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Gary Tanin is one of the top mastering engineers around, but he's also a musician and songwriter.

Tanin rediscovers recordings that complement his debut


These days, Gary Tanin's reputation around town is as one of the premier mastering engineers in Milwaukee. Tanin also produces records for local musicians and has been working closely with former BoDeans frontman Sam Llanas for a number of years.

Recently, he joined the Les Paul Experience advisory board.

But Tanin started out as – and still is – a songwriter and musician.

After a long drought of releasing his own records, Tanin has issued "Love Changes," which, he says, bookends his 1972 vinyl debut, "Love Changes All."

The songs on "Love Changes" were recorded as demos in the 1990s and sat dormant until Tanin recently rediscovered them.

We asked Tanin about "Love Changes," about its relationship to "Love Changes All" and about why he's releasing these hidden gems now.

OnMilwaukee.com: Tell me a bit about how you made the new record. It was very basic, wasn't it?

Gary Tanin: The technique used was how I used to record my songwriting demos. A Tascam four-track cassette recorder that I had laying around since the mid 1980s was my standard tool. I used stereo microphone setup to record the piano and a separate microphone for vocals. The vocal microphone was effected on some of the songs as I recorded them.

There were no "fixes" to the recording which is the standard for today. These were "live" performances of the songs that I was working on at the time. You'll hear page turns, clicks and piano pedal noises as I was recording these tracks, none of which was edited out. The old analog cassette Portastudios allowed you to record two additional tracks. I used those to add my harmony vocals and organ parts to fill out the song arrangements.

This is as basic as it gets, as far as recording. Nowadays I find that I have to describe this process as if it was archaic or from the dark ages. No, we really just recorded the track without being able to "punch-in" or fix it with the ubiquitous "Autotune." In other words, what you hear is what was actually recorded.

OMC: Why did you resist the urge to embellish these recordings? Was that initially the plan?

GT: When I originally recorded the material in 1996, there was no plan except to create demo versions of songs that I was working on that conceptually fit together. They were all written in the same window of time. A few songs in late 1994 and the bulk in 1995 and early 1996. It was after my completing the record "Sublime Nation," which had been released in late 1994. I realized I had reached a pinnacle of "technological" standards for the day and I longed to get back to my continual writing process and work these ideas out like I had always done, on a tape recorder.

OMC: I'm interested in how this record relates to your first record, which was done more than a decade before. Can you talk a bit about the concept of linking the two records?

GT: In 1972 I released "Love Changes All." Back then these were also demo recordings of my songs. I went into a studio to record all the songs for "Love Changes All" simply to "demo" the songs I had written. My mentor and manager, Ed Sokol, was a world class audio engineer and had access to a studio with a 7-foot Yamaha grand piano along with the standard for the day (and) great microphones.

I remember how tough it was to record the piano alone without being able to sing along with the part. For isolation we did the piano tracks first, then the vocal. In 1972, it was also a four-track machine – one costing $10,000 – I remember having one evening to do the whole recording. Piano parts then vocals.

Those recordings that became "Love Changes All" were sent out as demo tapes to prospective artists looking for sides to cut in the studio. I grew impatient in not getting any decent placements for the songs and decided that I would do something myself with the material. In the early 1970s it was cheaper to press up the "demo" as an LP than duplicating reel-to-reel tapes, thus the first full length record I would release was born.

It covered material written when I was 17-19 years of age. It was an overly optimistic view of "love" and the idea "love," by itself, was sufficient to change everything in life. The material swings from happy love ditties to covering deep loss and unrequited love ... two subjects which are among my favorites.

So here I am some quarter century on and in the mid 1990s I start writing a body of works that covers very similar subject matter. Relationships gone wrong, love loss, etc. Same questions, same subject matter, same guy ... 25 years later. I thought it made perfect sense to contrast these two groups of songs and even used a slightly more cynical title for the record "Love Changes."

When I placed the two records side by side, I saw that the world view my writing had described when I was 17 or 19 had not changed as significantly as I might have expected. These two records now bookend similarly addressed subjects. The latter, through, hopefully, the lens of wisdom and maturity.

OMC: Did it come easily writing new material that was linked to old material or did you really have to work at finding ways to make those connections?

GT: Writing the new material was like turning on a faucet. I was motivated by deep despair, pain and the raw emotional awareness those emotions brings. I guess these get worked out through my writing. I had been through a number of painful romantic delusions that all ended up exactly the same. Me all alone. There was no overarching command to link the first record with these new songs, but it became obvious that the material mirrored that first record and that I was on a similar writing path. I tend to write an abundance of dark, moody, emotional songs that try to grapple with big themes.

OMC: The songs are very moody, very atmospheric. You've called them "mood sketches." What do you mean by that?

GT: When I recently reviewed this group of songs, they immediately resurrected the "mood," and reconstructed a precision and intensity of feelings I experienced when I had recorded them. These songs recreate an emotional aura. The use of the piano and vocals allow the lyrics to seer an emotional picture. The atmospheres created underpin a resounding theme of loss and attempt to resolve it. The use of the piano is also "moody" for lack of better description. I listen to the songs and can almost see a "sketch" or a painting in my head while I'm listening. A lot of music doesn't readily present itself in that way to me.

OMC: Finally, these tunes were recorded in the 1990s. Why did they sit so long and why release them now?

GT: The idea to release the recordings came after the touring this year with the play "A Day for Grace." I became the music director of this Boulder StoryHealers production earlier this summer. Sam Llanas (formerly of BoDeans) graciously allowed the use of his music from 1998's "A Good Day To Die" and performed as a musical part of the play in Denver, Chicago, New York and Boulder. Sam's music – and the play – gave voice to some very taboo subject matter in a unique and extremely rewarding way.

An emotional conversation was brought about from experiencing the play. This is what I was taught all great art has in common; in some way, shape or form to communicate or provoke feeling, emotion and thought. The experience I had with "A Day for Grace" and Sam Llanas' music in it had proved the importance of that communication.

It was during the two-week run in an off-off-Broadway showcase theater that I started to see how universally the show and the musical material was being understood by the audiences. The gut instincts we had were vindicated through multiple audiences in multiple cities. When I returned home, I spent some time going through master tapes of recordings I had done with Sam as part of "A Good day To Die," along with demos I had recorded with the BoDeans.

Among those tapes I came across these mixes of songs from 1996. To my surprise, this material had weathered well, much better than I would have imagined. Having produced and mastered hundreds of records since the my first LP was released in 1972, I've become jaded. I spent many years making perfectly tuned vocals with perfectly in time rhythm tracks and perfectly overdubbed arrangements with perfectly loud mixes.

Working on considering this material for a new release was a departure from "over-perfection" and I'm happy to report that it was extremely refreshing. It reminded me why I got in this business in the first place; to give voice to feelings, emotions and ideas. To be able to give voice to emotional experience and communicate that through music is a gift. I hope that this music accomplishes this in some small way for those who will listen.

I have hundreds of songs in my stable and many of those will probably never see the light of day. Many are incomplete or don't stand up to the time test. My motivation to release the material now came in the surprising discovery realizing that these songs had a melodic grace and confidence that withstood scrutiny. The material came across to me as a provoking and soothing piece of work that finally needed to see the light of day.

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