On The Road Again: Drummer Scott Rager Talks About The Upcoming Tea Leaf Green Tour
On Thursday night San Francisco rockers Tea Leaf Green embark on their most extensive tour in three years. Tea Leaf Green will feature a different lineup for this East Coast run than on their last time through the region. Reed Mathis recently departed the band to focus on his other projects such as Electric Beethoven and TLG recruited Bay Area bassist Eric DiBerardino (Go By Ocean, The Loyal Scam) to hold down the bottom end.
Drummer Scott Rager has now seen two bassists come and go since he helped form the band on the campus of San Francisco State University nearly 20 years ago with guitarist Josh Clark, keyboardist Trevor Garrod and bassist Ben Chambers. The group now features five members as drummer/percussionist Cochrane McMillan came aboard in the early part of this decade. Rager recently spoke with me about the change to the lineup, the lengthy span between tours, what fans can expect from the upcoming run, what the future holds for Tea Leaf Green and his beloved L.A. Dodgers.
JamBase: What was the reason behind the long hiatus between tours?
Scott Rager: Honestly, it had to do with us being burned out from traveling. We had essentially been touring full time for 10 years, if not longer. We’re still all happy with playing music and we love that part of it, I just think the traveling had taken its toll. Now that we’ve had a little bit of time to rest our bones so-to-speak, we’re looking forward to getting back out there. The main reason for the hiatus was to take a little a break from traveling.
JamBase: What spurred the decision to part ways with Reed?
SR: It was a very amicable split. Reed is super busy and in high demand, as he should be. He’s a brilliant musician and an amazing bass player. He was really interested in pursing his Electric Beethoven project and it’s something he’s been working on for a really long time. It just felt like it was time.
He would’ve been fine with continuing to play with the band, but he also wanted to pursue other things. I think it was only fair to him to allow him to pursue his projects outside of Tea Leaf Green.
JamBase: So it was totally amicable?
SR: We have nothing but love for Reed and I know he feels the same. Personally, I consider him one of my best friends. Unfortunately there’s no great story behind it or drama [laughs], it just seemed like a mutually beneficial time to do it.
JamBase: How did you come to decide on Eric to play bass with you guys?
SR: Well, Eric had actually sat-in with us when Reed had other obligations in the past over the course of the last year. Eric had done maybe three shows with us, so there was already a bit of familiarity which we were drawn to because he knew some of the tunes already. He’s just a great bass player and he’s a local guy who was super stoked and really wanted to be involved. He always said if the opportunity ever presented itself he would be on board. It was kind of an easy decision in that way. Just seemed like the right fit. And he’s a cool dude, we love DiBar.
JamBase: How much prep and rehearsal time have you put in with Eric leading up to this tour?
SR: We’ve spent a good portion of this month with him and then this weekend we’re doing a full two days, all day practices. I feel like we’ve put in a fair amount of time. And honestly, Eric has been great about being prepared. He has charts for tons of songs. He actually came to us with 50 songs saying, “I know lots of these I want to learn all of them.” We were like, maybe we should scale it back a little bit, we’re only doing nine shows. It’s made it a lot easier for us having him be so prepared and reminding us of structures and stuff like that. We’ve kind of gone back and re-examined songs we haven’t played in a while. As a band it’s been the better part of this whole month (preparing), but he’s been working before that getting ready.
JamBase: What can we expect setlist-wise from the setlists on this tour?
SR: We always like to try to keep a mix of all eras of our music, but I think we’ve re-examined some old stuff we haven’t played in a while. For instance the song “Bootlegger” off Living In Between. I can’t even remember the last time we played that live. Maybe we played it with Reed, but it never entered the regular rotation, so that’s one from the vault. The Living In Between-era is one we might focus on. Looking back it was a really fun album to record. I think there’s some good stuff in there that’s been lost over the years. Just that era: we’re going to be playing a lot of songs from 2001 to 2005.
It’s actually the Ben C.-era now that I think about it. Just because when Reed was part of the band, rightfully so, he and all of us were more interested in playing songs we wrote together. With Eric stepping in, (and) without us having any new material we’ve kind of gone back to some of the older stuff that wasn’t getting played as much.
JamBase: Can we expect covers to be thrown in as well?
SR: We’re still kind of fleshing out which ones we want to do, but yes probably more so than we have in the past. Eric does so much of that in the Bay Area, so he has a huge notebook of covers that he knows. Some of them we’ve been working on and some of them we’ll be learning in the van and during soundcheck.
JamBase: Is Cochrane McMillan coming along for the tour?
SR: That’s a great question, but yes Cochrane is. Originally he was going to be out there with Electric Beethoven, but he instead will do all the Tea Leaf Green tour with us. It’s going to be the five of us the whole time.
JamBase: What do you like most about playing with two drummers in TLG?
SR: What I really like is that Cochrane is really good at adding flourishes. I’ve always been more of a meat and potatoes drummer who keeps it steady and lets Josh and Trevor be a little busier on top of what I’m doing. Cochrane adds a really cool percussive element that adds a little more syncopation to the rhythm. It also makes the bottom of the songs heavier, it adds beef to the rhythm section.
JamBase: Why did you decide to tour the East Coast rather than the West Coast for this first tour back?
SR: The Keller show was the impetus for us putting the tour together and we just built the tour around that gig. We had definitely been thinking about doing a run in the Northeast for several months. Since the Keller show came in we decided it made sense to build a tour around it.
JamBase: Does Tea Leaf Green have any plans beyond this tour?
SR: Yes, we definitely do though there’s nothing set in stone right now. We’re definitely trying to get something together on the West Coast in the first part of next year. There’s going to be one or two San Francisco plays coming up, but I’m not at liberty to disclose that information yet. Beyond that, there’s nothing that is for sure. There’s talk about recording and we’d like to get back to the Midwest. Chicago has always been really good to us, so I can see that area being the next we build a little tour around.
It’s hard to say how many shows we’re committed to playing in 2017, and I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I definitely think we’re going to be playing more than we have in the past couple of years. Let’s put it this way, I think we’re going to be more active. Whether that’s going to be touring or recording a new album, I think the band just generally is going to be more active than we have been the last few years.
JamBase: Our last question isn’t music-related. We know you’re a big Dodgers fan, what do you think about their chances this post-season?
SR: Honestly, I have more faith in this team than I’ve had in a long time. There’s a little magic with them right now, a little spark. I think partially it’s Dave Roberts, their new manager. There’s something about him that it seems players want to play for him. Not that Don Mattingly was a bad manager, but he was a little tentative. His decision making made it seem he was too worried about how he would be perceived. They also have a number of role players that came out of nowhere this year. I hate to say it, but it reminds me of the Giants championship teams of the last few years as they have guys with small contracts that don’t have household names who get clutch hits or give us great pitching performances. Maybe it’s wishful thinking but I kinda feel like there’s that vibe with this team.
Tea Leaf Green’s Fall Tour begins tomorrow at Baltimore’s The 8×10. From there, the band will play Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia along with Keller Williams on Friday before a gig in Washington, DC on Satruday. The tour resumes with performances in Raleigh (October 9), Richmond (October 10), Philadelphia (October 11) and Fairfield (October 13). On October 14 the five-piece will play Once Ballroom in Boston ahead of a tour-closing performance at Brooklyn Bowl in New York City in October 15.