The Tea Party are in the midst of a big tour celebrating 20 years since the release of their album Transmission. Jeff Martin is making a few solo stops which includes a stop tonight at the John St. Pub in Arnprior.
Our Mike Graham had a chance to talk to Jeff earlier in the week about 20 years of Transmission and more.
Mike: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us here at Sound Check Entertainment
JM: my pleasure
Mike: To go right back to the beginning, 1991the demo/album, have you guys ever thought of re-releasing that?
JM: We have, the problem is, me being the perfectionist I suppose, or try to be (laugh), to give you an example, once the Tea Party is done this year, and it’ll be released to coincide with our Australian tour thats coming up where were doing the 20th anniversary of “Transmission”. We’ve already done that here in Canada but what the three of us did, we took four songs off “Transmission”, I guess you call the seminal songs like “Tempatation” “Psychopmop” “Release” and the title track “Transmission” and we rerecorded them from scratch. One of my friends said the four of them sound terrifyingly beautiful, so they’re big, and thats not to say what I would do with the demo that we did, the independent record, it’d be a case of hunting down the original tapes cause it was done on an old 16 track recording machine.
Mike: Good ol’ analog
JM: What I would want to do is probably remix it, just to give fans something different, because I mean the existing version is already out, people can get it for exorbitant amount of money on the internet, but it’d be a good thing for the fans, knowing what I know now, compared to just being out of the gates back then, it would be something to remix it and give it a sort of fresh coat of paint, but it’s just the case of finding the originals, which i’m sure are somewhere. More or less Stuart Chatwood would know more than I would cause he’s the archivist in the band, so it’s a possibility but it’s not really the most important thing on our dance card now.
Mike: I saw the Transmission show at Algonquin Theater in Ottawa, Great show by the way, and I first saw you live at in trois rivieres in 93′, I remember how fresh and unique you were at that time compared to everything around you as you were surfacing out of the grunge revolution.
JM: That was the whole thing, cause most of the bands that were around at that time were still trying to smell like teen spirit (laughs), and not trying to take anything away from that style of music or anything
, it was just something that the three of us really weren’t’ interested in, obviously our wings were wet with our influences back then, there was a whole lotta zeppelin and what nots. Things changed quickly, we went from being compared to those bands, but now were a band that other bands get compared to, so it was quite a journey, but I think a record like “The Edges of Twilight” that came out in 95′ pretty much defined us and gave us our own identity outside of our influences, and from there we just ran with it.
Mike: Like you said there you didn’t wanna be compared to what was happening at the time, it was it’s own scene, but a lot of the bands of the time were just regurgitation’s of your Pearl Jams, your Nirvanas, your STP’s and bands like that anyway, so for you guys to separate yourselves in the span of one album, that’s saying something very good for the thing you’re trying to do.
JM: Exactly, I couldn’t have said it better myself, I’m proud of the integrity I believe that has always existed with The Tea Party
Mike: Something I’ve noticed from “Splendor Solice” to present day is you have an interest in using unique instruments and tunings in your music, how did that come about?
JM: The Tuning aspect with my guitar came about cause simply as a three piece you’re trying to make the sonic landscape that you deliver, especially live, you’re trying to make it as grand as possible, and I discovered quite early on, much of the pension and love I had for music from different parts of the world and the instrumentation, I mean at the time and especially in the early days of The Tea Party I’d yet to do all the traveling of the world that I eventually did, so I just tried to make my guitar sound like the instruments I was getting influenced by to create that music, so that’s where the tunings came about and then basically like I said going back to “The Edges of Twilight” because of the success out of the box the Tea Party had with “Splender Solice” obviously with our second record with EMI we were given a very substantial recording budget, and now most bands would take that recording advance and spend it on cars, women, drugs, but the three of us decided to spend the money collecting a music store from around the world, and it’s quite funny, I look back at the pictures of us recording “The Edges of Twilight” at A&M Studios in Los Angeles, and we were in the really big room, it was funny at the time cause Pearl Jam was in the smaller room next to us working with Neil Young. We had our own Neil Young cause Roy Harper was going to do a couple tracks with us, so it was like the young and the old in both rooms, but the big room we were in was just filled with instruments from India, from Morocco, from Egypt and things like that, and percussion blah blah blah, and it was a big task that was put in front of us, low and behold the results which became “The Edges of Twilight”, probably one of our proudest moments.
