Over the course of the last decade, San Francisco group Tea Leaf Green established themselves as one of the heavyweights in the ever-growing jam band community. Formed in 1997, the quartet built a devoted following on the strength of solid songwriting and funky, psychedelic improvisations that owe much to such luminaries as the Grateful Dead and Weather Report.
While 2009 saw the release of the live Coffee Bean Brown Comes Alive, it's been almost three years since Tea Leaf's last studio album. However, taking a break from it's normally hectic touring schedule - averaging 130 or more performances most years, they played only half that in 2009 - has revitalized the band as it sets out on its current One New Day tour.
"It's the first time I've had more than a month off in, like, over seven years," guitarist Josh Clark said over the phone. "We needed to take a little break, but it's been good for us. We've gotten back to basics."
Ahead of tonight's show at the Cabooze, Gimme Noise caught up with Clark - who occasionally splits his time with the band Particle - as he and his band mates prepared for a show at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado.
Your latest album was recorded under your Coffee Bean Brown alter ego. Where does that pseudonym come from?
It started a couple years after we started playing together, back in the San Fran area. There were these clauses that you could only play so many shows within a radius over a certain period of time. Well, we were broke and needed some money, and we had this friend with a bar who let us play there so we just came up with this Coffee Bean moniker.
It started out where we played different songs that we hadn't played before and did them with a kind of different instrumentation, and it just developed from there. Those shows have a little bit different flavor, they're a little more mellow and the audience isn't expecting to get rocked out so much.
You guys have a reputation for being good songwriters. How does the songwriting process usually play out for you?
The best way is when we're writing together, but that's rare. Usually, it happens that [keyboardist and lead vocalist] Trevor [Garrod] will bring them to the rest of us, pretty complete and usually recorded in his basement or something, and then we take it and fine-tune the arrangement - I usually put some guitar in there and give it some muscle, you know? It usually comes in batches, then we take the songs on the road, stretch them out, let them morph and change.
Playing live is a big part of what your music is about. How do your shows evolve from night to night, or tour to tour?
We mix it up from night to night, even between regions. For example, we're in Colorado right now, so we try to make every show unique here in Colorado. You can kind of gauge it by the night of the week, too, like a Friday or Saturday show will probably be more of a rocker, whereas Wednesday or Thursday might be mellow and sing-songs.
Do you have any new material in the works, or plans for a new album?
Yeah, we have tons of new songs we've been playing on this tour. We actually have two records in the works. The first one is almost done, we're hoping to have it out by summer. That one has songs that have been road-tested from all different eras of the band that haven't ever been recorded before, but they're still fresh. You know, there's always some section of a song that you can start new on every night. And then the other one has stuff that's been written in the last two years.
A number of your concerts are available through downloads and podcasts on your website. Has that kind of technology been extra beneficial for a band like Tea Leaf Green?
For us, it's absolutely essential. We've always been a do-it-yourself band, so the majority of our success could be contributed to the internet. It makes such a big difference. I don't even know how a band would've done it, like, 15 years ago. You know, maybe one or two people hear about us on JamBase or something, and then they turn some of their friends on to us, real word of mouth and everything. It's a slow process but it works if you're persistent.
You guys play a lot of festivals throughout the year, but you also mix it up with smaller venues. Do you have a preference between the two?
I'd love to always be playing stadiums, but it's not possible and it's not really essential. The smaller venues do give you a different taste. With the larger festivals it's like living the whole rock and roll fantasy, playing to 40,000 people or some crazy number, which is an awesome experience. So you can still experience the fantasy of the larger festivals, but then you have the people at the smaller clubs and they can get in on that fantasy, too.
Any good memories of playing here in Minnesota?
Oh, yeah. We played the Minnesota State Fair a couple years ago and I got to try some chocolate-covered bacon. It must be one of those things you can only get in Minnesota. Man, it was a great experience! Although I wouldn't recommend eating it every day. . .
Tea Leaf Green play the Cabooze tonight with Elmwood. 18+. $15/$18 at the door. 8:30 p.m.