June 8th, 2011 — There’s no doubt that Tea Leaf Green has made their impression in the music scene. With over 10 years of experience and now five albums under their belt, the band is turning a new leaf in their musical journey with their newest album, Radio Tragedy! I was able to catch Trevor Garrod (keyboards, vocals) on some time off before a show to talk about the new album, a new band member, and the beginnings of such a great band.
By Anna Torres
So I know you guys are on tour, where in the country are you right now?
I’m in Pittsburgh right now!
How’s that been?
It’s nice. We just flew in yesterday I’m sitting in our hotel looking out on this venue- we’re playing at this festival right below me and I’m 18 floors above the stage we’re about to play on, it’s pretty cool… Watching the river go by and the barges and stuff you know, it’s a beautiful place.
I bet! On this tour you guys are promoting your new album, Radio Tragedy! right? What’s been your favorite part about this tour so far?
Well since it just started I don’t know what my favorite part is just yet but I’m looking forward to a couple things! We’re gonna play on a boat in the Boston Harbor, and I’ve never been on a boat in Boston Harbor. Pretty much if it’s new to me, then I mean… at this point we’ve been touring for like, 10 years so if it’s something I haven’t done yet then I’m like, ‘oh wow it’s gonna be worth it!’
Well, I noticed that you guys are playing a few music festivals on your tour like the Three Rivers Festival you’ll be playing in today, would you say that you prefer playing big venues like festivals or small, more intimate bars?
Well you know, it’s really very different. You know like, musically speaking if you just wanna focus on your own personal music, playing at a club is better because it’s a much more controlled environment. You get a chance to have a sound check and get used to the room, and the whole night’s yours. You aren’t really trying to grab anybody’s attention since everybody that’s there is there to see you. Whereas at a music festival, there’s sort of like, an air of trying to sell yourself! laughs It’s always kind of like you always have to get up there and play and your stuff’s broken or not sounding right, and it can be kind of hectic. It’s not necessarily the best. I mean, you aren’t seeing musicians play at their best at a lot of festivals. There’s like these big main acts that get everything they want. laughs But on the other hand, it’s just really cool to be able to go to the festivals and you see all your friends… bands you’ve been crossing paths with for years and such. It’s a festival! It’s a place for sharing, it’s like the one chance I get to go see a lot of music being played and see what my friends are up to. If I had to do either one or the other, I might not like it… If I had to do festivals only I think I’d probably die! It’s brutal.
I bet! I got to listen to Radio Tragedy! and i love it! Tell me about the album though, how is it different from all of your past albums?
Thanks! Well really it’s almost a completely new band at this point, I mean we have another member in the band and we’ve kind of come around full circle and really figured out what we want. From our early days, from when we first started and the kind of music we wanted to make, it’s really changed into the kind of music we’re making now. There’s not a lot in common with ourselves like, 10 years ago at this point… it’s just been transformative you know? And talking about the record specifically I mean, we’ve never made a record like we’ve done this time where we actually had as much time to do it. We were able to work on it for a long period of time, over almost a year. Before, whenever we made a record we would just be piled into a studio for a week or two weeks and having to get it all done then. This time we really were able to focus on each song one at a time and we’d be able to go in and be like, ‘What are we working on today?’ ‘We’re working on this song today’. Other times we’d go in and be able to do all the guitar solos for everything or do all the vocals for everything and everybody got to stay there, everyone had to sit there for the whole time and everybody’s opinion was heeded. We wouldn’t move on from a song until everybody in a group was satisfied that it was over, whereas in the past there would be times where some people would get their feelings hurt. And you know, we’ve never at this point, been such an ensemble cast. There’s nobody really in charge of the band, there’s no one lead dude. Everybody’s writing and we’re just mixing it all up and even when we were putting the record all together I don’t even think I was doing any parts that I came up with. I would be like, in there with the piano and Reed would come in and be like ‘Oh, hey why don’t you play it like this, check this out?’ and I’d be like ‘Ok yeah that’s cool’ and then he’d be in there doing his thing or something and I’d run in and be like, ‘Oh try this!’ and he’d be like ‘Ok that’s cool’. We’d just all be in there working together telling each other what to do!
Sweet so pretty much it was a huge group effort?
Yeah it was very much a group effort! Its becoming almost like an artist colony, this band that is Tea Leaf Green. laughs Half of us live together in the same house and it’s just, well you know, it’s how it should be!
Agreed. The album’s great and I know you said the entire record was a group effort but can you say that you have a favorite song in the album or one that you had the most fun recording?
I really feel the standout track on it is Easy to be Your Lover just because it came out so surprisingly different than I ever imagined it being to start with. We changed the melody of the chorus to something totally different… I mean it’s nothing I would have imagined ever doing in real life. The sounds that we came up with and the musical interlude in the middle, I just couldn’t believe that it ended up sounding like it did, so that’s my favorite but if you asked anybody else they’d probably come up with something different. As for my favorite song on the record, I’d have to say it’s Nothing Changes but it is a little bleak!
