BEHIND THE ROAR OF SILENT LIONS WITH DEAN TARTAGLIA BY JEFF HOWITT FOR MOTORCITYBLOG
2/21/14 @ Midtown in Lansing, MI, 2/22/14 @ The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, MI
MCB: Hey Dean. So you had a stint as the sax player in The Sights and also in variations of Jack Oblivian's pick up bands. Was that kind of your first "in" when you started gigging or were you already playing out in other groups?
SiLi: Though I am from Toledo and went to college in Athens Ohio, my "ins" have always been from Detroit. When I was 18, I was lucky enough to catch the attention of The Hard Lessons, and Augie and Ko let my old band, Mind Fish, open up for them whenever they came to Toledo. It was through them I met The Sights when they both came down to Athens on tour. I actually worked the merch table at The Sights "Most of What Follows is True" record release at the Loving Touch, and kept bugging Eddie to let me play sax with them. He found a place for me in the group, even though I was living five hours from Detroit. I met Jack Oblivian through Eddie as well and he and I have kept in touch since.
MCB: Not too many out of town bands are able to call Detroit their Sister City. What was your first real introduction to the Detroit Rock 'n' Roll Scene?
DT: I remember my first real "now you're in the scene" moment was playing BLOWOUT with The Sights in 2012. It was right around the time the Tenacious D dates were announced and "Left Over Right" was almost out. It was just one of those shows where the crowd is with you from the first note, and you can really let go. The performance was effortless. Another high point for me in the Detroit scene was playing the State Theater with Tenacious D later on that tour... it just seemed like an inconceivably large goal to achieve, and was an amazing homecoming show. This is why I consider myself a Detroit musician and Silent Lions an adopted Detroit band.
MCB: Are you into Enon or ever listen much to Braniac?
DT: Not too familiar with Enon's music but they come up every once in a while. I can definitely hear the influences, especially in the whispery vocals. And YEAH! Brainiac is sweet. Discovered them on a recent "which 90's bands have I overlooked" kick. Reminds me of our friends in GoLab from Toledo, formerly of Stylex. Such a great melding of electronic and traditional rock instrumentation that results in a very organic sound.
MCB: Was the saxophone your first instrument?
DT: I started on piano when I was six, which in my opinion is visually the best instrument to begin on. Then I learned the saxophone when I was ten, and was in marching band in Junior High and High School. Rolled with that crowd, even ended up getting a degree in saxophone! Somewhere along the way rock ‘n’ roll took over my life and became my priority, but I'm glad I've always been able to incorporate the saxophone over the years, be it with The Sights, Silent Lions or as a side man for countless different groups.
MCB: As much as Detroit groups are known for two piece and other non traditional configurations of musicians, Ohio also has had it's success's obviously with The Black Keys but even earlier with the Soledad Brothers who started out as a duo before The White Stripes adopted the approach. What is it about the two piece that works for you?
DT: I think no matter the genre, a duo comes from either necessity or chemistry... The inability to find more band members, or the lack of interest to do so when it simply works with one other person who really clicks with you. I think the latter is more the case with Matt and I. We have always approached our music as a duo with reverence, but strive to push it forward, make it modern and more technologically immersed.
MCB: Even Robert Pollard from Guided By Voices has a working relationship with The High Strung. What is it that keeps Michigan
and Ohio's musical exchange ongoing?
DT: Toledo is pretty much a part of Michigan right? A suburb of Detroit? We get asked this on tour quite often. I think Toledo and Detroit share a lot of the same hardships and triumphs. Both our residents are resilient. It's always felt like a big brother, little brother relationship. Part of the intrigue might also be that so many cultural icons are born or have lived in Ohio... Whatever it is, I'm glad to be part of that relationship.
MCB: Why did you want to work with Zach Shipps?
DT: A big reason for me personally was the work he did with The Hard Lessons on the "Arms Forest" record. It's such an interesting, in depth, dark record. I first heard it when I was 18, and after that I always wanted to start a band that played heavy, dark pop songs. I also grew up on Electric Six, so saw them every chance I got and geeked out over Zach's guitar work. We consider him our unofficial third member. He helps us write parts, is the deciding factor in the studio many times, but it's even more than that. No one else can make Silent Lions sound like Silent Lions. His technique and process is perfect for us, and it was obvious from day one when we started working on "The Parliaments". Last year he invited me to play sax on E6’s live record, but I had to get surgery around that time and couldn't pull it off. I still regret not playing those shows...(haha) and I don't think it was until he saw me perform with The Sights that everything clicked.
MCB: What was a favorite venue or town of the tour you just wrapped up?
DT: Bloomington and Lafayette Indiana were very receptive. Charleston West Virginia is home to the most hospitable people in the world, even despite the water crisis down there, both our D.C. shows were packed to the rafters. Columbus Ohio was also very friendly to us...
MCB: Lastly, what's up for the rest the year for Silent Lions?
DT: We have about two dozen more winter tour dates promoting "The Compartments", then a month off in April with “hometown” shows in Toledo and Ferndale. By May we should have a new video out that we are really proud of, with a two week tour to line up with it's release... then who knows. Maybe we'll record a full length? Only time will tell.
MCB: Cool. We’ll talk to you again then.