Old Hound Dog Likes To Run: Tea Leaf Green’s Trevor Garrod

Trevor Garrod

Tea Leaf Green keyboardist and vocalist Trevor Garrod has the soul of an old-time folk-singing troubadour, yet he plays in a rock ‘n’ roll band.  He is quick to point this much out.

“I am not that much of a rocker, I like to play some quieter music like Norah Jones,” he says.  For Garrod, despite playing in a band known for its live prowess and improvisation, it always comes down to the song.

The words and the meanings behind them hold true value to Garrod.  “I take lyrics seriously.  I like songs.  I always think the best lyrics evoke some kind of emotion from the listener, where they can draw their own experience into it and make their own sense of it, to make it a part of themselves.” 

He learned these lessons from a childhood spent absorbing the music of some of the masters of songwriting and word play.  Garrod says, “Bob Dylan of course taught me how to do it.  And Kris Kristofferson – I am huge fan.  I started listening to his early records and I was like, ‘this shit is awesome.’  I memorized every song off them.  Of course the Grateful Dead songs are extraordinary, Robert Hunter’s lyrics are spiritual.”

These lessons have found their way into the Tea Leaf Green (with Ben Chambers, bass; Josh Clark, guitar; Scott Rager, drums) arsenal as they are capable of delivering a set of awe-inspiring exploratory jams which stem from true songs that sound just as good on stage as they would streaming from a radio in a short three minute blast.  For Garrod that ability to create a real song, not just a launch pad for another mind-numbing jam, has always been important and what he aims to find when he writes.

 

Tea Leaf Green

 

He states that he “was never a big fan of the whole ‘jamband’ approach to songs.  I guess it came from Phish… it was just goofy lyrics.  I guess it had its place, but…”  His thought trails off, his silence uttering more than any words.

The term “jamband,” a limiting label that has lost its meaning and now only serves to box bands into corners they don’t belong, seems to bring up some negative feelings in Garrod.  “No one I have ever talked to has ever been happy with that label.  It can be spoken with such derision, you know?  It is a lot like the term ‘hippie,’ which doesn’t necessarily mean a good thing anymore. 

"I feel like it is kind of a transitory term, it hasn’t been around too long.  It has just been there to describe a few really huge bands that kind of created this being, and we just follow their business models.  This model of touring and not really having record deals or trying to be on MTV or any shit like that, just doing it yourself, owning your own business, not being beholden to some company.”

For Tea Leaf Green, they most definitely follow this model, averaging over 130 shows a year since 2003.  “The vast majority of our energy is spent on our live show.  The last time we were in the studio was 2005, and we were only there for a week.  Since then we have played like 500 shows.”  The band shows no signs of easing up on their road warrior mentality anytime soon.  They have already played over 100 shows this year, which started on Jam Cruise in January and included stops at many of the major festivals through out the summer including Bonnaroo, High Sierra, and All-Good.  The band is looking to take a brief break from the road, but individual members will still be going hard.  Guitarist Clark will be joining Particle for their winter tour to replace departed guitarist Ben Combe.  And Garrod will be touring as well, both as a solo artist and as leader of the recently formed Trevor Garrod Band.{mospagebreak}

  For Garrod, time on the road is just what he does.  “I don’t mind being on the road all the time.  I am not married; I don’t have a girlfriend, so there are no loved ones at home I have to worry about.  I might as well just keep on going.”  When he sings, “I got an old hound dog, likes to run/ he needs a lot of room and he hates to be chained up”, in the “Garden (Part III),” he could easily be describing himself.

Time on the road by himself also gives him a chance to explore his quieter side and a chance to try some different music that is away from his comfort zone with Tea Leaf Green.  “It is definitely away from the comfort zone,” says Garrod.  “It is hard and terrifying, but it makes me grow as a person.  You get really comfortable playing with the band, you play a show and you don’t have to worry about it.  Once you get away from that and you are by yourself it is a ton more work.  It is rewarding to be able to try something else.  There is a limitation with Tea Leaf Green.  We do what we do and don’t stray too far from it.  We are kind of limited to one quiet song a set because when people come to shows they want to have a rock ‘n’ roll experience.”

trevor_garrod3.jpgTime by himself on the road also gives Garrod, who serves as Tea Leaf Green’s primary songwriter, a chance to try out some new songs.  He says there is some cross-pollination of material between his solo stuff, Tea Leaf Green and Coffee Bean Brown (Tea Leaf’s Green alias when they play sit-down acoustic only shows.)

He says, “A lot of songs that I came up with for my own solo projects spent time as part of Coffee Bean Brown, and then have made the leap over to Tea Leaf Green.” 

As with many bands that tour relentlessly and only sporadically visit the studio, they tend to build up stacks of unused material.  Garrod believes the band has enough songs to fill four albums, but he seems to be interested in taking a completely fresh approach to their next album.  Garrod describes his concerns as “the problem playing stuff live before you get it into the studio is trying to figure out how to fit such a big live song into such a small space.” 

He would like to record the album in much the same way as their friends in ALO did with their most recent album Roses & Clover: by heading into the studio with only the slightest sketches of songs and develop a completely unheard album in the studio.  “I know the guys in ALO pretty good and I was jealous they were able to do that.  It has almost gotten to the point where I have a song and I don’t want to share it with the other guys.  I want to save them until we get in the studio.  I would like to be able to write the songs in the studio, it is something we have never done before.  I feel like it might be a better way to go about it.”

“When you tour all the time and play all these songs over and over and you rock them out for all these people, and then all of sudden to take them into the studio and try to recapture this larger thing you can never quite do it," Garrod explains.  "It feels like doing it backwards.  If you start in the studio it starts small, and then you can take it out on the road and let it grow.  It’s rare that bands like us can take as much time in the studio as we want.  It gets to be expensive."

The time table for getting back in the studio is unclear, Garrod says, but that the band is in the process of getting the right people and finding the right times.  No matter when they make it back into the studio, their new album is sure to include what has become a defining feature of the band, the strength and depth of their songs  It is this facet of their musician ship that sets them apart from the majority of bands lumped into the broad label of “jamband”, – groups who rely too heavily on musical chops to get them through shows, but have no song writing skills to back up those chops.

 

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Since the release of their last studio album, Taught to be Proud, in 2005 Tea Leaf Green has exploded.  They won "Song of the Year" at the Jammy Awards in 2006 for “Taught to be Proud,” released a live CD/DVD set Rock ‘n’ Roll Band, been hailed as one of the best live bands on the planet by seemingly ever publication out there and still found time to tour non-stop.  For a band that came from relative obscurity to the success that Tea Leaf Green has found over the past few years, the prospect of what’s next can be an intimidating thought. 

When the question is posed to Garrod, he pauses long and laughs before simply answering, “Man that is a good question.” 

He pauses and laughs again before finishing, “I guess we stay on the road.”

They’re a rock ‘n’ roll band, after all.  That’s what they do best.

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