and album.  Making sure the first song isn’t louder than the second, and the last song hasn’t been fader-chased to the point that it is exceedingly louder than any of the other songs, or that it has the right amount of dynamic for a closing piece to an album, but doesn’t surprise you to the point where you wet yourself.  Among other finishing touches.  Tony Levin of Peter Gabriel and ex-King Crimson fame, once described the mastering process as himself in a control room with the mastering engineer, Levin reading a book while the engineer is working his ears off and Levin to occasionally being asked his opinion of the sound (after a considerable amount of time tweaking, augmenting and polishing things like effects, EQ, etc.), and having Levin say “Sounds good to me” and then admitting that he could barely tell the difference.

Another facet of Tanin’s career that we can cover quickly is as a musician.  Tanin’s primary instrument is keyboards.  This makes sense as it is easiest to arrange, manipulate computer interface devices, demonstrate an idea for a part to most ranges of other instruments, etc.  From his earliest efforts vis-a-vie Otto and The Elevators, to his various contributions to Sam Llanas’ first solo effort Absinthe – A Good Day To Die; a phenomenal disc, perhaps one I would venture to say is required listening and belongs in every record collection, well over Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive but perhaps not as heady as, say, King Crimson’s (as Pete Townsend called it) uncanny masterpiece In The Court Of The Crimson King.  But only if you have a pronounced dark side.  More recent than the Absinthe project, there is also Tanin’s work on the 2011 solo work by Llanas, the incredibly impressionistic 4.A.M.  If there was ever a collection of songs that conveyed a mood, a situation, depicted a scene, 4.A.M. is perhaps the best example of storytelling through song I may have heard in my lifelong involvement in music.  As I review Tanin’s discography, if he is not listed as being behind the console, he is usually listed as contributing keyboards, vocals and occasionally percussion.  When you get a synthesizer credit on a Roger Powell disc, that says volumes, considering Powell started out as a developer with ARP synthesizers…  That covers the musician aspect of Tanin’s career.

Tanin dutifully overseeing soundcheck during a Summerfest appearance of Sam Llanas. Photo courtesy Gary Tanin

Tanin dutifully overseeing soundcheck during a Summerfest appearance of Sam Llanas. Photo courtesy Gary Tanin

Another vital component Tanin’s repertoire of musical abilities and I believe it to be as difficult as producing, is promotion.  This is something I know a little bit about, coming from a Marketing education/career history.  Getting the word out about a new artist or product is most likely the greatest challenge to someone like Tanin.  Here is someone who has seen formats like 8-tracks, vinyl, cassettes, and CDs come and go, and is now watching as once-behemoth record labels become watered-down subsidiaries of major corporations while indie labels not only survive but thrive with less threat of contractual ensnarement and interference from those corporations.  Indie labels, with the advent of the downloadable format, however, are a dime-a-dozen.  The average Joe with his multi-track recorder, and computer with CD burner, graphics program and label printer can produce their own product in their basement, office, etc.


In speaking with Tanin, bringing up the subject of promotion, he steadies himself and speaks with a deliberate, exact and almost antagonistic tone.  He recalls his own experience and will not tolerate his artists being taken advantage of in any way shape or form.  So when it came time for Tanin to handle the management aspect of Sam Llanas’ solo career, and the marketing of 4.A.M., Tanin put boots to the ground and called label after label.

Not only have computers made creating music easier, they are also making the marketing of music far more competitive in terms of units sold.

Tanin recalls attempting to sell Llanas’ 4.A.M. as a frustrating series of repetitive phone calls where the names Sam Llanas and BoDeans elicited positive reactions from the label representatives on the other end of the phone, the number of units sold for their last product (which was easily researched online during the course of the call) was often times met with either “how do you intend to better these figures” or more likely “sorry, but, we can’t do anything with numbers this low”.

Record labels that specialize in boutique artists do exist.  Sanctuary records was one who would sign artists who had distribution numbers anywhere from 100,000 upwards.  Icons from the 1970s, 1980s, passé genres, artists with concrete followers like Ozzy Osbourne, Rundgren, King Crimson, Sanctuary’s roster was a veritable who’s who of musicians.  They went belly-up sometime in the late 2000’s.  If a label holding contracts for that many established artists cannot survive, it is a scathing indictment for the music industry today.  Rundgren once claimed he signed nine different contracts with Sanctuary, for video DVD releases, live show CDs and more, all lost to the ether.  As a result of this failure, Robert Fripp of King Crimson shortly thereafter formed his own label under his distributorship Discipline Global Mobile, or DGM called Inner Knot records.

