Tanith – Ace in the HoleTuesday, 2nd May 2023
Featuring musicians from New York and England, Tanith delivers a classic hard rock/heavy metal sound with plenty of 70’s-style riffs, tempos, as well as interesting male/female vocals throughout their material. Most probably know vocalist/guitarist Russ Tippins for his work in Satan – the group rounded out currently by vocalist/bassist Cindy Maynard and drummer Keith Robinson. Voyage is the second album for the group, another odyssey into fantasy/mythology themes with acoustic/electric underpinnings – stellar musical hooks, plenty of interplay, and adventurous material recorded in analog to tape fashion.
We reached out to Keith to discuss the early days of the group, where Voyage sits in the discography of the group, their analog/human element that makes their material distinct compared to others, how the internet helped cement their songs when playing new markets live, discussion on how he had to up his game to handle the faster tempos for the band, as well as his appreciation for live shows coming out of COVID.
Dead Rhetoric: Tanith began in 2017 – what can you remember regarding those initial jam/rehearsal sessions, and how did you feel about the band chemistry at the time?
Keith Robinson: The band kind of started in a unique way. There was no jamming – the first time I actually played with the band was when I was recording “Citadel”. That started everything for the band – and that take was literally the first time I had played with the band. Russ had the idea for a song, he wanted to start a band with Cindy, and they found me through a common friend. I showed up at the recording studio, and that’s where everything took off. I knew what they were looking for, I had a demo, but there wasn’t a rehearsal for the session. We recorded that song and the song “Eleven Years”, and with that single Metal Blade heard the band and everything took off from there.
Dead Rhetoric: Voyage is the second album for the group – where do you see the major differences and growth in this set of material compared to the debut album from 2019 In Another Time? Did losing Charlie the day before tracking become a major hurdle to process as a band?
Robinson: I guess to answer the first part of the question. We did the first record, we toured the UK and Europe, it felt like we had momentum, and the album was pretty well received. We were excited to get things going, and take some of that momentum into the second record. And then after that COVID hit, it shut us down for two years – like it did everyone. With Russ being in England and us being here, there was just no momentum. The difference between the two, I felt like we were just restating who we were. I don’t think it built on things, but enough time had passed to where here we are again. We did it in the same studio with the same people, a lot of it was the same. I don’t think we are trying to do anything totally new with that. I guess some of the songs may be more challenging to play than the first record, a little bit of upping our game in that aspect. It was a natural continuation for the next set of songs.
As far as Charlie, that was kind of a bummer. The day before we were to go in, he decided it was in his best interest not to join us. Most of the songs are built around having two guitars and the guitar harmonies, all of a sudden, we don’t have that. Russ being the primary songwriter, he knew both parts. He could play a lot of it, but some of the tracking he wanted to have a different voice to answer the solo. We brought in a friend of mine, Andee Blacksugar who is on tour with Blondie right now. I knew he would know what to do, and he knocked out his parts in one day. We were sad to lose Charlie, he was an important part of the band. There was no choice but to move forward with what we had going on.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think you’ll remain as a power trio, or will you seek out a second guitarist in the live situation?
Robinson: Yeah, we have a record release show at Saint Vitus here in Brooklyn, and we have a friend of ours Gino from the band called Nature here in the city, he’s going to be joining us on the show. The band can’t really work as a trio, we have to have those two guitars.
Dead Rhetoric: “Seven Moons (Galantia Part 2)” appears on the new record after parts one and three came out on In Another Time. What took place in terms of the development of this saga to release the songs in this manner – and will this be a journey that continues on future records?
Robinson: There’s two reasons why the second part came out later. The primary one is the music wasn’t finished for it. They had the lyrics and the story, and how it all works together, but they didn’t have all the music written. We had the music written for one and three, so we did that first, and once we finished two, we put it out on this record. Another consideration was vinyl – we have max 44 minutes, and with the songs we had there wasn’t going to be enough room anyway. Rush did something similar to that. Get some people to talk about it.
Dead Rhetoric: On your part as a drummer, were there any specific songs this time that presented more of a challenge than others?
