Martin, Burrows and Chatwood grew up together in Detroit/Windsor and in 1991, the three aspiring musicians decided to form a band. Calling themselves the Tea Party (from Beat Generation heroes Jack Kerouac, Allan Ginsburg, and William Burroughs’ codeword for their hash-fueled bull sessions), the trio took inspiration from Detroit’s long history of innovative music, from hard rock to the fast fat beats of acid house and techno. Add to that the gloomy romantic shadows of post-punk icons like Joy Division and the Cure, as well as the classic rock intonations of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, and the Tea Party’s special sonic brew began to take shape.
“It was the alchemy of those things that was how our musical styling came about,” Martin says. “The idea was to be able to have a vehicle in which we could express ourselves in any way we wanted to.”
1991’s eponymous indie debut and their 1993 “SPLENDOR SOLIS” featured the band’s use of Eastern tunings on Western tools, a taste Martin developed as a thirteen-year-old obsessed with the Beatles’ sitar-driven “Within You, Without You,” a song that typified the Fab Four’s growing interest in classic Indian raga.
“I couldn’t get enough of those types of melodies,” he says of his addiction to Eastern sounds. “When we started writing songs, it seemed that anything I wrote had those qualities. It seemed like it was just seeping through.”
With 1995’s “THE EDGES OF TWILIGHT” (released domestically on EMI), The Tea Party first began infusing actual indigenous instruments into their metallic KO, including some 31 different instruments gathered from their tours around the globe. The result was a stirring juxtaposition of exotic acoustic instrumentation with more traditional organic heavy rock. The trio played Lollapalooza and Canada’s big alt-gathering, the Edgefest. They toured the US in November of that year, returning home to find themselves honored with three Juno nominations and a Much Music Video Awards “People’s Choice Award” for “The Bazaar.” The Tea Party had clearly begun to make their mark.
* * * * *
“TRANSMISSION” finds the Tea Party continuing their amalgam of hard rock steeped with a multitude of World Musics, this time incorporating electronica/dance sounds like those of the Chemical Brothers, Tricky, Moby and Trans-Global Underground.
“We found that we weren’t being inspired by rock ‘n’ roll,” Martin says. “For me, grunge didn’t capture that essence that I need in music. I’m a sonic junkie and there wasn’t enough in the music to get me off. So our tastes, as a band, gravitated elsewhere.”
In December of 1995, with the tours and award ceremonies out of the way, Martin began conceiving the Tea Party’s next aural adventure. In his Montreal home studio, he started experimenting freely, laying down tracks and working through his ideas. The first song, “TRANSMISSION,” was created using a loop lifted from a Lebanese funeral dirge run through an Emulator II sequencer.
“I was starting to get into a whole different approach to writing,” Martin recalls, “but it was cold. I didn’t really like it. But once Jeff and Stuart got here, we took the organic aspect of our music and superimposed it on top of this really cold, slithering electronic undercurrent and all of a sudden, we had this hybrid that the three of us were so excited by. These two very different musical elements collided in a sensual, sexual, aggressive union.”
As they ventured into musical parts unknown, the tunes and textures soon began to take shape. Burrows recorded his drum tracks, later adding such exotic percussives as darabouka, dumbek, pod shakers and a lead pipe (!), while Chatwood put his bass and dark synth shadings into the mix. By April, half of what would become “TRANSMISSION” was completed, though Martin had yet to add lyrics and vocals. He began composing songs which dealt with the battle between technology and the human soul and soon realized he had found his theme.
“I embrace technology to a point,” Martin says, “but because of technology making our lives so much easier, the problem is the human spirit’s lack of desire to engage in any empiricism: To enjoy the experience, or the touch, or the contact. So this record is more or less a collection of aphorisms about how to deal with all that. It’s a wake-up call that’s necessary in order for ‘human becomings’ to really feel alive and in the moment.”
With the thematic dam burst, the songs came quickly, including ominous and ambient tracks like “Release” and “Aftermath,” as well as the harder-edged cathartic grind of “Army Ants” and “Gyroscope.” “They’re opinions about the human condition,” Martin says. “Just the questions that are still out there, still floating, as we approach the turn of the clock. It’s questions about God, about sexuality, about the potency of the individual in our society. All of us are brooding and thinking so much about all of these things that it’s coming out in unfortunate ways.”
With “TRANSMISSION,” the Tea Party have forged a new sonic approach to rock ‘n’ roll. The goal, however, remains the same: to move listeners and, as a result, effect some form of socio-emotional change.
“With rock music having the potential to be a very powerful vehicle, to express opinions like those we’ve expressed on this record only serves as a very loud reminder of the problems,” Jeff Martin avows. “Artists have a responsibility to get at the infinite background of emotion, to distill it into something that’s perceivable to the public. In making an awareness of these social, psychologi cal issues, that’s where the hope can come out. People say this is a very dark record, but making the awareness, that’s where there’s the opportunity for change.”