Mike: You were kinda a kid in a candy store kind of situation
JM: There was no limits to what we could achieve and also because EMI from the onset believed in me as the producer of the band, with the first record “Splender Solice” I had yet to develop the technical skills of what a great producer should be. To be a great producer you should have a very very solid and in-depth knowledge of recording engineering as well, and that was something where the learning curve was very fast for me, especially when “The Edges of Twilight” came about. I co-produced the album with Ed Stasium, who’s one of the greats of rock music, and what he taught me and all of that came into the fray as well, which allowed the things that I heard in my head to come out a lot easier, cause I knew the pathway technically speaking how to achieve them.
Mike: Now you mentioned there about Pearl Jam working with Neil Young and you having Roy Harper there, and I’m aware you’re a Led Zeppelin fan, So how did it feel working with someone who had actually worked with Jimmy Page?
JM: Well, it was uncanny, I remember the first thing Roy Harper said to me, it was around a campfire in Pickering of all places, and the fire was going and the hot sake was being passed around the fire, and I was nervous as hell, I’m meeting one of my heroes for the first time, this is before we worked together, and he simply looked over at me cause I was noodling away on the acoustic guitar softly, and said “You know umm, you remind me a lot of Page, but I bet you make more sense than he does” (laughs)
Mike: There’s a compliment you can walk around with for a long time eh
JM: Pretty much
Mike: Now with Led Zeppelin, are you into their bootlegs and studio outtakes?
JM: I definitely in my teenage years combed through all of that to the point that I pretty much knew every song like the back of my hand, but I wasn’t a mad mad fan going into the bootlegs and whatnot, I certainly appreciate live recordings that have seen the light of day, and especially that footage from that DVD that came out where they’re playing in 1970 in Royal Albert Hall.
Mike: Oh yes, that beautifully restored footage.
JM: That’s a band you aspire to be as a live rock and roll band.
Mike: When you go into a studio and create, you generally keep in mind reproducing it in a live setting, whats your thoughts on that?
JM: The Tea Party Soundscapes on record are grand, but the one thing The Tea Party has always been able to do, and that sets us apart from other bands is the way we reinterpret our own music in a live situation, cause let’s face it Jeff Burrows, one of the best rock drummers in the world, and with what Stuart does, like if he’s playing bass he’s playing keyboards with his feet using the pedals, and if he’s playing keyboards he’s playing bass with his feet, you know what I mean. We call him the octopus (laughs), and then with my guitar sounds and all that stuff, the three of us, we fill up the spectrum when we play live and it’s never going to be exactly like the record, and my thing is I’ve never wanted to go see a band that sounds exactly like the record, cause what’s the point. I want something different, and usually if a band is hitting its stride, and it knows how to do that holistic interpretation of its own music , nine times outta ten the experience is going to be more intense live.
Mike: Oh definitely, to me when bands go up there and extend a song with a jam or extra solo, that makes the live experience, the live experience for me.
JM: Everything you just said is what The Tea Party does (laughs)
Mike: Now getting back to the “Transmission” 20th Anniversary Tour, a very dark album, some anger in there as well, how did it feel revisiting the entire album in a live setting?
JM: It was challenging that’s for sure, The first three shows we were pretty much getting our legs for the tracks we had never played live, even though we gave it a good shot in rehearsals. The Tea Party isn’t a band that really rehearses, we figure it out onstage in front of the audience, cause that’s where the energy will come from and you’ll figure out quite quickly what works and what doesn’t, so around the fourth show of the “Transmission” Tour it was game on, and it was very cathartic. The experience of playing it all the way through brought back a lot of memories, and it was a very intense moment in The Tea Party’s career, we could have done “The Edges of Twilight” Part two, three, four but that’s not the way the band worked, so we tried a new approach to the music, and it was very successful, “Transmission” ended up being our most successful record to date.
Mike: it’s an album that stands alone in your catalog, it fills the room in a completely different way than your other albums, it has its own entity.
