The Tea Party is without a doubt the best thing to come out of Canada, with the exception maybe of Terrance and Phillip. Maybe. Vocalist Jeff Martin has since based himself on the East Coast of Australia, whilst band mates Jeff Burrows and Stuart Chatwood still call Canada home.
The band is embarking on a tour of Australia in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Transmission, their third and some still say greatest studio release to date. Girl caught up with bass and keys man and self-confessed geek Stuart Chatwood on the eve of their Aussie tour.
How are you Stuart? What’s been happening?
“We’re actually recording some new songs today in Byron Bay, but really there’s only one big thing on our minds right now and that is putting on one of the best rock shows that people can see where music is at the centre. We’re extremely excited to perform at The Thebby in Adelaide this week with shows in Tasmania, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney to follow.”
You’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of Transmission this year – why did you choose to tour this album over the first few?
“We actually toured The Edges of Twilight as well. These two records are the pinnacle of our career so it was an easy decision for us.”
So are these shows broken into two sets? Kind of Transmission & Tangents?
“That’s a good way to put it. We do the full record Transmission then we take a break and return to perform a set of our hit songs.”
Obviously Jeff moved out to Australia a while ago now, and you guys are here quite a lot – are you looking forward to coming back again? Do you have any fond Aussie memories?
“Our Aussie memories are too plentiful to list, but our love for this country is deep rooted and authentic. We love the people and the passion they bring to our shows. Touring Australia is a highlight for almost every musician I’ve ever met.”
The Tea Party essentially broke up for a few years there – what happened? Did you consider it a break up or just a break?
“We didn’t think it would last 6 years, but it did. Perhaps you could call it a pause or a reset which the band needed at that point. We had grown to be complacent and under appreciated the position we occupied in the world. I happy to report we’re busy recording and we really appreciate the support we get from the fans of the band nowadays.”
Would you liken being in a band to being in a relationship, in some respects?
“We’re brothers. We fight. We make up. It’s family at this point not friendship.”
So what did you get up to while the band was disbanded?
“Many things actually. I did the soundtracks to 7 Prince of Persia games and I recently scored the indie smash Darkest Dungeon, which won the RPG game of the year and is higher revered. On the rock side, the first thing thrown my way was to replace the bass player in the Smashing Pumpkins. We had mutual manager friends and I was on a list of 5 or 6 male bass players to replace D’Arcy or Melissa but in the end they found an awesome female bass player. I then was talking back and fourth with Craig Ross from Lenny Kravitz’s band about forming a group with Jeff Burrows on drums and Jimmy Gnecco as the vocalist. After 2-3 moths of chatting, I met with Craig backstage at his Aerosmith/Lenny show and there was chemistry but in the end it didn’t pan out due to scheduling. That would have been a cool band. JB and myself then worked on a project called Songs from the Chapel with Todd Kerns of Slash/Age of Electric and Ryan Dahle of Limblifter/Age of Electric. We recorded 8 or 9 songs and wrote about 20 ideas but the project failed to get off the ground. I think Ryan has mixed the tracks so they might see the light of day soon. I then had JB finish some songs I had been working on for 2 or 3 years called Art Decay with a Toronto vocalist Kent Leggatt. It had a very Nick Cave/Echo and the Bunnymen influence. There was an EP worked on and it could or should come out in the following year if things go as planned. For me Art Decay evolved into a new project with a Toronto based bilingual singer called Tecla Burey. This project is still a work in progress, so I’m not sure how long this will take to get out.
Finally, apart from the scoring and rock stuff, I got involved in a project in NYC called Uncommon Folk. This has been my main focus since 2006 and it is essentially down regulating or relaxing ambient/folk songs with celebrity vocalists with a goal of raising awareness about misophonia or as it was called prior to this, Sensory Processing Disorder. The music has some therapeutic aspects as well with it being down regulating/relaxing. We recorded about 26 songs over 11 years with vocalists like Glen Campbell, Mavis Staples, Jacob Dylan, Robin Zander and the Blind Boys of Alabama. We recorded vocalist and string players in NYC, The Hamptons, Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, Wales, Toronto and Vancouver. The first single with Glen Campbell was released in August and we are preparing the Mavis Staples song and the full album for release in the coming months. It is a very cool project that will leave you feeling relaxed.
I hope someone can hop on Wikipedia and update my page now!
You write a lot of music for video games – have you always been a bit of a gamer yourself?
“Yes, my love for video games goes back to pre Atari days when my family bought a Magnavox type system that allowed you to play Pong at home. I got into computers in a big way in elementary school. I actually read a machine language programming book in Grade 6. Major geek! My friend at the time Richard Hawtin is now a famous Techno DJ in Berlin but back then, it was 8 bit computers. He was a C64 guy and I was an Atari convert.”
Speaking of playing, you play a ridiculous number of instruments! How did you get started, and what made you pick up some of the more exotic instruments, like the tanpura?
“I started on trumpet at age 10 but I didn’t take music seriously until I joined Jeff Martin’s band at age 15 and took up guitar. I moved to bass when The Tea Party formed and with the Edges of Twilight, we challenged ourselves to expand our musical vocabulary. I started playing keyboards in the band and I had to cover some of the instruments that Jeff Martin had played in the studio when we toured. This included the Tamboura, Santur, lap steel, Mandolin and others.”
You worked with the late great Glen Campbell – how did that project come about?
“Glen was one of a handful of celebrities that we asked to participate in the Uncommon Folk project which started as a music therapy project of ambient folk music. At the time SPD or Sensory Processing Disorder was not addressed in the DSM manual for psychiatry.”
What – if anything – did you learn from working with someone like Glen?
“It was a relatively short session with Glen in 2010. We realized then that he had the early signs of Alzheimer’s. He was able to share some amazing stories about the Pet Sounds sessions with The Beach Boys.”
After nearly 30 years in the industry, what knowledge would you impart to someone up and coming right now?
“Be original. The world has access to your music now, so if you are unique, your tribe will find you.”
Watch – The Tea Party ‘Temptation’:
The Tea Party TX20 Australian Tour
Friday 27 October – The Astor Theatre, Perth
www.astortheatreperth.com or 1300 111 369
Thursday 2 November – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Friday 3 November, The Odeon Theatre, Hobart
Saturday 4 November, The Forum, Melbourne
Thursday 9 November, The Tivoli Theatre, Brisbane
Friday 10 November, The Enmore, Sydney