This week, I was reminded of why I love Seattle. Or rather, what I USED to love about the local music media. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, college (and to a lesser extent rock) radio was on the leading edge of introducing music fans to things that were generally being ignored by the nation at large. Trends at that time were more localized, with every region having its own unique flavor and feel, instead of today’s comparatively homogenized musical climate, which tends to “Walmartinize” (I’m patenting that word…you heard it here first) the entire music industry. There are no local “flavors” any more.
Thankfully, we here in the Pacific Northwest have always tended to be enamored with our neighbors to the North. Canadian bands such as Rush, Bachman Turner Overdrive, The Guess Who and a host of others have always seemed to thrive with audiences in the Seattle area, and this was particularly apparent when, in the midst of a hotbed of cultural explosion, The Tea Party caught fire with Seattle rock radio.
Over 20 years later, The Tea Party still makes their own unique blend of Middle Eastern tinged hard rock (dubbed “Moroccan Roll” by the US Media) while never repeating past successes. It’s this integrity to their art that has kept The Tea Party fresh and exciting to Northwest music fans through eight albums a over two decades.
Recently, I was able to catch up with lead singer/guitarist Jeff Martin to talk to him about the history of The Tea Party, the daring decisions along the career path, the new album with a reunited Tea Party (after a nine year hiatus between albums), and the future of the band.
Jammin Dude: I wanted to start by saying how amazing it is that we’re now knocking on the back door of 25 years of The Tea Party. What are some of your memories of those early days jamming with Stuart [Chatwood-Bass] and Jeff [Burrows-Drums] at Cherry Beach Rehearsal Studios in Toronto 25 years ago?
Jeff Martin: Well…of course I’d played with Jeff Burrows since we were really young children. In our first band together, I was 10 years old and he was 11. So we’ve known each other that long. Then we sortof drifted apart. So from 17 to 20 we were playing in different bands. But when our bands disbanded, Jeff and I had this connection that was undeniable. It’s quite esoteric, actually, when you get down to it. And we just knew when Stuart and I and Jeff played in that rehearsal studio for the first time in Cherry Beach…I would imagine that it was the same sort of feeling as when Led Zeppelin had their first rehearsal and did ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’, you know what I mean? It was like that for us. It was like OK [chuckles] this is going to be very big. This is exactly what the three of us want to do. It was a very magical moment, that’s for sure.
JD: The name of the band was based on the famous sessions between [Allen] Ginsberg, [Jack] Kerouac and [William S] Burroughs
JM: That’s correct.
JD: So you guys shared a lot of common artistic influences both musically and from literature.
JM: Well with all of us growing up in the same city, Windsor [Ontario]we were… [pauses] We’re very proud to be Canadian, but truth be told, when you’re from Windsor Ontario you’re basically an American by-proxy. Because everything that we’re getting…our news, the radio stations, everything is Detroit. It’s right there, and it’s a suburb of Detroit. So our influences, we shared them all from a lot of the post-punk stuff like Echo and the Bunnymen and Joy Division and stuff like that to serious, classic hard rock like Zeppelin and the Stones and all that. But in my case my father was mad for the blues, so I got a very early education of blues, especially growing up basically in Detroit. So he would take me to these clubs at a very young age. I jammed with Albert King on stage at 11 years old.
JD: Wow! That would have been huge!
JM: [laughs] It was huge! And he said to my father, “William, your boy has the devil in his eyes!”
[we both laugh]
JM: So musically, of course we all shared the same influences more or less. As far as literature is concerned, I think it was something that I was deep into more so than the other two at that time. Jeff and Stuart are both very, very educated men, but I don’t think they shared the same passion for literature that I did. And because of my French background, and my mother being French, I was introduced through my mother to the French poets like Charles Baudelaire, [unintelligible], Paul Verlaine, Stephane Mallarme, and people like that. So that started to really influence my writing. Especially once we got to The Edges of Twilight that’s when I really started to get serious about the lyrical contents that had to go with the pretty advanced music that these young boys were making.
