As far as navigating a global pandemic goes, Sam Teskey is doing well. It’s a Wednesday afternoon and the Grammy-nominated member of The Teskey Brothers is talking me through his array of isolation hobbies: woodwork, sauerkraut and pickle fermentation, a sourdough culture he’s nursing, a chook pen that needs to be fixed. All “homely” things he says he’s neglected lately.
“I think we’re seeing a lot of people really working on their veggie gardens,” he says, after a brief conversation about his personal stash of microgreens. “You can kind of see this amazing change in the world that might be a little snapshot of what it would look like if we live a bit of a slower life, you know? I think the world got really, really flat out for a little bit there for a lot of people.”
Teskey speaks as though he’s reflecting on his own whirlwind year, one that saw The Teskey Brothers’ second album ‘Run Home Slow’ released to critical acclaim. Once the Warrandyte boys were gigging around Melbourne trying to catch a break, now they’re multi-ARIA award winners with a following both here and overseas. It can be hard to believe that the man on the phone humbly spinning stories of his garden was nominated for Best Engineered Album at the 2020 Grammys.
Teskey’s been avoiding going to the shops where possible, but he’s noticed a bunch of local cafés selling flour and other groceries, a last attempt to get by. This prefaces a lengthy monologue on how “tricky” it is for certain industries during this monumental time – the lack of live music, the element of uncertainty. His heart goes out to all the artists who have cancelled tours, delayed albums and lost money. He knows he’s one of the lucky ones.
“We’re very fortunate because we sort of had planned to have this time off really,” he earnestly admits. His brother Josh – and the band’s vocalist and rhythm guitarist – had recently had a baby and the guys were unanimous in feeling he needed time to “just indulge in his new little family”. So, they budgeted, planned and pre-prepared a rousing live album to be released at this time, coincidentally in the midst of a global pandemic.
“It was going to come out on Record Store Day and, of course, that didn’t happen. To have a live album being released at this time when everyone’s so deprived of live music, you know, I think we’re very fortunate to already have that over recorded and ready to go.”
‘Live At The Forum’ is a collection of songs from both ‘Run Home Slow’ and their 2017 debut ‘Half Mile Harvest’, recorded live across four sold-out shows at the Melbourne institution, last November. Nothing is quite the same as being there in person, but the 14-track album does its best at capturing the indescribable magic of a Teskey show.
For Sam Teskey, those hometown shows were, and always have been, “particularly special for many reasons”. Despite their vast fan base stretching across the Pacific, he firmly acknowledges the fans who once saw them play to 15 people and now get to share their success as they move into one bigger room after another. Sure, The Teskey Brothers have managed to play to huge crowds at Bonnaroo and Latitude Festival, but the love that they got from just 300 people at The Gasometer is incomparable in its own way.
“The last two years have all been like very special for us, like we’ve been kind of just keeping peace in ourselves with the sort of the opportunities that we’ve been getting, and the festivals we’ll be playing, and the size venues that we’ve been kind of selling out,” Teskey explains. “We haven’t really had a chance to stop and think about it and sort of be like, ‘Oh, this is amazing where we’re at now!’
“We wanted to kind of capture where we are at with performing in this in this moment… because the next tour is going to be different, all tours after now are going to be different. We’re constantly going to be releasing music and changing our sounds and doing different things. So, I think [‘Live At The Forum’ is] just a little snapshot of moments throughout our career.”
The freewheeling blues and roots that dominate The Teskey Brothers’ music has the warmth and comfort of a former life, ripped from decades past and re-worked for our modern, arguably more disillusioned time. Their shows, whether consciously or not, become a soulful place to forget your troubles.
A video of ‘Hold Me’ recorded live at The Forum and released in March, shows the spell-binding way a simple a cappella moment can unite a room of over 2,000 people. At one point, amidst the crooning, Josh hands the reigns over to the room.
“Having people singing along, for our music, is actually quite a funny thing,” Sam Teskey muses. The band are known for their spontaneity, one that places their performances somewhere between a painfully tight cross-continental touring band and a couple of brothers jamming in a garage, ebbing and flowing with whatever comes naturally.
“It’s a funny thing because [sometimes] you can really hear the crowd because they’re trying to say it in one way, and Josh is singing this other way. And I think it’s a very interesting point of connection there. It’s kind of like you find yourself all working together in a room; the audience and the band is all working together to try and push this sort of thing along.”
This “anticipation” is one of his favourite parts of performing, echoed in the loud, shameless audience singalongs that ‘Live In The Forum’ captures. Much like Teskey gigs themselves, these recordings are passionate and engaging, perfect to sit and actively listen to or to throw on in the background and reminisce on nights spent out and about. There’s even a stripped-back John Lennon cover thrown in the mix.
“I hope that this album is something that people can put the headphones on and listen to it in terms of isolation and pretend they’re at a live performance,” Teskey says of the album’s timely release. “You know, just listen to it from start to finish and really feel and try get into that connection of being with us in a live aspect because, really, there’s nothing like it.”
In the meantime, Teskey is revelling in his newfound “wholesome” lifestyle. He’s itching to get back on stage and hoping this period of solidarity will leave people “thirsty” for live music again but isn’t dismissing the opportunity to get back to basics.
There’s a quiet luxury in being creative on your own schedule, he’s found. “It’s a secret little musician’s thing to hold on to,” he says. “[We] now have an excuse to just sit at home and write music and be creative, and the labels won’t look down and say ‘No, you need to be touring this album, you need to be releasing the single, doing this stuff’.
“I’m sort of foreseeing this amazing sort of implant of music [that’s] going to probably come out next year. There’s going to be just an influx of amazing creativity and I think we’re probably going to really pioneer and break through some huge musical barriers, as a creative collective. I think that’s [one] of the positive things to look at during this time.”
The Teskey Brothers’ album, ‘Live At The Forum’, is out now. Watch their behind-the-scenes documentary below.