Too Big Too Fail


One of the hidden pop treasures right here in Queens, NYC, Tan Sleeve features Lane Steinberg and his Tan Sleeve cohort Steve Barry. Featuring a dozen fresh original tracks encompassing a range of pop and rock moves, Too Big Too Fail captures all that is best about the Tan Sleeve pop approach. Although both Steinberg and Barry go back a long time in the pop world, all the way to their early '80s, Florida based band, the Wind, on the 2011 release of Too Big To Fail both Tan Sleeve members sound in-synch on a 21st century pop album that gets you where you want to go without even shifting gears. Clearly, both of these singer-songwriters are capable of writing and recording sublime Beatles inspired pop songs. Just give a listen to the near hard rock rave up on the 11 minute “Fading Out” with its excellent Neil Young like sonic guitar trance. The fact they they can usher out that rare form of audio barrage with their exquisite McCartney flavored CD closer “We Try” just goes to show you that these guys are truly experts at combining power pop with rock and more again. www.TanSleeve.com

mwe3.com presents an interview with

mwe3.com: Where did you grow up and how and when did you two meet?

Steven Barry: I grew up in North Miami Beach, Florida, a melting pot of Jewish people from all over the Northeast. Lane and I met in one of those senior year elective classes. It was a piano class. Lane had just moved down from Long Island. He hated Florida. I came to class one day with a Frank Zappa songbook. Lane said ‘Zappa, somebody likes Zappa’... as though he could hardly believe it.

Lane Steinberg: I grew up in Long Island during the golden period of AM radio and WABC. My grandmother, who can be seen cutting the ribbon on the cover of the new CD, bought me this little clock radio when I was 7, and that was it... I became addicted to WABC, and that was my musical schooling. I met Steve when I moved to Florida during my senior year of high school music class. He was walking around holding a Zappa book wearing an earing that had a dangling moon and star, and he immediately struck me as being distinctly distinct break from the vanilla mediocrity that inhabited the halls of that wretched windowless building! We started writing songs soon after and got Steve Burdick, another inmate at the compound, to play drums. Thus, the Wind was born.

mwe3.com: It seems like the song writing was pretty evenly split on the new Tan Sleeve Too Big To Fail album. It’s amazing that you guys sound so similar. How would you compare the styles of singing and song writing between both and how do you balance and blend your approach song writing and guitar sounds?

LS: It's funny, as some have said that. I suppose it's because we are striving for a common aesthetic in Tan Sleeve. I write in more different styles, whereas Steve works in a narrower bandwidth. The more quirky, outside stuff is usually mine, but he's got a natural and rare gift for melody. Like a sense of rhythm, you can't learn that...either you have it or you don't. I look forward to a new Steve song as a fan. We rarely collaborate, but we just knocked off a song together for a Florida band, Garbo's Daughter, to record. It's called “Fight Like A Girl,” and it's quite good. As far as instruments, Steve plays bass and most of the keyboards and I play the guitars. We sort of arrive at the sounds as we go along on a need basis.

SB: Not to flatter ourselves, but I'm more like McCartney and Lane is more like Lennon. I stay between the 40 yard lines, Lane will go for the hail mary pass. He likes going out on a limb with edgier stuff. But there's plenty of overlap between our styles. Lane doesn't listen to that much pop/rock, but he understands that he's still a pop/rock musician and songwriter. I'm more into hunting down the most obscure vintage pop/rock and using it to provide fresh inspiration and to heighten my understanding of the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s. I don't play guitar. I'm a bass and keyboard guy, so Lane handles the guitar sounds.

mwe3.com: Can you remember the first Tan Sleeve album and how would you describe the sound of the early Tan Sleeve with the latest one and the overall journey thus far?