JD: So let’s skip forward a bit… The band has an incredible history going up through 2005, and then you guys took a break from one another for a bit. You had a solo project for awhile and then you formed The Armada in 2008. But in 2011 you guys started playing shows again, and those went off wonderfully, so you decide to make it permanent. Going in to record [the new album] The Ocean at the End…by that time it was Feb 2013 and you guys hadn’t sat around and actually written together since the writing sessions for the Seven Circles album in 2004. So it had been almost a decade. When you guys first sat down together, did that come together really quickly, like riding a bike? Or did you find that the various solo projects had changed the dynamic a little bit?
JM: Yes. Various solo projects did change the dynamic, but it changed it for the better, because Jeff and Stuart came into the writing sessions much more confident. Truth be told, a lot of the responsibility of songwriting and the creative process of The Tea Party prior to our hiatus was all on my shoulders. And it was wonderful to have my two best friends coming back, and our friendship coming back together, but they had really matured as songwriters…and also experienced a lot of the production work itself in the time we spent apart. So when we got into the writing process in the studio, Jeff and Stuart were now truly my equals in the studio as well. It was an absolute blessing.
JD: It sounds like it was a much more collaborative effort.
JM: That’s what it had to be for The Tea Party to move forward. And when I mean forward, I mean pushing ourselves…pushing the envelope once again. Because The Ocean at the End…its creation and its conclusion…it had to stand up to the best writing that we’ve done or else there’s no point in putting it out at all. So the three of us, in our heart of hearts, that’s what we believe we’ve accomplished.
JD: I was going back through all the albums this week, and one of the things that hit me was this natural progression from album to album, and yet every single one of them breaking new ground…you’re never afraid to keep pushing it forward and keep stretching yourself.
JM: Well, that’s a very gracious compliment that I’ll take on board gladly. [we both laugh] Because that is certainly the intention. It should be the intention of every artist no matter what medium you work in. That’s the integrity of this band. We’re very fortunate that we overcame what seemed in 2005 to be insurmountable differences, and what exists now is a friendship that is stronger than ever and a band that is more powerful and more potent than ever. What you guys are going to experience in Seattle is something…it’s really something. It’s a freight train! [we both laugh]
JD: Looking forward… This tour is just going through Canada and parts of the US, do you have more extensive touring plans lined up for the future?
JM: We’re going to see where the cards lie. I think it’s wonderful…the Seattle thing… [pauses] We didn’t really know how it was going to go…now that the show is going to be sold out, it’s going to be amazing. What The Tea Party needs to do…because of the type of music that we create, it’s not some average fodder for general public consumption…it’s serious rock n roll for serious rock n roll fans…so what we need to do, if we want to get our music to as many people as possible in the United States without compromising our integrity, we’re going to have to approach it a different way. Like perhaps we’ll do a residency in Los Angeles for a month or a residency in Manhattan for a month, and let the word spread from there. Something like that because let’s face facts, I don’t think The Tea Party’s music would really go down well in the Bible Belt of America [we both laugh]
JD: That leads me to the musical environment that we have now in the 21st Century. Things have changed. Do you think the live show is where the future of music lies? Are we getting more into the artist being able to survive by means of revenue generated at live shows as opposed to the way things used to be with selling records?
JM: Certainly. That’s where the revenue stream will come from. And another very lucrative form of revenue stream is, of course, publishing…getting your music placed in films and whatnot. That’s pretty much it. And people are going to have to accept the fact that concert prices are going to go up. It’s like…you’ve got a job, a musician doesn’t go into your office and take half your paycheck. It’s that type of thing. If you want Spotify, you want all that and everything else…great. If you want to come and see a show, you know what, you’re gonna pay a little extra…because the bands deserve it.
JD: Well, to music purists like myself, music does take half our paychecks because we want it that way. [we both laugh] DAMN IT JEFF…TAKE MY MONEY!! [more laughter]
JM: [laughing] Fair enough!
JD: As a closing thought. What advice would you give to any aspiring musician?
JM: Be very, very, VERY good live. You have to stand out, because now, there’s SO much congestion as far as new music out there. We’re very fortunate that we have an established fanbase from all around the world that turn other people on to our music. But if you’re just coming out of the starting gate, your music is going to have to be extraordinary, and you have to be able to blow people away live. There’s no halfway about it. And don’t fuckin stare at your shoes. [we both laugh]
Get the new The Tea Party album HERE