Tea Leaf Green: Big Top Balancing Act

 
He was our dream pick. We didn't audition at all. We'd been watching Reed play for years and were huge fans.

-Trevor Garrod on Reed Mathis replacing original bassist Ben Chambers

 
Photo of Tea Leaf Green by C. Taylor Crothers

Mathis takes the spot of Ben Chambers, a founding member of Tea Leaf Green. Affectionately referred to by a variety of nicknames - Ben C., Franz Hanzerbeak, Dechron-c - Chambers often provided comic relief to the band's performances, and the fun and goofy rap of his "Planet of Green Love" was a concert staple. More importantly perhaps, he was an integral part of the close-knit brethren that forged the band.

Ben Chambers by J. Miller
"It's kind of sad and I miss him and I miss the fact that we were all in it together from the beginning and there was this kind of blood-pact between us," says Garrod. "Now that's gone. There is that loss of brotherhood. Reed is still kind of the outsider and will always be to a certain extent because he wasn't there from the beginning. He missed out on the first ten years."

In his statement on the band's website, Chambers cites life on the road as a key factor of his decision.

"After ten great years on the road as a touring musician, I have come to the realization that this life is not for me. As a result, I have decided to leave Tea Leaf Green to pursue some of my life's other passions."

Big life changes, marriage and impending fatherhood, have followed his departure. But the band took it in stride.

"I don't blame him," says Garrod. "I'm not confused at all. I understand where he was coming from. If it doesn't bring you joy to be out here [on the road], it'll only bring you misery. There's not a lot of in between."

High School Portraits

Old Tea Leaf Green Press Shot
Another thing that sets Raise Up The Tent apart from its predecessors is that it marks the band's first release on San Diego-based Surf Dog Records, a move that was simply the result of "people in suits shaking hands," says Garrod. Though a look at the label's roster - Brian Setzer, Dave Stewart, Gibby Haynes - indicates an alignment of strange bedfellows, the label seems committed to the group, evidenced by the release of a three-disc box set entitled Seeds and a re-release of Taught To Be Proud that includes three bonus tracks - "Incandescent Devil," "Hanging From A Tree" and "Dragonfly." Both of them were released as a build up to Raise Up The Tent.

This back catalog provides new initiates an easy primer for the band's entire studio output. The Seeds collection is comprised of each of Tea Leaf's first three self-produced albums (their self-titled debut, 2001's Midnight On The Reservoir and 2004's Living In Between). Re-releasing these albums, some of which were out of print, is "like showing people your high school senior portrait," says Garrod. But, in seeing what this band has become, it's useful to see how they got here and how far they've come. From the beginning, you can see the band attempting to strike the balance between their improvisational leanings and their simple song structures. Early lyrics dealt with sophomoric exaltations of mind-altering substances, and their tone and style blatantly betrayed some of their most obvious influences. The debut finds the band playing tentatively without much hint of their live exploratory prowess. Midnight contains what were to become concert staples in "Sex in the '70s" and "Panspermic De-Evolution." Living In Between was the first peek at the fully formed Tea Leaf, a well-balanced representation of both their songcraft and their instrumental skills.

The Vocal Minority

Tea Leaf Green by Kark
A key aspect of the band's ascendance has been a close connection with their fanbase. They've always embraced the live taping community and been closely involved with their fervent fans. Their website includes an active message board and they've offered many official live downloads via livedownloads.com. The fans have created their own communities and tributes, too. One such endeavor is the Annotated TLG Songbook, which collects fans' transcriptions of every lyric in the Tea Leaf catalog. In addition to lyrics, fans submit nuggets of information about references in the lyrics and analysis that sometimes borders on the academic. Though it's tempting to join in the discussion, Garrod acknowledges he tries to let those efforts exist in their own world.

"I kind of prefer to watch it from a distance and see what happens" says Garrod. "I have all of the lyrics on my computer and I've been tempted to give them the real ones because there are a lot of errors. But a lot of times people come up with stuff that's better! I just like the fact that it's a fan site, and I love the fact that someone else is doing it and I get to sit back and watch what other people create."

Another reason to stay out of the fray is an effort to not be too influenced by what Garrod calls the "vocal minority." However, he does cop to listening to fan feedback, "perhaps to our detriment."

"The big fans are always clamoring for the rare song that we never play or diversifying our setlist to a ridiculous degree. But most people are quiet and don't care - they want to hear us play 'Taught To Be Proud' every night," offers Garrod. "I've always been trying to reach the balance. You want to throw in a couple of songs for people that only listen to the record, then throw in a couple for people who listen to every show."

Balance. You can't raise a tent without it.

