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I Mother Earth

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I Mother Earth

Over I Mother Earth’s 26-year career, the multi-platinum selling alt rock band has undergone a variety of lineup changes, notably splitting with original lead singer, Edwin and hiring Newfoundland-based Brian Byrne to take over following the band’s tour cycle for their second album, Scenery and Fish.

Now, for the first time since 1998, Edwin is back with the band, a situation prompted by IME’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of its second record, Scenery and Fish.

Initially, IME batted around a variety of plans to mark the anniversary, one being a fan-friendly project offering a look behind the scenes of the writing and recording process, featuring interviews with those who worked on it, including Edwin, explains drummer/lyricist, Christian Tanna.

“So, talking about the album turned into, ‘Hey, do you want to do some shows together?’ It was really that simple,” Christian says.

The plan was solidified after Christian, his brother, guitarist/songwriter, Jagori Tanna, and Edwin, got together and jammed.

“We got in the room, made some noise, said, ‘Do you want to do this? And it was, ‘Yeah, let’s go.’ It’s been a really good time and I can say we’re playing better than we’ve ever played and having fun doing it.”

While IME has changed up both its recording and live roster over time, some things remain constant: the collective strength the members bring to the table as instrumentalists and performers that’s resulted in their well-earned reputation as one of Canada’s most uniquely compelling live acts, for instance. And, Christian says, their songwriting process.

The Tanna brothers are the band’s primary songwriters, with Jag writing the music and Christian providing lyrics. While not unprecedented – Rush, Christian’s favourite band growing up, is an example – it’s rare for a band’s drummer to write lyrics exclusively.

“It’s a little weird; let’s be honest,” he says, laughing. “But before Edwin joined, it was my brother and me and a bass player. We had songs, but no one to sing them so Jag would hand me a tape with him humming a melody over top of an acoustic guitar and say, ‘Can you write something to this?’ And it’s still the same process. The technology’s different, but we’ll flesh out a song and have it basically demoed, with Jag humming over top. Then he’ll send it to me. That’s how we do it.”

Christian has always relied on a variety of sources for his lyrics.

“I used to just devour books. I was a reader, all day long, and I got a lot of inspiration from that.”

Among his favourite authors, Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac, he adds: “I also had books and books of notes and poetry I’d written, and I’d always refer back to those. Little bits and hooks would stick in my mind and something would grow from there.”

Typically, the melodies provided by Jag changed little if at all.

“Sometimes I couldn’t get a grip on the end of a line or something and I’d ask him if there were any options, but he has such a nice sense of melody, so I was strictly the ‘word guy’.”

Often, Christian continues, a melodic hook would remind him of something he had written. “It could be a little three-word turn that I loved and wanted to fit in somewhere. I had all kinds of ideas for lyrics and sometimes a song just took me to a story or a poem I’d written, and that’s where the idea started. It’s a pretty organic process and I’ve always loved doing it.”

Similarly, the approach Christian has typically taken to drumming is organic as well.

“I try to play kind of tribally, with a lot of work on the toms. I’ve always been a heavier player, but my approach is to go tribal first and then see where it goes. Also, from the early days, we incorporated a lot of Latin rhythms,” he says, citing Santana as an enduring influence. And drum parts have always been conceived with additional percussion in mind. “I think we’ve only done two or three shows without a percussionist before we got signed and we’ve taken a percussion player out on the road ever since.”

IME recently geared up for a mix of festival dates, its own shows – during which the band performed Scenery and Fish in its entirety – and completed a fall 2016 tour with Our Lady Peace.

 

 

And new material is coming, Christian says. The band no longer relies on a label and has no firm plans to release a full album in the near future, but will still record and release new music independently.

“The idea of doing all this wasn’t to just sit back and rely on old albums, but to get something new out. The industry is, obviously, a hundred times different than it was when we started, and we do everything ourselves now, with a partner who wrangles the administrative side. There’s no pressure to make albums, no sitting in a room for eight months writing. We decided we just wanted to have fun and, in short bursts, we work on a song or two.”

As far as future plans, Christian says, “We’re having fun and the current mood is to keep this rolling as is. It’s a good way to do it and I don’t see that changing going forward.”

 

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Kevin Young is a Toronto-based musician, composer and freelance writer specializing in music and technology content.


Keywords: I Mother Earth, bands, interview, artists, musicians

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