Interview: Tanners


Back in early 2019, I interviewed New York based psych-pop artist and producer Tanners; thanks to my ever-busy work schedule, the interview fell between the cracks and was never published.  Earlier this week, Tanners contacted me with news of a new release, a brooding electro-synth-pop rendition of the 1985 Beach Boys track, Male Ego, in which Tanners instills a compelling undercurrent of menace and dislocation through well-judged performance and creative production.  I dug up the 2019 interview; wrote a new introduction, which you are reading right now, and sent it off to Fresh On The Net Head Office.

Your first EP is an odd, intoxicating mix of roomy drums ‘n’ grunty bass guitar, contrasted by hypersonic synths, pads, and fizzing stereo ambients.  What inspired you to blend such, on the face of it, contradictory sounds?
That’s what I like to hear! When I started writing this EP I was going through a huge transitional period in my life. I started making music under the name Baby Montana in college and the project is still really special to me, but after I put the EP out I realized I wanted to make something different but had no idea what I wanted it to sound like. As I started doing sessions for Tanners, I’d leave feeling unsatisfied yet unable to piece together why, so I started listening to music in a different way. I began taking notes and paying close attention to song structures and production details across many genres. I didn’t know what I wanted so I searched for what I liked in other songs and took it from there.

Your follow up single, Venus, came with a big step up in terms of production.  It’s an altogether much tighter, more accomplished piece of polished alt-electropop.  Was that purely a creative choice on your part?
When we were beginning production sessions, I was honestly pretty hesitant about how poppy the track was but I figured out ways to make it sound like a step forward rather than a completely different direction. Change can be scary. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision but more a product of my growth as a musician and producer and being open to different styles.

In contrast, the EP has a glorious home-brewed feel to it.  I’m a shameless fan of DIY music.  But how does the EP play for you now?  Do you still love the real Independent feel of it? 
I’m still so proud of that EP. It took about two and a half years to get it out and was the most frustrating process, but totally worth the feeling of releasing a piece of work that genuinely felt and sounded like me for the first time. It was a step closer to figuring out what kind of music I wanted to make.

Venus successfully manages to step up the production while retaining the spontaneous energy and inspiration oddness of your first EP.  Was this a difficult balance to strike?
Yeah, it was really hard. Haha definitely had a couple of identity crises while finishing the track, but I’m so glad I faced the challenge. Again, it feels like every song is a step towards my growth and finding my groove as a songwriter and producer.

David Bowie is clearly a big influence on you. On the subject of creativity, he said ‘never play to the gallery’.  How much pressure is there on artists nowadays to play to the gallery of playlist curators and tastemaker reviewers? 
I hate to say it, but independent artists today have to maintain such a fine balance between catering to the masses and staying true to themselves, especially when they’re getting started and trying to make a living off their music. There’s so much music to be consumed and you have to show your audience that you have something different to offer. Something that cuts through the noise. And even if you are unique, you still need the recognition from blogs, playlisting, influencers/social media, etc to get the exposure.

Do you feel that pressure?  And if so, are you able to block it out?
100%. It’s really hard to block it out. I’m reliant on others for exposure and it can make you feel powerless at times. Personally, funding has been the biggest obstacle for me. No one tells you (or even really talks about) just how expensive it can be to support yourself as an indie artist. I’ve invested tens of thousands of dollars of my own money into this project and it just blows me away that that’s just what you have to do if you don’t have funding from a label or publisher. Lol maybe I’m doing it wrong.

It’s disheartening to see how much power and influence comes with having money in this industry. It always wins out. Money is King. Obviously, this is the unfortunate nature of the world we live in today but that’s a whole other conversation… I’m an incredibly privileged individual and the fact that I have a hard time financing my artistic career makes me really sad to think about how many talented artists are out there whose music we’ll never hear simply because of limited financial resources.

David Bowie also said, ‘you do your best work when you’re a little outside your comfort zone’.  Do you agree?
Agreed! Although I can’t help but think of those little motivational posters that show a drawing of a box and then a dot outside with an arrow pointing to it saying some shit like “this is where the magic happens!!” Although it’s cringingly cliche, Bowie wasn’t wrong!

