Tea Leaf Green’s keyboardist/vocalist/songwriter – also a farmer, a winemaker, and a botanist – shares stories about how growing up immersed in Nature inspired the lyrics of songs from The Garden Suite to Kali-Yuga to Smoggy Air.
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I first got to know Garrod and Tea Leaf Green during my ecological Ph.D. studies at UC Davis. I was fortunate enough to meet friends of the band and enjoy their early performances at intimate house parties. To put it mildly, we had a lot of fun as Tea Leaf Green launched into an epic run highlighted by sold out shows San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium, a packed showcase at Bonnaroo, and several legendary performances at High Sierra Music Festival.
What drew me to Tea Leaf Green was not only their raucously triumphant rock n’roll concerts, but the band’s meaningful lyrics, many of which are infused with Nature imagery. Take for example a couple of verses from the song, Drink of Streams (Coffee Bean Brown Comes Alive, 2009):
If you’re thirsty drink from me
My toes are tapped to endless springs
Like rooted trees and jealousies
For salty seas of which they dream
So test your eye by meteor
Think with thought of mountain core
Walk the edge of and ocean shore
I’m sure there’s more than this.
I remember once driving back to California from a Colorado ski trip, Tea Leaf Green’s “Looking West” (2010) blasting on my stereo as I cruised across high desert basin and range landscapes:
Go ‘cross the desert and over the mountains
Roll through the valley and into the ocean
Go ‘cross the desert to California
All the way from Baja to the forests of Arcata.
Obviously, I was excited to welcome Garrod as one of our first guests on The Nature of Music podcast, and enjoyed preparing questions for him – including by inviting fans to submit their own (follow The Nature of Music on FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram for opportunities to submit your own fan questions for future guests).
Raised on Cooper Garrod Estates Vineyard in Saratoga, California, Garrod shared memories about how his time studying botany in college profoundly expanded his perspectives before he transitioned to being a full time-musician.
With Tea Leaf Green having recently released its first new album since 2013 (Destination Bound – 2020), Garrod talked about the influence of Nature (and politics) on several of the band’s new songs – including Shelter (a song about immigration), Smoggy Air (a song about climate change), and Before There Were Houses Here (a song that laments the loss of natural habitats to human development).
Asked about another tune that seems to allude to climate change (5000 Acres – 2005, Taught to Be Proud), Garrod recalled sitting in a restaurant while on tour in the Deep South, watching a television news story that inspired his haunting lyrics:
Dirty oil in this engine runs
As 5000 acres burn
5000 acres burn
5000 acres burn in California.
The Tea Leaf Green keyboardist reached deep into his memory to reminisce about how the anthem, Kali-Yuga (2003, Living in Between), was inspired by a book he read nearly twenty years ago:
It’s a long way
Age of iron
Cooled in the ocean
And the mountains
Are for exploring
Devils have danced on my doorstep
Angels have sung in my yard
There’s wise men hiding in mountains
While most of us are working too hard.
After a solo performance of Smoggy Air, Garrod answered questions from several fans – encouraging them to absolutely Vote on Tuesday, revealing that he has a new solo album on the way, and sharing tales about the origin of the band’s mythological “Garden Suite” of songs.
As a long-time fan of Tea Leaf Green, this episode was a lot of fun to produce – especially to prepare by exploring Garrod’s remarkable online songbook for ideas of Nature-related questions to ask. I couldn’t help geeking out a bit and guiding the conversation to explore the backstories of some old fan favorites. Garrod didn’t disappoint, sharing never-before heard chronicles that old school (and new) Tea Leaf Green fans are sure to enjoy.
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Conservation Scientist & Host of The Nature of Music Podcast