The album sounds very meticulously constructed, very layered. But at the same there’s an element of spontaneity and improvisation to it as well. How did you capture that sound?
I’ll give credit to Jeff Martin there because he was the producer. But the sound we were going for is if you crank it up on speakers and stand back it sounds like a cohesive band playing. But if you put headphones on, you hear hundreds of little blocks of sound. A lot of the songs might sound like one or two guitars, but there’s actually twelve guitars layered on top of each other.
We recorded the album half on tape, half on Pro Tools – when you look at the Pro Tools side, the screen is just full of guitars, but it sounds cohesive.
The spontaneity on the album is just the performance coming through. One of the highlights for me is the last song, “The Ocean”. There’s some blues guitar there, some Mellotron flute that is reminiscent of [the band] Air from the Virgin Suicides soundtrack. And then Jeff Burroughs has his part at the end, and we threw in Ian Anderson on flute from Jethro Tull on top of the whole thing.
How did the collaboration with Ian Anderson happen?
Well, in 1994 we were touring England for the first time, and out of the blue, during one of our soundchecks, our manager came and said “Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull is at the back, he wants to have a drink”. We went back there and Ian was just like, “I drove out to see you guys. I don’t see bands very often but you guys really captured the spirit of our music from back in the day. I wanted to hang out and have a couple of pints.”
We kept the friendship going for a while, but we lost contact for a long time. But then we had this song with Mellotron flutes, and I was thinking, “How can we humanize this thing a little more?” Because a Mellotron is a keyboard instrument, and there’s probably one flute player in the world when it comes to rock music, we reached out to him, and he was happy to hear from us. I just got a text yesterday saying that he’s playing out music in between his two sets during his show.
Wow, what an honour.
Yes, it is. I mean, I think what we’ve done is take classic rock and moved it forward. That was our goal, anyway. Another interesting story is that my sister-in-law worked for Volkswagen in Birmingham, England, and this guy Bob calls in, saying, “I want to buy a car for my son.” She asked him to come in, and when he showed up at 2 o’ clock, it was Robert Plant! So she asked him, “Have you ever heard of my brother-in-law’s band, The Tea Party?” And he’s like “Oh yeah, I’ve got all the records. It’s like ‘Kashmir’, but it gets a little further into that world music thing.”
We’ve tried to take some of the tangents from classic rock and move it forward, and we got to hear it from Robert Plant that that’s what he thinks.
Can you speak a little about the world music aspect of The Tea Party? Where does that come from?
On our second record, we spent all our signing bonus on instruments. We went through the catalogue of a great music store in Seattle. We were just like, “Okay, what does this song need, and what can we do with that song?” Every single day, UPS were showing up with different instruments, we were just like, “Who’s going to play this one?” I think by the end of the album, we had recorded 31 different instruments. I think six or eight of them made it into our repertoire – like I had to learn how to play santoor, but I think that makes you more well-rounded as a musician.
We never professed to be experts. If you want to play tabla well, you have to play tabla and only tabla for ten years. Our goal was just to bring new textures into our music, perhaps expose Western ears to what they’ve been missing around the world. Ritesh Das and the Toronto Tabla Ensemble have performed with us many times, so I like to think we have their respect because we’re still friends. A lot of people might accuse us of cultural appropriation, co-opting things for our purposes. I think if you took that attitude to most things in life, you’d be limited in a lot of ways.
You did most of the recording for the album in Windsor. Did returning to your old stomping grounds have an effect on the album?
We started writing the songs in Byron Bay, Australia, a very sunny surf spot. But it happened to rain for two weeks while we were there. And then we went back to Windsor – we were trying to get into that headspace that we were in when we wrote our first record. We just bounced ideas around, and it was quite fruitful. Five or six songs came out of that, like “The Ocean”, which might be the best song of our career.
We’ve recorded in L.A., Montreal, Australia, but being in Windsor takes out of consideration some of the extraneous elements that come up. It’s an old friendship. You fall back into old ways. You might be a powerful guy, but when you go back and meet your school bully, you go back to being a kid again. You just assume some of the roles that you had when you were last there. The mind kinda relaxes, but that means we could concentrate on music solely. We didn’t have to worry about outside influences.