The Tea Club

I got an email from a young new band called The Tea Club recently asking if I wanted to review their new CD entitled, "General Winter's Secret Museum". Well with a name like that they had my interest right off the bat. You can read the review and description of their music elsewhere on this site, but I wanted to dig a little deeper into who they are. So what follows is part 1 of an interview with the three founding members; Patrick McGowan, Dan McGowan and Kyle Minnick. As you can see from the photo they've recently added a full-time bassist, her name is Becky Osenenko.  

Jerry Lucky: People who are into The Tea Club will already know this, but for the rest…tell us how you got together as a group.

   DAN: Patrick and I are brothers and have been playing music together since we were teenagers. The band has existed in some form since I was 16, with band members coming and going.
  KYLE: I was young as hell and met Pat and Dan at church. I was a misfit and so were they so we naturally stuck together. They became like my older brothers. They were in a band and their band is what made me passionate about music, and specifically that style of music. It was like nothing I heard before and it was the only thing in my life that made sense. I followed the band closely.
   PAT:  We would hang out with Kyle and occasionally jam together and he made it known that he was interested in joining the band. At that time we were having problems with our drummer and Kyle was a tempting replacement, but he's 6 years younger than me so I never seriously considered it. Eventually it got to the point where we had to make a change in the line-up and I jokingly told Kyle if he didn't play when I was trying to tune my guitar that he could join the band. A week later we called him. He was 15 when he joined the band. We basically kidnapped him.
   DAN:  The first time we got together, we worked on a song Pat and I had just written called "IceClock". I was immediately blown away by the intensity and energy Kyle brought to it. The more we jammed together, the more it seemed to me that musically we could do anything we wanted to and things would just fall into place. Pat and I had been writing songs together for a few years, so we already had that musical trust. We were lucky to find a third person that we could trust.
   PAT: We wanted to be a quartet with Dan and I both playing guitar and singing and for a time we were, but we had trouble keeping bass players. For a while we were a trio, with Dan playing lead guitar and me on bass. We recorded some home made demos that caught the attention of producer Tim Gilles in 2007. He took us under his wing, some might say, and we made our debut record with him, as a trio, entitled: "General Winter's Secret Museum" at Big Blue Meenie Studios in New Jersey. We released it independently a few months ago and have received a number of great reviews from notables in the industry (not least of which, Mr. Jerry Lucky himself.) For a while we were playing shows as a trio in support of the album, but eventually realized we needed a full-time bassist to do justice to the record. It's been a revolving door, but we've hit our stride with the recent inclusion of bassist extraordinaire: Becky Osenenko.

Is music a full-time gig for you or do day-jobs play a factor in your lives? Or perhaps you’re independently wealthy?

   PAT: The Tea Club has yet to pay our bills. We have a big house that we all live and rehearse in and keep day jobs to pay for. We certainly DO NOT come from wealthy families in any way. There were a lot of bands we knew that had incredibly expensive equipment that their parents paid for and we were using complete garbage we bought ourselves on the salary of grocery store 'cart-pushers'. Still a source of bitterness for me.
   KYLE: A lot of what keeps us going as a band is the hope of being able to play music as a full-time career and not have to work day jobs. We still fantasize about what we could buy with our Capitol Records signing bonus checks. Money has always slowed down the progress of the band: from fixing broken-down vans, to replacing blown-out second hand guitar amps, saving up money for studio time, and the list goes on.
   PAT: When we went to Big Blue Meenie studios to start work on the record we brought all our equipment for pre-production and I vividly remember Tim Gilles, the producer, laughing in our face and telling us we had the worst equipment of any band that had ever come in before. Needless to say we didn't use much of it for the record.
   DAN: Music is our full time gig. Day jobs pay the rent, and that's it. In order for this band to exist, they are a necessary evil. But they are not a "Plan B". We are throwing ourselves wholeheartedly into music and making music a career, because working a monotonous job can be extremely disheartening and destructive to creating music.

So I’m thinking about the music business these days…there’s three of you and three Jonas Brothers. As working musicians when you see the success they’re experiencing, what goes through your head and what do you think accounts for that?

   DAN: I'd like to think of ourselves as the Jonas Brothers of Prog Rock. We have similar tastes in vests.
   PAT: But we're not adorable enough...well, maybe Kyle is.
   KYLE: ......everything hurts...
   DAN: It's frustrating for us, or for anyone who really loves music, to see pop bands like that getting so much recognition and money for being "musicians". They're in a band that's not really a band, and they play music that really isn't music. There's nothing unique about them. There's a million other 15 year olds that can dress nice and sing songs someone else wrote for them through an Auto-Tuner. And yet people call them "the next Beatles" because they can play standard chords on a 10,000 dollar guitar. It's just music for kids. But I think anyone past the age of 12 can see that they're full of shit. And not just the Jonas Brothers or "pop". I think most people know that what's being played on rock radio is awful as well. I heard that in an interview with Oasis recently, Noel Gallagher pretty much said, "Don't listen to what's on the radio. It's all shit." And I'm not jealous of the kind of fame these pop acts have. I know I wouldn't want people writing things about us in gossip magazines and watching our every move. But I am a little jealous that they never had to work in retail, and get to sing badly for a living.
  PAT:  They haven't worked for anything. What ever happened to paying your dues? Yes, it can make you bitter, but it gives you a broader view of life. You know what it's like to have nothing. You've cleaned toilets and emptied trash cans. You've been ridiculed for your dreams. But it gives you something real to say. And if you ever get to where you want to be, you'll know how to treat people, because you'll remember what it was like to have nothing. You'll live your life differently than those who are handed success. If you're singing about pain or disappointment, people are going to be able to tell if you're for real or not. When I listen to music like that, I want to hear from the guy who lived in the dirt. I don't want to hear from some 22 year old brat, whose daddy works for a record label, sing about his ex-girlfriends. I want to be the guy that lived in the dirt and survived to tell you about it.