JamBase | On Caravan
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http://www.tealeafgreen.com/

[Published on: 7/29/08]

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Comments

froey starstarstarstarstar Tue 7/29/2008 06:17PM
+7 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

great article. i really like what trev had to say about the fade outs on the album. it makes a lot of sense to look at it that way. its refreshing to read an article from someone who really knows the band well and isnt seeing and writing about the band as they pass through their city. in the last paragraph trevor all but confirmed the imminent return of kimock rock.

robo2448 starstarstarstarstar Tue 7/29/2008 06:17PM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

it makes me so happy to see these guys getting their due. Raise Up The Tent is much more consistent and stronger than anything they've done in the studio before. It's a very well crafted album.

CoreyBauer starstarstar Tue 7/29/2008 06:37PM
Show -18 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
2Heavy starstarstarstarstar Tue 7/29/2008 07:33PM
+7 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

2Heavy

Trevor speaking on the theory behind the fadeouts totally makes sense, he basically explained the Lennon methodolgy. It all makes sense now. These guys are the only act out there that internally brings me the excitement and anticipation that those 4 guys from VT brought me for so many years. I always thought Ben C was the weakest link in the band (although I liked him) musically, Mathis taking over was monumental. The possibilities are endless for these guys. Great article and I look forward to hearing the new CD.

fishbone1 starstarstarstarstar Tue 7/29/2008 09:13PM
+9 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

fishbone1

This was probably one of the best written articles I have read so far on this site. Informative, descriptive, great quotes. Nice.

Flat5 Tue 7/29/2008 09:20PM
Show -14 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
adventuresinperception starstarstarstarstar Tue 7/29/2008 09:53PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

adventuresinperception

tea leaf is the shit. Saw about 10 shows with ben still in the band and now about 5 with reed. While I must admit that I love how with Ben the band had hundreds of songs at their disposal, Reed mathis is a madmen on the bass.

One of my favorite bands ever, glad to see them gettin some love.

AND KEEP THAT SHIT MOIST!!!!!!!

knish starstarstarstarstar Tue 7/29/2008 09:57PM
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Yes,they are really that good!!!

boxofrain starstarstarstarstar Tue 7/29/2008 10:22PM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

VA is for Leafers!!!

Dgold starstarstarstarstar Tue 7/29/2008 10:30PM
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Dgold

This is a very well researched Tea Leaf Green story. Compliments to the writer Tom Speed. I really enjoyed this nothwithstanding Trevor's remarks about our creatively misheard lyrics in the Annotated TLG Songbook site I started. *Grin* Again Tspeed put it in context and got the story right. If we misheard a lyric that's part of the cultural communication. In the article I found a lot of details to chew on, action packed, new info and a tight summary of their discography in the paragraph about Seeds box set. This piece manages to express some the artists' views via quotes, while conveying an objective view of the fanbase & clearly understanding what it means to be a fan of the jam. You included an important explanation about Ben C. Good news. Thanks again JamBase.

In a Big Country Wed 7/30/2008 02:10AM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

In a Big Country

I enjoyed the article but i find it funny how they post this like praising tlg yet the guy who wrote rothbury was ragging on them hardcore, just dont get it jambase; do you like tea leaf green or not ? or am i just really tripped out and cant seem to find peace in my sleep at 410am. i dont know but i thought i would just leave this year for yall

bigfro Wed 7/30/2008 03:58AM
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bigfro

This band is amazing. I hope they keep Reed

bigfro Wed 7/30/2008 04:02AM
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bigfro

Articles in Jambase are writtn by the fans. Any of you can turn one in. I don't work for them, but it is unair to hold Jambase responsible for the writers of a given article.

YES the ROthbury article was wriiten by a jam hating punker. Remember Punk rock was a reaction to the positivity of the hippies. They stood for nothing to rebel against free love and when they turned 25 in the eighties they all became Yuppies and Reagan democrats. It is always easy for a Punker to sell out because they don't believe in anything i.e. Anarchy.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/30/2008 04:06AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

I am glad they are successful. I enjoyed the shows I have been to. About 5 times with Ben, and Once with Stevie. I like it.

I am not too excited about a studio album though, I like to hear them tear it up ya know. :P

GratefulHokie starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/30/2008 07:10AM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

GratefulHokie

Awesome writeup! Been getting my kicks off TLG for almost 5 years now which is crazy. Great music, relentless touring, and an extremely fun/friendly fanbase make every listening experience memorable...live or not! If you haven't heard (or even if you don't like the name Flat5 :P ) you will not be disappointed in checking them out! I know Archive.Org has a ton of their shows in the Live Music Archive...good place to start!

