CULTURE- INTERVIEW- Phishermen: Trey boosts Tea Leaf Green

Tea Leaf Green is the latest in a string of jambands who owe a great debt to the Grateful Dead. Following the dissolution of Phish, another band that followed in the Dead's footsteps, guitarist Trey Anastasio took them under his flipper in late 2005, and in the midst of the resulting tour they released their third album, Taught To Be Proud. 

Singer and keyboard player Trevor Garrod says he's been focusing on concise songwriting recently; the median track length on that disc is under five minutes. Still, even in a live context, it takes a special kind of band to spend 12 minutes on a song whose chorus crows, "Mama, tell me about the sex you had in the '70s."

Enjoy that image. Now, here's Trevor.

The Hook: This was your first time at the 10,000 Lakes Festival?

Trevor Garrod: The thing that was really cool about this was that they got involved with a group called "The Everyone Orchestra." It's put on by one person, but he goes around to all these festivals and gathers up random musicians and sort of conducts them. It was a total improv interactive experience. "How about violin and piano play right now?" It's always experimental, and you never know whether the audience is enjoying it as much as the musicians.

The Hook: And also your first at the Jammy Awards?

Trevor Garrod: We got best song for Taught To Be Proud, the title track on our record. They told our management that we won a week before anything happened, and they kept it a secret from us. We just thought we were going to the awards show to schmooze. Vince from moe. let the cat out of the bag a half hour beforehand– "Hey man, congratulations."

The Hook: What's it like for a jamband fan to have his band discovered by the guitarist from Phish?

Trevor Garrod: We played eight shows with the Trey Anastasio Band last fall. That really helped us out, because people who like Trey are equally disposed to liking our music. And we got a little bit of bragging rights; we were anointed by the great God of jam rock."

The Hook: I notice that you have all the songwriting credits on "Taught To Be Proud."

Trevor Garrod: I'm pretty much 75 percent of the songs, but we have a lot of songs we play in a live situation that aren't as song-oriented... er, "jams," if you will. Those are always written by the whole band. We all write songs; I just happen to write most of them right now. These songs all kind of stick together, but I'm by no means the sole writer in this group.

The Hook: Do you write with improvisation in mind?

Trevor Garrod: Yeah. We'll often just leave a part in the song where it's like, we're in F# minor, and you can wrap it up a certain way. All you need is some way to let the rest of the band know that it's time to move on. My philosophy for this band is trying to have a combination of songwriting and improvisation.

The Hook: Is that difficult for you?

Trevor Garrod: If you're doing it right, it's easy. Everything should flow naturally. When it's best, it feels like you don't even have anything to do with it.

The Hook: Lots of the piano parts seem really meaty and fundamental, almost like the way other bands use the guitar. Do you think you have a tendency to let your own instrument dominate?

Trevor Garrod: Well, yeah, the piano is always the great little pocket orchestra. Josh is an amazing lead player, and I prefer for him to use the guitar voice in the form of lead, upper melodies and so on, and I take care of the rhythm. One of the things I've been experiementing with is letting the rest of the band take the rhythm and pass it around– not playing, just singing and letting the guitar and bass and drums take things.

The Hook: Give me three artists you think could hang with you guys during improvisation, and the songs you think would be best for them to jam on.

Trevor Garrod: Well, there's my fave: Herbie Hancock. I'd rather just come to the table with no song and be like, "Let's go," or else stuff that no one has ever heard but that I'm working on now. I'd love to sit down and try to write some music with Neil Young, and I'd love to sit down and write some songs with Tom Petty. Those are both great writers I've actually come to be enamored with pretty recently. 

The Hook: Those last two are definitely not known for improv.

Trevor Garrod: I guess right now I'm more in a songwriter phase of my life. Improv is cool, but I spent a long time in my teenage years digging on that. Now, I'm realizing that the less I think about it, the better off I'll be; relax, and don't push it. Just learn how to listen.

The Hook: So which of your own songs is your least favorite?

Trevor Garrod: God, that's like asking a mother what's her least favorite baby. You go on these phases of loving and hating songs. Mostly you just get sick of them if you play them too much, so you have to put them on the back burner and move on. But we have some really terrible ones, way in the back closet.

Tea Leaf Green is at Starr Hill Saturday, August 26. $12/$10, 10pm.