The Tea Party are in the country to celebrate the twentieth anniversary Transmission. 1997 was a massive year for the band with the album reaching number three on the Australian album charts earning double platinum status spawning the hits Temptation, Psychopomp, Release, Emerald and the title track Transmission. Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles spoke to Jeff Burrows about that classic album, the tour and what’s next for The Tea Party.
How is the pre-tour build up going in Perth?
Going well, I’ve been for a run this morning, I’ve had the energy, I’m an avid runner but normally it takes me a day or two once I get over this side of the world to get my legs back. I had a great sleep oddly enough and I’ve just done a five mile easy run, it was nice.
Australia must be like a second home for The Tea Party?
Yeah, we have been fortunate enough before it wasn’t so much. Back throughout all of the nineties and early o’s we were touring everywhere about as much as Australia. When we had been to Australia for our tenth time we had already been to Europe eleven times then Canada many more times and America around the same. It has turned in to more of that and it is hard to capture the interest of many people in the United States. I suppose we could still do well enough in Europe but you get to an age where it isn’t worth going there if you’re not going to make a scale wage per say. No one tours to get rich in this camp and we all do quite well but we’re not going to go to Europe to break even, it is not worth it, we all have children. It is very tough and unfortunate but it is very much a second home here for sure.
What do you put that down to? Is it changing tastes or do people have poor taste in music these days?
Well, Australians have amazing tastes and I don’t want to take away from our American fans or European fans. I would feel bad if there was a band that I like that wouldn’t be able to come to Canada for my friends and I who might be huge fans but just can’t get to the mass public. It is difficult and as much as you don’t want to think of this as a business it is unfortunate because we have a lot to offer that comes to our art and a lot to offer when it comes to our performance. I don’t think you can go there on the skin of your teeth and come home to try and feed your children, put them through school, you hate to say it but it is much a career as it is an art form. You have seen that for centuries and centuries, artists being taken in by people with money in order to survive and to paint for them and hone their craft on the grand piano. It still goes on with friends of mine in the classical genre. It is one of the unfortunate parts but it doesn’t happen like that for us in Australia, thank goodness we get to fly here! I have the longest flight, Jeff lives here and Stuart is just a quick flight from Vancouver but I always leave a couple of days early.
Can you believe that you are celebrating twenty years of Transmission? It seems like time is whizzing past…
I just read an interview someone did with Jeff Martin and he said no it feels like twenty years! Oh man I’m completely the opposite, to me it has flown and I think the reason is that my children were quite young at the time where one was turning three and the other just born when this was coming out. Time flies when you’re having children and the only thing that took me back was when I started rehearsing it on my own for the big tour of this album in Canada, I had never sat down and learnt all those songs as we had sat down and learnt what we would be playing but we had never done every song on this record. It was interesting to learn parts and you get those strange reminiscent feelings of being that age and all these memories come flooding back with each of these songs, like where this was written, how long it took or how it was jammed out, it is pretty cool. In one sense it has flown and in another it hasn’t.
Do you still have fond memories from that time making the album? What sorts of things stick out the most for you from that time?
I remember when the bulk of the songs were written, I remember going home specifically with my parts and rougher versions of the songs. I just remember working very, very hard on my own and I remember Jeff being blown away because each song was about one take and that was it. Back in those days we were not able to, we always recorded to tape, this was not recorded digitally and you could not take the first verse from the song and the second chorus from this take it was all one, two, three, four and all done. I remember being extremely prepped because we were extremely excited because not only did we have EMI on our team but we were signing to Atlantic Records in America and they were selling us the dream which wound up being a nightmare in the long run but hey we were ready for it! I remember that part I remember specifically a cold winter’s day walking from my hotel to Jeff Martin’s and working from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon and the song Release was written from top to bottom. That was a very fond and fun memory, we were just sitting up in his loft studio at the time just going through things thinking about women and their place in the world and how the lack of respect is there and how it needs to be a better and equal place and so on. It came together quite quickly and nicely. It was for the first time that we should really, I want to say dumb down but take our parts and make them as simple as possible so we can easily convey the words that needed to be said.
When Transmission was starting to come together did you know that you had something pretty special?
