Hailing from Windsor, Ontario, The Tea Party was formed by Jeff Martin, Stuart Chatwood and Jeff Burrows. Although they’d all played in different bands previously, and knew each other, it wasn’t until 1990 while they were each living in Toronto that they decided to form their own group.
Naming themselves after the infamous hash sessions of famous Beat generation poets, they honed their chops on the local circuit for the next year while writing some material, and after forming their own label, Eternal Discs, they spent some time in the studios and cut a series of demos that they began shopping around. The songs were packaged up and their self-titled debut album was released in ’91, beginning the band policy of remaining in creative control by producing it themselves.
Only 3,500 copies were pressed, disc and cassette, and although no singles were released, an independent video for “Let Me Show You The Door” was shot, and gained the band a bit of airplay on MuchMusic. Drawing on both mainstream and eclectic influences that ranged from power rock to psychadelic blues, to hints of East Indian and other World music, some critics coined the term ‘Moroccan roll’ to describe their sound.
The demos had been sitting in the offices at EMI Canada for the better part of two years when they were finally actually noticed. In 1993, they signed the band to a deal and released their first major label recording, SPLENDOR SOLIS, which included five tracks from their debut album, re-recorded. The album recieved generally positive critical appraise for breathing fresh air onto the scene, with a raw organic sound that was compared to the likes of Led Zeppelin (including a guitar solo with violin bow a’la Jimmy Page on “Save Me”), The Doors, and Bad Company that featured acoustic guitars and driving drum beats.
The album soon reached platinum status (100,000 copies) in Canada, and “The River,” “Save Me,” and “A Certain Slant of Light” helped eventally pushed it to double platinum. It was released in Australia a year later, and “Save Me” became a monster hit at several overseas radio stations, launching the band’s career in Australia and in Europe. Reception down under was so great in fact, that the band’s current North America was extended, and now included several dates in Australia and the UK.
This also began a career-long onslaught of CD singles being released, some with remixed and live versions, some with still unreleased material, and a few all by themselves. They returned with THE EDGES OF TWILIGHT in ’95, recorded for the first time in Los Angeles and featuring the singles “Fire in the Head,” “The Bazaar,” “Shadows on the Mountainside,” and “Sister Awake,” which was heralded for combining three separate compositions with acoustically based world music. Ultimately selling nearly 300,000 units, the album was also certified platinum in Australia. For their efforts, they were nominated for a pair of Juno Awards – Best Rock Album and Group of the Year, although they won neither.
Back from a year-long world tour, things started to unravel behind the scenes. Relationships ended, they fired their manager, and listened to the suits in the towers harp about numbers. They released TRANSMISSION in 1997, recorded over nearly a year in Montreal, Morin Heights, and LA. The record contained some of their most experimental music to date. Hard driving World music mixed with electronica and a healthy dose of samplings throughout, it’s aggressiveness was influenced by all that had been going on around them. Five singles were released, but what the band saw as a growing lack of support resulted in only “Temptation” and “Release” breaking the top 10 at home.
They ended the decade with TRIPTYCH, emerging from the studios with a more full bodied sound than before. Dabbling in quasi-orchestral arrangements mixed with an industrial pounding, the first single, “Heaven Coming Down” rose to #1 on the Canadian chart, and pushed the album sales past double platinum worldwide, and helped earn them a Juno nomination for Best Rock Album, tho the Holy Grail of Canadian music door stops eluded them. Ulf Buddensieck, director of the video for “Release,” did however win for Best Video Cinematography.
A second, expanded version of the album called TRIPTYCH – THE SPECIAL TOUR EDITION 2000, featured the unreleased “Waiting For A Sign” and “Lifeline,” four live tracks and three remixes. That same year, the label cut their first compilation, TANGENTS: THE TEA PARTY COLLECTION, then a ILLUMINATIONS, a DVD compilation of music videos, a year later while the band took some time off for themselves.
But by the fall of 2001 the record stores were bustling with excitement as THE INTERZONE MANTRAS, named after William S Burroughs’ book of short stories, INTERZONE. Eastern mysticism and the occasional Greek mythology reference creeped into the songwriting, and in many ways, including the less time spent in production (20 days total recording time), it created a more raw result. Despite promising early signs with the singles – “Lullaby,” “Angels,” and “Soulbreaking,” sales at home failed to make platinum, but the album was peaked at #4 on the Australian chart, and earned another nomination for Rock Album of the Year at the Junos in ’03.
The North American tour that ensued was followed by trips to the UK and Europe, as well as their sixth time Down Under. The Canadian leg of the journey in November 2002 saw the band accompanied by local symphony orchestras.
Their manager, Steve Hoffman, succumbed to cancer in October 2003, following which came a time of reflexion and seclusion for the band. Looking for new inspirations while recording, they went to Maui and recorded the base of their final album, 2004’s SEVEN CIRCLES. It marked the first time outside producers were brought in, when Gavin Brown and Bob Rock both lending a production hand.
Following in the vein of its last couple of predecessors, it either enthralled the critics with its musical complexity, or it was tossed aside as disorganized and lacking in direction. Still, the electronica, World music with a rock base mixes found chart success, with “Writing’s on the Wall,” “Stargazer,” and “Oceans, a tribute to Hoffman where sales went to the Steve Hoffman Fund, a lung cancer research group. All three singles made the top 40, the album peaked at #5 in Canada and #8 in Australia, and earned them a gold album and another nomination but no win at the Junos for Rock Album of the Year.
In October 2005, the band had differing opinions on their breakout. Martin made some less than favourable comments when he unveiled his desire for a solo career, while Chatwood and Burrows said as far as they knew they “were just taking a break.” By that time, the band had been nominated for 22 MuchMusic Video Awards, winning the People’s Choice Award for Favourite Music Video twice – for “The River” and “The Bazaar.”
Nonetheless, Martin moved to Ireland and recorded his debut solo album EXILE AND THE KINGDOM, released in Canada and Australia in 2006. Touring as a solo artist, he also has released two live albums, LIVE IN BRISBANE in ’06, and LIVE IN DUBLIN a year later. He formed The Armada, his new quasi-electronica group in 2008, which morphed into Jeff Martin 777 and the first album THE GROUND CRIES OUT in 2010, which peaked at #51 on the Canadian Albums Chart.
Chatwood meanwhile continued working on video game soundtracks, something he’d started doing on the side a couple of years earlier, including “Prince of Persia.” Burrows ended up working in radio in Windsor, and doing other outside recording projects. He joined Rush‘s Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, among others, in the one-off project The Big Dirty Band. In ’08 he formed Crash Karma with Edwin, Mike Turner and Amir Epstein, releasing their debut album early the next year.
Internet hype was abuzz in 2011, when rumours of a reunion were finally confirmed, and the band hooked up for a series of shows, including in front of 60,000 people in Sarnia, Ont for the Roger’s Bayfest, The Barrie New Music Festival and the Frestival of Friends in Hamilton.
Later that year, Yahoo.com reported that the American political group associated with the Tea Party movement was trying to purchase the band’s domain name, and it was estimated it could go for over $1 million.