To the casual listener, a band such as Tea Leaf Green might be brushed aside, labeled as another generic “jam band” riding the wave of improvisational rock started by the Grateful Dead in the ’60s. In actuality, Tea Leaf Green has become a beacon of hope for the jam scene. Except for bands like moe. and Umphrey’s McGee, the latter whom has been working to establish themselves as a staple of the scene for the past 15 years, the jam band genre was left without a definitive leader. Thankfully, young bands like Tea Leaf Green have come along and instilled a new life in the music, and by looking to past, they have begun to build a better musical future.
Rooted in the San Francisco area, Tea Leaf Green got their start on the same streets and stages as their predecessors, but when it comes to getting a break, location isn’t everything.
“The Dead scene is kind of past and gone, all those folks are older and they don’t like to go out at midnight when the shows are starting,” explained Trevor Garrod, keyboardist and vocalist for Tea Leaf Green.
“[Getting started in San Francisco] didn’t give us a head start, but it did give us some mileage,” Garrod said.
While the Bay Area music scene was stagnant with ’80s cover bands and indie rock bands, Tea Leaf Green decided to start their Americana jam-rock regardless of what the scene was like. Looking to artists such as the Allman Brothers Band, Tea Leaf Green began making music that had not been in the San Francisco area for quite some time.
After releasing three studio albums, the band finally started making their own waves with the release of their fourth studio album, Taught to be Proud, in 2005, the title track of which won the Jammy award for Song of the Year. At this point Tea Leaf Green was beginning to get noticed by other artists. They spent the fall and winter of 2005 on the road supporting such acts as Dave Matthews Band and Trey Anastasio.
Given the opportunity to spend time with such great artists, the band worked its hardest to impress audiences and become better musicians.
“It puts some fire under you; you can become complacent pretty easy,” admits Garrod. “When you are measured up against these other people, you have to step it up. The old shit just ain’t good enough.”
In 2006, the band continued to make continual leaps and strides with their music. Aside from their continual touring, the band frequented many music festivals over the summer including Summer Camp Music Festival, Wakarusa, the 10,000 Lakes Festival and the Allgood Music Festival.
Tea Leaf Green also released a live DVD/CD last October, documenting not only their exciting live shows, but also the band’s life on the road. Directed by Justin Kreutzmann, son of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, the two discs capture the improvisational skills of the band and the ability to write cohesive songs.
The live DVD/CD also brought a lot of stress. Outside of the studio, the band was pressured to perform at their best.
“It was terrible, I freaked out. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, there is so much riding on this one show,'” Garrod said. “It was difficult for me, to feel like I had all my eggs in one basket. I had to keep myself calm and reserved.”
If there were a cause for stress in the band, it would be focused on the follow up album Taught to be Proud. While there is no plan to return to the studio this year, the band has been writing new songs and incorporating them into the live repertoire. With the song “Taught to be Proud” receiving such acclaim, there is a definite pressure to live up to that standard.
“You can psych yourself out for songs pretty easily,” explained Garrod. “I’ve got all kinds of melodies and tunes, but you don’t want to ruin a good song with a stupid lyric.”
With a new album not in the works for at least a year, the band is currently focusing on their upcoming summer. With the festival season upon us, Tea Leaf Green will once again be performing at Summer Camp Music Festival and Bonnaroo.
With no shortage of shows during the rest of this year, the band will remain busy up until their first venture across the ocean, where they will be along side Umphrey’s McGee in Amsterdam.
“We are excited to see how other cultures will take us, because so far we’ve only played for American audiences,” said Garrod. “I’m seeing 2008 as the year we get out of the States.”
Having come along way in the past two years, Tea Leaf Green have made a name for themselves and have also reestablished hope in the jam band scene. While the wave made by the Grateful Dead and Phish may be dying out, there will be another one right behind it waiting to crash on a sea of unsuspecting listeners.