JL: I want to refer back to something Kyle wrote in his original letter to me and your comments here how Tim Gilles took an interest in your work. Tell us about Tim and how you met?

   DAN: It was around 2006. We had just written a song called "Big Al" and recorded it on our own 4-Track tape recorder. The quality was bad, but we wanted people to hear our new stuff, so we put it up on our MySpace page. By some bizarre act of God, Tim just sort of stumbled upon our page. Tim's a Gentle Giant freak, and we had cited Gentle Giant as one of our "Influences" on the page. So he listened to "Big Al" and I think was really impressed by the fact that we were so young and we were playing this type of music. So he contacted us. He asked us to come up to his studio in Jersey City for a couple days to record some demos for free. He wanted to hear every song we had up until that point. After we recorded everything, he told us that he wanted to produce our first album, and at a very very very reasonable price. Now Big Blue is a nice studio, and Tim has worked with some very big names. So we knew that the recording quality was going to be top notch. We were in complete disbelief. And the fact that he did it dirt cheap showed that he truly believed in us. That's another example of us getting lucky as hell. Plain and simple. And that album turned out sounding like a major label record...
   PAT: Tim is an anomaly. He's the last of his kind. He's a brilliant musician and an extremely successful producer, yet he still views music as sacred. He's not jaded or cynical. He has a child-like reverence for it, but is as shrewd a businessman as there ever was. He's a genius and is never wrong. I believe he came from another world and is thousands of years old.
   KYLE: Early 2006 was a transitional period for us, musically and structurally as a band. We had just become a trio and were becoming better players. We started to experiment more musically, delving into the realms of jazz and much more improvisation being written in the songs. As a trio, our song structuring had gone more in a progressive direction. We made some home-recordings of these new experimental songs, which were very much transitional songs for us. Months later, Tim Gilles had contacted us upon hearing our recordings on Myspace. I was extremely excited about the offer he had made to bring us into the studio to record some demos. He was a very credible producer, working with bands I had been familiar with. We went into the studio and met Tim. I learned more about music in that studio than anywhere else. I very much hope to record our second album with Tim.

If I recall it was Tim who pointed out that your music was Progressive Rock. Did that occur to the band at any time before that? Were you intentionally trying to write in that genre?

   PAT:  I never thought we were good enough musicians to be a real prog band. That kind of music was sort of the foundation of what we wanted to do, but we never set out to play 'prog rock' or be a 'prog rock' band. We didn't know what genre we fit into and we made no effort to fit into any of them. We just wanted to exist on the outskirts of rock music and create our own strange little world. I think we were a lazy prog band in denial and Tim lured us back. He wouldn't let us get away with half-assing anything and was always pushing us to our limits. We hadn't really found our sound and Tim got us back on the path to writing the most mature and stimulating music we could.
Did any prog bands play a part in the band’s listening habits?

   DAN: Pat always loved King Crimson and Yes. But it took me a while to get into Prog. I remember being 12 or 13 and Pat would be listening to "Lizard", and I would be thinking, what the hell is this? That being said, I was always into bands that were not quite Prog, like Sunny Day Real Estate, Radiohead, or ...Trail Of Dead, but were definitely different, and were a little more musically sophisticated then what was played on the radio. But right around the time we formed The Tea Club, when I was like 17, I began to really appreciate Prog. I remember our original bassist, Jim Berger, had gone out and bought "The Power To Believe" by King Crimson, almost as a joke, just to see what these old guys sounded like now. We were blown away. I loved it. And right around that time, Pat played me "The Gates Of Delirium" on the ride home from a practice at Kyle's house. Needless to say, I became a believer after that.
   KYLE: I remember talking to Dan on the phone shortly before we started the band. At the time, I was finding new bands on the internet and was looking into some progressive rock bands. So I asked Dan what bands to look into. I remember Dan asking Pat what were some good prog bands and hearing Pat talking in the background "King Crimson!" I would not be surprised if that was what Pat was listening to at the time either. Pat gave me some songs to look up like "Lark's Tongues in Aspic Pt. 1". Upon taking up some suggestions like Yes and King Crimson, I became hooked. Progressive Rock became my obsession. I started to go through all of my dad's music. Yes and Genesis being the majority of the collection. I would also talk to Dan and Pat's dad, Pat McGowan Jr. about prog. We'd have in-depth, passionate conversations about it. He is the one responsible for my exposure to Gentle Giant, arguably one of my favorite prog bands.
  PAT: Yeah, my dad got me into prog. I was about 15 when he showed me an old vinyl of "Red". I listened to the title track about 10 times in a row. I was mesmerized by it. I remember driving in a car later that day, staring out the window and hearing the song over and over in my head. Most of my friends were listening to bands like "Offspring", "Korn", "Metallica" "Marilyn Manson", shit like that, but I was drawn to this other music. It was counter-cultural. It was something I could cling to and say was mine. I eventually started listening to other stuff, but the 70's progressive rock will always be dearest to my heart.