Drinking in Tea Leaf Green

March 09, 2006|By RASHOD D. OLLISON | RASHOD D. OLLISON,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

They weren't thinking too deeply about it at the time.

The four of them -- lead singer-songwriter and keyboardist Trevor Garrod, bassist Ben Chambers, guitarist Josh Clark and drummer Scott Rager -- were in college in San Francisco and had just formed the band. They needed gigs, but they needed a name first. One of the guys suggested Tea Leaf Green.

"We were just throwing out names to get a laugh," Garrod says. "We were in college, and I don't have to tell you that a lot of weed was being smoked."

He laughs before adding, "But that's not what we're all about."

So the jam-rock band agreed on the name and secured club dates in and around the Bay Area. In the past five years or so, as the quartet shaped its breezy blend of classic rock, '70s AM pop, country blues and Stax-like R&B, the name Tea Leaf Green took on new meaning.

"The organic colors and greens in nature," Garrod explains, "are parallel to our organic approach to music and how we combine so many different influences."

TLG, which plays the 8x10 Sunday night, is steadily building an audience beyond the West Coast, where the foursome's following is especially strong. The band's latest album, Taught to be Proud, is its third release overall but the first to receive major-label distribution by Sony-BMG. The album is relatively brief for an improvisational jam-rock band: just nine songs and none more than six minutes. But within the tightly structured tunes, you get a strong sense of TLG's musical chemistry. A keyboard solo glimmers here; a guitar solo churns there. Reminiscent of '70s-era Grateful Dead, the music is mostly fluid and open despite the brevity.

"We didn't want the live experience on the album," says Garrod, who's calling from a tour stop in Chapel Hill, N.C. "What people want musically in a live show isn't what they always want on the record. We wanted to make it concise and to the point on the record."

Musically on Taught to be Proud, the band does that well. But lyrically, Garrod, who handles the bulk of the songwriting, doesn't like to be too obvious. Nature imagery and vague references to literature and spirituality are sprinkled throughout such self-reflective, politically driven songs as the title track and "John Brown."

"I like a lyric to have a sense of mystery, some things that make you wonder," says Garrod, 29. "I get off on double meanings in songs. I don't like to divulge what I'm going for. I like that to be people's journey in the music, where they find their own meaning and maybe they'll find something about themselves."

Although the singer-songwriter, whose vocals are gentle and laid-back, strives for lyrical depth, he doesn't use the band as a political or spiritual platform.

"I keep away from the soapbox," Garrod says with a chuckle. "But I want to invite you to think about the questions."

For instance, with the catchy, exuberant "Taught to be Proud," he says, "What I was going for -- I feel like there are a lot of people in my generation who aren't interested in taking responsibility for civilization. You got to be proud of who you are and your civilization to keep it from becoming a fascist nightmare."

That's heavy stuff from a band whose name started as a joke.

"That's not all the time, though," Garrod says. "We're up there playing. We like to have a good time too."

See Tea Leaf Green at the 8x10, 10 E. Cross St., Sunday at 7. Tickets are $10 and are available through Ticketmaster by calling 410-547-SEAT or visiting ticketmaster.com.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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