The New Road Ahead with Tea Leaf Greens Josh Clark
Cezanne was a bewildered man who attempted to paint a bewildering world eliminating everything he didn’t understand, reducing all that was visually vagrant to its small, hard essence. – Cezanne Without the Nimbus, Boulevard, vol. 23, no. 1, by G. Bent
Late last year, while Tea Leaf Green guitarist Josh Clark was on tour with Particle filling in after the departure of Ben Combe, a message was posted on the TLG web site with the news that Ben Chambers was leaving his post as the original bassist. The “decade deep” band, as Clark calls Tea Leaf, quickly rebounded with the addition of veteran musician Reed Mathis, who is also most notably the bass guitarist of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. The band also signed a new contract with Surfdog Records and re-released their initial three albums in a box set titled Seeds, on Earth Day, April 22.
Solidifying their move forward, however, is the late July release of Raise Up the Tent, featuring the debut of Mathis on a TLG studio album. The record is their most focused, mature, and well-crafted work to date. Keyboardist and lead vocalist Trevor Garrod continues his fine evolution as the band’s principal songwriter while Mathis layers the beat with drummer Scott Rager. Clark is tastefully restrained on the album as he delivers a wonderfully visual performance on guitar.
In the conversation that follows, Clark is friendly, perceptive, witty, and a charming storyteller in his own right.
RR: The last time we spoke for a feature we were discussing the TLG Rock n’ Roll Band DVD, and that was sort of a full-on sounds of the city’ expression. Raise Up The Tent appears to be a synthesis of all of those various aspects of the band, but with more of a modern classic rock sound.
JC: Yeah, I think we were trying to go for that because, over the years, the band has been kind of heading that waya little bit edgier, a little heavier. We’ve added effects and this and that, but it’s the tones, we’re exploring heavier tones so that’s what came out there. David Lowery, who produced Raise Up the Tent, likes the crunchy guitars, and we ran a couple of different amps to my guitar. After Taught to Be Proud, I decided that one thing I wasn’t thrilled about with that album was that the guitars were sort of light. I wanted really heavy guitars on this one.
RR: When I initially listened to Raise Up the Tent, I noticed right away that the songs are strong and focused, and would end quite quickly without any meandering. At the halfway mark, I thought, “Where’s Josh? He should be way up in the mix.” However, as I listened to the album a few more times, I noticed that your guitar was there, it’s just more prominent in the second half of the album. Would you agree?
JC: Yeahto a degree. There are certainly not a lot of guitar solos or explorations, but I wasn’t really interested in doing that. I feel that we’ve done albums with long guitar solos. My approach was to serve the songs the best I could, and the guitar is sort of a supporting actor in the show.
RR: I didn’t mean to imply that there weren’t enough solos or anything like that. I heard your guitar serving the songs, but I think I didn’t hear what you were talking about as far as different effects until the end of “Not Fit,” where the band breaks down into a really nice jam in the fade out of the song.
JC: Oh, yeah! Yeah, that was just like a little bit where we kind of goofing off at the end of that take. When we were mixing it, someone found it and pulled the tape out, and we said, “That’s awesome!” It was never intended to be on there, but it’s a cool, little outro.
RR: I think that’s where the album theme was solidified for me. The first half of the album has tight songs with lyrics by Trevor Garrod that appear to contain different, interesting personas based on each song, and the band plays support behind him. The second half of the album contains a similar format, but with some new elements appearing in the songs. That half appears to start at the end of “Not Fit” with the brief jam, followed by “Borrowed Time,” which has some smashing guitar work.
JC: Yeah, when we were arranging it, we were giving a lot of thought toif it were to be on a vinyl albumhave a Side A, and a Side B. “Not Fit” is supposed to be (it’s been a long time since I looked at the list), but I think that, actually, would be the end of Side A.
RR: Oh, good, so I’m not being crazy thinking that.
