Meet Maurice Tani
August /September, 2012 Issue
By Ann Miller
Originally posted in the AMERICANA GAZETTE
AM: So it’s 2003, 9 years back, and 77 El Deora isn’t quite born yet,what did the burdens
of Maurice Tani look like then?
MT: Well, in 2003 my band at the time, a four-piece original honky tonk outfit called
Calamity & Main was coming to the end of its service life and I’d just met Jenn Courtney.
She and I had been hired to front a classic country band,which lasted less than a
year,but we’d found a good rapport and vocal blend. I knew a good thing when I saw
it.When the project ended I grabbed her and ran.That was the beginning of 77 El
AM: Once you did,what got better for you?
MT: Not so much“better”but new and different.Having Jenn as a muse and vocal sparring
partner offered me an opportunity to write material from a new perspective and
for a female voice.C&M had been a four-piece, testosterone-soaked/guitar-driven, two
songwriter,double front man setup.A good band and a lot of fun,but subtlety was not
our strong suit.Not that I yearned for an outlet for my sensitive side but once I started
working with Jenn, it occurred to me that having a female voice to write for allowed
me to address subject matter from a perspective that had seemed off limits to me previously.
A woman can say things in song that a man can’t.And Jenn’s not a frail, girlish
voice. She had a strong presence to back the words up.
AM: And what got worse?
MT: I went from a band that was a 4-guy, pretty much democratic operation, which was simpler on the one hand, to having to do almost everything myself.The positive
side is that I’ve got the wheel, steering it where I want to go…that would be perfect
if all I had to do was write the songs, rehearse the band and show up for the gigs, but
any leader of a working band knows there is a lot more business in the music business
than music. I’ve also got to make all the decisions, do the booking, promotion, schedule
rehearsals, travel logistics,etc.etc.assemble the right people for the right gig,write
the bios and press releases, update the website, handle Face book, mail the cds, do
posters and handbills…a lot of that stuff is a huge pain in the ass but it has to be done.
AM: Posters and handbills,who is the graphic artist genius behind that effort? I look at
your show posters and think about heading west to become a‘Deora-head’ for the summer,
you guys look so cool.
MT: I wish I had someone to do those for me, but I have to do them myself. I actually
enjoy that work but it's time consuming.
AM: YOU did that graphic design? How did you come to know how to do that?
MT: I was an art and photography major in college but didn't pursue it professionally.
Instead, I began playing music for a living. It did,however,eventually afford me the opportunity
to make a crucial change of direction in my musical career.
In 1989, the day before the massive Loma Prieta earthquake hit, I was injured in an accident
in an art warehouse,my legs crushed under a 3000 pound glass sculpture.The
doctors used the medical term“smithereens” to describe the severity of the injury to
my right leg, but they managed to put it back together with a lot of metal that I carry
with me to this day.Though my dream of a basketball career was over, I made a reasonable,
if long, recovery.The warehouse's insurance company was required to offer
me retraining and I took some computer classes in graphic design. I knew nothing
about computers at the time.My art background was fully old-school.As soon as I found
the first versions of Photoshop and Illustrator, I realized they were the remedy for
everything I disliked about art and photography back in school.Digital tools spoke to
me instantly.At the time I was doing rather well with a large dance band.The money
was good.The travel was easy and it was fun to sing with a horn section and back up
singers.The flip side was that I was not very satisfied with the balance of art to craft.
Worse, I wasn't writing and it was too much travel to maintain a side project. So
through the '90s .com bubble, I gradually built a graphic design business,primarily focused
on motorsport -a childhood passion of mine. By the end of 1999 I was in a position
to pay my bills without the band. I quit my“day job”with the band and went back
to writing and playing my own music.While not a path I would recommend, I have to
credit the art accident with positioning me so that I could afford to go back to playing
my own music. And yeah, I design my own posters.
AM: So other than touring and producing your own music,are there other musical disciplines
that take up your time, teaching,writing?
MT: I don’t teach, there’s enough competition as it is. I’m a very slow writer.My songs
come achingly slow, and it’s a very solitary process, the lines coming in little dribs and
drabs.Most of it comes in the middle of the night or walking -seldom with a guitar in
hand.The major part of my process occurs in my head and then on paper.The guitar
only enters into the equation after the basics of the song are already fairly complete
I know a lot of writers who are far more prolific than I am and have multiple songs in
the works at any given moment. I know people that can do the writing-bycommittee
thing where they get together for a couple hours once a week and crank
it out with a couple other writers. I'm not that guy. If I knew how to summon inspiration,
I would,but for me it's often a waiting game,working on one song at a time. I stay
with it until it is finished, and it’s not finished until I like it.That means a single song
will clog the pipe until I have finally wrestled it to the ground.
