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Published: 2010/07/22
by Dean Budnick

Tea Leaf Green: Collective Creative Enablers

Josh Clark, Trevor Garrod, Scott Rager and Ben Chambers first came together as Tea Leaf Green in 1997. A decade into their career Chambers departed and the bassist was replaced by Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey’s Reed Mathis. The group’s new release Looking West harkens back to the early days of the group as it draws on material that has been in the TLG repertoire since Chambers tenure in the group. However, it also maintains the flavor of the current band, as Mathis not only plays on the album but he also produced the album along with keyboard player/vocalist Garrod. The band is currently making the rounds in support of Looking West, although it is doing so in a modified form as drummer Rager is being supplemented by Cochrane McMillan, after an ankle injury.

The following conversation with guitarist Josh Clark looks at the span of the group’s career, the current expanded line-up and what else is in the offing as well. Clark, incidentally, is also responsible for the cover art on Looking West (as he was for the band’s first three releases) and examples of his work, including his “Eternal Jamnation” cartoon can be found at Joshclarkart.com.

Let’s start with the latest health news. You’re now touring as a five piece because Scott Rager injured his ankle.

Yeah, the latest calamity in TLG land. I want to tell everybody that he was fighting a bear or something but he was really just doing yard work. He sort of jumped off a little ledge and he landed on it funny and tore a couple ligaments in his ankle. At first he thought it was a sprain and he thought he’d get someone to fill in just for the CD release party. So he called up our friend Cochrane McMillan who owns and runs the studio we recorded Looking West in. He’s also a drummer. He’s played with Apollo Sunshine and numerous different projects, so it made sense because he was sort of familiar with the music and it was the CD release party so we thought it would be cool to have him involved.

That went off without a hitch except I came down with this 24 hour stomach flu. So we’re backstage and Scotty’s got his leg up and in ice, I’ve got a bucket in front of me and it’s an hour before the show and I’m wondering if I’m going to go to the ER because it was particularly brutal. We were wondering if the show was even going to happen but we sucked it up and played and it was a fun show. Then Scotty had some x-rays and they told him it would be 6 weeks or whatever, so now we have Cochrane with us on the road for the whole tour, so we have two drummers. Scotty can’t play the kick but he’s got a tom and a bass drum and he sorts of conducts Cochrane from the side. They’re really communicating and Cochrane is sort of going with whatever Scotty’s feeding him and it’s definitely been a lot of fun how the music has filtered through it, how the tempos have changed. All the songs are completely different versions on this trip and every night has been radically different from the others and every night’s been tighter and tighter too. They’re really starting to lock in. So it’s been an unexpected surprise and it’s been a lot of fun.

Are there any songs in particular that jump out at as having been dramatically transformed, as you re-examine them from the inside out?

I think “Kali-Yuga” has taken on a different form, especially the chorus. It seems to hit a lot bigger than it has in years and that song is 8, 10 years old. So that definitely surprises and elates me. All of a sudden this whole thing has become real powerful- with two drummers everything does get more powerful. There are more fills going on and more creative details happening in the rhythm section. It’s really cool, I’ve been enjoying it. I almost want to keep him on full time, keep two drummers going.

The other recent news is that you opened for yourselves somewhat unexpectedly last week in Canada [as TLG’s acoustic alter egos, Coffee Bean Brown] when Cornmeal’s bus broke down.

Yeah, we had a soundcheck to work up some of the acoustic stuff with Cochrane and it was cool to have him get invoked with that also. Now he’s got the whole palette down. The songs are pretty straight up and they’re quiet and it also gave Scotty a chance to try out his ankle on the kick drum because they’re not raging rockers. So he didn’t reinjure itself and it was good for him to work it out a little a bit. It’s probably getting to the point where he needs to exercise it anyway. It was one of my favorite Coffee Bean Browns. I thought it sounded real good. That room in Toronto called the Great Hall really took to the acoustic sound a lot better than some other rooms we’ve done.

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