Canadian Juno winners The Tea Party are re-issuing their album “The Edges of Twilight” this September 4th after twenty years. After a long break-up the group reformed a couple of years ago and released their comeback record, “The Ocean at the End” last year. I got hold of member and multi-instrumentalist Stuart Chatwood to discuss the band’s trajectory.
KL (Kyle Lapointe): Hey Stuart, when you had recorded this album, did you think that twenty years later you guys would be still playing together?
SC (Stuart Chatwood): There are some things you don’t think about, you know? We weren’t planning our funerals yet; we were in an upward trajectory at that point. Our album debuted at eight in Australia and stayed in the top twenty for eighteen weeks, and we saw ourselves making eight or nine records together. Man, we’ve been making records since 1990. How old are you?
KL: I’m twenty-one.
SC: Your mom was jamming out to Tea Party records then.
KL: How was it jamming together after such a long breakup?
SC: It was uncomfortable. There were still a lot of personality issues that were never resolved. I think it’s all water under the bridge now though. I think we’ve been able to push personal differences aside to embrace the music.
KL: In the time you guys were apart did you forget to play any of your songs?
SC: Yes. I didn’t play any of the songs in the time off. There are a lot of different instrument changes and intricacies to my performance I had to be able to do on the fly, and those are all things that can be forgotten. End result: I’m not drinking onstage anymore.
KL: How many instruments can you play?
SC: My main instrument is bass guitar but I’ve played maybe twelve or fifteen others. I play the tambora for example. Our goal with instruments is never to be masters, but to just be good enough to expose western ears to eastern sounds. I like to think we were part of a wave of global consciousness towards foreign music.
KL: Speaking of fighting against ignorance, I’ve heard a bit about the constant drama between you guys and the American Republican political group, also called the Tea Party. I heard something about them trying to get your website domain name, www.teaparty.com for millions of dollars. Have they let up yet? Will you potentially be able to use your website for political leverage?
SC: You know, our goal at the time was to give our website to Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.
KL: That’s just awesome.
SC: We thought they could use it to publicize free healthcare in Canada. We had other websites registered and if someone like Arianna Huffington would have wanted the site to use it for good we could have flipped the switch. We weren’t gonna sell it to the Koch brothers though.
KL: That seems like a pretty politically driven decision. Do you have any advice for young Canadians going into the upcoming election?
SC: I don’t want to turn this into a political discussion, but I hope young people know they should make a decision and take action. Even if you make a mistake and vote for the wrong person, just voting and being a part of the discussion are important. Myself I’m not a fan of what the conservatives have done. I’d like to see our wildlife protected and Stephen Harper has a dubious background working for Imperial Oil. In addition I’m not a fan of disrespecting the other candidates by calling Mr. Trudeau “Justin” for example. Imagine if Justin Trudeau called him Stevie?
KL: It’s always interesting to watch how generations of young people change and hold different opinions both politically, but musically as well. Most young people I know don’t know your music, when in the ’90s you guys were a huge name in Canadian rock. However, a lot of them are familiar with your personal work with the Prince of Persia games soundtracks. How was working on those games?
SC: The budgets for those games are massive and they still have global reach. Fans in India and South Africa write to me, loving the soundtracks. It’s led me to a place where I can pick and choose who I work with. I’ve been working with developers from Vancouver on this new game, “Darkest Dungeon.” This game’s coming out in October and has some of the best music I’ve done. It was launched with Kickstarter and reached its goal in three hours.
KL: How do you go about writing a soundtrack though? Do you just start playing and keep going?
SC: They feed me source material. One time they gave me a trailer and asked me to make music based on what I saw. Usually when I compose they feed me adjectives about the mood that needs to be set. I don’t want to say I’m a perfectionist but I deliberate things pretty deeply. A lot of other composers come from the TV world where you don’t have time to do that. They end up writing the first thing that comes to their heads. It ends up being polishing a turd, basically. For me, I end up throwing out five or six excellent ideas to get to one supreme concept. The stuff that gets onto the soundtrack has been real thought out and is more of a work of art than clashes and bangs.
KL: Do you play video games?
SC: I used to; I’m a long-time gamer. Years before you were born I started with the Atari, and now here I am. I’ve wasted many an hour playing video games.
KL: If there were a “The Tea Party: The Game” what would your character be like?
SC; I think the game would be like “Prince of Persia” with a lot of jumping around. My character would wield a pen. It’s mightier than the sword, you know?
KL: That would be kind of lame.
SC: You’ll think differently once you see how big and sharp my pen is.
KL: I’m sure. While working with all your projects you’ve travelled all around the world. Is there anywhere you’d like to tour with your band that you haven’t yet?
SC: For sure South America and for sure South Africa; all the south places. When it’s February in Montreal I really like tropical locations.
KL: You guys incorporate influence from a diverse number of cultures in your music too. Have you ever brought in music traditionally from a certain place and then went there and played your version of it?
SC: Yeah, I’ve got a great story about that. We recorded “The Bazaar” for our album “The Edges of Twilight” and then we went to Turkey to shoot the video. We went into an area with musicians and we started playing some of our riffs, influenced by these people. The next day we went shopping for more instruments, looking for a saz (that’s the instrument you hear at the beginning of “Temptation”). In Istanbul we asked the guy at the store for his best saz and he showed us his top model. It was made with Canadian spruce. We went all the way to Turkey to buy Canadian wood.
KL: It seems Canada follows you around everywhere. How’s it been winning so many Canadian awards throughout your time with The Tea Party?
SC: I’m not gonna lie, it’s been nice. At the same time though, my Juno is sitting at my parent’s house on some shelf somewhere; I don’t look at it every day for inspiration. Making music’s the main priority, first and foremost. It seems a lot of bands these days try to figure out what the audience wants and write a song based on that. We’ve just never done that.
The Tea Party plays Montreal September 17 and 18 at the Corona Virgin Mobile Theatre at 8 p.m. $39/42