JC: No. No. You’re not being crazy. We did intend to sort of pick up the heat there. There were sort of loose ideas on the theme, similar sort of themed-songs into the next group, and back it and move it along. There’s a vague story (I don’t even know what the story is about, necessarily) just to give the whole thing a little bit of a movement.
RR: I first noticed guitar effects on “Borrowed Time,” which would open Side B, and, at first, I heard a backwards guitar solo, and then it sounded like a phased guitar. What guitar were you playing and what effects were used on that track?
JC: The whole album I pretty muchyou know what? I used the Firebird on that song. What happened is that when it is going on the “Borrowed Time” part and there are little spaces in between, and there is sound that fills up those spaces? What that really is is another magical accident that happened in the studio. I had the pickup on the guitar so hot that it was picking up the crack of the snare [drum], and it was feeding it back out to my amp. At that moment, I am not playing anything on the guitar whatsoever. It’s the snare, actually, in the studio, going through my pickups and back out.
RR: And you were playing your Gibson Firebird guitar on that song?
JC: Yeah. That’s the only song I played the Firebird. Somebody in the control room said, “Why don’t you try a different guitar for this song?” I only picked it up for that one song and that’s what happened. It was pretty sweet that it worked out like that.
RR: We’ve switched gears, and suddenly started doing the Guitar World Interview, as I want to talk shop with you about some of the other effects you used. (laughter) “Slept Through Sunday” has a really dirty, distorted feel to it, as well. How was your guitar recorded on that track, and how did you manage that particular tone?
JC: I’m cranking through a twin and a sort of a Marshall half-stack amp. I forget what you call it, but it is kind of like a Marshall. I have both of those going at the same time, and I’m running a couple of distortion pedals, simultaneously. One of the engineers, Al [Weatherhead], had a lot to do with a lot of the effects. We would go in to do overdubbing, and he would mumble something, walk into the room with the amps, plug something in and say, “Try that.” He was mixing everything down, and the raw mixes were sounding so good, and he just had great taste, so I just sort of let him. If he had an idea on how to produce a sound, I went with it. I think a lot ofespecially a lot of that wash-y, phase-y stuff was his idea. SoI just went with it, and it sounded awesome. We’re also running through a Leslie [amp] on some of that, too.
RR: The glorious myths that spread on the Internet. The song that has had two song titles is the one that you wrote and sing lead vocals, “Stick to the Shallows.” And contrary to numerous spots where “Shadows” replaces “Shallows,” it is “Shallows.”
JC: Yeah, it is that. (laughter) Shallowslike the shallow end.
RR: I have to say that even the link with the new album forwarded to me for this feature listed the song as “Stick to the Shadows,” so there you go. Let’s talk about the genesis of how you wrote “Stick to the Shallows.”
JC: I wrote that song a long time ago, and it sort of resurfaced. It’s a vague sentiment of, you know, you grow up with your high school buddies, and all your buddies grow this way and they grow that way. It is pretty much as simple as that. Everybody seems to grow and evolve at different rates. Everybody has friends, buddies, and acquaintances that, maybe, have gone off the deep end with this or that. It is sort of reflecting on thata pretty natural occurrence, I think, for everybody that has ever had friends. (laughs)
RR: Sure. Definitely. Is it also safe to say that you guys have been through your first long phase of your career, so far?
JC: Yeah, it’s safe to saywe’re in a decade deep now.
RR: That’s what I was thinking, and Tea Leaf Green has only had one major lineup change during that time, and now you have Reed Mathis playing bass in the band. How have the dynamics changed? How has his arrival freed you up as a guitarist and the band as a whole? WellI shouldn’t say “freed you up.” (laughter)
JC: It actually has, though. You’re absolutely right. For me, personally, I was definitely feeling very much in a rut before the whole lineup change thing happened. It wasn’t like that was how everybody was feeling; Ben just suddenly said, “I can’t do this anymore.” We said, “Okay, but we still want to.” That just gave us an opportunity to call Reed, and he said, “Yes.” Musically, it was immediately fun again for me. It still is; I’m having a great time playing the shows. We, as a band, are making better music than we ever have right now. You knowyou get comfortable with this and that, and having someone else come in to shake it up a little bit brings new life to you. You also get a new view of everything, how you are, how you respond musically, and what you do. The same old patterns you get inyou can bust those up and find a new road.