Teabagger starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/30/2008 07:21AM
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Teabagger

Really well written article. I still miss The Beak, but Reed has brought new energy to this band. He drives jams deeper and further than before. Everyone else seems a lot more energized with him out there, and it shows up in their live shows. Gotta see them live! Can't wait til 8/22 in Chicago.

nickpoho starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/30/2008 07:33AM
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nickpoho

Excellent article Tom. The amount of research and listening you did to write this fine article is truly amazing. It's as if TLG's biggest fan wrote this article, which makes it a very enjoyable read for fans like myself. I encourage anyone who is interested in the band to join the forum on TLG's website. There is a ton of great information being passed around there and a lot of great people to meet. Leafers are the world's best fans.

Chaloupka star Wed 7/30/2008 07:52AM
Show -10 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
CSchneids929 starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/30/2008 08:21AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

good article

moephishH2O starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/30/2008 08:46AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

moephishH2O

Great read! They were on fire at 4 Peaks this last weekend. Lookin' forward to seeing them again!

Uncle Fishbits starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/30/2008 11:27AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Uncle Fishbits

great read... miss Milky, but Reed is an infinitely better musician than, well, just about anyone.

Big Fro? Were you alive during the punk movement? Punk had absolutely nothing at all to do with hippies or jambands in the slightest. Post mod and Punk was a reaction the the corporate pre-packaging of disco and excesses of rock n roll. It wasn't about hippies or hating noodling, it was about not being able to compete with Jimi, and hating the excess of 70's rock and disco.

barnylee starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/30/2008 12:08PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

barnylee

Love TLG! Really diggin the new stuff too. RM's fittin in well. Still wish they did more cover live to mix in with their stellar originals. I know artists are gonna do their own thing, but I think they'd grow their fan base much more if they did that. They did sound super at All Good!

surlybuf starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/30/2008 02:06PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

They have some of the best crafted and lyrical songs with in this scene. And the Midnight on the Reservoir Cd is still as rocking as it was in 2001.

Littleo starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/30/2008 08:00PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

A lot of different opinions, all I know is I really dig them. I like to listen to them on my deck at night while I'm looking at the stars.

funkadunk starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/30/2008 08:06PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

great article, great cd. refreshing to see a well written article on TLG. this dude def. knows his stuff. i cant even tell you how sick i am of people hating on the leaf. if you dont dig, whatever, more for me man. i seems to me the people that dont like TLG are usually electronic heads (disco fans, sts9. etc.) im not hating on those bands, they are cool, just a little too electonic for my taste. gotta have music where i can connect and not just loosing my mind constantly. and the classic 4 peice formula is clutch. TLG def. fits that middle point to where it can get nutty, but then just chill out and hit you so hard with emotion its surreal. rock on boys

Chapelchilla starstarstarstarstar Wed 7/30/2008 08:12PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Nice read, great pictures, great band to see live. I have enjoyed all the shows I have seen by them, some more then others but they were all fun. Good times. I like the Ben C line up best but Reed is growing on me and seeing Steve from ALO subbing in on bass was cool too. Catch em while their still affordable and in comfy venues!

shaaayna Thu 7/31/2008 08:51AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

shaaayna

TLG is a great band, and their live shows are incredible. They have great energy, and never seem tired or bored. From the one time I met them back in May with my school's music business society, it was clear to me how creative they are, and how much fun they have on stage. The guys all have a great sense of humor, and are wonderful to be around.

webalienz starstarstarstarstar Thu 7/31/2008 11:17AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Great write-up on basically everything that's been going on with Tea Leaf Green in the past year and review of the album. RUTT has been in my CD player non-stop. It has a nice flow to it and I agree with Trevor that studio material should not sound like your live show. There's a place for jamming, but I'm really digging this "get in and get out" approach.

Jamshyd starstarstarstarstar Thu 7/31/2008 12:39PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

I loved them with their old bass player and now their even better with Reid. Trevor is an AMAZING guitarist. They guys from UM know it. Trevor is a great song writer and all of them, especially now with Reid, are incredible musicians. People that don't like them are probably used to "jam bands" without substance like STS9, UM, DB, and so on and so forth. These guys are song writters and incredible musicians. As far as their name goes, WHO CARES?!?!? With bands out there like Umphrey's McGee, the Disco Biscuits, and especially The String Cheese Incicdent, all the names are silly and mean nothing. the music is what matters, and these guys have a great deal of amazing music.

jz starstarstarstar Thu 7/31/2008 01:14PM
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jz

a really strong piece of music writing. more stories by tom speed on jambase!

androckguitar Thu 7/31/2008 03:52PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

androckguitar

TLG rocks!

