Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Riding ACROSS TUNDRAS with Tanner Olson

Atmosphere is a funny word. Well, in some cases it is. What I’m talking about here doesn’t involve the moons of Jupiter or some Weather Channel geek running on at the mouth about the upper level disturbance plaguing the Midwest this week. No, atmosphere in music is an altogether different thing and it’s funny in that it’s often hard to quantify. Let there be no mistake, however, in the fact that ACROSS TUNDRAS, a band from Tennessee (by way of Colorado) are loaded with atmosphere. Take their “Western Sky Ride” disc (from earlier this year) for example. While this record is surely powered by modern instrumentation, and quite freaking heavy at that, I don’t recall another album I’ve heard that gives me the feel of the wide open of the American Old West. From beginning to end, this CD has a vibe that conjures up not only the windswept plains and Badlands, the sagebrush and cactus…but the lives of the people who trod there. In listening to this music, I can feel the ghosts of those who walked these lands, good and bad, with stories to tell that are often somber and inspirational as well. It is a rich and gorgeous palette on which ACROSS TUNDRAS paints with a brushstroke that is at once volatile in it’s heaviness and deft in it’s emotional touch. To learn more of the origins of this rich aural art, I spoke to AT main man, Tanner Olson.

RAY - I know you started ACROSS TUNDRAS in Colorado (I do have the correct big rectangular Western state, correct?) and now are located in Tennessee. Was this a case of not being given the keys to the Coors factory, not being able to compete with the memory of John Denver or was there more involved?

TANNER - Across Tundras spent nearly 5 years as a band in Denver, CO. We had a lot of great times, shows, and memories... but it got to a point where it just started to feel stale for myself personally and musically. We moved to TN for a new start and to meet some new friends and musicians who share the same passion for music. So far, things are going great. Life in the South is more laid back. Nate & Micah (new drummer and bassist) kick ass musically and as people.

RAY - What was your early motivation for becoming involved with music, your influences and all that and how did it get to you creating the kind of music you do with AT? Everybody’s got a story, let’s hear your’s!

TANNER - I have played guitar since I was about twelve and been singing songs since I could talk. It has been one of the most constant things in my life. I never grow bored of it or lost inspiration. Music is without boundaries and constantly challenging and expanding, and I drawn to that. We make the music we make as a tribute to all of our influences past and present. Carrying on a tradition and doing the best we can.

RAY - I was turned onto AT all at once, meaning that I opened up the mailbox one day and there was a huge package with all your stuff in it. After I went to Home Depot & rented a fork lift to get the bloody thing into my house, I listened to all the stuff in order, several times. It became apparent to me that your music has expanded very naturally from “Divides” to “Dark Songs…” to “Western Sky Ride.” It’s almost like watching something go from a black & white snap shot to a colour photo to a 3-d image. Care to comment on any such progression or am I just blowing smoke.

TANNER - Across Tundras main focus as a band has always been to keep challenging ourselves as well as the listeners. We are always working hard on our playing and songwriting because there is so much to always learn and new ideas. I am glad you can hear the progression in the albums!

RAY - I like to bowl tenpins. That, in and of itself, may be an odd admission but trust me, it’s going somewhere. When you bowl, there’s such a thing as “waiting for the shot,” meaning that you don’t want to release the ball too quickly on your downswing or you’ll lose all kinds of leverage. One thing that strikes me about the playing in AT, particularly the guitar work is the incredible patience…that is, waiting, letting the beat stretch out and just waiting, even that extra half-second to hit the next chord. It seems to allow the music to expand and reach even higher dynamics so well. Any thoughts? I know, I’m a wimp because I talk about bowling.

TANNER - Dynamics are a huge part of what we do musically. We put a lot of thought into the changes and chord progressions, to try to convey many different feelings and emotions. I also just love the sound of a nice chord ringing out through cranked vintage tube amplifiers and getting that beautiful drone, harmonics, and feedback. We use those sounds very much on purpose as parts of the songs.

RAY - What kind of songwriting process is involved in AT? I’m thinking that you’re (Tanner) the main writer, is that right? The reason I’m asking is 2-fold. The music has such a wide, expansive feel that really has a Western feel, but it’s more than that…or is it? Lyrically, something like “Carrion Crow” seems to be talking about this imagery of the man, the crow, his wife in the literal sense but it also seems like imagery on a deeper level. Is there anything to what I’m saying or is just the rambling of someone who’s had too much Dr. Pepper? As an added thing to muddle up the mix, I really dig the fx-loaded, kinda cavernous vocals. How do you feel that plays into what you’re trying to do?

TANNER - We strive to create a total listening experience; something you can get lost in and search through the many layers of sound and feel different emotions and see different pictures in your mind. We use alot of different production and lack of production techniques to get the varied sounds on the records... but none of the sounds are created digitally, they are organic room sounds, analog effects, ect.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE! What would you trudge more miles across a tundra to see? Frank Zappa rising from the dead to perform “Hot Rats” in it’s entirety? Or, Sarah Brightman posing like Sharon Stone’s “interview scene” in “Basic Instinct” while singing her entire “Symphony” release? Or how about the Titans winning a Super Bowl?

TANNER - I would take Neil Young playing "On the Beach" in its entirety at the half time show of another Denver Broncos Super Bowl Championship!

RAY - I’m really interested in the visual aspect of your releases, especially “Western Sky Ride.” The copy I have is very unique in that the booklet, rather than being stapled together includes a series of individual, loose pages detailing the lyrics, the Western theme, etc. Who’s idea was this? It’s very innovative…or possibly, I just have a fucked up copy? Just kidding, excuse my French.