Robinson: Overall on the record it’s a little more drumming going on, and I wanted to step things up. The first album when I recorded it, I wasn’t an actual member of the band, I was a session musician hired to do the record. I dialed things back because it’s more about the vocals and what they have going on. Once they asked me to join, they wanted me to bring a little more drumming-wise. Most of the songs – a lot of them are challenging. There’s some odd meter stuff, more notes going on, more toms, more fills. I wanted to challenge myself a little bit more. I tried to raise my game a little bit for it. It’s up to everyone else to decide if I did that or not.
Dead Rhetoric: Are you conscious of when to go full force for certain aspects and when to just lay back and play for the sake or needs of the song at hand?
Robinson: Yes, that’s something I’ve been… I have been a musician all my life, I’ve played many different styles, and most of the styles I’ve played, the drums are a support instrument. I don’t want to get in the way of the people up front, the vocalist. It’s always my first inclination – if someone is singing, they are supposed to be paying attention to the lyrics, not what’s going on in the back. On this record, there were places I could step out. I even made notes on my charts to record with, circle places in red to give a little more here, step on the gas, and then know to back off.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you enjoy the distinctive qualities of having two different vocalists and the elements of harmony at play?
Robinson: I think that’s one of the standout things in this band. Not many bands have that, and it’s interesting when they write the songs, they know generally who will sing what part. They will test who sings the lead, who takes the harmony, a lot of give and go. It makes us different than some other bands. It’s important to them and they get the vocals and lyrics just right. I think it makes it pretty cool.
Dead Rhetoric: How important is capturing the analog sound and using vintage equipment for Tanith? Do you believe this allows your work to stand out against the sea of releases mapped to the grid digitally?
Robinson: Initially I probably didn’t think that but I kind of do think that now. Maybe in the future we won’t do it, but the last two records are where we meet, to go for kind of a 70’s vibe. I know Hugh the studio owner, and he records to tape, and he prefers to do that. Once we got into that mindset, we went with it – and it makes you play differently. You can’t play a drum part and scoop the snare drum over, fix this – you have to decide early in the game if this is going to be the take. Even if you do two or three takes, you can’t do more than that because there’s only so much room on the tape. If something comes up or you catch it in the first place, you are stuck with that because you can’t go and fix it with the other stuff on the tape. In that aspect, it’s a different game.
If you record to Pro Tools – and I’ve recorded in Pro Tools all the time in the studio, you can change things all the way up until mastering. The guitar lick was weird, so you take the last four notes of another take. You can’t do that to tape. With our band, it makes it where you hear more of us playing music. There are little things that are mistakes, or you might not catch the first time. It makes us sound different than a band that records strictly to Pro Tools, or with Pro Tools. It’s hard, as a drummer, you see that you may have rushed a fill and it’s so easy to put that back into place. It’s tempting to always fix stuff – with tape, we don’t fix it, we think it’s good enough. You listen to those old 70’s records, you can hear the mistakes in a Led Zeppelin song. It makes the music sound more human.
Dead Rhetoric: Discuss the artwork outlook for the band – as it seems to tie in well to that older 70’s aesthetic the band puts across with their music?
Robinson: Yeah. Cindy knew an artist, Luke Cantarella, here in Brooklyn. We told him what we wanted, we thought he knocked the first one out of the park. Since we were deciding how we were going to record the second one, we decided to go back to the same artist. It ended up where there was a lot of back and forth, it came out exactly the way it was supposed to. It has a good visual with the music, I like the vintage vibe to it. We are really happy with that; we love working with him.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering Russ’ work in Satan as well (now on tour in North America), is it a balancing act to achieve all that Tanith set out to do in terms of band activities with those outside endeavors?