RR: I was always used to seeing Reed and he looked like a really cool jazz head, but a more modern version. Then, I saw him with TLG, and I thought: “What the hell did those guys do to Reed? He’s like a full-blown hippie, now!” (laughter) I wonder what Tea Leaf Green has brought to Reed because he also seems to have found a different side of his playing that he didn’t have before.
JC: Yeah. He plays in so many different bands and so many different styles of music. He can do whatever. The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey has always been his main thing that people have identified him with and, I can’t speak for him necessarily, but I think it does sort of irk him when people put him into the box as just a “jazz guy.” Just like anybody who is an artist, nobody wants to be in a box that says “this is specifically what I do.” Most people who pick up an instrument or pick up a paintbrush want to be able to cover wider ground than just one particular thing. You don’t want to be just a portrait painter.
You want to be able to do this and that, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t. If you have the talent and ability to do all of those things, then it can definitely be irksome that you get pigeonholed into the one thing.
RR: Oh, yeah. Definitely. I saw Reed touring with Steve Kimock a few years back, and that was definitely a whole other thing that wasn’t jazz at all. He was playing sections of hard rock mixed in with improvisation, and it was really cool. I understand about being pigeonholed and I want to emphasize that it is great for people, who don’t know what else Reed does, to see him playing with Tea Leaf Greenhopefully, fans can see yet another side to what he is doing.
JC: Yeah, absolutely. That’s one of the things of having himhe’s a really great improviser. That’s one of the reasons we called him because we have that element in the music that we like to go to and it is pretty much built into every song in the live scenario, so we needed someone who can go there, who can also be confident enough to take charge, and lead the jamsjust get in there; if everybody is giving ideas, then it’s better.
RR: Let’s discuss the recording of Raise Up the Tent and Reed’s involvement.
JC: It was pretty wild and kind of sudden because our management was dealing with shopping around record companies. Surfdog popped up with an offer: “Here’s a set amount of money and go record an album.” This all happened right at the same moment that Ben was leavingor, maybe just a little bit after, I can’t remember exactlyand, then for purposes of the live shows, we needed a bass player and Reed agreed to do it, so we said, “Why not just bring him in the studio with us?” So we did, and it worked out great because everybody in the studio was feeling really fresh and new, and it was really exciting. On top of that, a lot of the songs that we did were the first times that we had ever done them as a group, so it was a good bonding experience for us and Reed together because we were all doing brand new things right there together. We were putting in equal input and functioning like a real band.
RR: Interesting. How have the pressures of being out on the road also changed for the band since you began because, as you stated, TLG is “in a decade deep now.”
JC: We’ve been going pretty hard at it the last five or six years. What’s changed, I guess, gradually, is that more people come to the shows. You never know what it’s going to be. You never know if it’s going to be in a bus or in a van or this or that or, you know, what sort of shithole hotel (laughter) you going to be in on the side of the road. It’s like the same thing, but I think it’s the same thing whatever level you’re at. It might be nice to be a millionaire and be touring, but you still are touring, you’re still traveling, you’re still dealing with all that, no matter what your comfort levelsit is still the same.
RR: Well, I was also thinking in terms of gas prices.
