Tea Leaf Green’s latest record, Radio Tragedy hit shelves earlier this spring and they’re on the road (currently the West coast). We caught up with Trevor Garrod by phone and he shared his insights on the band, the record and his longing to be a farmer.
Q: You’ve got a new record out, what can you tell us about it?
A: In a lot of ways it’s this very slick record than we’ve ever made before. First of all, we’ve got a whole other member of the band, Cochrane McMillan playing percussion. It’s also like really the most collective record we’ve ever made as a group. It’s like the writing credits are more spread across the members. We all really let ourselves go to the process, we’re like egoless and told each other what to play, and then got to play what they would each really do.
It’s also the most we’ve ever worked with a producer, Jeremy Black. We really entrusted a lot of creative control to his tastes and his ideas. There were a lot of people working on this record, a lot of creative voices – it’s kind of like an art colony, it’s not one person, one front guy singing the songs, with the band backing him up.
Q: Are there any songs that came together especially great in your mind?
A: One song that I’m really proud of and that kind of blows me away that came out of the record is a song called “Easy To Be Your Lover,” I’m not quite sure how we’re gonna play it live like we did it on the record, but it’s an amazing thing. I was scared at first when I saw the direction it was heading, but I just – I embraced what had to be, it’s awesome, I don’t care.
Every song on the record kind of took on its own character, just because the process that we used this time, in making this record. Any other time – every other time we’ve made records before, we would just camp out in a recording studio for a week or 2 weeks and work on it every day, like a few songs every day, or every song every day. But this time we used a studio that was in the Bay Area, and every day that we’d go to the studio, we’d devote that day to one song.
We would get there in the morning, do the basic tracks with the band, and then stay there until very late at night, ‘till it was finished, and that way, every song has its own character. Not like, “Okay, Josh has to go in today and do all the guitar solos, so it’s gonna do 10 guitar solos for 10 songs, all in a row.” We all had to sit there together and talk about what we were gonna do next, regardless of whether we were gonna play it or not. So I could be having to play the piano part and Reed would say, “Oh no, you should do this.” Or like, every time before, I would just be alone, doing the piano parts, and be like telling him, “Oh no, it’s cool.”
Q: So very hands on for everybody?
A: Yeah, everybody was there, everybody got a say. That’s another thing, there was kind of some dissension in the past, typical band stuff, where certain members felt like they were getting the short end of the stick, you know, or arguments ensued, reconciliations, but after that, we walked into this process, it was very much, “We aren’t gonna move on until everybody’s happy with the way that – everybody’s voice is gonna be heard.” Which is maddening, this role of committee where everybody has veto power, but it’s also very liberating for everybody.
Q: There’s only 11 songs on the record, did you where you guys hit your, “Okay, we’re done,” or were there more songs that didn’t make the cut?
A: Initially, we started recording for this record, we sat down and recorded about 20 songs, and they sat for a few months, and we actually ended up starting over, I just chalk it up to fee reduction and what we’re listening to, but you know, it seems like a weird number, right? Why not 12, or why not 10? That’s what we ran out of time – anything else would have made the record too long. I was pretty adamant that I wanted the record to be less than 50 minutes long, just because I don’t like it when records get too long and tangential, personally. I like to be able to listen to the whole thing in one sitting.
Q: Where does the album name, Radio Tragedy come from?
A: It’s a lyric in one of the songs. That song is called “Nothing Changes”, and there’s a lyric called – where it says, “The bottle’s almost empty, I cannot catch a buzz, the radio’s a tragedy of country songs and fuzz.” It took us a long time to figure out a name for the record, just because – everybody spent so much, it meant so many things to all of us. It’s hard to really encapsulate it. We were on tour, we spent days in the van trying to think of names, and that was the last one, and we were like, “Oh, that’s cool.”
It sums up a lot of our feelings about how the – about the record. There’s definitely a sort of tragic undercurrent to the songs. There’s a lot of personal experience in these songs, and we as individuals, the path that we have kind of experienced, we’ve been put through the wringer in our relationships, and our life. Not to say that it’s a bummer of a record, because, you know, we didn’t explore the tragedy and through that there’s catharsis, you know, real reawakening, a new beginning.
Q: What are the top 5 things that you personally take, outside of the instruments and things you have to have at the show?
A: I have to bring a laptop, and a telephone, and I always bring a stack of books, just to – ‘cause I prefer reading to anything else. And then a couple handkerchiefs. Over the years I’ve gotten really good at traveling light. I can go out for 6 weeks just with a carry-on suitcase.
I’m a simple man. It took me a while to figure out how to be simple like that, but everybody else is lugging around these giant suitcases, and I’m just looking at the – you know like the old movies, or just movies that show people in Victorian times, the 1800s, whenever somebody would go on a trip, they’d just be carrying like this little tiny case, with like an umbrella in it, what can you possibly be keeping in there?
Q: The band is taper-friendly, like on archive.org. How do you feel about tapers, and why do you take that route?
A: That was just part of the culture. It wasn’t even anything that we thought much about. You know, of course you can tape, yeah. And I always felt that it helps to keep an interest as – ‘cause we’ve always been much more of the live band than like a band that sells records.
To tell the truth, we’ve always felt a little awkward in the studio. It’s taken us a long time to figure out just what to do. It’s more of a – definitely more of our thing to be on stage together, just kind of see what happens, ‘cause, you know, we are a jam band. We might like to pretend that we’re not, or like to strive for bigger, better things, essentially that’s what we do best, is jam. You need an audience in order to do that.
Q: When you’re on stage and jamming, is there a method you use to keep from stepping on each other’s toes while playing, and kind of giving everybody their parts?
A: We usually don’t organize it. We just kind of let it go, and whoever seems to be kind of taking charge in the moment, we just kind of let them go. It can be kind of like a boxing match, you know – I might be like I’m about to go dive into something, and then hear somebody else in the band dive in with more conviction, and that’s where the energy is. It’s more like just following the energy. Sometimes, if you really want to make sure that you get to say your piece, you can work in and say, “Okay, I want to do something here, so let me have it,” but otherwise we just kind of let it go. Kind of a death match.
Q: Who decides what songs are going get put on that night’s set list?
A: That is a chore that, we almost have to draw straws to do. We’ve been doing it so long, I don’t care, I’m like, “Let’s play anything.” Sometimes someone will say, “I really want to do something,” but for most of the time, I feel like I’ve been the default set list writer, I have to do most of the singing, and I like to put that down, just to make sure I don’t get stuck. I have to make sure I remember what all the words are to the songs. Gives me a moment to see what’s happening, but it’s no great honor to write the set list, let me just put it that way.
Q: What would you be doing if you weren’t a musician?
A: I’d probably be a farmer, or maybe a botanist in the field. In another life, I would have gone into botany. My family are all farmers, they come from like a long – like a 6th generation farmer. There’s definitely that whole family thing, but you know, being a farmer’s a lot of hard work. I think it might be a little bit – I don’t really like to get up that early in the morning.
And the farmers really can’t go anywhere. I do have a yearning to stay in one spot, and nurture one piece of ground, you know? There’s definitely a romantic duty in being a steward over one piece.