SB: I'm not sure if you're talking about the very first Tan Sleeve album, which wasn't an official release, or Bad From Both Sides, our first full blown CD. The very first Tan Sleeve CD was just the two of us playing as an acoustic duo, doing mostly covers of old pop classics from the ‘30s and ‘40s. We made a second CD like that one as well (White Lie Castle). I love both of those CDs. I think they're very pleasant to listen to and show a certain aspect of our sound. As far as Bad From Both Sides, as well as the follow up American Blood, both of those albums cover a lot of different styles, which has kind of always been our modus operandi. With Too Big To Fail, I wanted to go for a more consistent sound and focus on upbeat material, so that it would be easier for people to get a grasp on. It's a little strange putting out new CDs these days with all the changes that have gone on in the music industry, combined with the fact that we're no longer young guys in our 20’s with no responsibilities, who can devote all their time to music. As a songwriter, I'm still constantly working on new material. But it's not liked we've got a full fledged band and a place to rehearse and all the time in the world to make music and make it our first priority. It took us a long time to finally complete this CD. And now we're like, ’okay, now what?. We can't just jump in a van like some kids from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and travel all over playing gigs. And people are hardly buying CDs these days. So on one hand, we love making music. On the other hand, it's pretty daunting trying to figure out a way to get exposure at this stage in our lives.

LS: The first Tan Sleeve CD was all covers of old songs, stuff that Sinatra and Tony Bennett would sing. It was just acoustic guitar and piano. Very soft and gentle. The second CD, White Lie Castle, continued in this style, but we added some more originals and some more contemporary covers. After that, we sort of took off where The Wind (our original band) left off, and went back to full blown productions on Bad From Both Sides and American Blood. We even got Steve Burdick from The Wind to play drums for us, and he is also on this new one, where he really shines. There was a conscious decision on Too Big To Fail to narrow the focus and make it mostly rockers. I just turned 50 and Steve is right behind me. We started working together as teenagers, now we’re both married with kids. This album is a meditation on that, a sort of 'do not go gently into that good night' sort of thing, and there's some of that angst and frustration that comes through. It's more than a collection of songs, this one; it holds together thematically. At our age, the “Rock Stardom” dream may be finished, but the desire to write songs and make albums that can stand alongside the ones we grew up with still persists. Dan Penn once said (I'm paraphrasing) ‘a songwriter can be swimming in a pool, eating dinner in a fine restaurant, even making love, and in the back of his mind all he's thinking about is that next song.’ It's a double life, an illness of sorts. Every time I get disillusioned and think I will finally turn it off, three new songs come roaring forth. This new CD was made in fits and starts over five years, by far the longest it ever took us. There was a new baby in Steve's household, so that took precedent.

mwe3.com: Tan Sleeve always sounded influenced by the mid ‘60s American and British pop sound. What were some of the early influences that lead you forming Tan Sleeve? I also saw you mentioned pop icons like The Easybeats and Roy Wood on Lane’s myspace page!

LS: I mean, we listen to everything. The Wind was basically an amalgamation of The Beatles Second Album and The Temptations Greatest Hits - it was very distilled. What goes in isn't necessarily what comes out. I'm a student of song writing, whether it be Richard Rodgers, McCartney, Lord Kitchener, or SD Burman. I have no particular predilection for 60's pop, power pop, or blow pops. I just like great songs. There was a lot of great stuff during the 60's/70's, but like any era, there's a lot of crap. Historically, the good stuff hopefully gets filtered through the sands of time. Still, some great things from the ‘60s, like Duncan Browne's first album, never even registered at the time and barely had an audience, even today.

SB: Being born in the early 1960s, our first exposure to music was all the great stuff on the radio during the height of the British Invasion, plus Motown, Burt Bachrach, etc, etc... Then, as we got a little older, old enough to learn how to play an instrument, I took piano lessons, there was even more great music in the early ‘70s, like all the great singer songwriters, and all the Philly soul stuff. So you just took for granted that there was always going to be great music on the radio forever. But then it changed, and some people were more sensitive to it than others. Looking back, I can think of a lot of great "car radio" songs from the mid to late 70's, like "Evil Woman" (ELO), or "Couldn't Get It Right" (Climax Blues Band), or even "Fly Like An Eagle". But at the time, I remember hearing fewer and fewer standout tracks, and even the good stuff lacked the excitement of, for example, "Get Off My Cloud". You could sense that bands were thinking in terms of "will this sell" and "this is the sound people want to hear now", as opposed to trying to recreate the excitement of their musical idols, the way the Stones wanted to sound like Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry.

mwe3.com: What guitars and instruments do you each play on the new Tan Sleeve album?

