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I recently drove a short distance down the road here, in Black Mountain, to Pisgah Brewery. I was going to meet my new friend Reed Mathis from Tea Leaf Green. I had the privilege of talking to him about TLG’s new album, being on the road, and all things music. He was one of those musicians you feel like you’ve made friends with before and after an hour passes, it feels like ten minutes. I enjoyed talking with him and he even sat down for a cigarette with me at Pisgah Brewery.
Their show was a mix of past and present. The band set up their brand spanking new screen which showcased album With a sound that folds in influences from The Band, southern rock, Americana, and the smoother sounds of 90s artists such as Bruce Hornsby, Tea Leaf Green keeps the emphasis on songcraft and melody. Synthesizers and churning sonics sit surprisingly comfortably alongside acoustic guitars, though there’s plenty of electric guitar too. Of course they showcased their newest album, “In The Wake”. It is clear Tea Leaf Green is creating some of the best music of their career and they are not afraid to put it on display with ferocity. New tracks such as “Space Hero”, “Penny Saved” and “We Aren’t Done” have become instant crowd pleasers, and they demonstrate that they don’t need to reach for deep cuts to satisfy their fans. If the dancing of the crowd was any indication, the new tracks were incredibly well-received. If there was anything to learn from this show or the general state of Tea Leaf Green, I think it is safe to say that the impact of Reed Mathis on Tea Leaf Green is creating rave reviews. Yes, Josh Clark is a beast on guitar, and Trevor Garrod will always be the main voice of the band, but it is Reed Mathis’s presence on bass that takes Tea Leaf Green’s dynamic to the next level. At any moment, Reed is apt to go on a musical interlude, leading the band through an improvisational tangent. They’re as musically interesting as ever and still bring the heat, even when flexing their new album. They aren’t afraid to take risks and they clearly do what they love. It shows on stage.
Reed- Well when I first saw the lineup I was like “What?! No Asheville? What is this? And then someone had to tell me, “No no no.. We’ll still have those Asheville people”. We actually played a really awesome show in Asheville a few weeks ago with The Mickey Hart band. The show was awesome because it was so packed! The Orange Peel is fun if it’s full and really weird if it’s not, ya know? The tour was amazing. It was two months, and a great experience. I don’t usually do that, ya know, join someones band for a few months but Mickey really wanted me there. It was definitely good. We made some really good music. He had been calling me for like 4 years to play with him and I always said no because I always had stuff going on. He finally called in May and said, “Dude, what’s it going to take for me to get you out with us?” And my deal was he had to let me open the shows.. So I can still get a take on my own music every night, ya know? So that was deal. I got to open and play in Mickey’s band, which was cool. It was a three set night but it was totally worth it.
AVJ- Speaking of your other projects, you have a bunch of other successful groups that you have been a part of such as 7 Walkers, Rhythm Devils, Marco Benevento, and Steve Kimock Band.
Reed- Ya know, since I’ve moved to San Francisco I’ve been a part of so many things and playing with so many other musicians which is also awesome.
AVJ- Is it hard to juggle between all those different collaborations?
Reed- It is not hard musically, but it is necessary, for me, because I have pretty unique tastes, and I sort of need a lot of variety in order to feel balanced. It’s a little intense, like my schedule is a lot crazier than the other Tea Leaf guys. That’s sometimes hard, like sometimes I’ll show up for a Tea Leaf show and i’ll be tired. But Tea Leaf Green is quite easily, the best shit I’m involved in. It’s the most creative music, it’s where I get to be myself the most, and where I get to explore and use my compositions. Playing with Tea Leaf Green is not work at all, it is like my reward for working so hard the rest of the time. But they are my best friends, so it’s always really fun.
AVJ- You said you had a couple different things you were doing in San Fran- Is there a big difference when you tour or play on the West Coast versus the East Coast and what are some of those differences?
Reed- Yeah, there’s a difference. It’s hard to put my finger on it.. ya know, the more I do this, the less I can make sense of it all. (Laughs) I used to be able to say “East coast is this, and West coast is this, and Midwest is this..” but all seems to be breaking down a little bit since the internet. It seems to be making things go a little bit slower. It goes around the country and everyone seems to be getting the same kinda info- which is a good impact. Some of my favorite places to play are on the East coast. But some of my favorite places to play are on the West coast. It’s really hard to say, honestly. I’m originally from Oklahoma, so most of my family is from the South so I always feel at home in the South and the music we love some much totally came from the South, which is a magical thing but, a know, playing in New England versus playing in California, is not that different. But San Francisco has an amazing music scene and it’s so unique. There’s so many creative people here. The main difference is on the West coast, everything is really spread out. Whereas on the East Coast you can drive and 2 hours and be in another rad city. I’ve always been jealous of East coast bands because they can say, “We’re going to do a two month tour” and they never get that far from their house. For us, if we want to leave the Bay Area we are going to have to drive ten hours in any direction. But growing up in Oklahoma, it was like that anyway. All the East Coast bands, even when first starting out, they have a million tours without hardly going anywhere and we have to really go out of our way to go anywhere. It’s a lot of driving and flying but it’s totally worth it, because it’s so amazing and we really love it.
AVJ- You do a little bit of producing, is it hard for you to switch from touring life, to studio mode? Because you seem to be so great at both.
