The Tea Club

Welcome to part 2 of my conversation with The Tea Club. Here they go into a little more detail about how their music actually comes together. 

Jerry Lucky: So let’s talk about how a song comes together for The Tea Club. I’m interested in particular about the song “Cool Smack” where you have a number of different sections that go from almost dreamy Echolyn styled melodic to raging intensity. How did that song come together?

   DAN: "Cool Smack" took a long time to write, and was sort of 3 songs combined into one. It started off as a chord progression I had written on an old classical guitar. It was in an alternate tuning I had just come up with while trying to figure out how to play a few Nick Drake songs. After a while, I showed it to the band, and Kyle started to come up with an amazing drum beat. We were listening to a lot of ...Trail Of Dead and wanted to have a song that was really big and loud. But it was only a couple minutes long, and we needed more. I had come up with another, much slower chord progression in the same tuning, so I timidly suggested trying to fit it into the song. We tried having the song stop dead and then begin playing the new part, turning it into something drastically slower. It worked. I was playing in a new guitar tuning, so I had come up with a whole slew of chords that I thought were cool, so we used them. Now the song was longer, and felt better to us, but the last chord didn't seem to be a final chord. It seemed like it should go somewhere else. Now, we all had a vendetta against songs that are verse chorus/verse chorus and then introduce a really cool bridge that is better than any other part of the song and seems like it's about to go somewhere, and then anti-climactically goes back into the chorus. So we thought, why not go back into the verse instead? Only make it as apocalyptic as possible; Kyle can flip out on the drums, Pat can destroy his guitar, and we can all go crazy. The very last part, the acoustic outro, was added when we recorded it. It was a little guitar ditty that we all liked, but felt was perfect at that short length. I had always imagined the recorded version of "Cool Smack" to end with it, but we were never able to do it live, since it only sounds right acoustic.
  PAT:  We usually start with a chord progression that Dan or I are working on and then show it to Kyle. I don't know about Dan, but I almost always judge a song based on Kyle's initial reaction. If he starts smiling and playing drums on his legs I know it's worth pursuing. Most of the time the songs are written on acoustic guitars so they really transform when we start playing them on electrics with the drums. I know it's such a cliché, but it's a very democratic process. I'll suggest drum parts, Kyle will suggest bass lines, Dan will suggest structure changes. Then we'll record it, listen back and try to find the flow. That's the hardest part. We put a lot of time into having the songs make sense to us. Some people might think we make it up as we go along and we do improvise to some degree but a lot of time and effort goes into the structuring of the songs. The lyrics are normally written last. I tend to write mine alone as does Dan. The words are very symbolic and a lot of time goes into them as well. Some people think they're a lot of nonsense, but that's not true. They all have very deep meaning and relate to our own strengths and weaknesses. Prog bands get a lot of criticism for their lyrics. Some is deserved, most is not. We put a lot into our words.

Maybe it’s just me, but I detect a subtle psychedelic influence in “Castle Builder”?

   DAN: It's funny, because that song started off as very Nick Drake influenced. I loved the way that he would come up with these gorgeous acoustic guitar chords and arpeggiate them to bring out every note. So I had that in mind. Once the band got a hold of it, it started to take on a different feel. A sort of 60's King Crimson feel. I can see it being psychedelic sounding too.
   PAT: Half of the record was written a few years ago when we were a quartet and the second half more recently as a trio, so we had to go back and add second guitar parts. Castle Builder was a trio song and was a little more folksy at the beginning, but turned into something more psychedelic with the inclusion of the second guitar. Tim also had a lot to do with it with his mixing techniques. The guitars are always kind of pulsing and flowing in and out of your head, especially when you listen to it on headphones, and that definitely adds to it.

JL: As trio of bass, guitar and drums, you’ve created quite a wide ranging musical pallet of sounds (take for example of the song “Purple Chukz”, but I’m sure a lot of people will want to know why no keyboards?