JC: Gas prices (laughs) are killing bands big time. It is not even a joke. Definitely the last five yearsit’s one of our main expenses, aside from hotels, and it has almost tripled. I don’t know if it is going to be that easy for bands starting out to do what we did when we started out. We hit the road and started playing crappy bars across America for a couple of yearswhich wasn’t the most informed decision (laughs) that we made, but that’s just what we did. We still have a lot of fans that we made in those times; we cemented a bond with fans by doing that. I don’t know. It’s rough. It’s rough. I’m thinking that, maybe in the future, bands will come to a city and be there for a whole week. Promoters and bands need to start re-thinking the residency concept a little bit more in touring. If you get to the place, and you’re not moving, that’s a major lesson, an expense that you don’t have.
RR: It wasn’t exactly a residency, but you did have a successful two-night stand back home at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco in late June.
JC: Right. I think those shows were definitely a couple of the best of the “Reed era,” here, that we’ve done, because we’ve played at the Great American Music Hall so many times that returning therewhen we first started doing it, it was a big deal and we were jittery and nervouswe are revisiting one of my personal favorite rooms. I was really comfortable; I think the whole band was really comfortable. We were relaxed and able to trust in the improvs and trust in the audience to be there with us. I think it created some really great improvisational moments in both of the shows. There are definitely ones that stood out for me, but I can’t remember specific songs.
RR: Well, it was a strong run and, as they still say in some aging circles, “it came out really well on the tapes.” Great collaborations, too. ALO’s Dan Lebowitz played on pedal steel on “Ride Together,” and his band mate, and occasional TLG bassist Steve Adams sat in on “Sex in the 70s,” which also featured Reed on guitar.
JC: Having Steve come out andyou know, some of the confusion with fans of “Who is going to be on bass?” and this and that, and people who need that sort of permanenceI just thought it would be cool to have both Reed and Steve on at the same time: “Look at both. It doesn’t matter. We are all part of the same circle. We’re all making the music. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the same guys.”
RR: The last time you and I hung out was at this year’s Jammys in New York. The great thing about those specific awards shows was that there was always the idea of “let’s find musicians that have never played together and probably never will again, and put them all on stage and see how it goes.” Tea Leaf Green had a very inspired collaboration this year, which included Steve Adams, Cornmeal fiddler Allie Kral, Squeeze’s Glen Tilbrook, Big Head Todd’s Todd Park Mohr, and Warren Haynes.
JC: We basically ran through those songs in soundcheck the day before the show. That was just Tea Leaf. I think the misconception that a lot of people have is that everybody is sort of choosing these songs and these people to jam on. It is arranged by the Jammy peoplewho are going to play with whom. You don’t even meet the guys until an hour before you go on.
The way I looked at it was that our job was to be the backup band. We’re going to learn these songs. We’re Leno’s band. (laughter) We were the house band for the three artists that we were set up with, and I thought it was awesome. Obviously, I’ve heard the song “Tempted” before, but when they told me “You knowthe guy from Squeeze,” I said, “Who the hell is Squeeze?!” (laughter) It was cool to be introduced to that musicnot just be introduced to it, but, also, be right in the middle of it, and learn a couple of songs, and then do it with one of the creators of the songs. It was a great experience, and I think it put hair on all of our chests.
RR: It was also cool to have Allie Kral out on TLG’s “Taught to be Proud.”
JC: We ended up doing some touring with Cornmeal, and I’ve given her the permanent Golden Pass whenever she’s around. If she’s got her fiddle, she’s playing with us. (laughter)
RR: There you go. You ended up playing with one of my favorites, the Big Man, Warren Haynes. You also played with him last night [TLG opened up for Gov’t Mule at the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion in Columbus, Ohio on 7/15/08] with Trevor Garrod on “Get Out My Life Woman” and “Waiting for My Man.”
JC: Yeah, I came out on “Cortez the Killer” at the end of his set, too. He came out and joined us for the Doors’ song “Five to One” in our set, which we’ve been doing lately.
RR: Very cool. What’s that like to play with Warren?
