The Teskey Brothers On Festival Sets, Songwriting & The Sonic Building Blocks Of New Album ‘Run Home Slow’Written by David James Young on September 9, 2019
Whatever an overnight success is, The Teskey Brothers ain’t it. The band – previously based in regional Victoria but now calling Melbourne home – were a bar-band for the better part of a decade before they ever started getting any attention. Hell, it wasn’t even until 2016 that they even played outside of Victoria – and once word got out, there was no going back. The four-piece sold out out four nights at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel without an LP out. When said LP arrived, in the form of 2017’s Half Mile Harvest , the blues-rockers hit a new high of momentum – the ensuing tour would go on for some 18 months, across the country and into international terrain, before their feet finally touched the ground.
Rather than be intimidated by the success of Half Mile Harvest, the band has capitalised on it with the writing, recording and now release of album number two, Run Home Slow. Ahead of their biggest Australian tour to date this coming November, the band’s bassist Brendon Love took Music Feeds behind the scenes of its creation.
Music Feeds: The band has had a huge run of festival appearances this year, including Splendour in the Grass just last month. How was that experience for you and the rest of the band?
Brendon Love: It was surprising, actually. It was the first time I’d even so much as attended the festival. I think it’s pretty safe to say that it’s a festival where the demographic skews a little younger to what we’re used to. You never know how a festival mainly oriented towards hip-hop and indie is going to react to a band that primarily plays blues and soul music. That said, I think it turned out to be a pretty good vibe. It was on the Sunday, so I think the crowd we had were pretty welcoming of something a little more chilled out. We ended up having a really great night, overall.
MF: What’s the ratio been like between the old material and the new material in the lead-up to the release of Run Home Slow? Had you been road-testing much of the album prior to it coming out?
BL: Yeah, definitely. Of course, we’ve had the three singles come out, so we’ve introduced those into the set over the last few months. Gradually, we’ve also been pulling in other tracks from the album to be included as well. As time goes on, I’m sure we’ll get around to making the split between the two albums a bit more even-keeled.
MF: It seems like the band hasn’t had a lot of downtime between Half Mile Harvest and Run Home Slow. Was this an album that was more pieced together from a songwriting standpoint?
BL: In a way, I suppose it was. As soon as we finished the first album, we just kept writing – we didn’t stop just on the account of putting out Half Mile Harvest. We ended up with this surplus of material, and we were storing it up with the intention of turning it into the second album. What ended up happening, though, is that a lot of it ended up getting used for an EP and a few singles that came out in the interim. A year after we put out the first album, we kind of just drew a line in the sand. We started afresh, and everything you hear on Run Home Slow materialised from there.
Everyone in the band writes. Despite what the name of the band says, we’re all really involved in the process. There’s never a shortage of material to draw from, that’s for sure. We’re always working.
MF: How would you describe the dynamic between you and your bandmates for the uninitiated? Are there people within the band that typically take the lead when you’re making new music?
BL: It’s a fairly open process, I’d say. I think it depends. Everyone works really differently within the band. Someone might come in the room one day with a few basic chords and a little idea, just to see where it might go. When it gets shown to the whole band, we’ll see if we can’t build up something around it. Sometimes we might hone in on something in particular that we really like, and that will end up being the foundation for something different entirely. Other times, it might already be good to go – someone will bring in a full song they’ve written, and we won’t need to do much at all.
Through the years of being in this band, I’ve found that everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing music. Where someone might not be particularly comfortable, another one of us will be right at home. The way that we work together means that we’re complementing one another, filling in the gaps to make something that plays to the best of our abilities. It works out quite nicely.
MF: Was there anything that you achieved on Run Home Slow that you feel as though you didn’t achieve on Half Mile Harvest?
