Tea Leaf Green
It ain't easy being a gypsy, especially if one sings for their supper. San Francisco's Tea Leaf Green are newfangled Lost Boys, a traveling gang dedicated to seeking wisdom and experience in places both glorious and seedy. In many ways, this quintet is the essence of rock's adventurous, playfully outlaw spirit, all of which ultimately fuels songs that resonate with classic vibrations, open-ended... possibilities and radio-ready charm. TLG are bruised romantics with heavy minds and a lighthearted way with experimentation, as likely to jam out a number as they are to nail a primo verse-verse-chorus pop gem.
All the steadily growing promise, evident since they began in the late 1990s, comes to fruition on their seventh studio album, Radio Tragedy, arriving June 7, 2011. With the aid of producer Jeremy Black (Apollo Sunshine), the band has crafted a powerhouse work with the oomph of their stellar live performances melded to a truly impressive array of vocal nuance, rib-sticking song craft and smart studio flourishes. From the Bee Gees-esque bite of "Easy To Be Your Lover" to the bouncing modern rock of "You're My Star," Radio Tragedy showcases a contemporary American rock monster fully emerging from the shadows, ready to take on any comers with a sound that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with skilled contemporaries like My Morning Jacket and The Strokes. Together, Trevor Garrod (keys, vocals), Josh Clark (guitar, vocals), Scott Rager (drums), Reed Mathis (bass, vocals) and newest member Cochrane McMillan (drums) have made a record that's both timely and timeless - a strange, beautiful space that Tea Leaf Green inhabits naturally and gracefully.
"Much of this record is a reflection on the ups and downs on the road to radio gold, chasing dreams and ghosts on America's highways and finding triumph, sorrow and sacrifice in the pursuit," says Josh Clark. "Tea Leaf Green has been a band for over a decade. We've tried to simply focus on music, just music, honest music, operating in the shadow of braggart auto-tuned rappers and inane teeny bop prop puppets that has come to rule and choke the life out of what was once America's greatest export - rock and roll."
"I don't think any of us have ever felt completely satisfied with our past studio experiences, so we went into this one with the deliberate intent of making a complete album. Each of us brought our own vision and we did our best to fuse those ideas in the studio, all of us committed to seeing each member's vision take shape," says Scott Rager. "TLG has been a band for 13 years and I think we've made the record we always thought we were capable of making."
"I wanted a story - something loud, something bright, something to scare your kids goodnight. There is adventure to be had. There is an undiscovered country," says Trevor Garrod. "We have been there for each other through thick (rarely) and thin (mostly). There are five of us now and like a pack of pickpockets, we will steal your heart."
"At the center, our commitment to this music and our passion for making it and performing it has remained rock steady," continues Josh Clark. "Like countless bands creating phenomenal music today, we work on the edges of the mainstream where we can be heard, looking in on the tragedy that radio seems to have forgotten where to find the gold. This album is a true story of our lives in pursuit of a dream from another time and how we survive despite it all."
Ha Ha Tonka
“Never. Never ask for what ought to be offered.” —Daniel Woodrell, Winter’s Bone
There’s a certain wisdom that exists in the hills of the Ozarks. It’s a wisdom that spits out of the mouths of Woodrell’s characters; it’s a wisdom that is found in the lyrics by Woodrell’s fellow West Plains, Missouri natives, Ha Ha Tonka; and it’s a wisdom that’s found on the band’s new full-length LP, Death of a Decade.
“They say that if you don’t change where you’re going / you’re gonna end up right where you’re headed.” —Ha Ha Tonka, “Made Example Of”
Recorded in a 200 year old barn in scenic New Paltz, NY with producer Kevin McMahon (Titus Andronicus, The Felice Brothers, The Walkmen), Death of a Decade began as a stripped down record, rich with warm tones that could only be captured under a 30 foot roof of a barn. “We wanted to make sure we left in all the imperfections of the barn such as the chairs squeaking and the boards creaking”, explains lead singer Brian Roberts. After tracking the songs in this rough hewn setting, the files were shipped to hAUs Studio in Kansas City, MO where The Ryantist mixed and manipulated synthetic sonic threads into this organic tapestry. Death of a Decade is where authentic meets synthetic, acoustic meets electronic, and tradition meets innovation.
Thematically, Death of a Decade is less “story-based” than Ha Ha Tonka’s previous work (which pulled heavily from Missouri history and folklore for its lyrics), with the band now focusing on the transition into manhood—something that doesn’t automatically come once you pass a certain age: “I realize that youth is wasted on the young,” Roberts sings on “Westward Bound,” “Oh, I know that now my wasting days are done.”
However, Roberts says, Death of a Decade is not meant to be a requiem for lost youth, but rather an embrace of the notion that the passage of time is better than the alternative. There you have it again: the wisdom of the Ozarks.
Even if the album’s songs aren’t specifically of the Ozarks, the sound is—still present is the traditional instrumentation (just listen to guitarist Brett Anderson’s arpeggio mandolin lines on “Usual Suspects” and “Made Example Of”), with bassist Lucas Long and drummer Lennon Bone rounding out the rhythm section to stampeding affect. Still present are the spine-tingling four-part gospel harmonies, a signature sound that sets Ha Ha Tonka apart from every other indie band-cum-Southern rock group that seems to be shambling out of the suburban woods these days.
Ultimately, what makes the Ha Ha Tonka brand of Southern rock so special is that it’s authentic, it’s effortless, and it never comes across as forced. They are masters at bringing together the traditional and the modern. They sit at the crossroads of Americana and indie, where Alabama meets Arcade Fire – shakes their hand and takes them out for a drink.
So, back to Woodrell’s Ozarkian wisdom from “Winter’s Bone,” being considered one of the best bands you’ll discover (or rediscover) in 2011 isn’t something Ha Ha Tonka ought need to ask for—it will be offered.
More about HHT: Named after Ha Ha Tonka State Park in their native Missouri, the group’s relentless touring has seen them become one of the most buzzed about young bands in America, appearing at Lollapalooza, Sundance Film Fest, SXSW, CMJ while touring nationally as a headlining act, as well as supporting many great bands such as Old 97s, Murder By Death, Langhorne Slim, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin, Ludo, Meat Puppets and more.