SONG PREMIERE: Tea Leaf Green – “Nature Made You Music” & Reed Mathis Exclusive Interview

In a return of form to the improvisational music era of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, Tea Leaf Green is going single length statement instead of album-length statement in 2014.  As part of their recent Coyote Sessions recordings, the SF Bay area band is releasing a new song as a free download the last Wednesday of each month in 2014. Glide Magazine is proud to premiere July’s “Nature Made You Music” (below) from these sessions, an insightful perspective penned by bassist Reed Mathis about the underlying purpose and unknown yet rewarding destination of being a career musician.  The track trickles with experimental flourishes and a tantalizing mix of sounds that shows how creatively and emotionally Tea Leaf has grown from its earlier loose rocking days.

“Nature Made You Music” was  produced by Jeremy Black and features special guest drummer Andrew Barr (The Barr Brothers, The Slip) and Dan Lebowitz (ALO) on pedal steel. Just prior to the premier, Mathis was cool enough to share some perceptive about this track and what s been going on his both Tea Leaf Green his own world of late….

First of all I wanted to talk about the new song “Nature Made You Music” that Glide is premiering here. Can you please provide a bit of what inspired it and was it written with the Coyote Sessions in mind?

In this song a poor frightened soul is panicking, pouring its heart out to a dear trusted friend. This friend answers back, one sentence only, with pinpoint emotional precision, and the frightened soul is healed.

I wrote the song years ago, actually. It’s a bit of a portrait of all of us….all the traveling musicians I’ve known and observed over the last twenty years…’s what our psyche sometimes have to go through. It’s the terror in your gut when you perceive the vast chasm between creativity’s source and its eventual marketing and sale. When something you practice as a religion, a martial-art, is perceived as an attempt at fame, an attempt at fashion, an attempt at coolness.

And they don’t want no artists, they want Celebrities.

When, in fact, music is truly none of those things. Music is….. well, you know. If you’re doing it for a reward you will be denied the true reward!

reedmathisAndrew Barr and Dan Leibowitz contributed to this track as well, what did their talents bring to the track and how does the band go about typically choosing contributors to tracks?

Well, those guys are truly two of my biggest teachers and it is an incredible honor to make music with them, to be near their vibration. Lebo & I have been playing together quite a bit lately, in various forms.  And I can honestly say he has made me a better person and a better musician. I asked him to please contribute on this song and he cast his Lebo spell all over the right-hand speaker.

Andrew Barr….I mean…ask anybody. The guy is possibly the greatest musician I’ve ever seen on any instrument. (He’s at least in a tie with some others at the top.) I’m actually playing bass with The Barr Brothers a bit in August, so it seemed like an opportune time to collaborate with a dear old friend, who also happens to embody a fair share of Buddhahood. His drumming on the song leaves me speechless. Very special.

Why did you decide to go the route of releasing a free song every month? Did you just want to provide a different format for the fans to keep them tuned over a longer period of time?

Well, I’m a student of music history and a believer in the cyclical nature of things. So I’ve been noticing for years the trend away from album-length statements and a bit of a return to the pre-Elvis mentality of singles. Single releases and plenty of ’em. That’s way improvised music was first sold. Duke Ellington and Bob Wills and Louis Armstrong… they were constantly releasing little bits of music, bite size. And people got hooked! Seems like the culture merry-go-round is in this vicinity. So why not lean in to it? Let’s make some singles!

It’s been said that songwriting is subconscious, it just leaks out of you -sometimes you don’t write the song, the song writes you. What songs on the Coyote Sessions came about that way?

Well, saying what songwriting “IS” is dangerous… eternally, true mysteries don’t like to be pinned down… they’ll become their own opposite, just to keep you humble! It’s hard to say. For me, they do seem to just show up on the doorstep, scratching at the screen, wanting milk. It’s not a choosing procedure that many people assume it is. We don’t decide to write about a subject or to strike a stance or a mood. Ideally, it would be completely involuntary, like DNA or hair color. The other song I’ve contributed to the Coyote Sessions, “The Ladder”…same thing. Fell out in under 10 minutes. The magic trick is what keeps us hooked, right?

