One of the most influential alternative rock bands of the 80’s & 90’s would no doubt have to be R.E.M. whose career spanned from 1980 through until 2011 when the remaining members officially called it a day. Not so good if you were a child of the 80’s and never had the opportunity to see them live, but now, Jeff Martin of The Tea Party is taking his The Ones We Love: Celebrating R.E.M. show on the road, showcasing the band’s hits and classics from 1982 to 1992 and we grabbed the man in question to find out all about the show, teaming up with his fellow musicians and the influence R.E.M. had on his life growing up…
Welcome to Wall of Sound Jeff, you are about to launch yourself into the tour project which celebrates the music of R.E.M. from 1982 to 1992. Who was the brain child behind this project?
Well, I can’t take credit for the idea of putting it all together, that lies in the hands of Paul the musical director and leader of the band for this project. This was his brain child. Paul has been in touch with my management for probably over a year now trying to put all of this together and work around my schedule as I had been very busy with The Tea Party, and production commitments that I have here at my studio Riverhouse just outside of Byron Bay, a coastal suburb in northern New South Wales.
We could finally get it together where the end of August and early September allowed me the time to give my all. With a project like this, I have to give it my full concentration.
I have done the tribute thing once before, a few years ago, maybe six or seven years ago with a Led Zeppelin tribute thing across Australia. Given the Tea Party’s music and my solo music that was such a surprise to anyone. There is a certain lineage there. I really felt that when Paul brought this to my attention, I am a fan of REM’s music, especially their early stuff. I thought that a) It would be a challenge for me and b) it would be something out of the box for me. Also with the artistic licence, it is giving me a chance to interpret the songs that I am going to perform. It was something that I really couldn’t say no to.
It’s an amazing line up that you are a part of; joining you is Steve Kilbey from The Church, Ron S. Peno from Died Pretty, Trish Young from The Clouds and Amanda Brown from The Go-Betweens to name a few. It’s an amazing line up from the alternative and independent scene that dominated Australia in the late 80’s onwards. Have there been any rehearsals as yet?
Oh no, we are going to broach that subject mid-August and it is something that I am looking forward to because I have so much respect for all of the singers involved and the band itself that is backing all of these singers up.
How things will go is an unknown as I have never met any of them before, so that first rehearsal will reveal the chemistry that could and I believe will incur is going to be something special.
Do you have a favorite R.E.M. song personally from the era being celebrated in this show or is there a song that you are particularly looking forward to singing?
I’m not going to tell you the songs that I am going to sing because I can’t let that cat out of the bag. But there are certain songs like the first song that I got turned onto and listened to at around the age of thirteen years old by Jeff Burrows, The Tea Party’s drummer who is a year older than I me.
Jeff was the cool kid in high school/secondary school, he was always the one that would listen to a band first and then everyone would follow suit. I remember being over at his house and he played me Pretty Persuasion and I remember listening to the guitar work because I had been playing guitar since I was seven, so I was pretty accomplished at thirteen years old. But when I heard Peter Buck’s jangly twelve string it was something that really caught my ear. Consequently, from there I learned about Peter Buck’s influences who would have been Roger McGrinn from the Byrds and things like that. Although you wouldn’t hear that influence in The Tea Party’s music, one of our biggest singles ‘Heaven Coming Down’ with its twelve string Rickenbaker line that plays over the whole thing.
Had I have not discovered Peter Buck and his influences then that song may have never happened.
Are you purely a vocal in this project, or do you add guitar and other instruments?
Oh no; gladly and I do mean gladly, they have roped me into playing lots of guitar and I will also be playing mandolin.
You have always had a love of exotic instruments it must be a thrill to play the mandolin outside of your own music?
I’m in my house right now and the panoramic view from my house is a veritable museum of stringed instruments from all around the world. I couldn’t pass down the opportunity to play some of those iconic mandolin parts on some of those R.E.M. songs.
Will any of the Ones We Love shows be recorded for later release?
I haven’t heard of any plans yet and it is something that I certainly wouldn’t be against. I know it is only three shows but, the fact that this is being performed at the State Theatre in Sydney would be something that if it were to be recorded that would be the place to do it.
Do you think these shows have the potential to tour on a larger scale, internationally perhaps?
Again that is something that I can’t give you an educated answer on. I know that my time after these shows are done is pretty limited, because, and excuse the pun, the monster that the Tea Party is also going to start up again. When that does it takes over my life for the amount of time that it has to. It does have the potential to travel overseas, but we need to take the necessary initial steps first, which is the three shows booked. By all accounts, ticket sales are going through the roof so the audience is there. We just need to make sure that the show that is presented lives up to that expectation. After that who knows?
So there is new music on the way from The Tea Party?
Absolutely! There is a new single that will hopefully be out by the end of the year. There is definitely an EP that is finished and there is an album that we recorded here at Riverhouse Studio. Now it is just a case of me getting the time to get back to it. There is definitely going to be new music as far as the Tea Party is concerned before the end of the year.
You are also embarking on the Stars in the Sand tour which kicked off on the 21st of June and continues nationally through until August 4. I have heard that there is a Stars In The Sand EP that will be exclusively available at these shows. Is this correct?
Yes for the time being anyway it will be exclusive to this run of shows. After the tour is done and I think that it is my management’s prerogative and desire to make it available internationally. It’s pretty exciting because it is a collection of recordings that started off as field recording while I was Morocco a couple of years ago. When I brought them back here to Riverhouse Studio I worked around those field recordings and embellished them. What it has become is, and it is funny as in the name of your publication, this Ep is definitely a “Wall of Sound”
Now I do have a bone to pick with you Jeff! There are NO Tasmanian dates for the “Sand in the Stars” Tour. What is going on there? It is well known you love Tasmania.
(laughs) I was just in Tasmania a couple of months ago; I played the Republic Bar & Café. You know I will take any excuse to come back to Tasmania, but as I said before it all comes down to time constraints now for me. There is a little bit left on the calendar for this year, so I am hoping to get down there and do this new solo show before the end of the year.
We can’t wait to see what the tour has in store + the upcoming Tea Party material, all the details below, if you grew up with R.E.M. chances are you’ll get all kinds of nostalgic with this tour.
Interview by Andrew Slaidins.
R.E.M. – The Ones We Love 1982-1992
Friday 31st August @ Brisbane, Tivoli Theatre
Thursday 6th September @ Melbourne, Palais Theatre
Friday 7th September @ Sydney, State Theatre