No other label would have the balls to manufacture a record on blue vinyl from a relatively unknown act such as Fossil Poets other than Robert Fripp's Inner Knot!  It is rumored that there are less than 50 copies of these blue discs in existence.  Image courtesy Gary Tanin

No other label would have the balls to manufacture a record on blue vinyl from a relatively unknown act such as Fossil Poets other than Robert Fripp’s Inner Knot! It is rumored that there are less than 50 copies of these blue discs in existence. Image courtesy Gary Tanin

This is what brings us back from our tirade on the music industry to Tanin…

When discussing those numerous calls to labels, one that lightened Tanin’s tone was his conversation with the good folks at DGM.  Printed on every item they release is the disclaimer that states the artistic content contained within this product was, is and always will be the legal property of the artist (or words to that effect, you get the point).  Remember, Fripp has spent the latter half of his career/life pursuing royalties, per diems and lost/pilfered earnings from his years on E.G. Records, as well as the theft of online content by (to name one) Virgin Records.  Tanin had the industry wherewithal to inquire about downloading percentage and how much Powell and company would recoup from downloads of Fossil Poets (the first product Tanin shopped to DGM) and Tanin knew he found a home when he was met with the answer (in accordance with the above referenced disclaimer) 100%!

Tanin had found a home.  At least for the more “commercial” releases.  Powell’s Fossil Poets was on Inner Knot, Blue Note Ridge was not.  Sam Llanas’ 4A.M. was on Inner Knot.  Tanin’s new album, Love Changes (which we will touch on at the end of this blog) was not.  I guess even Inner Knot has some accountants to answer to.  She is actually, from what my best thing to ever happen to me recalls from the King Crimson show at the Nokia Theater in NYC in 2008, a very nice person.

A copy of the press release sent out about Tanin's upcoming CD release "Love Changes". Review upcoming on BouleBlog next! Image courtesy Daystorm Music

A copy of the press release sent out about Tanin’s upcoming CD release “Love Changes”. Review upcoming on BouleBlog next! Image courtesy Daystorm Music

Before we touch on the new release by Tanin himself, he has assumed one last role or facet if you will.  With Sam Llanas’ involvement in the Doug Vincent play A Day For Grace, someone was needed to align the dialog of the play with appropriate music.  As Vincent explained in our video interview, he had completed the play, yet felt there was a need for a new dimension, an extra element, an additive to the play, that being some appropriate, integral music.  Vincent further explained that he had been a long-time BoDeans fan and always seemed to have some sort of connection to BoDeans co-founder Kurt Neumann, especially at live BoDeans shows.  Upon reaching out to the BoDeans, Llanas somehow became a more appropriate target for music for A Day For Grace.  Except there was one amazing happenstance…  Many of the tracks Llanas had already written for A Good Day To Die fit into the theme of A Day For Grace.  Having just completed 4.A.M., those songs also fit uncannily into the theme.  In order to align the perfect portions of the songs into the dialog of the play, Tanin was called upon to assume the role of Music Director.  The one entrusted to merge spoken word with musical composition and performance placement.  Much like the magic that Llanas and Vincent wove in the play, Tanin was genius in his choices for songs, passages, places to insert the music within the dialog to elicit emotions most plays are either too pithy or too timid to broach.  Llanas, Tanin and Vincent all had vested interest in one of the primary topics of the play, suicide. Under the able direction of Spalding Gray protege Tanya Taylor Rubinstein,  A Day For Grace captured magic in a bottle.  To be able to put aside the taboo of the issue to produce a play as touching as A Day For Grace reveals one facet that is prevalent in all three and especially Tanin…


I touched on Tanin’s new CD, Love Changes.  There is an interesting concept behind this CD.  Back in 1972, Tanin took a shot at producing his first solo album, Love Changes All.  This is the 40 year-old answer to that album.  As Tanin’s own promotional campaign states, same subject, same guy, new songs, 40 years later.  I had the unique opportunity to preview the tracks before they were released.  While I am not about to rev up a review now after our in-depth sojourn into who Gary Tanin presents as, I am delighted to say a full-length review of some very cool tunes is coming up next on BouleBlog, so by all means, check in next time as the disc drops the 18th, so we will have our review up and ready for then.  Check it!

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