MONTREAL - Mid-1770s colonial America just called – they want the title of their tea-tax protest back. This would almost be a less surprising development than the current circumstances, which find the American right-wing Tea Party movement offering Canadian left-leaning alternative-rock band the Tea Party rather large bags of cash in exchange for the rights to its Internet domain name, TeaParty.com.
It’s a scenario that, according to Tea Party bassist/multi-instrumentalist Stuart Chatwood, is as amusing from the inside looking out as it is from the outside looking in.
“As the guy who’s been in charge of the website since the early ’90s, I’ve had the opportunity to watch this (state of affairs) grow organically,” laughs Chatwood, who was the one who had the presence of mind to register the band’s domain name in 1993. “Even back then we were getting offers from actual tea parties in different parts of the States, like, ‘I want to buy your name because I want to have old ladies get together at the church!’
“But when the political movement took off – and was sort of fabricated and grown artificially by Fox, in my opinion anyway – all of a sudden all of these legitimate offers started coming in. … Ideally, I’d like to sell it to someone who’s against the Tea Party movement, but you know … at a certain point, we do have families, we’re not idiots.”
Betting men have TeaParty.com going anywhere from the high six digits to a magical 1 million simoleons.
“Regardless of what happens, we’ve received a million dollars in press already,” says Chatwood. “And it’s all coincidence; you have to trust me on this. But it does look like we’re marketing geniuses because all of a sudden everyone’s talking about the band again out of the blue.”
Which is, in and of itself, something of an unexpected development, considering that just recently the Tea Party – the musical troupe – could only be discussed in the past tense. Jeff Martin (vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, controversialist) unilaterally announced the dissolution of the band in 2005, much to the surprise and annoyance of Chatwood and drummer Jeff Burrows, leaving behind a rich legacy of blues-infused, progressively inclined rock albums – seven in total between 1991 and 2004 – that were notable for their heavy Middle Eastern and Indian influences. It was dubbed “Moroccan roll,” and for all their detractors, the Tea Party were one of the most successful homegrown groups of the 1990s, boasting a substantial demographic of devotees across Canada, as well as Europe and Australia especially.
So despite Martin calling a premature time of death in 2005, and after several rounds of dedicated soul searching, the Tea Party brought itself back to life earlier this year. But this wasn’t a happy Lazarus at first. Prior to reunification, Chatwood says, “(Burrows and I) weren’t involved in Jeff Martin’s life at all – the band had left on acrimonious terms – so we felt the best way to fix things was to be involved in each other’s lives again. But there are still a lot of fences to mend; a lot of damage was done in the intervening years.”
There is an air of unfinished business, of things yet unsaid. Martin is clearly, and by all accounts, the elephant in the room when it comes to any unresolved issues.
“Um, well, you’re right,” affirms Chatwood. “A lot of damage was done in the six years that we were apart. There wasn’t a lot of communication, and a lot of things got misinterpreted and everyone has their egos, so we’re all treading carefully, I guess. It’s a very slow, uphill battle to get back to where we were.”
The elephant, for the time being at least, continues to enjoy sanctuary within the band’s caginess, as Chatwood delicately manoeuvres around it, noting that while they’re not playing any new material, the current tour is not a one-off cash grab, but rather the first big step on their way to being a band again.
“Our goal is to get back to the really creative years that we had when we were recording with world music instruments and pulling in influences from everywhere and reinterpreting things and creating a new sound.”
These celebrated sons of Windsor (Ontario, that is) spent a number of those halcyon years in the island kingdom of Montreal, where the band pitched its tent from the mid-’90s until 2001.
“We moved there because we felt that, culturally, it was the best city in Canada,” says Chatwood, who now lives in Vancouver. “We made three records in and around Montreal at the prime of our career. The Edges of Twilight (1995) was written there, Transmission (1997) was fully recorded there, and Triptych (1999) was recorded just north of the city.”
The Tea Party offers its one-time hometown no small measure of credit for successes past and, by the band’s hopeful reckoning, future.
“The Montreal audience is the best audience in Canada, I’d say,” Chatwood remarks, before pausing. “I don’t know if this story is going to be syndicated, but it doesn’t matter; it’s true.
“People go to concerts to have an experience,” he continues. “It’s not a place to polish your glasses and bring out a notebook and judge. It’s more of an emotional thing; Montrealers are in touch with their emotions. One clear example of that would be when you ask the audience to clap – in a lot of cities there’s no rhythm, just a cacophony of claps. In Montreal they’re lockstep, so obviously they’re good in bed or something – the passion runs deep.”
The Tea Party performs Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Metropolis, 59 Ste. Catherine St. E., with the Reason. Tickets: $37.50. 514-790-1245; admission.com.
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