Interviews

Finding unexpected success, an addiction to soul and dreams of American soil with The Teskey Brothers

Chances are that if you’ve heard of The Teskey Brothers, you’ll have already shed a tear, or at the very least had an uninhibited groove to their debut, self-produced LP Half Mile Harvest. Having hit number 18 on the ARIA charts, number one on the Aussie Indie Charts, and having sold out two of three Melbourne shows on their upcoming tour, there are some big things ahead for these four blues singing Aussie blokes.

I spoke to harp playing, soul warbling front man Josh Teskey about the album’s surprise mainstream success, humanity’s unbreakable connection to soul and blues, their upcoming national tour, dreams of America, and more.

the teskey brothers interview

Half Mile Harvest is a holy experience beginning to end, a heartbreaking, heavily emotive throwback to the days of Otis Redding and Johnnie Taylor.

HAPPY: You and the band just released your debut LP Half Mile Harvest, and it’s very much a throwback to the Stax days. What inspired that blues and soul sound? And in particular your singing?

JOSH: I’ve always, always been into that old soul Stax stuff, and I put a lot of blame on my parents’ record collection. Otis Redding was a big one who got me into that, he was one of my biggest influences but I think once you delve down the rabbit hole that is soul music, you start following all those kind of characters. You’ve got Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, Sam Cooke, I love them all so much, and I guess since I was about 12 years old I’ve been trying to sing like a soul singer.

HAPPY: Well, you’ve definitely mastered that! Tell me the story of how the band got together. There are clearly some Allman Brothers dynamics going on.

JOSH: Well that’s right. Sam and I have been playing together since we were really young, we both started playing guitar and messing around, our dad’s a guitarist as well, so we were learning guitar very early on, and had a real connection playing music together. I was about 14 and he was around 12, and we were attempting blues and soul stuff even back then, trying to get that old Robert Johnson sound.

We did a lot of busking, we used to go out to a country market near where we live and we would busk on a regular Saturday, and at about the age of 16 we got offered our first proper gig just from busking. The other boys are from around the same area which is how we met them, we pretty much got into it and have been playing together in this format for about ten years.

HAPPY: Oh wow. So, where and with who did you record Half Mile Harvest?

JOSH: It was recorded in our home studio Half Mile Harvest out in Warrandyte. Sam, my brother, he was the main engineer on the whole thing. We call it a home studio but it’s pretty far from that. Sam’s a fantastic engineer so it’s really nice to have that space to record in. Basically the goal with this album was to try and replicate that old soul sound, there was a lot of old soul recording equipment, a lot of analogue stuff, we’ve got an old tape machine from the 70s, and the whole album was recorded completely to analogue so there were no computers used throughout, which is for us a really important part of the album.

We wanted to create something that sounded, and looked like, with the artwork, something out of that Stax era. We love those records and recording to tape you can get this sound that you can’t really get any other way, and we really love that about it. I always rave on about the vocal sound through tape machines, there’s this sound, this kind of crunch when you run hot into a tape machine, and sing really loud up into those ribbon mics, you get this crunch which for me represents that sound of that era, all those soul singers who were really dynamic singers would get that crunching peaking sound as they sung too loud into the microphone so that’s the kind of sound we wanted. We love recording that way.

HAPPY: You mentioned that you wanted the album art to have that old school vibe, and I noticed that it looked quite similar to Neil Young’s Harvest. Was that intentional?

JOSH: Yeah, we definitely took a bit of that and went “yeah, we want to do something similar in that vein” and then, completely unintentionally, the album was called Half Mile Harvest (laughs) which is really, really close, but we’re happy with that because we love Harvest and we’re happy to give a thumbs up to that. It’s the sort of music that we just love.

HAPPY: Ok, cool. So who wrote the songs on the record? Was it a collective effort?

JOSH: The songs were all written by various people within the band, and we’ve all had equal input into them. For example, Louisa is our drummer Liam’s song, he had written it, and we put our bit on it which is one way we write. Other times we do more of a collaboration, Pain and MiseryCrying Shame, and a few of those ones are things that our bass player Brandon has come up with the guitar line for, and I would write the lyrics and bring that to the table, so that’s pretty much how we write.

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HAPPY: Is there a particular track that stands out as your favourite?

JOSH: For me Crying Shame and Pain and Misery are sort of my babies, and throughout the album you can pick the songs that have been influenced by a certain member of the band. The more soul sounding tunes are my ones, the heartbreak soul tunes!

HAPPY: They really are heartbreakers, brilliant stuff. Now, the album hit number one on the Aussie indie charts and I’m quite shocked to hear that you guys are still an independent band. Is that a conscious decision or are you looking to be signed?

JOSH: Well things have moved really quickly for us, it’s been a super exciting year. I mean we released this album without any management, no label, nothing, it was really just us having a crack at it, we really had no idea what we were doing, we just recorded the music that we love, in a way that we love to record, and we were amazed that there is still, and always has been this love and support. I think blues and soul always connects with people and so there’s been this real big movement the last few months.

Only now are we gathering help along the way, but we’re enjoying being independent. We’ve talked about it a bit, about going down that road of a bigger label there would be some major benefits, but if we could do it by ourselves we would love to stay this way, and record in our own studio, we have everything there for us to do it, so we’ll see how we go when we get to the next album.