BL: Definitely. With everything we’ve ever done, we’ve gone in with an idea of what we’re setting out to accomplish. The first album had a very clear of idea of that. For the second album, very early on, I identified a few key points of what I wanted to do with this record – and a lot of it had to do with shaking the foundations of it. Instrumentation was a big part of it. I was really keen to draw from a different sonic palette than we had on the first album. I didn’t want there to be as big a focus on guitars, or just limiting the scope to the sound of the four-piece. I was really interested in widening the atmosphere in our music. I was thinking big – piano, strings, pedal steel, lots of percussive elements. It was a very conscious decision from the start.
I was also interested in making a record that was deeper, from a personal standpoint. One of my favourite parts of making this record was the four of us sitting around and really just getting into it, seeing what we could forge out of the songs we were writing.
MF: Were you concerned about The Teskey Brothers falling into some sort of holding pattern? Was repeating yourself a concern?
BL: We were definitely aware that making Half Mile Harvest 2.0 was not of interest to any of us. That was both for our listeners’ sake, and for ours as well. We were really interested in our own development and creativity as a band. We wanted to push ourselves, and try new things out. I think we’ve become really confident – we used to worry so much when we’d start work on new songs. “Does this sound like us?” “Does this sound too much like someone else?” “Can we do something like this?” Over time, I think we’ve come to realise that it doesn’t matter what we do. If we’re making it, and it’s from all four of us, it’s going to sound like us. It was that which allowed us to follow our curiosities on this album. We weren’t shy.
MF: Was there any song in particular on Run Home Slow that set off that chain of events?
BL: It took awhile to formulate the concept as a whole. I generally approach an album that way – not just looking at a collection of songs, but the consistency therein. It’s a body of work, with a theme and at least some kind of sub-narrative. We had about 35 songs that we’d written and demoed all up. There wasn’t really an “a-ha” kind of moment. We took quite awhile between pre-production and demoing, figuring out exactly what we were going to do. It was less of a light-bulb moment, and more of a process of being in the laboratory. [laughs] Once we identified what was resonating the most with us, we started to whittle down the songs that were best capturing what we were trying to say.
MF: 35 songs is a lot to work through – did you entertain the idea of a double album?
BL: [laughs] Not really. We’re really into vinyl, and the idea of an LP. 42 minutes of music is a great amount of time to focus your attention on something. Anything more than that, it can get a little lost. When I say we had 35 songs, that’s not necessarily to say they were 35 great songs. [laughs] You sort of have to go through a process of making all those songs in order to get to the best ones. When the next album cycle starts, you start it up all over again.
MF: What was the curation process like? How did you whittle it down to what we hear on Run Home Slow?
BL: There was a lot of discussion. We listened to the songs a lot, and we were playing them to other people – label people, friends and family. We wanted to get some objective opinions on it. Sometimes, it’s hard when you’re so close to it. There are definitely songs that didn’t make it onto the album that at least one member was really vouching for, so it probably wasn’t as smooth of a democratic process as it could have been. Having said that, I feel like we got pretty close. I think that’s just the nature of trying to make something great – it’s hard to do something that pleases everyone.
MF: Is there any track in particular that’s the most stylistically and creatively different from Half Mile Harvest?
BL: The obvious one would be ‘Sunshine Baby’. It’s a bit of an outlier on this record, let alone in relation to the first record. That came about because I was messing about on a banjo, and Josh [Teskey, vocals/guitar] started singing along and coming up with words on the spot. It sounded like this classic, old-timey nostalgic song from the ’30s. As we worked on it, we realised we needed to play it straight and perform it exactly in this way. It couldn’t exist in any other format. It was really exciting to commit to something like that, going all the way down that road. It breaks the album up nicely, too.
MF: You have more and more touring scheduled on the back of Run Home Slow, including your biggest Australian tour to date. How are you handling the increase in both attention and demand for the band live within the immediate Teskey Brothers camp?
BL: It takes it toll, but we all have pretty strict work ethics. We’ve all worked together in different trades, putting in the hard slogs outside of music. We know all about the long hours, the late nights, the early flights, the bad food. [laughs] It can be a mixed experience, but it’s a small price to pay when you think about the fact that we’re four mates that get to travel the world playing music together. As long as we’re finding the balance, and we’re always coming back to our families and taking time away from it all, we know how to manage it.