To a Canadian, it’s usually impolite to ask anyone such overtly personal questions, such as asking a woman if she is pregnant, especially when she’s not. Awkward!
The same good manners should be applied when asking questions of a band who have been around for more than two decades.
Nothing bristles more than hearing a query such as, “Where have you been all these years?” especially when you’ve been here, making music, the whole time.
That’s been the case with The Tea Party (the Canadian band and not the U.S. right wing political movement).
“It’s like you’re reading our merchandiser’s mind,” said Tea Party percussionist/drummer Jeff Burrows, when asked if the band gets asked that question.
“We recently drove from London to Toronto and he said ‘I should have a video camera at my table to record how many times I was asked that question.’ But after buying our CDs, the response is usually, ‘this is amazing.’”
For the record: Yes, The Tea Party is still together. They’re still making music that saw them through the ‘90s. And yes, they’re still that progressive rock band that uses exotic instrumentation and has a lead singer (Jeff Martin) who looks and sounds like Jim Morrison reincarnate.
So why go back to an album you released 20 years ago, re-release it, and then tour the country, playing all the songs off said album live for a 2015 audience, as The Tea Party will do when the band arrives in Vernon Tuesday?
Burrows has a simple explanation.
“We’re all working musicians, and we still get together to write music and although we are familiar with all our songs live, we hadn’t played all the ones off The Edges of Twilight in a long time,” he said. “It seemed strange that you wouldn’t go out and celebrate something you created, and we know from (the album’s) sales that people enjoyed it. We averted the sophomore jinx.”
The Canadian leg of The Edges of Twilight tour opened Sept. 4 in the band’s hometown of Windsor, Ont. to a full house of fans – actually, it was more fans that were needed, said Burrows, explaining, “It was cool in one sense, but hot in another as the air conditioning was broken and because of the moisture coming off the Great Lakes, the humidex levels were at 44 C. Inside with the lights, it felt about 48 C,” he said, adding the band has been pleased about the support they have been receiving since announcing the tour.
“It’s been great and a little strange. At one show, in the front row, there were these parents with their six- and seven-year-old kids and then there are some people out there that are my age with their 18-year-olds.”
Twenty years may not seem like a long time for those on the rock band longevity list. For The Rolling Stones, Rush or U2, two decades must feel like yesterday.
But consider this: in 1995, Syria was in peace talks with Israel, the Quebec separation referendum was narrowly defeated, and O.J. Simpson was found innocent.
It’s also the year The Edges of Twilight reached double platinum status (200,000 sales) in Canada and earned the band several Juno nominations, including Best Rock Album and Group of the Year.
Actually the band’s third studio album, The Edges of Twilight, was a culmination of ideas between the band’s members and was primarily written in their hometown of Windsor, which Burrows describes as ironic as it contained so many worldly influences.
Now based in Toronto, Burrows says revisiting The Edges of Twilight brought back many memories for him and fellow band members, lead singer/guitarist Martin (who now lives in the artsy community of Byron Bay, Australia) and keyboardist/bassist Stuart Chatwood (based in Vancouver).
The band went down to L.A. to record the album, which Burrows describes as a mind blowing experience.
“When you’re that young and you’re recording in L.A. in the same studio that The Stones had vacated just before you and Neil Young was recording (his album) Mirrorball down the hall, and Alice in Chains were there also… We were just thinking of how to pay our bills. We did not have rock status in Canada then,” said Burrows.
What made The Tea Party stand out was the accumulation of instruments the band collected on its travels. Sounds such as the sarod, harp guitar, hurdy-gurdy, harmonium and African percussion were all put to use on the recording of The Edges of Twilight.
“At the time, we were listening to Dead Can Dance and Peter Gabriel’s Real World. If we weren’t using an exotic string instrument like the hurdy-gurdy, we were often exploring a different way of writing a song; not just verse, chorus, verse, chorus,” said Burrows, adding, “They were not exactly radio hits.”
Each instrument also comes with its own story.
“I remember when we were shooting the video for The Bazaar in Budapest, Jeff was at a market and picked up a saz, which is like a bouzouki, and the guy selling it said to him, ‘that one is made from Canadian spruce,’” said Burrows. “I also had a djembe, which came from South Africa, and termites had eaten through the box and drum.”
The band still seeks out exotic instruments. Martin is heading to Morocco in October, and Burrows expects his bandmate will be shipping some new finds back to him.
The Tea Party shall likely be playing some of those new instruments when it re-enters the studio to record its next album.
“We started writing it in February and we were planning it before the tour when Jeff came home to visit his family (in Ontario). We are planning to write part of it in Australia and will be there again in November to continue the tour,” said Burrows.
The Tea Party brings The Edges Of Twilight – The Iconic Album – Live to the Vernon Performing Arts Centre, Tuesday, Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $46 available at the Ticket Seller box office. Charge by phone at 250-549-SHOW (7469) or online at www.ticketseller.ca.