Interview with Jeff Burrows from The Tea Party

Back in 1993, I was asked to do an interview with a yet unknown band who were passing through town called The Tea Party. I had never heard tell of this group before but was told they had just released their debut album titled 'Splendor Solis', and were making quite a name for themselves around Southern Ontario. While telling me they could not get a gig in the city, the band played an impromptu acoustic set at a local pub. I was immediately impressed by their immense talent and had a feeling this group was destine to go palaces. Fast forward to the year 2001 and sure enough, with several platinum and double-platinum albums to their credit, the band has become one of the hottest acts in Canada. The band has a unique sound which forges a hybrid of electronic music, Middle Eastern melodies and Rock n Roll. Childhood friends Jeff Martin, Stuart Chatwood and Jeff Burrows officially formed the group in 1990 and since then have constantly challenged themselves musically. On their 1995 album The Edges of Twilight, they employed some 31 different instruments gathered from around the world. I have interviewed the band now four times and this is the transcript from the latest done on April 22, 2000 with drummer Jeff Burrows

GB - How have the shows been going on this tour so far?

JB - It's going good. A lot easier than Transmission, because we had to almost start at square one rebuilding the songs cause they were so complex. With this album (TRIPtych) we took a step back and took a little more "out" to make the songs more "in" I guess you could say. Live it's good. It leaves a lot of room to breathe and a lot of opportunities to go off on small tangents, which we do anyway. It just makes it a lot easier and I think that's good for the audience.

GB-TRIPtcyh is much more melodic compared to Transmission which was more electronic sounding. Do you consciously change the sound of each album?

JB - That what we've always done. That's what the people who like The Tea Party's music come to expect now. We're in the fortunate position, as compared to most bands, who have to pretty much continue along the same path. Not necessarily write the same songs over and over but their fans may expect them to write that hard short three chord progression type of song. Where as people who appreciates our music are expecting us to go this way or go that way and change things up, so it's an effort that we're always constantly trying to forge ahead with. We're self produced. Nothing will come out unless it's time. Like a vineyard I guess. We can sample it as we go and if it's not ready it really wouldn't come out. On this album we had about 8 b-sides that were probably gonna wind up on an album but we thought we could have done better than that and we did, so subsequently they didn't make the album.

GB- Is it difficult to be objective when you self-producing an album?

JB - No, we're a close knit family and we can take criticism quite easily from each other. That's what I think a lot of bands have a problems with because they don't want to hurt each others feeling. In our case it's a always objective and always constructive criticism. You need that if you gonna be a self-produced band, because if you can be your own worst critics, things such as journalistic criticism really bounces off you quite easily. You get used to it and we've been friends for so long that it's nothing personal. You ultimately want what's best for the band. We're pretty good at criticizing ourselves.

GB-So then I assume you read the things that are written about the band from critics?

JB - Just the headlines. If the headlines are in bold print and it says "The Tea Party" and the pictures good, that's all that matters. That's a lesson for anyone in a band. It does not matter if it's good or bad, just so long as you name is in print.

GB-Have you tried to break in to the American market?

JB - On this album we haven't even tried. We've more or less not given up on it but we have not tried at all. We've been to Australia twice for this one. This will be our third time heading back to Europe on this album to festivals. That's just going so well we don't want to be bothered. Of course it would be nice if it was a huge success in Canada. I don't know of any Canadian bands other than the Bare Naked Ladies that have had any success there lately. Fortunately for us, we have other territories we can go to and march on and do a live show. That really matters because in the US it does not seem to be about a live show or your ability to play or conduct yourselves as a musician. It's more about how cool is your video or what producer did you work with. I'll be a little bit angry for a bit but I'm not wasting my life on it. There is so much more out there.

GB- You have headlined Edgefest in the past and this winter performed at Snowjob, what was that like?

JB - It was interesting. We were the absolutely wrong band for snowjob, but it was all right. It was very strange. I don't remember ever doing anything like that before.

GB - With the growing popularity of the Internet and mp3s, music is being traded like some sort of commodity. Do you feel this is going to help or hurt artists?

JB - I think it does both. With the Internet, it's like a lot of other things, progression in any field will always have its kinks in the beginning, such as royalties unable to be collected, like when radio was first coming about. It eventually needs a governing body to look over it, not necessarily part of the Government, but something put in there to make everything fair. It's just like the auction houses right now. Suddenly Sobethys is on the computer and they are actually auctioning over the net and that's so old school. Everyone's got to forge ahead and look at things. I really don't know enough about it thought. I know it can help a young band who are un-signed but I know it's a huge hindrance for many bands. The law suits with Metallica and rap acts right now follows suit. I'm not really worried about it as we've really only made our living through our live shows and through merchandising. We've never made a cent of the sale of a record anyway.

GB- When can we expect a new album from the band?

JB-It will probably be out a year from now and we also have a live album coming out that will be in the can by then as well. It's all recorded just not mixed yet but that's from around the world as well. The new studio album will be different from this album. Again it will be probably a little harder edged but it will be more song based as this one was. You will find more of an effort towards in- your-faceism like that.

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