JC: It’s awesome, man. It’s playing with one of the top guitar players. It’s something that you dream about as a little kid, and when it happens, it’s sort of surreal, but then, it’s less surreal the more you get to know these people. (laughs) The more you hang, it’s just like playing with your buddy in a garage, once you get comfortable, and everybody gets to know each other a little bitwhatever sort of mystique fades into reality. (laughs) [Warren] is an incredible player, which everybody knows, and he’s a great guy, so I’m always stoked to do shows with Gov’t Mule when the opportunity comes up. You’re also getting behind one of the best rhythm sections in the business [Gov’t Mule’s Matt Abts on drums, and Andy Hess on bass]. It’s kind of like taking the Harley out for a drive.
RR: I have a friend who is a writer who works near Wall Street in Manhattan, and he had to dash off to catch the ferry to see DSO and TLG last Friday [July 11] on Governor’s Island. He had a blast and enjoyed both acts. What are your thoughts about that gig, and your feelings about being the opening act, in general, on a bill?
JC: They had to ferry people in, and we started, and people were sort of trickling in and getting there throughout our set. The opening situation is always a little tough because the people are opening themselves, too. (laughs) People had just gotten there, and they are hangin’ with their homies, staying high, having a couple of beers, and it’s tough to get everybody in focus for your set because they are waiting for the headliners. You’ve also, maybe, just finished dinner andit can be tough. It also can be fun because after around 45 or 50 minutes, you’re done, and you’re hangin’. It’s definitely the hardest thing to do in show business, I think, is to be the opening act to get everybody’s attention and get everybody into it. For me, I went up there and I had a great time; I enjoyed it. The day was gorgeous, and the site was gorgeous, and it was just a cool sort of thing to pop on the ferry and take in the sites. You knowgigs like that are awesome. They’re special events that people, promoters come up withwhoever’s idea, I’m not surebut whoever came up with it, it’s a great idea. [Governor’s Island] is a great place for a concert series. I hope they keep doing it. I know they just started it; so hopefully, it’ll become a staple.
RR: Speaking ofnice segue into the debut of the ROTHBURY festival. How was that experience for you and the band?
JC: It was awesome. We got there and it was great. We definitely had some monitor issues in the (laughs) first couple of songs, which I don’t want to bore you with that. Once we got settled in, it was great; once I could look up, and stop worrying about my gargantuan guitar blaring through everybody’s monitor. (laughter) It was going so loud, I actually had to barely (laughter) touch the strings, and it was still loud as hell. I’m sure people were staring at us, and thinking: “What the fuck’s going on here?”
RR: It was your solo set, but they just didn’t catch on.
JC: Yeah, right. (laughs) That’s the other thingthere’s shit that goes on on stage, and people in the audience will never have any idea, and you still have to not lose your shit if you don’t want to amble your way off the stage. Because you’re doing a good job, and not losing your shit, and making it obvious that this is the worst sound you’ve ever heard in your life ringing in your ear, and people are thinking, “What the hell? That was boring,” because we jammed for ten minutes on sort of nothing while the monitor guy worked it out. But once that worked out, (laughs) the set was great, man. Againgorgeous place, gorgeous site, and the weather was perfect, crisp, and comfortable. Even if you were in the sun, you weren’t dying. The lineup was awesome. I think every band performed incredibly. Every show I saw was killer. I had a great time, running around. I was only there for a day and a night and had a blast. Hopefully, that’ll keep going on. People who didn’t go, need to go to that one. I recommend that one pretty highly.
RR: You’ve got another long list of festivals that you’ve played or are about to hit for the rest of the summer including Camp Bisco and FloydFest in late July.
JC: We haven’t played either one before. FloydFest is going to be pretty wild for us because we’re flying in to [Virginia to] do that, and the very next day, we’re flying across the country to play in Bend, Oregon at another festival.
RR: And taking us back to your Harley comment, you’ve got the Harley Davidson 105th Anniversary gig in Milwaukee on August 29. How did you get on that bill?