AM: Who do you listen to when you aren’t trying to write?
MT: I like all kinds of stuff but for casual listening, these days it's usually in the car and
usually something twangy, though not necessarily country. I listen to plenty of classic
country, especially the California Buck/Merle School,California country-rock,Outlaw
Waylon/Willie stuff, a lot of George Jones, Roger Miller etc., etc.There are certainly
newer country artists I like, but they also seem to come from similar roots: Robbie
Fulks, KD Lang, Brad Paisley, Dwight Yoakum, Mike Stinson.. I don't care for a lot of
modern commercial country and I'm especially disgusted by the pandering,“us vs.
them”,“we're the real deal” stuff that too common on the charts. I’m really enjoying
the Marty Stuart television show. Great band and blend of country music styles. Personally,
I could do without some of the religious material,but the truth is,while I have
little interest in the lyrical content, I love the sound of gospel music in all its forms.
Craft-wise, I’ve certainly been influenced by singer/songwriters out of the pop genre:
Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, JamesTaylor.All very distinctive, if underrated guitar players,
I might add
AM: So that would cover musical influences,who would you say are your influences
MT: I suppose I have some of my father’s sense of humor but I suspect clever is as
much environmental as genetic. I tend to like dry humor, dark humor. I think most of
us have our taste pretty set between the time we hit puberty and when we lose our
virginity. Most casual listeners seem most comfortable with the styles of music they
were listening to back then. I don't have data points to back this up but I think the ever
advancing oldies station/tribute band target demographics tend to bear this idea out.
When I was that age,maybe 14, there was an older kid in the next block.He was about
17 and was definitely the coolest guy I had ever met.He had his license,drove his folk's glossy black Dodge 440 convertible to school, had a girlfriend that I thought was the
sexiest woman I had ever been near,was in a band and owned a gold metalflake Fender
Jaguar and a Super Reverb amp.He wasn't really a tough guy but something of a bad
boy in the neighborhood and so I downplayed my relationship with him to my parents,
but for some reason, he took a liking to me and let me hang around. He taught me
some guitar chords and would practice his leads while I played rhythm.He'd let me tag
along to his band practices and helped me with countless social/cultural skills.Things
like how to not look like an idiot around girls and what was hip.Essentially street skills.
Stuff you generally have to find out the hard way as a kid.To this day, I still think just
about everything he showed me is still cool. I know I still love the sound of Fender guitars
AM: So how’d a nice guy like you get so noir?
MT: What interests me is tension and release .One of my favorite things about country
(and folk-based) music is that, among modern pop music genres, it uses linear lyrical
form. You can scramble the verse order in many pop songs and the song still works because
each verse can stand alone and take you back to a recurring hook. But in a linear
format, verses often progressively illuminate more of the idea the writer is trying
to get across. Rearrange the verses, and you’ll give the plot away.Take a song like “He
Stopped Loving HerToday”.By the time you get to the end of the song, the title means
something unexpected. It's like striptease -a slow reveal that holds my attention. It can
be dramatic or funny, romantic or even abstract but it's that tension and release as story
line develops and the listener has to wonder where it is leading.Tension.That’s what
AM: What do you think most people in the world need to know that they don’t seem
MT: Hmm. Deep question for a guitar player. Here's what I think: We're all in this together.
Life on every scale consists of larger and smaller units, cells, organs, individuals,
families, species, ecosystems... and in general they all function individually in
support of the greater whole. Cells working together make organs function. Organs
make the body function. It's an interdependent system that goes all the way up to the
planet's ecosystem. I don't see any reason why we should assume our role as humans
would be any different than that of the cells that make us up or the larger systems we
make up.We are the universe contemplating itself.We are no more individual than our
own cells are from each other. If there is a common purpose to every unit of life, it is
to support the larger unit to which we belong.We're here to grease the wheels.Our
highest role should be to support each other for the good of everyone.That role manifests
in countless ways every day, from acts of unusual heroics to simple, common
acts of excellence and kindness.Doing the right thing does count.
You don’t often find generous and cool together in the same guy, but if you met MauriceTani,
you’d find them together in him.
Story by: Anne Miller