Saturday, November 19, 2005

Sitting Down with Rock Stars

In one of the bigger cheap thrills of my life, I suspended all my objectivity for about 10 minutes and caught up with my favorite band around right now. Coming off a sick three-set show at Coda and awaiting another that night, I sat down with the boys from Tea Leaf Green before they headed out for a pre-show dinner.

Here's what transpired on November the Nineteenth, the Year of Our Lord Two-Thousand Five:

You’ve played nine of [the last] 10 nights, 17 of 22 dates…and yet, after all that, your last two shows are these kind of monster three-set shows. Where do you guys get the energy to do this?

Scott: I think we’re a little sore.

Ben: Or we’re crazier than we should be.

Trevor: Get a big, fat cup of coffee…

Ben: You get conditioned to a certain extent, and then when you come to New York City, it makes it easier to get up on stage.

Josh: It’s an enthusiastic audience that carries you through when you got nothing left, usually. If it was an empty room, it would be pretty much…extremely depressing.

And I saw shots in the third set of last night’s show.

Josh: Which is going to make it a little bit more difficult today to muster up the energy again.

Trevor: But it’s not like we’re doing hard labor up there. People do hard labor every day, like for eight hours, shoveling dirt and stuff like that, ya know. That’s tiring. So in comparison…

Josh: Yeah, we don’t have to drag ourselves out of bed and fry up French fries.

I’m sure the French-fry frying community is gonna love that remark.

Josh: I think that they’d be more mad if I complained about what I do.

Trevor: We appreciate their French frying. We’re kind of connoisseurs of French fries. And hash browns, ya know. Hash browns are a little bit trickier than French fries, to get a good hash brown.

This obviously doubles as your CD release party…What do you guys like better, the solitude of recording in a barn or a studio, or playing in front of live audiences?

Trevor: Playing in front of a live audience is much more gratifying.

Ben: Studio records are really not that easy…to make ‘em good. And when you’re on stage, things are loose, exciting and fun.

Scott: And you can leave it on stage.

Trevor: The hardest thing about making a record is having to listen to the same song a million times, over and over again. Nobody likes that. You notice things like…‘Do you hear that?’ I don’t know, let’s go back and re-do it.

What was your favorite concert experience as a fan?

Josh: I saw a pretty amazing Neil Young & Crazy Horse show at the Warfield a few years ago. It was an announced, day-of sort of thing. That pretty much restored my faith in big rock ‘n roll sounds.

Ben: I saw a really good show in college at the Fillmore, The Specials. Have you ever seen The Specials? They put on a really good show, I was really impressed.

Trevor: I saw Wilco at Wakarusa last summer. I never realized they could rock out so crazy…they’re great performers.

In the past six weeks or so, you guys have played with both Bobby and Trey…what’s it like to play with two guys who may or may not have had some impact on the direction you guys have taken in your band?

Trevor: The thing that’s remarkable about it is how normal it is. Once you’re actually communicating with these people that are big stars but on a musician’s level, it’s the same as any other musician that I’ve ever played with.

Ben: They’re just dudes.

Trevor: Wait a second, this is just a normal person, too…of course they’re rich and famous.

Ben: On stage it’s a little different because the fans are so excited. But as far as behind the scenes, it’s really not that big of a deal.

Was there any disappointment that Bob Weir wasn’t wearing short shorts?

(Laughter all around. I nailed it.)

And you guys are going to be playing with Warren and Government Mule soon, so that’s three big names in the community. In a perfect world, who would you like to collaborate with next?

All: Neil Young. He could give us some rock n’ roll lessons.

I don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but the Internet is going to be huge, the next big thing, they say. Have you guys had any sort of conscious effort to push things out over the internet to get traction from fans that way?

Josh: We’ve always done that. It’s been our number one and only tool for the longest time, especially when we were first starting to tour. It was the only way, because we didn’t have any record distribution or anything like that. The three people that would show up at whatever bar we were in in Indiana or wherever, were Internet people that had heard it. So it would be kind of a trip to come out there and people would be requesting songs on the other side of the country. And that wouldn’t be possible without the Internet.

2005 has obviously been a banner year for you guys…festivals and all sorts of new and exciting places. My vote’s for The 5 Spot in Atlanta, but what’s your favorite show of the year?