JC: I have no idea. (laughter) I’m hoping not to have a Budweiser bottle thrown at my head. (laughs) My goal is to get out of there alive.
RR: Oh, I don’t think it’s that sort of crowd anymore. Have you heard differently?
JC: Naw. (laughs) I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a good time. Who doesn’t like Budweiser and motorcycles?
RR: Yeah, I hear yahopefully, not all at the same time.
JC: (laughs) Yeah, for guitar players, Budweiser and motorcycles are not a good mix.
RR: Let’s return to the running order of the career of Tea Leaf Green. It has been about a decade, and you’ve evolved in the studio, and on stage. Earlier this year, the band released their first three albums on the box set, Seeds. Did you have time to reflect on the release? What are your thoughts on that material now? [Author’s note: the 3-CD set was released with their new partnership with Surfdog Records, and included Tea Leaf Green, Midnight on the Reservoir, and Living in Between.]
JC: When it came out, I listened to it. We all listened to it late night on the bus one nightall three of them. (pauses) You knowit reminds me of my 20s, different places that I was in my life, along those lines. It brings back fun memories of the phases of our little career here. As far as recording quality, most of it is homemade, and I’d love to take all of those songs and re-record them again because I feel I could do infinitely better. There’s enough time and distance from it now that I can sort of view it as cute, like looking at your baby book or something. There’s some stuff on there that is great, and some stuffI always cringe a little bit no matter what recordingany recording that I hear myself back is a cringing event for me, but if people like it, then I’m satisfied.
RR: I liked the material from those albums when they were initially released, and listening back, you can hear the ways in which TLG was trying to figure out how to write and record a songoften combining a live feel within a studio environment. Hence, my interest in your take on those recordings.
JC: Oh, yeah. The thing is that we still play a lot of those songs that are on those albums.
JC: That may not be the greatest strategy in the world of rock n’ roll, but we’ve always stuck with everything we’ve made, even our original material. Even though I feel that, ten years later, we are humongous leaps and bounds ahead of what we were as songwriters then, we still play the songs because we still have people that are listening to us that got into us because of some of those songs. We don’t throw them off the boat. Yeah, a lot of them are still played frequently.
RR: That’s a good point because with Reed aboard, did that reinvigorate your back catalogue to a degree?
JC: Yes and no. We started out by giving him a list of 40 songs we were into doing. Since then, we’ve been trying to teach him new stuff at soundcheck and this and that, and trying to get the whole catalogue up and running. I think that when we originally got going, we said, “Let’s move forward and play stuff that everybody really wants to play right now because we’re going to have a limited amount of songs from where we were.” On the first couple of tours, we had maybe a third of the total catalogue. We’re still trying to take it all back and build it all up, which, you know, takes time as we have over 100 songs to teach himand not just to teach him to fluff through them, but to really get into them.
RR: We have talked about the hardship of touring and its challenges. TLG is a veteran band, whereas new bands are in for a much more difficult road ahead. Is there a common band goal over the next couple of years, a heightened sense of urgency, to put out something really solid on CD or vinyl or digital because you need that as a band for a potential strength as opposed to being road warriors?
JC: Yeah, I think that there’s still the same goalget more bodies in the rooms, sell more tickets. We’re going to have to, because everyone is getting into their 30s, people are getting married, and life issues that we’ve ignored, (laughter) run away from, eventually catch you. It’s doable; you can make a modest living at it; you just have to sell more tickets. I’m hoping that Raise Up the Tent will reach more people, reach another sort of audience, and bring more people out to the shows that want to hear the songs that they heard on the album. It’s a little bit of the opposite of how we began doing itdoing live shows, and if you like what you hear at the show, go buy our album at the table. I think that’s the harder way to do it instead of here, take this album, spread it around, play it for your friends, and hopefully, people will really get into the album, and come to the show.
RR: Raise Up the Tent may reach that goal, as it is a strong all-around effort.
