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Aaron Tanner’s histories of underground bands receive national recognition

Aaron Tanner has made a name for himself by self-publishing visual history books about underground bands, and esteemed institutions are taking notice.

After co-authoring his first book, “Pixies: A Visual History, Volume 1,” in 2014, “I was thinking there are not a lot of books on underground bands,” he says.

He since has self-published “Face to Face: 25 Years of SOCAL Punk” in 2017 and “Butthole Surfers: What Does Regret Mean?” and “Ministry: Prescripture” in 2019. Volume 1 of “The Residents: A Sight for Sore Eyes” debuted in 2022, and Volume 2 was released in August.

Each book takes around a year to produce. Tanner collaborates with bands to collect their archives and documents their history by reaching out to loyal fans and famous admirers. He also balances researching and gathering image rights.

Tanner also has paired some books with previously unreleased songs put on a vinyl record. Each press run is limited to around 2,000 copies, and 500 are signed books to its libraries and public collections. The Smithsonian, Tanner discovered, was not the sole institution interested in preserving and educating about underground music history.

Since then, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame added his work to its libraries and permanent collection, and The Punk Rock Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada, installed his volumes about Face to Face and But- thole Surfers. In August, The Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Film notified Tanner that his The Residents volumes would join its collections for “scholars and exhibitions far into the future.”

“To me, if there’s one institution to be in, it’s the Museum of Modern Art,” he says. “Not only is it one of the largest and most influential museums in the world, it houses some of the most iconic piec- es of contemporary art. To be included alongside Van Gogh, Warhol, Monet, and my personal favorites Pollock and Richter, is a tremendous honor.”

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