In Seattle, The Tea Party isn’t a social gathering, it’s an event.
The pan-cultural rock trio from Windsor, Ontario, is on the brink of a national breakthrough with its second Chrysalis/EMI album, “The Edges of Twilight,” an eclectic mix of influences that virtually defies categorization. If their burgeoning popularity can be traced to any one place, oddly enough, it’s the seaport hometown of grunge rock.
“The first time we showed up there, there were 600 people at our show,” bassist-keyboardist Stuart Chatwood said recently. “Then we came back a few months later and played to 1,300 people at the Moore Theater. Now they’ve offered to fly us back from a tour in Europe to play the Paramount, which seats about 3,200.”
Radio stations in Seattle played tracks off the new album, primarily the first single “Fire in the Head” and the epic “Sister Awake,” weeks before it was released. Fans have been buying import copies at $20 apiece.
Chatwood can’t explain Seattle’s affinity for The Tea Party’s seminal rock sound, but he thinks part of the attraction might be their fearless eccentricity. Chatwood, singer-guitarist Jeff Martin and drummer Jeff Burrows thrive on blowing caution to the wind.
“We’re not afraid to do things that maybe disturb some people or maybe people wouldn’t feel comfortable with,” said Chatwood, who bristles at any comparisons to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull.
“What we’re trying to do is move music forward. We’re sort on the cusp of something that’s new and challenging. What we’re trying to do is incorporate as many elements of world music and put them into a hard rock, intense setting. I almost don’t enjoy calling it rock anymore. I’d rather just call it intense music.”
On “The Edges of Twilight” and when the band goes on tour, there are upward to 30 instruments at their disposal: mandolin, harmonium, sitar, hurdy gurdy, harp guitar, tabla, djemba. You name it.
It’s a diversity similar to Dead Can Dance, a group Chatwood acknowledges is an inspiration. “They also share the no-fear factor,” he said. “Having fear is total misery. You’ve got to be willing to take chances, and Dead Can Dance has that sort of same attitude. They approach instruments that maybe are sacred to certain cultures and they throw out some of the conventions and re-interpret them.”
Chatwood, Martin and Burrows attended the same high school in Windsor but were in different bands. Fed up with the politics of their respective groups, the three merged to form “a band that would play music for music’s sake,” Chatwood said.
“That’s what was missing from all the other bands we were in,” he said. “We knew we had to go for this and make it happen. Fatalistically, the other bands – through none of our guidance – split up within 48 hours of our first rehearsal.”
With its 1993 debut LP, “Splendor Solis,” The Tea Party reached platinum status in Canada but failed to make an impression in the United States.
“We’re just trying to let people know about us now,” Chatwood said. “We don’t want to get lost in the shuffle again.”
BWF (before we forget): The Tea Party later landed on Atlantic Records, which released the group’s third album, “Transmission,” on Aug. 19, 1997. … Join The Tea Party on the Web @ www.teaparty.com/tp or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.