TANNER - haha... your copy is how it should be. We really just wanted to do something a little different for the booklet than a traditional stapled insert. I think the individual pictures give you some ideas of the imagery we see when we play the songs. Plus when you open up it you have can't help but have the pages fall all over and you are forced to read some lyrics, which I think a lot of people overlook!

RAY - Gear-geek time! What kinds of equipment do you all use? Ya know, guitars, amps, pedals, fx, additional instruments?

TANNER- Two '59 Fender Bassman 4x10 combos - Old Marshall 4x12 w/ Vintage 30's- Yamaha T 100 watt tube head (Mike Soldano design)- Ibanez Analog Delay, Stereo Tremolo, Effector 13 Dark Boost, Keely Mod Boss Distortion, Boss volume pedal *Effects ran in various stereo configurations- Two chopped, hot rodded,and rebuilt Fender Telecasters *both w/ 1 humbucker and 1 single coil + three way toggle

MICAH aka GearWitch- Ampeg V 4- Sunn Coliseum Slave- 800 Watt Power Amp- Two Sunn 2x15 cabs- Ampeg 8x10 cab- Acoustic 2x15- Fender Precision Bass w/ active pickups- Big Muff, Fuzzface, BuzzBox, and like fifteen more I can’t remember!

NATE- Premier 22" kick drum- Premier wood snare- Drum Workshop rack and floor toms- Zildjian Cymbals- Gibraltar hardware

RAY - Seems you AT guys have been busy bees. I see that there’s a new record, “Lonesome Wails…” in the offing very soon. What can you tell us about it?

TANNER - Its a much more chilled out record than Western Sky Ride for sure. It has a lot of different instrumentation and Shannon Murphy sings on many of the songs. Rather than having the heavy and loud influences be in the front... this time the folk, country, and classic rock influences really shine through. It doesn't sound like anything we have done yet and I think that’s a good thing!

RAY - I know you face the age-old problem of a smaller label and distribution. How has that gone so far, and how is it looking for the future? Any ideas of how you’re going to be able to get the AT stuff in front of great-music-hungry folk like my selves and my readers? To be honest, no store in the Baltimore area has any AT stuff in stock.

TANNER - We just keep pushing forward and working hard. Across Tundras and the labels we work with do everything in our power to promote our music and get it out there. I think it really just takes time and dedication. Honestly, so much of that stuff with labels, good distro, getting on good tours, ect is out of your own hands... you can't get too wrapped up in it or its easy to get discouraged and frustrated. We still struggle to get live bookings and often get paid nothing for playing... and that is a bummer. But ultimately we don't do it for recognition or money.

RAY - What do you do for a living? How hard is it to work in time for the band? I assume that ACROSS TUNDRAS is not the thing that’s put you in that country manor and paid for the Viper you’re driving? Do you have family issues that come into play as well?J That’s something I always wonder about bands, as people tend to forget that the band members are also…wait for it…PEOPLE!

TANNER - I bounce around part time jobs and playing in the band. I have a non toxic earth friendly house cleaning business that pays some of the bills. I have worked as cook/chef my whole life... but those hours are hard to make work with the band sometimes. It is a struggle at times, but I can't complain... I am not chained to a 40 hour a week a job.I have also two dogs: an American Bulldog and American Pitbull Terrier, they are like children to me and take alot of love and care. Its hard to find people to watch them when I am away, so they usually come on the road with us. They do a really good job handling the traveling and make alot of friends on the way!We all have girlfriends/wives, Nate has kids. Micah has two other bands. You have to juggle sometimes... but if you care about it and are dedicated... you can make it work! We jam quite a bit and play out, so I think we balance it out pretty well.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE! If a polecat = half of 7/4, then what is Neil Peart’s favourite colour?

TANNER - Orange and Blue.

RAY - One of our favourite ?’s around here. Tell us some kind of story/anecdote/etc. that involves your work with ACROSS TUNDRAS, either on the road, in the studio, at home, etc. that is either violently funny, ridiculously disturbing or patently obscene. Anything will do!

TANNER - Wow, I feel alot of pressure here. Driving home from Seattle, lots of rain and sleet... van for some reason is sliding sideways on the downhills and almost losing control. We finally get into Idaho and stop and notice the insides of the front tires have the wires poking out and are ready to blow. The alignment and front end of the van is real messed up... but it could of been much worse had a tire blown in the mountains of Washington. So we head over to get two new tires to get us home. We are sitting in the grass with our two dogs and a guy gets out of his car aways away. He all of the sudden yells over to me that I had better keep ahold of my dogs or he will shoot them (they were laying down in the grass 20 ft away showing no aggression at all!). I told him to chill the fuck out and he flashed a gun at me. I was like what the fuck! I asked him if he wanted me to call the cops on him and he then flashed a badge at me. "I am the cops." Needless to say we got the hell out of Idaho ASAP with visions of their backwoods justice patrol chasing us down and doing unspeakable things with us.

RAY - Any final commentary for the reading public?

TANNER - Support local business, art, music, etc. Recycle. Grow a garden. Love the earth.

ACROSS TUNDRAS surely makes some of the most deep, resonant and powerful heavy music that you’ve never heard. And, when you think about that, you no longer have an excuse for not checking it out. Do the right thing and head on over to the AT myspace site. You’ll be the richer music fan for the effort. All the band’s fantastic releases are available there for a very reasonable price. Don’t wait!

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