TORONTO – After a quarter-century helming the Tea Party, it would seem that Jeff Martin has tossed any measure of false humility overboard.
Though he’s chatting over the phone from his adopted home of Australia, the shaman of multi-platinum mysticism projects a certain twinkle in his voice as he reflects on his band’s ongoing career with barbed candour.
For instance, as the conversation turns to the Tea Party’s place in the Can-rock hierarchy – after four double-platinum albums and another two certified gold – he doesn’t conceal his pride.
“I’ve been travelling the world … and going to places unknown, like Lebanon, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt,” he says.
“No one knows who the Tragically Hip is in Istanbul. They know damn well who the (expletive) Tea Party is.
“And what an accomplishment.”
In more ways than one, Martin isn’t finished.
His band’s legacy ballooned largely on the strength of 1995’s “The Edges of Twilight,” by a narrow margin the band’s most popular release and the album that the band will celebrate on a cross-Canadian tour beginning in their native Windsor, Ont., on Friday.
The Tragically Hip performs at Caesars Windsor in Windsor, Ontario. Gene Schilling/
The Tragically Hip performs at Caesars Windsor in Windsor, Ontario.
And if Martin comes off brash now – well, that was the mindset that likely made the adventurous, 20-year-old album possible in the first place.
Martin, bassist Stuart Chatwood and drummer Jeff Burrows had noodled around in bands during high school before assembling more formally in 1990.
After self-releasing a recording in 1991, they signed to EMI and issued their major-label debut, “Splendor Solis,” in 1993. Produced by an inexperienced 23-year-old Martin, the album was minted platinum.
For the followup, both expectations and the band’s budget sprouted skywards.
“We had never seen five-digit paycheques in our lives,” Martin says. “We just reinvested. Because we were just three kids out of Windsor.”
As they recorded “The Edges of Twilight” in Los Angeles, “every single day there was a courier showing up with instruments,” Martin recalls.
Increasingly fascinated with Indian and Middle Eastern instrumentation, the record included santoor, sarod, sitar, tampura, hurdy-gurdy, harp guitar, harmonium, goblet drums and 12-string guitar.
When lead single “Fire in the Head” – inspired by Tom Cowan’s book of the same name and Martin’s love affair with an Australian Wiccan – seethed a path to No. 26 on the Canadian chart, it became clear the investment was worthwhile.
“Have you heard of the sophomore jinx?” Martin asks rhetorically. “Usually, maybe six times out of 10, the second record is a bit of a letdown.
“What ‘The Edges of Twilight’ became,” he continues, “was a very, very staunch statement.”
It’s not the only time Martin queries his interviewer.
In fact, Martin pre-emptively asks the first question of the conversation: “As far as a rock trio is concerned, has there ever been a band in Canada that has been so adventurous, as far as instrumentation and actually achieving it?”
The question is met with stumped stammering, and Martin has made his point.
And yet, much of the discussion about the Tea Party in its heyday focused on the frontman’s physical resemblance to Doors leader Jim Morrison.
“Same initials, leather pants, same hair,” Martin sighs.
If that comparison rankled Martin in his 20s, it’s certainly grown no less tiresome in the intervening 20 years.
And it’s the topic that inspires Martin’s next bout of devil-may-care honesty.
“Here it comes, here’s a big statement, but you know what, I can do it now, because I’m going on 45 years old,” he begins.
“Jim Morrison was just a (expletive) kid. Twenty-seven-year-old. And his poetry wasn’t so good. Now, I’ve outlived him, I certainly play guitar better than he ever could.
“And I listen to the Doors’ music now – because I was never, believe it or not, a big Doors fan – and I respect what’s going on, it’s cool, but all that circus organ music? It’s a little scary.”
The comparisons were pervasive (and dismissive) enough that Martin recalls coming home to Windsor and having his upset mother ask: “Who’s this Jim Morrison guy?”
She died a year and a half ago, and coming home now can be a “little bittersweet,” says Martin.
Still, he enjoys spending time with his father and seeing friends and hopes his hometown knows all he’s invested in the Tea Party.
“I would hope,” he says, “that Windsor feels very proud of the achievement that these three little boys from LaSalle, Ontario have done.”