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Dave Tanner uses pandemic downtime to record songs of hope, optimism, reverence and respect

Dave Tanner used time off during the COVID-19 pandemic to record Passerine Dream, a solo album containing nine hopeful pop songs. (Contributed Photo)

Passerine Dream album released on all streaming services May 3

Dave Tanner was born and bred in Listowel. Public school, high school and his first jobs, all happened in Listowel, but most importantly, he got his hands on a bass guitar in Listowel.

“I didn’t leave that area until I went to university down in Missouri but you never forget your roots,” he said during an online chat with the Listowel Banner.

He spoke fondly of discovering music, and sharing old punk records and dubbed cassettes with friends.

“I want to say I was 16 but I might have been 17 when I got my first bass,” said Tanner. “It was a right-handed bass and when I bought it, it only had three strings on it. I’m a left-handed person so I played the bass upside down. I just flipped it over and played it as is.”

He just started playing along with the punk and alternative music he was discovering in the late 1980s. He said bands like The Dead Milkmen and the old Canadian punk band, Forgotten Rebels, were particularly good to learn to. Despite the notion that punk bands “can’t play well,” Tanner said they had good bass players that made him want to learn their basslines.

“The bass was a huge influence on me in my music listening so that’s the only instrument I wanted to play,” he said. “Getting that bass and playing it until you have blisters on your hands – you don’t know what you are doing but you just hear a sound and you go for it.”

He never took lessons. Learning bass was just popping on an album or putting a tape in, hitting play and then just trying to figure out where the notes were.

“I think being self-taught grounds you in a lot of ways,” he said. “You carve out your own way.”

The first stage Tanner performed on was in the gymnasium at Listowel District Secondary School.

“It was a battle of the bands and Shawn Henderson was putting together a band,” he said. “We played cover songs. We played some Creedence Clearwater Revival and Ozzy Osbourne.”

Tanner recalls stiff competition in that battle of the bands.

“Listowel has had quite a few pretty good musicians come through there so I just felt like I was just another nameless, faceless bass player because all these people were getting gigs,” he said. If it wasn’t for Henderson he thinks he would have just stayed another year learning bass in the bedroom at home rather than playing a gig.

“I was nervous, but yes, my first gig was LDSS,” said Tanner.

After high school, he moved to Missouri to attend university.

“I had this dream or delusion, whatever one you want to call it, maybe both because some dreams are delusional but I had this thought that I was going to play golf at an American university and get a scholarship,” said Tanner.

While balancing golf and his second year of studies in Missouri he saw a flyer on campus. Someone needed a bass player for their band.

“I answered the flyer without really having my bass there,” he said.

It was around Christmas and when he was back in Listowel his family pitched in and bought him a left-handed Ibanez bass from Sorensen’s Music Centre. His first true lefty bass.

“I was so happy to get it that I took it back with me after that Christmas break and I joined bands at university,” said Tanner.

That introduced him to different styles of music.

“I consumed bass guitar for several years,” he said. “It was all I wanted to do. I listened to bass players of every style and tried to grow. My whole university experience shifted… I really wanted to play gigs.”

There were times he was in three bands and they were all different styles. Even with all the time he was spending on stages, he made it through university with a degree in communication and began working in journalism.

Back in Listowel, he found a job writing for the Harriston Review.

“That paper had a circulation of 900,” he said. “That was my first true journalism job. It was good but the call to come back and join bands was pretty strong and my family knew that. They always encouraged me to pursue what I wanted.”

Soon he found himself looking for journalism jobs back in Missouri where he could be closer to his musician friends. For years he balanced journalism jobs with bands on the side until he finally started getting enough gig offers to forgo the desk job.

“The three (years) leading up to COVID I played about 450 shows,” said Tanner. “COVID sidelined us in the Beatles tribute world where you can make a decent living as a left-handed bass player.”

The Beatles tribute world is a music community that has allowed Tanner to make a living and concentrate on his song writing.

“There was a point where all I wanted to play or all I felt comfortable playing was original music – I even declared to my bandmates and other people that I would never get on stage and play another cover song as long as I live,” he said. “I stuck to that ethic. There is an ethic to that. It’s an honourable ethic.”

When he was younger he was not a huge Beatles fan. His mom loved the Beatles and would play some on the piano but it was separate from what he was doing.

Then he borrowed some Beatles greatest hits CDs from a friend, the Capital Records red and blue albums and as soon as he hit ‘play’ he knew he wanted to learn those songs. He suspects his decision to learn to sing those songs was spurred on by friends telling him left-handed bass players were making a living playing Paul McCartney in tribute bands.