HAPPY: Definitely. Now you guys also peaked and are sitting at number 18 on the ARIA charts, what’s it like to be getting such a great response for your debut body of work? Especially considering it’s a blues and soul record which you don’t see too much of in the charts these days.

JOSH: I’m amazed! I just can’t believe it, it’s still sinking in that we’re in the mainstream on the charts. Part of me is amazed that we got there, but then the other part of me says “well blues and soul has always been here, and it’s gonna stay here too, it’s a thing that people all around the world connect with” so, in some ways it doesn’t surprise me. People have always loved it and I think when you’re singing about heartbreak and pain it’s something we can all connect with, something that everyone has been through one way or another, all around the world we can all connect with soul music that way.

HAPPY: Yeah, for sure, and I think right now the world is in need of an album like that. You guys are about to head out on a national tour in support of the record, what can we expect to see during the live shows?

JOSH: Totally. We try to keep everyone comfortable in the room, we’ll be playing all the songs from the album, and we’ll be playing a bunch of new ones as well. We have a bunch of stuff that will be on the new album which we can’t wait to start recording, but we’re not at a stage where we can start doing that yet because we’re still running off the back of this one. It’s dynamic blues and soul, we’ve never ever wanted to force people to be silent and watch, we like to keep it comfortable in there and just have an old club vibe; come in, sit back, have some beers, come up to the front if you want, but we try to keep it comfy in there.

HAPPY: Awesome, I’m really looking forward to that. So, what’s the ultimate goal for the band? Where do you hope to take your music?

JOSH: That’s a good question. You see if you’d asked me that six months ago I would’ve said some of the things that have happened just in the past few months would have been way beyond my goals. I’ve always said with music that I love doing it, and I will always do it, and would like to keep it on the fun side of things but it’s only just dawned on me in the past couple months that I will maybe be able to make a living out of this, and do it all the time. The way I’m looking at it now is that the sky’s the limit!

Some of these festivals that we’re playing I’ve always wanted to play and I’ve always wanted to put out blues and soul records, and play these kind of festivals and that would have been more than enough for me. Now a new goal would be to bring it overseas and go to the roots of where rhythm and blues is, get to America, have a bit of a play and see some of those original soul artists, to see what we could do over there would be a real dream over the next couple of years.

HAPPY: Yeah, definitely. I think you guys would be really smart to go over there with your music, they’d absolutely love it. It’s undeniably impressive that you’re white Aussie dudes playing such soulful black man music, it’s incredible. You’re doing it such justice.

JOSH: Thanks so much!

HAPPY: You’re welcome. So what is it that you hope for people to get out of your music?

JOSH: Even referring to your last comment about us just being white boys playing soul and blues, I think it’s this thing where in this day and age people are playing music from all over the world, and with the internet everything is so accessible you can grow up from a really young age listening to a certain genre whereas many years before that wouldn’t have happened, you would grow up listening to the music in your area and what was common on that scene.

So for me when I’m playing this stuff what I want for people to get out of our music is the love that we have. That connection that we were talking about earlier, of singing soul music and blues music from the heart and the feeling that goes into it, it’s always been really special for me and I’d like to make it special for everyone else as well, that’s how I’ve connected with it.

HAPPY: So what particular blues records have connected with you, and continue to inspire you?

JOSH: A new one for me is Charles Bradley’s first album that he put out, it’s just wild isn’t it? He’s someone bringing out something today in this day and age that people are loving, and he’s singing Soul music from the heart. I saw him live for the first time at Golden Plains in Victoria, and the first time I saw him open his mouth and sing, and the way he closes his eyes and every word comes out with pain and the suffering, that’s real soul music.

So that record for me was going “wow this is someone who is singing soul really where it comes from, that’s a real album, its heartfelt” and it was only recorded a couple years ago. Once again that’s a completely analogue album as well. Going back to the old greats, Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay is the album for me, there is something about that which has had a big influence on my life, and I guess it all comes down to his voice.

HAPPY: Perfect. I have one last question, what makes you happy?

JOSH: Well, we’ve all done various things to get by over the years. I’m a plumber by trade, I did a plumbing apprenticeship, and have been doing quite well so I have a van, I’m doing less of it now, but I can always do little jobs here on the side, work anywhere I can, and work for myself. Sam is a sound engineer he studied sound engineering on the side, all that studio stuff. He’s really incredible and records bands where we recorded our album, so that’s his main thing. Brandon our bass player is a full time musician, he’s always stuck at it. He plays in all sorts of corporate bands, and he plays weddings, he’s an incredible player, and an amazing session player as well.

Liam the drummer is pretty much a full time muso as well, he’s got a couple of other bands, but he’s a great welding fabricator too, he makes bike frames in a factory, and welds some stuff. We got to do little things to make a few bucks, you have to, you know? But playing music makes me very, very happy and this is the first time in my life I’ve realised I’m going to be able to do this for a long time now, and maybe make a living out of it, and that makes me very happy.

 

Catch The Teskey Brothers on tour beginning with Bello Winter Festival on July 6th. Find the full run of dates below:

Half Mile Harvest is out now.