Does the band have any personal involvement in Coyote Hearing Studio? What is the band’s relationship with the studio?

We do, indeed! Our drummer, Cochrane McMillan, owns and operates the studio (which is in Oakland, CA), along with his partner Jeremy Black, who happens to be my favorite producer of all time (personal experience).

What have been some of your fondest studio memories as a musician in terms of sound quality and overall musical/creative experience?

The studio is wonderful thing. Playing live music is hunting, playing studio music is cooking. Or, photography vs. painting. It’s a stationary art-form, out of the realm of time, capable of the humanly impossible, a place to experiment with ideals, and have visions.

My favorite studio thing I’ve ever made is definitely JFJO’s “Winterwood,” which was my 15th and final album with JFJO, a journey that began in high school. We recorded it in two weeks, and it is, for this customer, utterly perfect. I worked very hard on it, feeling the urge to summarize and pay fitting tribute to 15 amazing and special years of discovery and victory. I feel like I succeeded, it was our Abbey Road and a very satisfying feeling.

Also, the album I made with Page McConnell, Unsung Cities and Movies Never Made is a thing of mighty, spacious beauty. The week I spent at the famous Barn in Vermont, enjoying various teas and the sunset over a wintery valley, hearing those glorious, simple tunes, and playing all 35 of Mike’s basses in an all-night duo…. that was a week that I will never forget. And the finished record is a gem.

Is it hard to believe that you’ve been in the band for almost seven years now? How has the band changed musically since your first joined and has the song-writing process changed?

I know, right? Jeez. “Remember when you were young…..”

The band has changed a lot, musically, I think. Depending on what my self-esteem is doing that day, I might think we’ve blossomed into a towering Jurassic Sequoia, or I might very well feel certain that I’ve single-handedly ruined a great band. Either way, it’s kind of far from where it started. But that’s the idea, isn’t it? Unless you wanna join Janis, Hendrix, Charlie Parker, Jim Morrison.. you’d better lock on to evolution and growth. Constant rebirth. It is the way.

In terms of the live performances- what makes a show a standout for you guys these days? Now that you have experience touring all over is it the city, venue or something else that triggers that hot switch?

Hmmm. Hard to say. I think it’s best not to try to describe magic and ghosts and such. Hummingbirds do not wish to be caught.

Having played so long with JFJO- how has this ride been most different creatively and spiritually?

Interesting question. The most obvious difference is that I co-founded JFJO, at the age of 17, and we literally taught each other how to play, and were authors of our style in the most literal sense. Whereas joining TLG, who were a decade deep already, I had to first learn their dialect, which I had not helped shape, and learn to speak it fluently, before I could begin to create with it. So that took time, and was humbling. But the two teams have some wonderful things in common, and some wonderful differences.

Tea Leaf Green wont be playing live again till October it looks like from your tour date page- what has the band been up to this summer?

Well, Jeez…I don’t know about the other guys, but I’ve been gigging my face off! Playing with Keller Williams, Jeff Austin, Bill Kreutzmann, Jen Hartswick, Roosevelt Collier, Dave Watts, Papa Mali, Stu Allen, Lebo, Melvin Seals, and the whole Terrapin gang. Fun!

Cochrane and Trevor and I have a trio project where we speak the improvised dialect we’ve been developing, but not on original material, so we can better explore our group concept without the ego needs of the self-portait. So we’ve recently made our second 12-song record of covers. Should be released (also for free) in September. It contains not a trace of re-enactment, which is my entire goal as an artist.

Like most bands Tea Leaf Green has driven comparisons to many other bands within the improv-rock scene. How would you best describe where Tea Leaf Green fits in the music scene these days?

Ideally we fit in with something that will only make sense in hindsight. But, I can tell you some bands that I would be proud to be associated with: The Barr Brothers, Iron and Wine, Dr. Dog, St. Vincent, Tune-Yards, Wood Brothers, and The Mother Hips.

Is there anything else we can let your fans know about what we can look forward to from Tea Leaf Green?

Hopefully fans of Tea Leaf Green can look forward to something shockingly better than they expected.

Photos by Jay Blakesberg

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