JC: We’ll see. The record business is such a funny thing right now. It’s Wild West. I think that we have enough of a good core audience around the country that hopefully, they’ll listen to it, and be blown away and want to share it.
RR: For music that can invite so many different ideas and offer a great deal of adventure, it’s ironic that audiences can sometimes be close-minded and jaded.
JC: Yeah, sure.
RR: That mentality bothers me as a writer, and a fan. I was wondering if you come across that aspect in your audience and think, “What are we supposed to be doing?”
JC: I think with certain people, it becomes sort of an identity issue, more so than anything else. “I’m going to take this band and this thing, and identify with it, and this is who I am, and it speaks for me, and nothing else can.” There’s probably an insecurity situation, really. But a lot of people that I know that music speaks to say, “I love everything.” There’s nothing wrong with loving everything exceptI don’t know, I just feel like if somebody wants to be listened to, also, if they want their opinion to be taken seriously, then they need to be negative about something. They need to say, “You can trust me because I’m not fluffing everything. I have taste. I dislike stuff.” That goes beyond music; that’s a general attitude. There are people that can really, truly find wonder in everything. I think there’s a tendency to look down on that kind of person. “Oh, look at Goofy Joe over there, he loves everything,” and I think it’s amazing, you know? I wish I could be like thatto be open to everything, accept everything, and love everything. People who are like that are constantly amazing.
RR: It’s a double-edged sword. As a writer, if you’re really positive the majority of the time, and then you write one piece which is critical of something, you tend to never hear the end of it. “I didn’t think you were that way.” O.K. I’m sorry. I’ll go back to how I was( laughter) I do love everything; it’s just that this one thing was not right, and any musician would tell you that it’s not right.
JC: There’s ways to criticize things without condemning them.
RR: Absolutely. There you go.
JC: And that’s where people get into trouble.
RR: Right. Perfect. Speaking of having an open mind about music, you sat in with Particle last fall for 12 shows. Would you like to talk about that experience?
JC: Yeah, I got a phone call from [keyboardist Steve] Molitz out of the blue. I’m not sure exactly what the story was with their guitar player before [Ben Combe left the band last fall], but they needed somebody, they had a month-long tour, so it worked out great for me because I had the month off. I said, “Totally.” They are old friends of ours. The first time I played New York City was opening up for them. It was cool. For me, it was the first opportunity I’ve had to go on the road with another band, to see what it’s like, to get into a different mix, and it was a great learning experience. It was a positive experience overall, and a lot of fun. We all became really good friends throughout the whole thing. They had a great crewthe whole deal was a good adventure.
RR: You also made a weird cross-country trek over two days last fall with Particle as you’ll make in late July, right? Didn’t you play in New York in early November, and the next day, you had a gig opening for Trevor Garrod in California?
JC: Yeah, I did. I do that a lot. I rack up the frequent flyer miles. (laughter) In fact, the whole Particle tour was taking place when I didn’t even know what was going on with my band. We did that gig, and then I went home, and the next day, I did an acoustic guitar thing, and then I went back on the road with Particle that month. I was actually on the road when Reed was rehearsing with the band the first few days for our first gig. I had never played with Reed with the band until it was live, in front of an audience. Scotty and Trevor showed him the tunes, and I showed up. (laughter)
RR: And it worked.
JC: Yeah, it totally worked. It was awesome.
RR: Trevor Garrod’s done a lot of different solo gigs over the last few years. You’ve also done some shows on your own. Do you have solo plans in the near future?
JC: Yeah. I’m coming out in August to New York City to do a solo thingjust me and my guitar, play some songs, chat it up a little bit between them. That’s on the 15th of August. I don’t know where yet, though. I have a nice hour set. I play some of the songs I do in Tea Leaf; I play some of the songs that Tea Leaf hates. (laughter) You knowsort of goof off on the acoustic guitar.
