Tea Leaf Green & Bobby
From SF Gate:
Things heating up For Tea Leaf Green
- Andy TennilleSunday
"It really seemed to come to a boil toward the end of the year, didn't it?" Tea Leaf Green guitarist Josh Clark says as a sly grin slowly grows across his sparsely bearded face.
Life certainly has been pretty good this year for Tea Leaf Green. The San Francisco rock band released a new studio album last month that's been met with glowing praise. In October, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead sat in with the band at a benefit concert for the Rainforest Action Network in San Francisco. At the end of November, the group opened a string of shows on the East Coast for former Phish front man Trey Anastasio's 70 Volt Parade, as well as Gov't Mule, the blues rock group fronted by Allman Brothers Band guitarist Warren Haynes. And on Friday and Saturday, the band closes out 2005 by headlining two nights at the Independent.
"It's pretty amazing to get a chance to play with some of your living heroes," Clark says.
"Playing with Trey, Warren and Bob Weir was a thrill for all of us. You hear all the bull -- out there about these supposedly crazed, egomaniacal rock stars, but that's not the case at all. They were all totally sweet. It was cool to realize that you could look up to them and that your idealized vision of these people, our heroes, wasn't shattered. I think that's pretty rare."
"Getting to hang out with Bob Weir is still pretty strange for me," admits keyboardist Trevor Garrod. "You get that initial thing where your eyes go out of focus for a second and you act a little goofy when you meet someone like that. I got started on the Grateful Dead in junior high, so to think that one day I'd be sitting backstage teaching Bob Weir a song we wrote and then have him come out onstage and play with us is beyond anything I could have imagined. It was a dream."
The story of how the four guys in Tea Leaf Green got together is one of those all-too-common rock-music tales of pure luck and coincidence. Clark and drummer Scott Rager played in a band together in high school in Arcadia (Los Angeles County) that broke up once Rager graduated and moved to San Francisco for college. Upon arriving at San Francisco State, Rager met Ben Chambers in English class during their freshman year and discovered that his long-haired classmate was a bass player. Within a few months, Clark moved to San Francisco and started playing as a trio with Rager and Chambers. As fate would have it, Garrod showed up at the group's first real gig playing at a club South of Market.
"I thought they were awesome," Garrod remembers. "They rocked. I hadn't seen anybody play guitar like Josh did in a long time. At that time, I had moved up to San Francisco looking for people to play music with and nobody was into rocking that hard. Everyone was into the indie thing, and it was really kind of boring. All the people were so uptight. I met the guys before they went on that night, and they all seemed pretty cool and liked to party and have a good time. So I gave them my number and told them to call me if they ever wanted to have someone play keyboards with them. I got a call from them a short time later, went to a band practice and we've been together ever since."
Over the next several years, the quartet built a strong following throughout Northern California and recorded three self-produced albums that featured expansive instrumental jams led by Clark's fiery guitar solos and Garrod's more structured, song-oriented folk tunes.
"When we started out, we weren't good enough musicians to write the songs we're doing now, so it was all about the jam back then," Rager says. "But as we've gotten older and matured and become better on our instruments, we started being more focused on writing good songs. The goal with our new record was to make a more cohesive album than we'd ever made. Our other albums were more hodgepodgey -- a song here, a jam there -- but we wanted to record something that sounded like a complete album with a real feel to it."
"Taught to Be Proud," the band's most recent album, released in November on Reincarnate Records, is an 11-song effort recorded at Navarro Ridge Ranch in Mendocino County. It achieves that sought-after cohesiveness and strikes a nice balance between the band's love of '60s San Francisco psychedelic rock and the clarity and conciseness of the early work of Jackson Browne, Elton John's "Tumbleweed Connection" or the Grateful Dead's "American Beauty."
"We're all California boys, so there's a nice California feel to the record, I think," Garrod says. "I grew up listening to all of that music -- Neil Young, Jackson Browne, the Dead -- and so did most of us in the band. Everybody has their own little distinct thing that we bring into it, but it's all very California. In the end, it's just the music that the four of us make when we play together, really."
Not only is "Taught to Be Proud" the result of a band that's maturing and forging its own unique sound, but the album also benefited from an all-star cast of veteran studio professionals with credits including work with Young, Les Claypool, Curtis Mayfield and Frank Zappa.
"It's fun to be able to wear all the hats sometimes and do all the work ourselves like we did with our other records, but at the same time, it kind of took the pressure off to work with a bunch of really talented people and be able to trust that they'd do a good job," Clark says. "Mike McGinn and Mark Humphreys were great to work with in the studio, and Tom Flye took what we recorded and really made it blossom. When you're painting a picture, there's always a moment where it pops and all the pieces come together. That's something we've never been able to achieve on one of our albums until now, I think -- that pop. We got that on this record."
TEA LEAF GREEN performs at 9 p.m. Fri. ($15) and Sat. ($75) at the Independent, 628 Divisadero St., San Francisco. New Year's Eve show includes open bar. (415) 771-1421, www.theindependentsf.com.
Andy Tennille is a freelance writer.
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