The Obelisk Questionnaire: Tanner Olson of Across Tundras

Since releasing their Divides demo in 2004, Across Tundras have worked intensely and at a prolific clip to translate the spirit of open-spaced Americana into heavy and often psychedelic rock. It’s a stylistic turn the influence of which is beginning to be felt in newcomer acts even now, and Across Tundras are by no means resting on the laurels of their early work. After issuing Sage (review here) through Neurot in 2011, guitarist/vocalist Tanner Olson formed an imprint called Electric Relics, and this year the band released an album of the same name (review here), as well as a split with Lark’s Tongue (streamed here). Olson has also set about amassing a considerable solo catalog, performing under the moniker T.G. Olson and recording experimental and folk material at Ramble Hill Farm outside of Nashville, Tennessee, at a rate such that in between sending him the questionnaire and getting back his answers, his November release, The Bad Lands to Cross (discussed here), already had a December companion in Hell’s Half Acre.

Olson‘s strong connections to land and memory come through in his answers below. Please enjoy:

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Tanner Olson

How did you come to do what you do?

As far back as my memory goes I can only remember being concerned with music and playing outdoors. Not much has changed. I was singing along to The Eagles’ “Take it Easy” by three years old and getting a good laugh out of my family. My brother Dusty and I would spend our evenings calling the local radio station and requesting songs, then dubbing them to tape when they came on. I could care less about people “stealing” music online because that is how we got our music education back in the early ’80s living in rural South Dakota. We memorized every song we could get our ears on and pretty soon that inspiration led to writing our own tunes and it has never stopped. Songs are so much more than money and the entitled egos the drive for cash spawns. If people want it they should have it to feed their souls. If someone has a few bucks to throw down or come out to see a show and buy merch that is amazing, but not required. The more I disassociate from the “business” the happier I am. Music has been a constant and always evolving journey in life. It is inherent in every one of us and a universal language.

Describe your first musical memory.

So many! The few that really stick out though was my Dad singing John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” when he would go to work and my Mom singing “You are My Sunshine” every morning when I woke up. My first real concert at 10 years old was KISS, Faster Pussycat, and Slaughter on the “Hot in the Shade” tour with my aunt Nancy. She bought me a Faster Pussycat “Wake Me When it’s Fucking Over” t-shirt that my Mom was not thrilled about! That is still a badass record.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

This is like answering favorite album of all time. I just can’t do it. Every single experience has shaped me and led me down the path to where I stand today. There have been many amazing times and many horrible times. They don’t exist without each other. I will say that growing up in the Midwest scene from the early ’90s until the new millennium was an incredible experience. Full of passionate people working together and for one another without pretense. Good things don’t last forever though. There was a really strong sense of community and support that is severely lacking in these ultra-competitive times.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

There was a time when I got so wrapped trying to “make it” as a musician that my ego and expectations took a stronger hold than my heart. I never intended to go down that path, but somehow I lost sight of what was really important. Many are under this spell and for some reason something that can be as pure as music and as destructive as ego often goes hand in hand. It threatened to ruin one of the most positive and constant things in my life. I came to resent music and blamed it for my money and girl problems. I had a selfish and entitled attitude that brought a lot of anger and frustration when things didn’t go as planned. Letting go of that poisonous mindset has been a revelation and a rebirth to a completely pure form of expression and restored simple happiness.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

Freedom. Being open to constantly learning and unafraid to keep moving ahead without letting shallow ideas influence you brings one back to where it all began. Creating from your heart and progression are one in the same to me. We are born with this and our society tries to teach us to lose it.

How do you define success?

Just being alive in this crazy world is like a dream sometimes. Having the ability to simply create and be a part of the giant circle is a blessing and the ultimate success. Being able to do things on your own terms and staying true to that vision. Everything that comes beyond is just icing on the cake. I don’t just mean writing a good song, either. It could be having a baby or growing a garden or a million other things.  Putting hard work into of something and giving it life which can grow and grow and on and on…

What is something you have seen you wish you hadn’t?

The destruction of our environment by government and corporate interests makes me sick to my stomach. Witnessing the shift from the old ways to the modern technological age is a heavy concept and makes for a very chaotic time to be alive. I am not an absolutist and see the good in certain new ideas. But I am also very alarmed at how much certain forms of new technology are destroying the tried and true along with the very air we breathe, water we drink, and ground we walk on. There is nothing sustainable about this current situation and I already see it starting to slowly crumble. Something has to give and I truly believe we will correct our mistakes or die trying.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

It is a goal to do a real deal soundtrack for a full-length feature film. The kind of stuff Nick Cave and Warren Ellis are doing would be incredible. No one has come knocking yet, but I think it will happen someday and I can’t wait to get a foot in that door. In the meantime I took matters into my own hands and scored the Blood Meridian book to hold me over.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

Writings books is next up on the agenda. I have so many ideas and concepts in place that just need some time dedicated to putting them on paper. The first is going to be a hybrid non-fiction/fiction about the Gitchie Manitou murders that happened right outside my hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, back in 1973. I won’t go into the details and will let you look it up on Wiki instead, haha. We used to go this spot in the middle of the night growing up. The dark history of the place hangs thick in the air to this day and should make for a pretty interesting read.

T.G. Olson, Hell’s Half Acre (Dec. 2013)

Across Tundras on Thee Facebooks

T.G. Olson/Across Tundras on Bandcamp

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