LS: Steve has this Fender Jazz bass that sounds incredible...all you have to do is plug it in. Maybe a little compression, that's it. I play a slew of guitars: an ESP Fender Strat, a Dearmond M77, a Rickenbacker 360, a Fender Jazzmaster, Martin 00-18, a Martin 12 string, a Telecaster thin line, a borrowed '73 Telecaster. I've been really into Telecasters lately. I have a Sohmer upright piano. And, of course, there are samples.

SB: I play bass, keyboards, and some percussion. Lane plays all guitars, and the more complicated percussion parts. He plays bass on "Butter & Sugar".

mwe3.com: What are the newest tracks on Too Big To Fail and the early tracks?

SB: After my wife and I had a baby, and my wife started having a lot of health problems, Lane and I were only able to get together once a week, if we were lucky. So we were working at a very slow pace. At the same time, I was still going down to Miami on a yearly basis to visit my parents, and I'd always get together with Steve Burdick, who was the drummer in our old band The Wind. We would record basic tracks, and then Lane and I would finish them in New York. So after a certain point, I had amassed several upbeat songs of mine that featured Steve Burdick on drums. That's when I told Lane that we should make the whole album really upbeat. So we needed a few more upbeat songs and wound up putting a few other completed tracks on the shelf. I think "Don't Get Too Comfortable" and "Clone" were the last two songs we recorded. We also re-cut "Butter & Sugar" with Steve Burdick on drums when he came to visit in New York. Lane and I had done an earlier version with a drum loop that was too slow and lacked energy. "Squaresville" was the earliest song that was recorded specifically for the album. "We Try" is the oldest recording. It was supposed to be on "Bad From Both Sides", but never made it. We thought the lyrical theme complimented the lyrical themes of both "Fading Out" and "The Bitter Enders."

LS: I've been carrying a few of these songs in my head for years. Syd Barrett once said that it's good to carry a song in your head for as long as possible before actually writing it. Sometimes all the best work is done internally, just walking around and going over it again and again until the pieces fall into place. It's also selfish, for I've found once you finally write it, you can no longer enjoy it as a work in progress. “We Try” is the oldest recording - it was actually left over from White Lie Castle. It fit thematically with the others and served as a nice coda after "Fading Out."

mwe3.com: Lane, how do you balance your sound and vision between Tan Sleeve and your work in Cracked Latin? Also can you compare the Tan Sleeve sound to your solo album work too?

LS: Tan Sleeve is Steve and I trying to write classic pop songs and giving them their just due via recording. Cracked Latin starts with a sound, as opposed to a song. The songs are usually rendered out of hours of improvisation. It's a completely different way of writing for me, almost like being a trance medium. My solo stuff is always changing. Right now it's almost completely on hold, as I am finding collaboration so much more satisfying.

mwe3.com: What's coming up for Tan Sleeve?

SB: Well we're certainly not going to let another six years pass before putting out another CD! Right now, we're working on a more acoustic based CD. I really want to get away from the whole "smorgasbord" approach to making CDs, and pick a particular direction for each CD. What's nice about keeping things simple is that we can finish a song in a relatively short time, so that's part of the motivation.

LS: Tan Sleeve will hopefully play some shows to support this CD. We are already a few songs into the next one, which is sort of a hybrid of everything that's come before...some acoustic, some loud, some covers. Very exciting. We'll see how it takes shape. We do a great acoustic version of “The Stroke” by Billy Squier! Cracked Latin is almost finished with its next studio disc, which is like nothing you've ever heard. I've been working in a project called 8X8 with a gifted musician from Kiev, Alex Khodchenko. We exchange tracks over the internet, back and forth. We're three fourths into an album which is turning out amazingly well, very sumptuous and visual music. And I am embarking on a similar email-styled project with David Grahame, who is a brilliant songwriter and old elementary schoolmate of mine. He wrote a big hit in the ‘80s, “To Be With You,” which Mr. Big recorded. And, of course, there is the brilliant R. Stevie Moore, who I am always doing something with. I consider myself blessed to be involved with such talented people, which was always the dream. I love to be busy, but I could really use a clone or two!

Thanks to Steven Barry and Lane Steinberg @ www.TanSleeve.com and www.myspace.com/TanSleeve
photos by Jaime Lyle Gordon


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