Latest release: The Ocean at the End (Anthem/Sony)
n 2010 the idea of reuniting Canadian progressive rock band The Tea Party was just a fanciful one. Singer, guitarist and song writer Jeff Martin was well established in his adopted home of Australia working as a solo artist and putting the final touches on his album The Ground Cries Out, which he recorded with Jay Cortez and Malcolm Clark and released under the name Jeff Martin 777. Then while touring that album through Canada, he met Stuart Chatwood and Jeff Burrows to discuss a one-off reformation tour in their homeland. Even after that, no one from The Tea Party was ready to say how long they’d stay back together.
“I don’t know if I’d say we’re back for good,” Chatwood told Loud ahead of their previous tour in 2012; Martin himself suggested that “if it works out, once in a while we’ll pull it out like a Rolls Royce” and do an occasional tour. Two years on, the scars seem well healed and in September the first studio album from The Tea Party since 2004 will see release.
“There was three things that had to happen, and that tour we did had to prove that these things could happen,” Jeff Martin explains down the line from his home in Sydney. “One was, can this band go back on stage again and have that magic and that power? Can we be the best at what we do? And we proved that. We ticked that off. The second thing was the kinship, the brotherly love that we once had, can we rekindle that? And I had to prove to Jeff and Stu – they wanted me to prove – that I had to be the captain of the ship again, that I could steer this thing again. Because without going into it, towards the end of The Tea Party, before we took our hiatus, I let people down and I didn’t want that to happen again. So, that was proven.”
The third criterion would take longer – making an album they were not only proud of, but one that could stand alongside the seven-album legacy that built them such a dedicated fanbase through the 90s and early 00s.
“The three of us are our own worst critics, you know,” Martin confesses in his deep Canadian drawl. “We’re harsher on ourselves than anyone else would be. We knew that if we were going to put out a record again, there would be the responsibility, the weight, of something called The Tea Party. It had to stand up to anything that we had done in the past, or better it. That’s why we took our time. It’s everything The Tea Party is in one record. It had to be.”
Even the band’s very loyal fans began to question The Tea Party’s direction on their previous two releases, especially the electronica-heavy Seven Circles, and it probably came as a surprise to no one that none of that album’s songs made the cut on the reunion tour. Perhaps just as unsurprisingly, The Ocean at the End is a return to the dark sounding rock of their earliest period. It was a very deliberate move.
“What I’m really happy about is that Jeff and Stuart really pushed me to make this a guitar-heavy record. To just lay off the keyboards and things like that, because we are a hard rock band,” Martin explains of the album’s direction. “That’s what we are. There’s all the esoterics and everything else, but at the core, that’s what we started off as, and that’s what we are.”
One of the most noticeable aspects of the new record is that Jeff Martin is soloing again, something he wasn’t particularly known for in the latter part of The Tea Party’s first run. The Ocean at the End contains several lead guitar breaks, including an extended solo in the title track that recalls Martin’s early work on Splendor Solis and their first album.
“I guess since The Edges of Twilight and Transmission I suppose I’ve been using the guitar more as a compositional tool,” he says. “There was a lot of tunings and layering and the sonics of the guitar as opposed to expressing myself through solos. It just came time to – you know, everything comes full circle – I just wanted to have a serious amount of fun playing guitar again. There’s still eleven, twelve great songs on the record, but there’s some where I really unleash, and that’s going to be really fun live. It’s just something that I haven’t done in quite some time.”
Much of the new album’s lyrics are themed around water and the ocean. As the band’s lyricist, Martin draws from recent events in his life and filters them through his personal philosophy of mysticism developed through a lifetime of study of Thelema, voodoo and other branches of the occult.
“There’s a lot of emotions that are touched upon on this record through my lyrics and esoterically speaking water is a conduit for emotions,” Martin says. “I’ve gone through some very heavy things over the past three years and they’re all a part of this record. There are stories to be told and it’s really up to the listener to decide what those stories are, but it’s there. But with my occult philosophies, water does play a big part. My studio – my, I guess, Fortress of Solitude now! – is back in Perth, and Perth is the most isolated city in the world. I can see the ocean from my studio. It’s only two blocks away so I’m literally now at the ocean at the end! That’s pretty much it.”
Without a label and indecisive about their future two years ago when they launched a crowd-funding campaign to back their first official live album, The Tea Party are now part of the huge Sony Music roster. The company appears to be expecting great things from them.
“The folks at Sony are very excited, and you don’t really see major labels get excited about very much these days!” Jeff Martin says with a chuckle. “And Sony’s not really known for being a rock label these days – especially in this country – so I think [that] they’ve taken a real shine to this means it’s something very special.”
The sold-out reunion tour and reaching their goal on Pledgemusic in just five days certainly aroused plenty of latent interest. Jeff Martin is fiercely proud of The Tea Party and is adamant in his belief that the band is as relevant now as they were twenty years ago. To him, their successful re-emergence of 2012 is more than proof.
“Let’s face facts. There is no other band out there like The Tea Party, and there was a big hole in the rock scene that we left. When we played the Hordern Pavilion, there was all the old Tea Party fans there but the first twenty rows were all twenty year olds. It proves a point – The Tea Party is not a 90s band. It’s now. We just had a little vacation for a while.”
Brian is Loud’s editor and also contributes to Hysteria. He is releasing The Encyclopedia of Australian Heavy Metal later this year. Join his Pozible campaign here.
The Tea Party is touring in October with The Superjesus:
9/10: Crown Theatre, Perth WA
11/10: Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide SA
12/10: Palais Theatre, Melbourne VIC
15/10: Enmore Theatre, Sydney NSW
17/10: ANU Bar, Canberra ACT
18/10: Waves, Wollongong NSW
20/10: Panthers, Newcastle NSW
21/10: Coolangatta Hotel, Gold Coast QLD
23/10: Tivoli, Brisbane QLD