JM: Thank You
Mike: Do you have a favorite guitar in your arsenal?
JM: Yes, but it something people don’t see cause it stays in my studio in Byron Bay, it’s a 1971 Les Paul Recording Model, I believe it’s the only black one in existence cause most of the other ones were walnut colored, and it has a bigsby on it. A long time ago when I would go to New York in the late 90’s and obviously Les Paul was still alive and he’d be playing at a jazz club called Fat Tuesdays, when I got this guitar finally, cause i’d been searching for one for a while cause that’s the guitar that Les Paul played himself, and I got Les Paul’s guitar technician, this guy named Lou, to rewire this guitar back to Les Pauls Guitar Specifications, and now this guitar in my studio, even though i’ve got pretty much every guitar you could want in a recording studio (laughs), but this is my go to one cause I can make this guitar sound like any guitar.
Mike: Oh wow, so it’s truly your beauty.
JM: It’s a chameleon.
Mike: Now you mentioned there, your studio, it’s in Byron Bay correct?
Mike: Do you full time live in Australia?
JM: Yes I do
Mike: How did you end up there?
JM: (Laughs) How did I end up there….Women and children (laughs), The Tea Party has enjoyed an incredible amount of success in Australia that still goes on to this day. It was just some place for personal reasons, but also for more esoteric reasons, especially in that part of Australia, I found the lifestyle to be very conducive to creating, where I live in that Byron Bay area the population of successful musicians is quite overwhelming, it’s where a lot of people gravitate towards, so it’s a great community, my house is on 102 acres of rain forest, so I don’t really have any neighbors, The only thing i’m pissing off with my studio and the volume is the Koala’s. It’s a very magical place, The Riverhouse, to go back to Zeppelin again, you know that part in “The Song Remains the Same” where Jimmy is sitting by the water playing a Hurdy Gurdy and he has those red eyes.
JM: Yes, that’s my house (laughs), you see Riverhouse , my studio backs onto this very ancient fresh water river, you know waterfalls, 1000 year old trees, it’s just crazy.
Mike: When you first started going out doing solo efforts, how did that feel?
JM: It wasn’t necessarily solo, I had a couple incarnations of bands, like for the first solo record I had a band put together, I slowly but surely found out that nothing can compare for me at least to the experience of playing onstage with Jeff and Stuart, so I decided to take my own philosophy into account, I think acoustic music should be distilled and holistic. I quickly found out that especially with my beautiful 12 string acoustic that I have and the tunings that I use, and just some simple delays and some drones in the background, that I could create a very big sound for one person onstage and what it offers and for The Tea Party fans, the experience is totally different than going to a Tea Party show.
That’s what I really thrive on, the dynamic between the two, The Tea Party is very much like pomp and circumstance and intense and everything, but the solo shows, it’s the intimacy of them, even though they are very intense as well, but it’s a different sort of intensity and intimacy, the closeness to the crowd I like as well. For the solo shows I like to keep it 200-300 people so really play off that intimacy.
Mike: For solo shows if you keep them small and intimate you can actually see faces and reactions as they happen from what you are doing.
JM: Correct, and sometimes can be be unnerving (laughs)
Mike: Now yer heading to John Street Pub in Arnprior on Friday July 21st, are there any other shows planned?
JM: I’m actually only doing two solo shows this time while I’m here in Canada, I like to have my cake and eat it too (laughs), cause The Tea Party were headlining some pretty big festivals over the course of the summer. I knew that since The Tea Party dates were so scattered across a couple months, that I had some windows of opportunity to at least get a couple in, cause I know how much I love doing the solo shows and there’s a lot of fans out there that enjoy those moments as well. When my agent said I had the opportunity to play the Pub again, I just remember how electric it was, the charge in the audience when I played there last time so that becomes addictive.
Mike: I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to us at Soundcheck Entertainment and wish you all the luck,but from the sounds of it you don’t need it (laughs), you seem to be doin quite well.
JM: So far so good.
Mike: You have an awesome day
JM: Alright Mike, Thank You
For more information on Jeff and his solo travels visit www.jeff-martin.net
For more info on The Tea Party visit www.teaparty.com