Reed- Aw thanks! No It’s not hard at all. I love them equally. I would freak out if I had too much or too little of either. The studio is a different artform compared to playing on stage. A lot of times, especially in “jamband world”, there’s this thing where people say, “oh, it’s a studio album? Well I wanna see it live.” It seems people have started to just write off studio albums and growing up, people were always putting down Grateful Dead’s records, saying their live shows were where it was at.. and it’s not better, it’s just different. Making an album is a very different artform and even The Beatles, and all their “art” was made in the studio, if you look at their whole body of work, and I just love that. Performing is just not the same. “In the Wake”, our new studio album, we spent like a year in the studio, and it became our second home. I literally slept their a couple times. IT was an amazing experience and you just couldn’t get that if you did shows all the time. There’s nothing like it. When you have such a great team, and everyone is inspired and cooperating, it’s pretty incredible what can happen.
AVJ- That was another one of my questions- How was it recording ‘In The Wake” in Coyote Hearing Studio with Mcmillan and Jeremy Black of Apollo Sunshine?
Reed- Well Coyote is like our clubhouse. I hang out there when we’re not recording. Sometimes we have parties there which is stupid, because then there’s a bunch of drunk people around microphones. (laughs) It is just a rad place to hang out and Jeremy Black is such a genius. I’m really glad that we were able to become friends before he became famous because in two years I won’t be able to afford him probably. But he is such a wizard. We had two records with Jeremy and the last few and he’s really like a coach. He has made us a better team. The lives shows are even better because of Jeremy, and he’s not even there. He’s really good at wrangling personalities and bringing people together and short circuiting their doubt. He makes everyone feel appreciated, he’s got great taste. He’s just an amazing guy. The record would be good if we did it on our own, but it wouldn’t be nearly as good without Jeremy. So there were three drummers in the studio because Jeremy’s a drummer, Cochran’s a drummer and Scotty’s a drummer, so they were all in their little drum labs. All the beats on the record are meticulously crafted. It’s so seamless you can’t tell who is playing what. That was such an amazing experience. I plan on making another record with him ASAP.
AVJ- What’s different about “In The Wake” compared to the past 16? What makes this one so different?
Reed- Well we didn’t perform any of the songs for the entire year that we were making the record. Not one of them was played live. Which is the opposite of how I’ve always done it. We always would write a bunch of music, then tour it for 6 months to a year then make a record. So all these songs would just evolve on stage but the problem with that is, you end up making decisions based on practical reasons, not artist reasons. Like, “oh we can’t pull that off” or “it’s easier this way.” So you end up having songs take shape just so you can pull them off in front of people. But without performing them at all, so in the studio they were taking shape with our imaginations. Some of the songs were never imaginable if I had only been performing them. Of course, once it’s done, we have to figure out how to perform it, so that’s a whole different process too, which is also fun. It was just pure imagination, no shortcuts. Whatever you want, or picture do that. I’m really proud of it.
AVJ- What do you think the future holds for Tea Leaf Green? What direction would you like to see it moving in?
Reed- Honestly, I’ve always been confused of the concept of “direction”. I’ve never really done that. It all seems pretty mysterious to me.. what happens over time. Sometimes people will hear our record, or come to our show and say, “Oh this is an interesting direction you guys are taking.” and that always strikes me as weird because I don’t feel like we’re moving in a direction at all. We’re just showing up everyday, the music does something we’re not telling it to. It’s like a ouija board. We’re really not choosing any of the music we’re playing- it’s just happening. It’s like a kid going through puberty- you wake up one morning and shits a little different. I feel like we wake up everyday, and we go make some music. I don’t know what that music is going to be and it’s not really strategic, so I don’t know what is in the future. We are going to make another record soon, I hope. We are doing this Southern tour and a big San Francisco show and two nights in Denver for New Years and 2014, we have some stuff planned but January just seems so far away. We’re in this for the rest of our lives- that’s the direction- a great big question mark spread out the next 40-50 years. Hopefully the direction is more years of art and the type of celebrating we like reaches other people and we can all celebrate together. There’s something that happens when improvising music when there’s a ton of people on board.
AVJ- What is on your Ipod, in your CD player, spinning on your needle- What are you listening to right now?
Reed- Oh man. Well the past couple of days I’ve been onto this guy- Brad Mehldau that I used to listen to a lot when I was younger. I had his vinyl for like ten years and I just put it in for the first time the other day. So I made myself a little playlist and I have been listening to it nonstop for the last week. It’s like two hours long and I’ve literally listened to it 30 times. I also listen to Samantha Crain a lot. She is an amazing singer. That’s pretty much all I’ve been listening to. Also- a lot of stand up comedy, podcasts and audiobooks. I like having strange, disembodied voices talking at me. (laughs)
AVJ- Any other news or things you would like to tell us about?
Reed- Well when I toured with just Trevor and Cochran with Mickey, we played at Tea Leaf Trio and we went into the studio right before the studio and in one night we made this badass record. It was just one of those crazy nights where everything is clicking and flowing. We decided to give it away for free on our website. It’s like the opposite of “In The Wake”. It’s totally in the moment with no overdubs and super raw. Tea Leaf Trio album is free on website and I’m super proud of it. It’s the most bass soloing and singing I’ve put on a record in years, so It’s a lot of me, for better or worse.
You can check out Tea Leaf Green on tour NOW!
Check out their studio work and new album at www.tealeafgreen.com