RR: And after that, it’s totally open and dependant on your Tea Leaf plans?
JC: Yeah, it depends on what happens. I just started doing it so we’ll see. I enjoy it. I haven’t felt the nervous feeling that I get from it in a long time. It’s kind of scary, when you’ve been in a band with people to fall back on, to be out there on your own.
RR: Do you feel your role is still the same when you’re playing with Tea Leaf Green, or has it changed because the dynamics changed with Reed in the band?
JC: No, I think it’s still fairly the same. I think it’s nice that Reed is an excellent soloist on his own, and with him, I don’t have to play as much. I can really scale back what I’m doing to try to create energy. I feel like we’re working so much more as a team towards more of an orchestral energy explosion, rather than just one soloist peaking. I feel like the whole band is starting to peak together, and be like a unit. It’s great to have this because you’re sensitive to where it’s going, and what’s happening. Like George Porter, Jr. always saysI don’t know if he always says it in the media, but whenever I’m talking with him“the most important thing is that you’ve gotta listen to each other.” That really is it, and everybody’s listening.
RR: Speaking of listening on another level, on Raise Up the Tent, there are little guitar parts in the background, which are noticeable with headphones on, that you’ve layered into the mix. It reminds me of Jimmy Page and his work on the Zeppelin studio albums. I noticed that aspect far more on this album than on any other TLG release. You’re not upstaging anyone, but it is a really cool, little effect.
JC: Yeah, textures.
RR: Was that something you consciously set out to do on this release?
JC: The one that I can think of, the most obvious, is on “Don’t Curse the Night,” at the end, where the chorus is repeating. I recorded three harmonizing guitar parts, which if it was in the front [of the mix], it would be some sort of Metal Masters 2008. (laughter) I didn’t want it to be that. I was trying to emulate a babbling brook or something in the background. There are still distortions on it, but I wanted it to be really subtle back there. And also, you know, for the kid who just smoked the doob, and is putting on headphones. (laughter)
RR: You caught the vibe well. Texturesthere’s the word. Let’s talk about your painting. Are you mainly working on your artwork when you aren’t on the road?
JC: Yeah, when I do full-color stuff. I have my sketchbook out on the road, and I do pencil drawings, and work out ideas. When I want to bust out the oils, that’s sort of an in garage’ event. Sometimes I bring my watercolors out, but sometimes it’s tough to find motivation when you’re scrambling so much.
RR: Is your artwork for relaxation purposes, or are there any long-term thoughts?
JC: I’ve been working over the years, pretty steadily, at trying to get to enough illustrations for our songs to have an illustrated lyric book. Hopefully, in the next couple of years, we’ll have something like that. Lately, I’ve been sort of digging into Aeosop’s Fables, and illustrating them a little bit. I’ve always been interested in doing some children’s books. We’ll see what happens. Right now, I’m fairly consumed with Tea Leaf to really crack down. I’ll come home for a few days, and I’ll take the first couple of days just to relax, and then, to actually get into the routine of getting up in the morning, and painting all day, requires a larger chunk of time for me.
RR: You mentioned everyone is getting into their 30s, and life is happening. How do you feel about where you’re at right now with yourself and the band?
JC: Musically, like I said before, it’s the best I’ve ever been involved in. I feel like I’m personally making the best music of my life, and the band collectively is making the best music of its life. We’re still struggling. We’re still out there. It’s a grind, still. I’m not giving up anytime soon, so
RR: The times I’ve seen you and the band, or I’ve run into you at various events, you seem to be well balanced. How do you keep your sanity?
JC: I’m not sure that I have. (laughter) I don’t know. In this modern day, we’re so connected, and you can communicate easily with Internet and all this, so you’re never that far away from home. The hardest part, really, is being away from your girl. It’s the hardest part about being on the road. Home is where the heart is, right?
_- Randy Ray stores his work at www.rmrcompany.blogspot.com