By Keith Sharp
I Mother Earth have just released a new single, titled “Blossom”, in itself, not exactly earth-shattering news. I mean bands and artists release singles and records on a daily basis. But what is significant about I Mother Earth’s release is that it is only their third single recording in three years since Jag and Christian Tanna hooked up again with lead vocalist Brian Byrne to reform the band with a pair of 2012 concerts at Toronto’s Sound Academy.
As their fellow rock brethren, Tea Party, Our Lady Peace, Big Wreck and Finger Eleven have all kicked their respective careers back into gear recently with new records and extensive touring activity, band guitarist and chief songwriter, Jag Tanna reports from his Peterborough Ontario residence/recording studio that IME have decided to take a more deliberate approach to the band’s revival.
“Yes it’s the third single we’ve released since we reformed (the other two being “We Got The Love” and “Devil’s Engine”), we just do things as we feel like doing them, we are not tied to any specific schedule, we just look at each other and say, `do you want to do another song, whether it gets any radio exposure or not is beside the point,” explained Tanna. “My brother Christian just lives down the road in Cobourg but our lead singer Brian, lives in Halifax so there are communication problems there.”
The Tanna Brothers provided virtually all the creativity for the band’s five studio albums, starting with their debut `Dig’ record in 1992 and concluding with their last release, `The Quicksilver Meat Dream’ in 2003 before going their separate ways. Yet even though they took a nine-year hiatus, they kept in touch with their fans who continued to ask for just one more concert.
That request was fulfilled on March 21st when the band agreed to reform at Toronto’s Sound Academy. “We had no master plan, it was just a matter of looking at each other and asking ourselves if we wanted to do it,” explained Tanna. “So we agreed to do one show, and that immediately sold out so we added a second show (March 22nd), and it was like, `this is ridiculous, we didn’t expect that at all.”
“Our attitude for the show was, let’s just feel it out, if it works out fine, but if we’re not feeling it, we’ll just stop as there’s no reason to continue, Tanna noted. “But the feedback we got was so solid, there seemed to be a good reason to continue.”
Realizing they had been away for over a decade, the Tanna brothers and Byrne, conspired to write one new song for the occasion (“We Got The Love”) which exploded onto contemporary radio stations.
“Once I got some new input, it was like let’s get rolling again. Rather than sitting around and talking about it, let’s do something positive,” Tanna assessed.
IME followed through with a second single, “Devil’s Engine”, earlier this year, but as Tanna, notes there is no big rush to complete another studio recording. “Our basic business model, doesn’t allow us to get together like we used to do every single day. We all have our own individual projects and especially with Brian, all we can do is communicate by phone,” Tanna explained. “When you are writing and recording an album, you want it to be a cohesive effort but to try to get the other guys involved, especially Brian, would make for a rather disjointed production. I don’t like the idea of just me, locked here, writing music, to do a whole album alone. I think I’d kill myself – or somebody else!”
It’s a feeling that haunted Tanna when he wrote the majority of the band’s initial albums including their ground-breaking 1992 debut release ‘Dig’ (which won a 1994 Juno award for Best Hard Rock album) and their hit follow-up ‘Scenery And Fish” release in 1996.
Having hooked up with original vocalist Edwin and bassist Franz Massini in Toronto, the band were the targets of an intense U.S bidding war after just 13 concerts together and the recording of a professional-sounding five-song demo. Their debut ‘Dig’ album, recorded in Los Angeles with former Guns N Roses producer Mike Clink enjoyed instant success with tracks like “Rain Will Fall” and “So Gently We Go” propelling their progressive rock sound. But as the industry soon found out, I Mother Earth were virtually impossible to categorize.
“Chris and I grew up on Rush and the biggest thing for me was, I never knew what they were going to do next,” Tanna admitted. “I would listen to their latest album and it would confuse me, and then I’d get it. I understood that a big part of our relationship with our fans was to challenge them. The reason our songs are so friggin long all of the time is because we don’t care about how we are supposed to create a song. We are going to go here, we are going to go there then we are going fishing!”
Yet with most of the writing responsibilities falling on Jag, the success of their first release almost triggered their own undoing. Massini was replaced by Bruce Gordon as Dig was being recorded but Tanna found himself responsible for most of the creativity with brother Christian adding the lyrics.
“The success of that record killed us in a way,” recounted Tanna. “There was such a reliance on me to come up with the songs that I ended up writing most of the follow up record, (their 1996 follow up `Scenery And Fish’). I challenged everyone else, including Edwin, to contribute, I left the door open for them, but at the end of the day, no one came up with anything and there’s me going well there’s “One More Astronaut”, there’s “Used To Be Alright” there’s Another Sunday”.
Yet despite, Scenery And Fish proving to be the band’s most successful record, (reaching double platinum) Edwin announced he was leaving the band due to him claiming he had no input into the band’s creative process, moving on to write songs for Alex Lifeson’s “Victory” release.
Brian Byrne was eventually drafted in as a replacement, Universal Music replaced EMI as the band’s record label and they went on to release two more records; Blue Green Orange (1999) and Quicksilver Meat Dream in 2002 before they disbanded.
Acknowledging the band’s direction had become more technically challenging as they progressed, Tanna admitted their music isn’t geared to everyone’s taste. “Our attitude is that even if we write a song that confuses the fuck out of you, you’ll never know what we’re going to do next.”
Tanna eventually pulled the plug on the band in early 2003 when he felt he had nothing new to say and he feels even now that I Mother Earth will quit if he feels the band is not cutting it creatively.
“If we get to the point where we are playing live and we are taking steps backwards, then I wouldn’t want to continue because I would want to be better now than when we were when we stopped,” he avowed. “But so far, that isn’t a problem. It’s hard for us to play festivals because our songs are so long, we can only play five or six songs in any given 45 minute set. But I feel sorry for anyone who goes on before or after us. By the time we are finished, people in the audience are going to lose their shit.”
Photo’s Courtesy of Kris Gelder