Robinson: We all have that. I play in other bands around town, Cindy has her own landscaping company. Being a musician is hard these days, so you do what you can when you can. That hasn’t been an issue as of yet. We did one tour in Europe that went really well, and we were looking into more touring when COVID hit. We knew we weren’t going to tour until we put out a new record. Once this record comes out, we will start looking into some different opportunities. So far, it hasn’t been an issue. I know some of the guys in Satan, they are in other bands – so there will be some jigsaw puzzles going on to make it work for everyone. Hopefully it won’t become a big problem.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been able to play a limited number of shows/festivals as Tanith in North America and Europe – how do you believe the crowd reaction has been, and what do you enjoy most about playing live that maybe differs from the studio records?
Robinson: The interesting thing to me is because of the internet – to go to Europe for the first time, and everyone already knows the music. They were singing the lyrics back, so that’s nice. It used to be back in the day, no one knew who you were, they may have heard the band name but couldn’t get the record until the band showed up, they played, and bought it at the show. That’s been the coolest thing for me. The immediate response, and we are proud of the work on the records. When you hear people respond to different things in different songs, whether in a smaller club or a bigger festival, we have always felt the people have been on our side. And that’s been nice.
Dead Rhetoric: What goals, ambitions, or bucket list items do you set about for Tanith – or any of your musical activities – at this point in your career?
Robinson: It’s funny, now that Russ is back in town for this show – everything has been about relearning the music for this show. Since we haven’t played since we recorded it, they have to learn the vocals and parts together, some of it is pretty difficult. After this show we are going to sit down and talk about what we are going to do, options, what are our goals as a band. In the end, if you are going out on the road, you want people to know about the shows, people to be excited. Whether small places or big places, you hope people appreciate it. We want the people to love it as well. Hopefully we will get things together and make a game plan to make all of this happen.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess your growth and abilities as a drummer from your start in childhood to your abilities today?
Robinson: It’s an ongoing process. I equate it to mountains – you have this certain goal, do a certain tempo, or a roll in a certain way. If you can get to that level, I’ll have made it – you get to that level, and you see there are other mountains. A lot of times you get to the top of the mountain, you work towards that next thing, and it’s rough. You may go down a little bit and build it back up. There is always something new to learn. When I started playing with Tanith, I’m from Texas, so I had played a lot of country, played a lot of blues, pop – the main challenge was all the tempos were way faster than I was used to playing. I altered my technique so I could get better at playing that comfortably. I’ve enjoyed that challenge to up my game. I have never had to go to those tempos that are a normal song for Tanith – much faster than anything I’ve played in any of my other bands.
Dead Rhetoric: Do younger musicians ever seek you out for advice when it comes to drumming or the music business?
Robinson: Yeah, people come up to me. I’m not like a teacher, I don’t have students, but in the end, you have to have fun, enjoy it. If you aren’t enjoying it, you have to look at it and think about why that is. If you enjoy it, you can enjoy the process of trying to get better, picture it in your mind but you just can’t quite get it from your head through your hands and feet. I learned how to hold the drum sticks differently to play faster for Tanith – you can get into those minor details. In the end, it’s about having a good time.
Dead Rhetoric: What have you changed your mind about in the last few years concerning life in general? And why have you changed your mind about that aspect?
Robinson: The big one for everyone is living through COVID. Being separated from Tanith – we weren’t even together in the same country for over two years. Overall, I’ve played over 100 gigs a year since the late 80’s, and all of a sudden there are no gigs. I did some recording in my studio, mixing, that kind of thing. It would be to appreciate that you can still go out and play, getting up to the age I am, and people still want to play with me. I still get emails to book shows. That was normal, and now it’s starting to come back. I appreciate the fact that I still get to do this, is probably the biggest thing I learned. Maybe I took it for granted before.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s next on the agenda for Tanith over the course of the next twelve months to support the record? Has work already begun behind the scenes for capturing initial ideas/ songwriting for the follow-up effort?
Robinson: There has been one song that Russ had sent out a while back – we got that one started. Everything has been geared to the gig, the record coming out, before Russ heads back to England. We will see what opportunities we should look at. We want to play, we want to go further in America, more into Europe. We have to see what’s feasible; can we do these shows while breaking even instead of losing money in the deal. We want to take the music to the people, and hopefully they will enjoy it.