Trevor: There are a few shows that I recall being really fun. The last time we were in New York City [September's Knitting Factory] was an awesome show. The time we played in New Orleans in Jazz Fest at Blue Nile...Late night at Wakarusa was pretty good.

Where does High Sierra rank in there? That was the show that got me into you guys.

Trevor: High Sierra’s been kind of like our home base for a long time. I feel like the first time we played at High Sierra was our first big debut as a band. That’s going on five years ago now.

Ben: High Sierra, in my opinion, is the coolest music festival out there. Great music, it’s not too big, the people are really chill.

Josh: And we can settle in. It’s like a vacation for us.

Speaking of back home, do you have any big plans for the New Year’s Eve show back home?

Trevor: We got some ideas we’re working on.

Ben: We’re mustering up some ideas. (pause) Actually we really don’t have anything going on yet. I think our fans have more ideas than we do.

Would you ever listen to the fans out there?

Ben: People go on our forums and they make suggestions like “I’d love to hear this song > this song” and we’ll do it for them, just to stoke one person.

Josh: That’s the coolest thing that you have as a person who has fans, is that you can really pump ‘em up if you wanted to. So it’s fun to keep your finger on the pulse. It’s just a fun thing to do, it’s like a fantasy.

Trevor: I feel like a lot of those fans know us better than we do. There’s some weird synchronicity going on. They’ll make predictions about what we’re going to do without us knowing that they made that prediction. And you’re like, “Oh shit, I guess so, we’re all on the same page on this one.”

Ben: And they also look into our songs a lot more than we do at times. They’ll say, “Well this lyric means this and that.” We probably don’t have a clue what it means.

Josh: I don’t even know all the words to all the songs.

Now they’re gonna say, “That line means Josh hates fry cooks. I knew it.”

Josh: Cook-hating asshole. Fuck his shows, I’m not givin’ my five dollars.

One of the things I did read on the boards out there, a lot of people loved when you did Hot Dog > Kali Yuga. Have you given any thought to making that some sort of Scarlet > Fire?

Ben: We can play it tonight.

Josh: No, we can’t, we did Kali Yuga last night.

Trevor: We do it sometimes. It’s part of our bag of tricks.

Josh: It gives it a little lift because it’s coming in so hot. It’s a personal favorite of mine. We try not to do the tricks too many times. We try to keep people on their toes a little bit, as best we can. It can get a little bit hard, though, when you’re trying to pound all these shows out.

I’m a big fan of Waiting for the Man – I think you guys cover that just about as well as any band can possibly do Velvet Underground justice. You do covers but you don’t rely on them. Is that something that you’ve given thought to?

Scott: We’re not very good at covers. We’re the worst cover band in the world.

Josh: You should have heard our Sweet Child O’ Mine. It was like elevator music from hell.

Ben: We get a few covers nailed, and we end up playing those for years. And it kind of becomes our song.

Josh: Or we’ll learn one and then it’ll be such great effort that we’ll be so exhausted that we’ll promptly play it once and forget it. And then people request it, and we don’t know how to play it anymore.

Where do you see yourselves in a couple of years?

Ben: On the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

Josh: Hopefully just a little bit more comfortable, lifestyle-wise.

Ben: It would be nice in a few years to be playing theaters as opposed to clubs.

So did you enjoy opening up for Trey and getting to play those bigger venues?

Ben: Yeah, for sure. It kinda sucked because we had 35-minute sets each night, so then you end up just hanging out backstage drinking beers with nothing to do really, and then you have to go up and impress 3,000 people, with 35 minutes to warm up, that’s really hard to do, too.

Josh: So it was basically like this slow, monotonous build-up to a 35-minute explosion and then back to monotonous.

Trevor: But it was fun, though, we got really spoiled. There was catering, people carrying our stuff around.

Is there any mystery behind Franz Hanzerbeak?

Ben: Franz Hanzerbeak, that’s gonna be my new name pretty soon.

Josh: This is Franz Hanzerbeak (pointing to Ben). He was born in a rose garden in Portland, Oregon.

Trevor: And he has more names than anyone in the world. We have a name for every calendar date the whole year.

Ben: My name changes every year or so.

Trevor: We just kind of cobbled that together.

Ben: And fans can choose their favorite.

Sure, you want to give your fans a wide array of options. You don’t want to be pigeonholed into being just this Ben character.

Ben: Ben who?