I know what you are saying, at first I can honestly say for me I was worried not because we didn’t have material but I wasn’t one hundred percent onboard with some of the ideas regarding the electronics because we had come so far from the other side dealing with wood and skin and so on with Edges Of Twilight that I didn’t want to completely shut that out we didn’t which was nice. At first I was thinking digital oh my god what is this? Are we pulling a Neil Young on everybody? I didn’t want to ruin what we had just begun to generate and so far as the fan base want and respect from critics it worked out very well. I’m glad we still got to incorporate a lot of the more earthy elements as well as the electronic elements.
It must be hard to top a song such as Temptation as you would always be bench marked against that great song?
Yeah, you always hear record execs say how about a Temptation 2 and you’re thinking to yourself oh fuck off! We know what you want, we know how to give it you but we are trying to do something different and just as creative but not we are not a car company. It will contain a verse if we can tell you that much, it will probably have a chorus and a pretty funky bridge but it is not going to sound like Temptation. Every band goes through that though!
From a fan perspective it must be heartening to know that Transmission still means so much too so many people?
I didn’t really realise that until we did our Canadian/ American run easily our most successful tour since 1999 and it blew us away. It was sold out completely, thirty three shows across American and Canada, the VIP’s were doing really well, we loved meeting everyone and when those happen people who get VIP’s want a different experience. It wound up being a different experience for the band because they were so flabbergasted because we were doing the whole album and so on. Just so everyone knows it isn’t from the first song to the last song, every song is performed but we tried it that way from top to tail but it just didn’t flow as well as it does with headphones. We have rejigged it a little bit and we were as shocked as they were with how well it turned out.
Did some songs off Transmission take a bit of rehearsing to be able to play live?Absolutely, some we hadn’t played before ever, we have never played Emerald or Gyroscope and a few others beyond that. It was stounding, we loved it! We have played this since our last show in Los Angeles just before we flew to Melbourne to do Sydney orchestra thing. I guess it was May or April since we last played these songs and I’m much looking forward to it. It will be great!
What is next for The Tea Party considering that the band has just about done everything?
We have short term, mid-term and long term goals. The short term goals are to really kill it on this tour and then we have four shows in a row as a residency in Toronto commemorating this very unique club called the Horse Shoe Tavern. Everyone from The Rolling Stones to anyone who has played there and it is there seventieth anniversary. We’ll have new music out for 2018 which is already written. Right after our Perth show we will be flying back to Jeff’s to do some touch ups on those. There may be some festivals in 2018, there may be some shows in the Fall in Canada but I don’t think we’ll be back in Australia until 2019 at which point we are hoping to do some festivals and a headline tour with lots of new material.
Is there much you can say about the new material?
Sure, I don’t know if I am supposed to and I don’t care if I get in the shit! It is a lot more, to me anyway, a lot more groove oriented, it is very rock oriented, it is very indie album, first album, second album and a lot more raw and not as polished which I am a big fan of, Jeff is singing like a mother fucker and playing like one to, it’s great. It is all over the map, just like everything else there are some things that come up that are shockingly beautiful and some that are just sexy as hell and have a really sexy groove in it. For me, we have some great new material and I can’t wait to share it. It is fun to play!
Will there be a twentieth anniversary celebration of Triptych?
People have been asking that and before your call I was answering some questions on the Tea Party Fan Network and I was literally answering that question. I can’t see why we wouldn’t, people were hoping we would do a twenty five year anniversary of Splendor Solis and I love doing them. A lot of our critics say it is just a money grab and to that I reply fucking right it is. We created it and we like to earn money to record new material, feed our children and do that thing called living. I hope we can because it is giving the audience what they want and as the drummer I won’t speak for the other guys but I love doing it and I love looking back at what we are able to do and share it. It is like saying I never want to see the Mona Lisa again in person in Paris, I have seen it before, why would I want do that that? That is the dumbest thing I have ever heard.
When people complain and say they are just doing it for the money, sure we do everything for the money and we also do it to display the passion for what we have written and we do it for the shared communion and for everything else. Anyone who criticises things like that is full of sit, you criticise to make money and that’s your job so fuck off! Like it or not this is a job and everyone thinks that things come easy but it doesn’t. If I knew one hundred percent I would say definitely but we’ll see. Triptych will be in 2019 so that could be!
Interview by Rob Lyon
Catch The Tea Party on the following dates…