Then one day when he and a friend were just bumming around Lawrence, Kansas they saw that there was a Beatles tribute band playing.

“I was blown away by the musicianship, the bass, the fact that this guy portraying Paul on the stage was a true left-hander,” said Tanner. “I even asked my friend – do you think that’s something I could do? He replied – ‘you can do whatever you put your mind to.’”

He went home and worked on those songs secretly for a few years.

“I was still trying to hold up to the original band and the original music ethic, that do-it-yourself ethic and I never thought about a career in music until I started to get hired,” he said.

Prior to the pandemic, Listowel native Dave Tanner made his living playing the role of Paul McCartney in the Beatles tribute world. (Contributed Photo)

Finally, he formed a Beatles band playing about 50 songs a night wearing jeans and t-shirts.

“We rocked them up a little bit and I still felt good about it until I met people who were real sticklers for the vocal parts,” said Tanner. “People inspired me to learn the real parts and I did. I ended up auditioning and getting the gig for the band that inspired me. That band is called Liverpool.”

Since then he has played in almost 40 states, Jamaica, on many Caribbean cruises and right before COVID hit, he did a tour of Ukraine.

“That was amazing,” said Tanner. “My obsession is to get better and make myself valuable so I can get hired.”

Now, he’s found himself sitting around for the past 13 months while the entire entertainment industry waits to come back to life.

“We all sat around,” he said. “You did it. I did it. People who are reading this did it. So when you are sitting around you do a lot of thinking and I always had a hope that I would have the time and energy and connections to make an album.”

His thoughts became actions and soon Tanner was working on a solo project, Passerine Dream.

Although he was happy to get some contributions from friends, he estimates 80 per cent of the content on the album is his. Everyone recorded their parts in the comfort of their own home.

“I played bass, acoustic guitars, electric guitars, keyboards, piano and sang most of the parts myself,” said Tanner. “I harmonized with myself. A lot of those melodies, harmonies and riffs I’ve had in my head for a long time and I was really glad to get them down in this format. It was time to do it and I had the time to do it.”

He may have settled into Missouri life now, but it’s Listowel he’s singing about in the song “Hometown”.

“‘Hometown’ is based on some words of encouragement that I got from my dad,” said Tanner. “He would always tell me, and this goes back to when I left to go to school and after that when I started living in the United States, that you’ll always know where home is and it was a very encouraging and welcoming thing for a father to say to his son – no matter where you are in life if things get rough or you just get sick of where you are and you want to come home, our door is open to you.”

He said it’s a song he started working on around 2015, around the time his dad passed away.

“It was just a way to honour him and the confidence he had in us and the love he had for his children, to go forth into the world but never forget where you came from, so it ties back to Listowel,” said Tanner. “A lot of people leave their hometowns but they only have one, you only have one original hometown and that’s Listowel for me.”

He said he was glad he got through talking about that song without getting teary-eyed because he’s found it difficult to talk about in the past.

“I’m glad I can at least talk about it now,” said Tanner. “The casual listener is just going to think about their hometown but it is very personal to me.”

Despite how emotional he said he gets over the song “Hometown”, Tanner said there is not much in the way of the depressed artist on this album. He said he has seen the COVID-19 pandemic make a lot of people bitter, withdrawn and negative.

“I just want to go the opposite way,” he said. “There are so many negative people right now. Anybody can be a curmudgeon or be sour. To me, hope, love, respect and kindness are punk rock as hell right now.

“That’s the way I’m thinking about it.”

Tanner emphasized that Passerine Dream is an album about hope.

“It’s something that I needed in my life during this downtime and if I want anything to resonate with people I hope that’s the feeling they get from it,” he said. “There’s a lot of hope, optimism, reverence and respect. Those themes are in the whole thing. I’m really glad about the way it turned out.”

Unfortunately, COVID has kept Tanner from visiting his family around Listowel.

“That’s something I’ve really missed in the last year,” he said. “I hope they are done proud by this album I am putting out. I made it for my family, my friends, my community and my social circle.”

Passerine Dream was released on all major online music platforms on May 3, which happens to be Tanner’s birthday.

People who prefer CDs or vinyl can pre-order the album on www.passerinedream.com.

“The CDs are almost done so that’s not going to be too far behind the online release,” he said.

Due to delays caused by COVID, Tanner said the vinyl release will be out in 10 to 14 weeks but he won’t set a firm date.

“I would say late summer but people can order it now and if you order the album you get a download code so you can listen to it while you wait on your vinyl,” he said.

Colin Burrowes is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Listowel Banner. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.