Flat5 Fri 8/1/2008 03:07PM
Show -7 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
Flat5 Fri 8/1/2008 03:08PM
Show -6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
Rickymullet starstarstarstarstar Sun 8/3/2008 10:17AM
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Rickymullet

TGL are ok but WIDESPREAD PANIC are the ones that bring on the real hot mind bending, face melting type jams. Jon B-the b stands for Briinging on the heat.

Mark Price former NBA star Mon 8/4/2008 07:14AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Mark Price former NBA star

TLG our not overrated...they are one of the best bands out there today. Panic does bring the heat, but TLG our up there with them on face melting jams. Their funky, fresh, and bad ass. Just watch a live show and then you'll be really impressed.

sarahaha Mon 8/4/2008 12:16PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

trusmoka you aren't true....first off, anybody who can play a major scale slowly on any instrument could follow the breakfast....next, JFJO is still selling plenty of tickets and just put out two amazing records with 1320 records....when was the last time you saw JFJO? (the last few shows I saw were packed with real people who bought tickets in SF, Portland, Santa Cruz and their last crowd was about 15,000 peeps in their hometown) Maybe don't comment on shit you know nothing about????

Reed was and is making plenty of cash with JFJO as far as I know (packed shows everytime I see JFJO)....he joined TLG because he wanted musical diversity according to his own blogs....you should try some (musical diversity).

DShea starstarstarstar Tue 8/5/2008 09:25AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Very good write up! I find it hard to believe people think TLG is overrated. I find them to be very talented in their music and lyrics.

Look forward to the Mid West Run Il IO WI MN . Thanks Tom Speed n Jambase.

Chaloupka Tue 8/5/2008 09:49AM
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Chaloupka

To all those who like TLG because they are supposedly so great at their "california soul/rock style of songwriting," check out The Mother Hips - WAY better than TLG.

sunnbear starstarstarstarstar Tue 8/5/2008 01:07PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

sunnbear

So, Flat5, MiniVan Blues Band is a better name than Tea Leaf Green? This is the only band in your favs. Never heard of them, but even though the name is really lame, I would love to hear them. Give 'em all a chance. Even if I end up hating them, I would never write an "I hate MiniVan Blues Band" post. Especially because of the lame name! P.S. TLG is amazing!

phanatic2 starstarstarstarstar Tue 8/5/2008 03:19PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

TLG is OK, the new album is a little softer and hokier than they are used to. The thing about TLG is they appeal to more people than jam fans, they appeal to alot of chics which is cool too. There live stuff certainly blows there studio stuff out of the water,...Its like two different bands.

bigz starstarstarstarstar Wed 8/6/2008 08:06AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

these guhys rocked both Rothbury, and Allgood. I really thought Reed Mathis would be good in this type of band, I HAD NO IDEA HOW GOOD. Awesome at both fests, even though Snoop dog stole their thunder at Rothbury. They were one of the best acts at Allgood. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!

Peace,

Marc Smith

Grateful Dead and Phriends WNRN 91.9 Charlottesville Virginia

Sat 9AM - Noon EST.

WidespreadPhanic starstarstarstarstar Wed 8/6/2008 04:51PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

WidespreadPhanic

flat5 you don't know what you're talking about. Try looking past the name of a band and listening to some music and seeing some shows. And sometimes 1 or 2 shows isn't enough to really come to an appreciation of a band.

Secondly, this article was good. Very informative, I have been wondering about the change in lineup for awhile and i'm really glad that someone wrote an article about it.

And thirdly, MATHIS IS AN UPGRADE. Wow, mathis makes TLG a whole new ballgame - I was actually starting to get bored with TLG towards the end of chambers, and it was chambers himself that was starting to bore me..........when i heard they got a new bassist i was really excited and damn he's sick. see you at the next show and flat5 fk u

Andy starstarstarstarstar Mon 8/11/2008 09:59AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Andy

Tea Leaf Green was amazing at the Summer Meltdown this last weekend. They played one of the best sets I've ever seen. I don't understand all the negativity about them, but I also don't get why a lot of people talk shit about The Dead, Phish or Cheese, and I am putting TLG in the same catagory as these bands, with great song writing and amazing jams!

Lakai starstarstarstarstar Tue 8/12/2008 06:54AM
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Lakai

I wish I could of gotten through this article it seems to be very well written and thought out, its too bad they wasted it on TLG tho. snooooooooooooze

Dire46daysWolf Fri 10/24/2008 08:54PM
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Dire46daysWolf

this is one hell of an article, very articulate and funny. I enjoyed the yoko bash. Tea leaf is one of my favorite bands and they are fantastic live. Chambers is a good addition, but still has room to grow. Keep it up TLG you're very much appreciated!