Tankerays - Rocking Forward
By Greg Hartman
Brian Mora of the Tankerays enjoys observing the little quirks around him and twisting them a bit for his songs, such as the character in “Hometown Horror”. The opening track for the 20018 release Aztec Death Whistle describes a woman with her life in tatters who puts on her sequined jeans and pretends it is all going fine on Friday Night. During the 12 years The Tankerays have played music in the Grand Valley, the character has been seen with many different faces. As the band has gained popularity across the state and region, it is still something that Mora associates with Grand Junction.
In that long span of playing shows, the Tankerays have built a growing following out of town. From multiple packed shows in Glenwood Springs at Native Son, to a growing demand for the band in Colorado Springs, the trio spends multiple weekends on the road and only plays locally a few times a year. The band has expanded its range to southern California, doing two tours through San Diego and Las Angeles. The band’s technical rock and roll is often quick to engage audiences, but taking the next step forward for the band has been an exciting and scary time.
After finding a bit of international popularity, including a resort town in India, a new opportunities presented themselves for tours and representation. The trio of Mora, bassist Lester, and drummer Michael Thornburg were weary of the investments of time and money, but excited at the opportunities. The group decided to hire an A&R representative to help them sort through the offers and explore new areas. They nearly lost thousands of dollars on one proposed tour, which they recovered through a Paypal dispute, which made them cautious. They were also getting contacts from some of the biggest names in music distribution, which gave them confidence to move forward.
The music business has changed a lot in the past decade, with bands and labels no longer making money off selling CD’s. Streaming services offer a small pittance to artists per play, needing thousands of listens to become substantial. Within this new music economy, live performances and merchandise are the income stream. No longer are labels quick to bring on new talent with signing bonuses, instead they are looking for established fan bases and bands that are already seeing success. They also expect bands to put up some of their own money to help offset marketing costs and risks.
That need for funding set off alarms for the trio, as some medium sized labels were expecting up to $10,000 from the group to market their music. In the end, they found a partnership with Rock Avenue Records USA, a small label based in Hollywood that is a passion project its husband and wife owners, who have years of experience in the industry. The label represents bands from many countries and many genres. They were attracted to the Tankerays based upon their variety of sounds, including rockabilly, surf rock, punk, and horror. They still needed a joint investment from the band of $2,000 to distribute an album and market it to the rest of the world.
That album is an updated take on Aztec Death Whistle, now expanded to 10 tracks and re-sequenced. The return of original drummer Michael Thornburg brings a different pulse to the three new tracks, moving away from a surf vibe towards a more technical, fast paced rock and roll. Producer Taylor Riley of Fusion Audio Solutions proposed a new order to the album, rather than simply adding the three tracks at the end. For those already familiar with the original release, the new tracks are number 4, 7 and 9.
The album opens with the aforementioned “Hometown Horror”, the cautionary tale of avoiding people who project more success than they have. The second track takes its lyrics from pulp novels, entitled “I Hate that Lamp”. The surf rock swagger of the song represents many of the original recordings. The third track was originally the album closer, “Stuck On Bitch”. The song bemoans the singer’s partner, who is always complaining and negative when they come home. While the male singer/ female partner dynamic is used for the song, Brian smiles when explaining that the source for the song had the gender reversed.
The fourth track is the newly recorded “Business as Usual”. Brian’s day job as a social worker brings him close to a lot of human struggle, but none greater than drug dependency. This real life horror story details the struggles of beating addiction, while the odds are stacked against it. The fast paced punk rock beat shows off the band’s technical abilities with Lester’s agile bass playing and Michael's ability to mix in off beats at transition points.
The fifth track is “Guilded Cage”, a crunchy surf rock song about the cages people place themselves in, creating drama that could only be important in a secluded space. Track six is the album title “Aztec Death Whistle”, a surf rock instrumental odyssey that begs to be accompanied by grainy b-film footage. Former Ghastly Ones keyboardist and member of Agent Orange, David Klein, provides keyboard to the track that adds atmosphere to the feel of a haunted surf resort.
Track seven is “Stop and Stare”, with a rockabilly beat set to double time. The band always tries out their new songs live to determine crowd reaction and the band knew the track was destined for the album when it got the entire bar at Native Son on the dance floor. Track eight, “Went Down Yonder” details getting away from the daily grind to grab a drink, yet not having the money to enjoy it.
Track nine presents another character that is seen in many bars, “Whiskey Drinking Woman.” The gritty blues song details a woman who spends her time at the bar drinking whiskey as her primary hobby. She doesn’t have time for a personal life or for your problems, as long as the whiskey keeps coming. The final track details the difficulties of addiction, “Monkey on My Back”. The lyrics ask “Who will save my soul?” as life’s difficulties build.
The original release of Aztec Death Whistle is current available on most streaming services, while the new release could come as soon as January. The band has submitted the tracks to the label and now it is time for them to wait to see if their latest attempt to build their music will work out. Each member of the band has made personal and financial sacrifices for the band, and it seems they may be on the cusp of seeing that dream come true. Their end goal is to play a show at Red Rocks, certainly a goal worth trying for.