   PAT:  I like music that is always going somewhere. We get bored easily so we try to write in a way where you get a sense of things moving. Purple Chukz was a lot of fun. We just kept adding and adding yet somehow it seemed to flow. That's what we put most of our time into when writing; that sense of flow. Keyboards were always in the air but have yet to find a home with The Tea Club. That mainly comes from my fear of the damage keyboards can do (Styx comes to mind). I think it's extremely difficult to be original with keys and we have yet to find someone with a unique style. But that's not to say we'll never use them. I would love to find a keyboardist with a really different approach to the instrument.
   DAN: There is some very nice keyboard on "The Moon" that Tim actually played. I can see that kind of keyboard playing being used more; using it to add color and atmosphere, and help create a different musical world. But none of us in the band are very good at playing keyboards. Patrick and I are guitar enthusiasts. We feel like there is still so much potential for the guitar.
   KYLE: Purple Chukz was always a lot of fun to play. Out of the batch of "trio songs" we wrote, this song along with "Big Al" and "The Clincher" was always the most fun to play for me. The beginning of the song, we had envisioned a Jeff Buckley and Radiohead feel. But one thing led to another and we started to throw some bits of Yes, and then the extreme jam at the end. Obviously, the last 2 minutes of the song were the most fun for me. I was always able to improvise a little during that end part and improvisation is the most interesting to me.

So the CD’s out (very nice packaging by the way), what’s up next? Touring?

   DAN: We did a little bit of touring right after the album was finished, but we are at the moment taking a break from playing shows and are really focusing our efforts into online promotion. I think it's extremely important for an upcoming band. We've only recently begun to promote ourselves to the hardcore Prog audience, and it's already been so rewarding and fun. We were just added to, which was very exciting. From my experience, it seems that Prog listeners appreciate and love music more than any other music fanbase, often times because they play music themselves. If that means that we become sort of a "musician's band", that's fine by me. I believe that it was Kurt Cobain who said that very few people genuinely love music, and those who do are usually musicians themselves.
   PAT: We're talking to a couple of labels and will hopefully have something concrete this year. ProgArchives has been incredible. They're very open to new bands and those guys know their shit. They immediately took to us. We're building a formidable fanbase with sites like that. As far as shows go, we're looking to play a lot of festivals in the New Year. Mostly prog festivals but some folk and indie festivals as well. We also have written about an albums worth of new material and are looking to make a second record later this year, hopefully with Tim and Big Blue again. The new stuff is much more adventurous vocally and a theme for a "concept album" has even reared its ugly head, but we'll see where it leads.
   KYLE: Along with online promotion, we've been sending out CD's to a lot of local, mainstream, and college radio stations. We played our song "Werewolves" live on a popular Philadelphia Alt Rock radio station this past summer. And some other songs from "General Winter's" have been played on different radio stations in NY, NJ, PA, and DE. Surprisingly for a "prog" band, we've had fairly good luck with advertising our CD with the radio stations. We plan on focusing on college and member-supported radio stations for future promotion.

Let me close with my ‘desert island discs’ question…if you guys were stuck on a desert island with ONLY six CDs (2 from each of you) what would you like to have with you? And why those discs?

   DAN: "Pink Moon" by Nick Drake. This album is so soothing, and if I were stranded on a desert island, I figure I would be pretty hopeless and depressed. I've never heard anyone else make full usage of the acoustic guitar the way he did on this album. The alternate tunings and chord patterns along with that lonely voice make for some absolutely beautiful songs. And "Islands" by King Crimson. I think this is not only their jazziest but also moodiest album. This is the only album Boz Burrell sang on too, and I think the man had such a cool sounding voice. He wasn't King Crimson's most popular singer, but certainly the most underrated and I love what he brought to that band. (RIP)
   KYLE: I hope this stereo featured a cassette player as well! I couldn't choose only two. Tape 1, Side A would be Alice in Chain's Self-Titled album. Side B would include Gentle Giant's "In A Glass House." Tape 2, Side A would be Yes "Close to the Edge" and Side B, Brian Wilson "Smile". I'm not good with favoritism. Sorry, I also have to throw in King Crimson "Lizard". That album is like nothing else ever recorded.
   PAT:  "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" by King Crimson. It brings me to another world. That period of Crimson was other-worldly to start with, and the record sounds like it was recorded on another planet. It's moody and creepy. I used to listen to it when it rained. I don't know why, but the album reminded me of rainy, cold weather. The laughing at the end of "Easy Money" used to scare me (I'm lying, it still does.). A lot of people cite 'Red' as being the best from that era, but 'Larks' Tongues..." is my favorite and I think the most original. That being said, my second choice would have to be "How it Feels to be Something On" by Sunny Day Real Estate. To me, that record's a masterpiece. I run a gauntlet of emotions when listening to it. It's like a baptism. The guitar work is incredible. Jeremy Enigk's voice is soul crushing. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it has the greatest lyrics of any record ever written.

Thanks so much for your time guys…I wish all the best in your future endeavours.

   PAT: Thank you so much for the opportunity sir. And Happy New Year.
   KYLE: I'm a fan of The Progressive Rock Files, so I'm very excited to have done this. Thank you!
   DAN: Cheers, man.