The 90s were a golden era for Canadian rock. TV and radio airwaves mixed songs from a slew of CanCon bands amidst the dominant bands of the time almost seamlessly, as the domestic quality matched, and in many cases exceeded, the imports. The era was so golden that festivals featuring Canadian headliners were actually thriving, with bands like Moist, I Mother Earth and Our Lady Peace drawing huge crowds.
One of the main acts of the time was Windsor’s Tea Party. Formed by Jeff Martin, Jeff Burrows and Stuart Chatwood, their blend of classic rock with middle eastern influences found a niche in the booming alternative rock scene, as the band churned out four albums during that decade, with each one achieving Double Platinum level success, and producing a handful of Top 10 singles, such as “Temptation”, “Heaven Coming Down” and “The Messenger”. Much like many of their contemporaries, the band broke up in the early 2000s, with each of the three members embarking on new ventures. By 2011, the band reunited for a handful of shows which then led to a full reunion and release of new music, starting with 2014’s The Ocean at the End. Their latest release, a new single titled “Black River” has shot up the charts, sitting currently in the Top 5, and is attracting a new generation to their dedicated fanbase.
We caught up with drummer Jeff Burrows for a chat about the reunion, the current tour, and plans for more music and tours to come.
Apt613: Thanks for taking the time to chat today Jeff, I know you guys have had a busy schedule of late.
Jeff Burrows: We just finished up our fourth show in a row – we’re going hard right off the bat. There was no easing in process on this one.
Seems like there’s quite a demand to see you guys live given all the sellouts on the tour so far. In fact, Ottawa sold out so fast that you added a second date. How’s that for returning to the old stomping grounds?
It’s great! I think we’ve been fortunate enough so far – we wanted to release an EP and then a single, and we started working with a promoter, but then when Warner heard “Black River”, they picked us up. We released it as a single, which has now made it to #3 on the Rock charts, so while I wouldn’t say it’s been easy, it’s definitely made it easier to sell out our shows. For example, any radio host about to play our song would obviously plug the fact that we’ll be in their town, whether that’s Lethbridge, Nanaimo, Sudbury, Ottawa or Moncton. It’s lent itself quite nicely to that. I think that’s especially the case in Ottawa, although we’ve had such great friends and fans in Ottawa since the beginning. It was one of our original stomping grounds and to have that second show come up, which is almost sold out now, it’s been great.
We’ve had such great friends and fans in Ottawa since the beginning. It was one of our original stomping grounds and to have that second show come up, which is almost sold out now, it’s been great.
It’ll be different, playing a show, then leaving, then coming back again. It’ll be a bit of a Groundhog Day for me. I don’t think we’ve ever had to do that.
It will have a different dynamic for sure. If you were playing back-to-back, fans would likely just pick one show, but with a couple of weeks in between, you may have some returnees.
Yeah, 100%. I’m not an arrogant guy, or a chest-beater by any means, but one thing I’m very confident in is our ability to put on a pretty amazing show for three guys from Windsor who’ve been fortunate enough to do this for thirty years.
In terms of the direction for the new music, “Black River” is more of a bluesy rock song, so will the middle-eastern influences be reappearing on future songs?
The way we look at things, we get to write together so few times now, since Jeff Martin lives in Australia, Stuart is in Vancouver and I’m back in Windsor, so it’s usually right before or right after a Canadian or Australian tour that we’ll get together and we’ll write at Jeff’s place and we’ll get things done, and then it’ll sit around for a while, and when Jeff has time between his producer gigs, he’ll work on his guitar parts and vocals, so it’s not something we can really plan out.
Lately the songs have gone back to pre-Splendor Solis to our independent record, only because back then we couldn’t afford A) the time, and B) the instrumentation, but now it just falls on time. You don’t want to just add a hurdy gurdy or a dumbek just to make it sort of sound like an album you did in ’95. If the song lends itself to that, which we’ll have, we’ll approach it that way. But with the lack of time, we find ourselves getting back to our blues rock roots from the Detroit scene when we were younger. It’s hard to say if we’re going to do that exactly, but you will find elements of that in the new songs.
We find ourselves getting back to our blues rock roots from the Detroit scene when we were younger.
Do you have a date in mind for a full album, now that “Black River” has done so well?
Since we can only get together so often, it doesn’t seem fair to have songs that were written two or three years apart. I’m just not a fan of that because I like a cohesive unit. To be honest, produced, recorded material has always just been an excuse for us to get out and tour. It’s not about money, but you really don’t make much money on album sales or digital downloads. Our bread and butter has always been touring. That being said, in the digital age, I thought an EP was going to be the best thing, and not an album, and the guys agreed. We’re at a point now where we have an EP ready, and we have a choice of two songs that everyone is clamoring over for which should be single #2. With our 30th anniversary coming up, literally in 2020, we’re thinking once “Black River” has run its course, the second single will come out and run its course, much like this one hopefully, and then with the 30th anniversary, there will be an entire catalog vinyl release, and a release of the EP on digital and perhaps vinyl.
As a vinyl junkie, I can’t wait for those to come out.
The Splendor Solis vinyl that is out now, we sell out of every night. We make twenty available every night, and some of the bigger shows like Ottawa we might have forty out, and we autograph them, but they’re the first thing to sell out every night. We put the one album onto two separate vinyl discs, so the quality is pretty insane, and there’s an etching on the fourth side. It’s crazy.
The Tea Party will be playing Algonquin Commons Theatre on March 25 with Winnipeg’s The Proud Sons opening the show at 8pm. A handful of floor tickets ($45) have been released recently. If you miss out on those, the band will also be coming back for a second show April 9, though tickets are also going quickly.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the interview with Jeff Burrows, delving a bit more into the band’s sound, as well as the Canadian rock scene from the 90s and its impact on today’s resurgence, in the preview of the band’s return gig on April 9.