He finished by saying, that although you should be a little outside your comfort zone, ‘don’t go too far out’.  Are you inclined to push it too far?
Honestly, I’m more likely to need a push to get out of my comfort zone. But I think I’m relying a lot less on that push as I get older.

Iconic New York bands/artists had a particular ‘New York Attitude/Cool’ unique to the city.  Do you agree?  And if so, is there something about New York that explains this?
Agreed 100%. Not to sound so cliche, but this city is alive!! As I mentioned above, I’m the kind of person who needs a little kick in the ass and in NYC I’m surrounded by people who are constantly hustling. I think a lot of artists, including myself, feed off that energy.

Does being a New York Artist influence your work?  And if so, how?
I moved to NYC for college when I was 18 and this city has forced me to really grow up over the past 7 years. I realized I wanted to make performing and writing my life while living here and that decision was undoubtedly influenced by NYC. I’m not sure I would’ve figured that out if I’d moved anywhere else.

Do you have that ‘New York Cool’?
Haha one can only hope!

You play live with a band.  How do you go about adapting the electronic productions for a live band?
It’s definitely been a trial-and-error process. When I started playing shows in college I was so opposed to using backing tracks because I thought it was a copout. I wanted to do everything “organically”, which was definitely ego-driven. Turns out you need a whole lot of players on stage to make that happen! Once I warmed up to the idea of using stems to fill up the empty spaces, the songs started to feel so much more cohesive live.

When you’re performing your songs live, do you experience them differently?
Yes, absolutely! Playing live is the only time I get to see people’s authentic reactions to my songs. When I listen to them it’s usually through a critical lens, whether I’m compiling mix notes or production ideas. I’m in a completely different headspace.

Music videos can be an expensive outlay for an independent artist working to a tight budget.  Unnecessary pain in the wallet or opportunity to express yourself via a different art form?
They can get SO expensive! But having a visual component to my music is really important to me. If done well, music videos can elevate a song. It’s an opportunity to show people a glimpse of what the inside of my head looks like. While the social media aspect of this job is absolutely painful at times, showcasing visual content gives you another opportunity to connect with your audience on another level. But it’s pretty crazy to me that $3,000 – $5,000 is considered a “shoestring budget.”

With the major labels controlling so much of the distribution nowadays, does an Artist need to be signed to really get their music out there?
Not at all! There are so many great digital distributors like Level, AWAL, Stem, CD Baby, TuneCore, DistroKid, etc. Most of them charge a yearly fee or take a small percentage of sales. It’s easier than ever to get your tunes out there. Just harder to get people to care!

A number of female artists, Chloe Black in the US and Indiana in the UK, have walked away from record contracts with major labels in favor of artistic freedom and being independent.  Would you walk away from a potential deal in favor of safeguarding your artistic freedom?
That’s a toughy… Walking away from a deal would depend on so many factors. Like I mentioned earlier, so many artists in this industry are controlled and often trapped by money. It all boils down to the big bucks. Like a lot of young artists, I’m at the point where I’m so stretched thin that making music and writing songs becomes secondary sometimes which is such a shame.

I’m so lucky to have a full-time job that pays my rent but that also means I have to schedule meetings, rehearsals, sessions, shoots, etc after work or on weekends. I’m pretty exhausted most of the time and it’s such a bummer how much my career would change if I had more financial flexibility. I’d be able to actually focus my energy into creating. What a concept! But financial support from a label or publishing company always comes with a price. It just depends on whether you’re willing to pay it or not. That’s showbiz, baby!

Where will Tanners be in 12 months time?
Touring *fingers crossed* and putting out more music!! Hopefully quitting her job!!?

Male Ego is out on all platforms on Thursday, 24th June, and is well worth a listen.

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Tobi works as a Mastering Engineer (via Tobisonic Mastering), mastering a wide range of genre. Tobi also remixes and has recently released his debut solo production, All These Things under the handle Tobisonics. Find him on Twitter @masteredbytobi Read More.


  1. HW

    Good questions
    good answers
    awesome to read.

  2. Really interesting interview. Thanks for sharing it Tobi. 🙂

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