It’s a great album closer! Radio Tragedy! is obviously a very eclectic album, but if you were to use one sentence to draw a random person on the street to listen to the album, what would you say?
One sentence?! laughs ok I need to think about this for a second… I think I would say something along the lines of, ‘Come listen to it, its not what you think!’ I mean… as a band we’ve been around so long that anybody that would have listened to us has probably listened to us for the last 10 years and they might think that we’re one thing and I mean, we aren’t that anymore. It’s really important to us that we get people to come and listen again. You know like, pretend like we’re a different band. We should have changed our name but it’s a too late for that!
I’d say! With so much pressure in the music industry, what would you say is the hardest part of maintaining your identity as a band?
I’d have to say that the hardest part is just to remain focused and remember that you’re a band. Everybody’s interests can start to go in different directions and you end up just backing each other up for each other’s songs. Like you end up being like, ‘Ok, this is Josh’s song so I’ll be in his backup band’ or ‘This is my song and he’ll be in my backup band’. I find that the hardest thing is to make it where we’re all the same band still! laughs As opposed to five separate bands that are just doing songs in a round or something.
You guys have been together for so long, around 15 years right?
Something like that! Well, at least three of us have been playing together for 15 years.
How did Tea Leaf Green start? I know that you guys are from San Francisco, how did all of this begin?
It was all just kind of a random interaction. Josh and Scott went to high school together so they’ve been around each other for a long time, they grew up together essentially. Scott met up with our original bass player, Ben Chambers, in history class or something at San Francisco state and they started playing together and Josh moved up and started playing with them. They were actually playing at this warehouse party that I just went to randomly but didn’t know anybody there. The only person that would talk to me was this dude, that turned out to be Josh Clark laughs who was the only person that I actually liked at this whole party! And so I was like, ‘So what do you do?’ and he was like ‘Yeah well I play lead guitar’ and I was thinking you know, that sounds cool although I was a little skeptical because I mean, lead guitar? Who says that? Why didn’t he just say guitar… laughs but anyway he got up there and played and sure enough it really kind of hit the spot for me. At the time I was 18 or 19, trying to find some people, I had just moved from the suburbs and was trying to find some folks to play with. San Francisco at the time was just so pretentious and I just wasn’t! I wanted to just have fun and really jam basically and these were the first guys that I ran into that fit in with the same sort of aesthetic that I wanted. I was more interested in having fun than making art or something, you know? Back then bands were all about trying this manifesto before even playing a note and that’s not what I wanted I was just like… ‘Why don’t we just play!’
A great start to a great band! I read that you guys got a new band member for Radio Tragedy!, how’s that whole experience been?
It’s really kind of been a re-birth of the group. When our original bass player, Ben Chambers left about 3 or 4 years ago it was really sudden and we replaced him immediately with our friend Reed Mathis. We knew we wanted to develop our sound into a new stage but we really didn’t know exactly what to do. There was a lot of like, Reed trying to fill in and play stuff that Ben used to play versus him figuring out what his unique voice was and how it fit in with the band… it wasn’t really coalescing into anything new until Cochrane McMillan came in and became the fifth member of our band. Then it became like, a clean break from the past and there was no more trying to fill in anybody else’s shoes. We were at a different place where like, everybody’s voice finally tuned up together and there’s also the added bonus that now there’s an odd number of members in the group and odd numbers are a lot more sturdy! It’s like, there’s no ties, it’s a much more sturdy foundation.
Well you guys sound great and are obviously working well together! You’re having this great time touring, playing your music but tell us what’s playing on your iPods when you’re taking some time in between shows?
Right now I’ve been listening to a lot of Iron and Wine and Anders Osborne, and you know, some Bach.
Bach? Throwing in some classical music in the mix?
I like the classical music! When I’m at home I just put my radio station on classical music and just go about my business. I find it to be very relaxing. I don’t really have to worry about it… like I don’t have to sit there and thing about what’s happening whereas with other music I’m kind of analyzing it or thinking about what they’ve done with the lyric or something. With classical music it’s like I’m free to just really enjoy it. But um, on our last tour Reed was driving the van a lot and he had gotten all these recordings of John Coltrane playing in Japan, like when he did like ten shows or something like that, and Reed had just taken the cuts of him playing “My Favorite Things” from every night and just put it on one CD. It was like 6 hours of Coltrane playing “My Favorite Things”! It’s better than it sounds though it wasn’t as boring as it may seem! I started to like, learn some stuff and I was really getting into it since I mean… Coltrane really kind of invented the one chord jam.
Well before we wrap things up, Radio Tragedy! is a whole new look and sound for Tea Leaf Green, what would you say is in the books for the band? What do you think is in store for the future?
Well I mean, we’re gonna be supporting this record for a while but the question being is what form is the next record gonna take? I always like to kind of think about what’s next but I’ve got my ideas, I don’t know if we have any real agreement on it yet though! What’s next is just negotiations for the future. Hopefully all of the rest of our album recordings go as well as this one!
Don’t forget to check out Radio Tragedy!, now on Itunes and your local shelves, and let us know what you think!