I Mother Earth guitarist Tanna happy to echo Lifeson, Santana

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 23, 1996

If you happened to walk into a house party while the last song on the new I Mother Earth CD was playing, you could be excused for taking a big swig of your beer, raising it in a toast, and proclaiming: “Man, that Carlos Santana can cook!”

You’d probably get a few folks agreeing with you, and IME guitarist Jagori Tanna would certainly be among them, because he’s the one pulling off the Santana impression so deftly.

“We used to play Santana’s ‘Hope You’re Feeling Better’ live,” explains Tanna, “and whenever we do a cover song we usually go off on a jam somewhere. So I kinda wrote this jam up, and we decided to use it in a new song. I said, ‘There’s no way that it can’t be a tribute, because it’s supposed to be a Santana’…well, we call it a rip-off, right? So if you look at the end of the words, there’s a little dedication to Carlos Santana. It says [in Spanish], ‘Thank you Carlos for being our favourite fish.’ ”

Scenery and Fish is the title of the new I Mother Earth disc, which explains where Tanna is coming from with his dedication for the Santana-like “Earth, Sky & C” (the C also stands for Carlos). Like the Latin guitar god, Tanna grew up playing with his brother—IME drummer Christian Tanna—in a musical family, although his was based in the chilly clime of Peterborough, Ontario, rather than Mexico.

“It seems that most brothers in bands come from musical families,” says Tanna, “like somehow there’s a connection with their parents or something. I started on drums when I was 13, and by the end of my sort of tenure as a drummer, Chris was getting pretty good on the drums. My dad’s a guitar player, so he took me aside and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you give this a whirl?’ and I was like, ‘Okay.’ So instant band, you know?”

The Tannas’ early jamming experiences have paid off for the brothers, whose band hit the ground running with its ’92 debut, Dig—which went gold and won a Juno for best hard-rock album—and hasn’t looked back since. The group’s financial success recently allowed Tanna to build his own Toronto recording studio, which is where he’s calling from before heading out west for sold-out shows at the Starfish Room on Friday and Saturday (May 24 and 25).

“We’ll be doin’ our next album here for sure,” he says of the new Mother Ship Sound, “but it’s basically for the independent scene. Bands can come in and use the gear that we would use, really good gear, but not really pay through the nose for it. It’s kinda tough for me to be Mr. Salesman now, but it’s honest, so…”

Because Mother Ship wasn’t completed in time for the recording of Scenery and Fish, its tracks were laid down at three different Hogtown studios as well as at the famed Studio Morin Heights in Quebec. Coproduced by Tanna and Paul Northfield, the disc is a much more concise and melodic offering than the intricate and expansive Dig.

“On the first record we were just tryin’ to do whatever we were doin’,” says Tanna, “but it seems like now, in songwriting, we have more of a grip on it. For a lot of the stuff, I wanted to see if I could just sing along with an acoustic guitar and kinda strum the songs, see if they were entertaining to me, and then sort of bring that to the band.”

While the band was in daytime preproduction for the new album, one-named lead vocalist Edwin was popping out at night to work with Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson on the latter’s solo project, Victor. Lifeson returned the favour by playing on the Scenery and Fish track “Like a Girl”.

“When I showed the chorus of that song to my brother, he went, ‘Hey, that’s like a Rush rip-off,’ ” says Tanna, “so he started playin’ a Neil Peart–type beat. We got into it, and then after all these little connections were made—my coproducer Paul had done five Rush records, and Ed knew Alex—it was one of those things where we just said, ‘Well, maybe Alex would play this.’ I said, ‘I would love that; that should be Alex, because I stole it from him.’

“And I told him that later [in the studio],” adds Tanna. “I said, ‘You know where that’s from,’ and he started playin’ ‘Hemispheres’. It was pretty cool.”

Speaking of Rush, Tanna felt a pretty serious rush of his own when his band was slotted to open for Lifeson and company at Maple Leaf Gardens a couple of years back. But musically, at any rate, things didn’t work out exactly as hoped.

“I have a tape [of the concert],” says Tanna, “and it wasn’t one of our best shows, so we were very disappointed in ourselves. As for the actual vibe there, you couldn’t ask for anything better—we’re massive Maple Leaf fans, obviously, big fans of the building, and massive fans of Rush. And my family was there. So it was a perfect night, except for us—the most important thing, of course. We fell short of where we should have been.”

Come on, Jag, take it easy. It sounds like you’re being just a little hard on yourself.

“No, no—if you heard the tape, you’d be hard on me too,” he counters, then shrugs off the memory of the gig-that-could-have-been with a laugh. That’s the spirit. Even the Big C has rough shows now and again.

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