TAMPA – When Tea Leaf Green goes out on tour, they often get billed as a “San Francisco-based band,” even though band member Trevor Garrod says they don’t actually perform a lot in their home city – and were able to rise up with really doing it all that regularly.
“We don’t play in San Francisco that often,” said Garrod, who plays guitar and keyboards for the five-piece jam band from the Bay area. “We play on the East Coast and Midwest, mostly.” That was true even in their earliest days.
“It’s funny, but it’s really, really difficult in San Francisco to start off as a band and get people to show up and see your shows,” Garrod said. “What we’d do is every weekend we’d go out of town and play in little college towns. When we’d play in San Francisco, we’d have a lot of college kids coming in to see us play. We kind of stumbled into that, but so long as you can get the kids in there, that’s what matters.”
Bringing in students from the surrounding towns to San Francisco clubs helped Tea Leaf Green build up a fan base in that city, he added.
“Once you can guarantee that you’re going to sell tickets, there’s a progression of clubs you can go to,” Garrod said. “We started out at a small club called the Elbo Room, where we played every Monday night for a year, really cutting our teeth, then moved up to the bigger clubs, like the Great American Music Hall.”
That got Tea Leaf Green out on the road, touring across the nation — including stops here in Florida. The band is making a return visit here this weekend, and will play a show at the Crowbar in Ybor City on Sunday, March 25, supported by The Groves. The performance in Central Florida comes on the heels of the release of the band’s seventh studio album, “Radio Tragedy!” and a well-received New Year’s Eve show in Tampa with Hasidic reggae legend Matisyahu.
“We’ve been in Tampa a few times,” Garrod said. “I think it’s great playing there. I don’t think people are too different from one place to another. Audiences are pretty universal.”
The band members – in addition to Garrod, the others are Josh Clark on guitar and vocals, Reed Mathis on bass guitar and vocals, Scott Rager on drums and percussion and Cochrane McMillan on percussion – all hail from the San Francisco Bay area. That’s a part of the country still associated in the minds of some older music fans with the psychedelic sound of the late 1960s, when bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin got their start there.
Garrod said the San Francisco music scene still has roots in that tradition, but he added that it’s a lot more diverse today.
“I’m San Francisco born and bred,” he said. “My whole family has been in the area for 150 years. I just feel like we represent the folk contingent of the rock movement in San Francisco. We’re not too concerned with fads. There’s still a lot of the leftovers of the whole Grateful Dead-sort of family of music, and it’s still kind of alive and well. We’ve been kind of like in that sort of family for a while. But as far as what the San Francisco music scene is like today, that’s a tough question. There’s a lot of different subgenres, I would say. There’s been a lot of sort of kitschy Jazz going on lately. But really, when it comes to Tea Leaf, we are definitely of that lineage of the San Francisco’s psychedelic movement. I grew up listening to my dad’s old records from that time. I think there’s a direct lineage from that.”
Tea Leaf Green was formed by two high school friends, Clark and Rager, and put it together while they were in college, Garrod said.
“We were all in college in San Francisco and we started playing around, and when we graduated from college, we all hit the road instead of getting jobs, and that’s where we’ve been ever since,’ he said. “Four years ago we lost our original bass player (Ben Chambers) and then last year we added a second drummer, just to keep things new and fresh.”
They first began performing in 1996, and are still going strong 12 years later.
“We stuck around and never left,” he said, adding that Tea Leaf Green has had an opportunity to really perfect their sound in their years on stage.
“It’s really come a long way since the early days where we were a college jam band in the late 1990s,” Garrod said. “Now we’re kind of exploring a whole new front, and getting much more involved in the studio.”
Although the band has released albums on compact disc, Garrod thinks their focus will always be about performing live on stage.
“We’ve always been about our live shows,” he said. “That’s always been our bread and butter. The reality is you can’t make any money selling records anymore.”
But he does think Tea Leaf Green has enough experience that they know how to involve an audience in their performance.
“It’s really an accidental thing,” he said. “We’re a very egalitarian band. There’s no one person in front all the time. We all take care of singing and doing solos, and we’re very much into improvising and being in the moment — which could be a disaster, but for some reason by happenstance it’s not. There is an element of chaos in what we do — which you need. We go in with a plan, of course, but it’s the chaos in which we shine.”
The Crowbar is in the Ybor City neighborhood, at 1812 N. 17th St. in Tampa. To learn more about the show, call 813-241-8600.
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