Tea For Two: Prog For All!
"101" is the title of the new album by the german prog band TEA FOT TWO, and an great statement, how creative the prog underground cn be. Renald did an interview with the lead singer Stephan Weber.
How did it came to the bandname?
The band Tea For two was founded in 1984 by Michael Schumpelt and Oliver Soerup as a school band of the 'Max Planck Gymnasium Ludwigshafen‘ in Germany. Michael played the piano, flutes and keyboards, Oliver the guitars. Why 'Tea For Two'? When they met each other to practice at Michael’s home flat, Mrs Schumpelt always brought them tea and two cups. Well, Oliver brought not only guitars, but beer and they drunk it out of the tea cups... A very special tea for two... But the last cup was always filled with (then cold) tea. If Mrs Schumpelt really knew what happened? ;-)
How would you describe your music?
Experimental rock/folk. Over all those years we played around with lot's of styles. We try to catch moods with music and don't stick to the elements of pure rock. Tea For Two started with folk, blues and sometimes jazz (when they were two, michael playing keyboards and flutes, oliver guitar) but with the bigger line up we started to compose rock songs, too. One of our new songs (not yet an any album) is a folk song. 'the plan', one of the 101 tracks is flamenco, we have string arrangements like 'bitter sweet..' and 'crossing the edge'. Is 'heaven' a rock song? The point is we don't care.
What about the influence of other artists to you?
Though we don't work on sounding like anybody else it's for sure that our music is influenced by the music of several bands or artists we like(d). All of us have different favorites from different music styles. I guess any artist who claims absolute orinality is a liar. The music of Tea For Two is surely a mixture of all that and our own ideas but in the end we are far away from deliberatly copying styles and sounds. Hmm, too bad - this kind of copying is exactly what radio and the music industry in germany wants and supports...
How does the songwriting work in the band?
Sometimes a song starts with some nice chords or a melody. Sometimes it's the story or a mood which we want to describe with chords and melodies... I really belive that most of the songs grew heavily while we all worked on them. It's the mixture of our styles and ideas what made the songs what they are today.
Tell me something about the lyrical concept of "101"?
101 is a very special symbol. I can't explain any details on that now as we just started a contest where people should interpret the meaning. Some Years ago I had a series of dreams about a foreign dimension. At a first glance it was that old boy meets girl story with magic and science fiction content. I had a visoins and prophecies within those dreams, e.g. things to happen or I met groups of or individual people there which I did not know so far but got to know sometimes later, etc. Guess I should write a book about it... It was amazing. All the time I had to fight against some menace which went out to be a part of me. In the last scene where I finally left this strange world I layed down dying in the arms of my one and only dream girl and she whispered: 'we will meet again and 101 should be the sign' What the hell did this mean after all the other things that came true? The album does not answer the question directly but there are a lot of hints 'between the lines'
A progband without drummer and (mostly) without bass player?
Yeah, too bad... The 101 project was a very special thing. The main reason for that split was the fact that we all finished our studies, have been busy with starting our new jobs and were spread all over germany. No chance to meet/practice on a regular basis then. We all started projects with musicians in our new home towns. Uwe recorded a CD with 'Zenobia', Oliver with 'Rachel's Birthday', etc. I remember Oliver's birthday party in 1998 after the official split in 1997. On this day we talked about that 101project. We decided to compose the stuff by sending tapes around. All final recordings have been done at Olivers flat every two or three months - song after song (this is why it took so long). Michael did a great job on programming bass and drums with his Atari ;-) and after all recordings have been finished we wanted to mix them without involving new musicians which surely would have taken some more months. I guess this was a good decision. By now we start to plan the tour in autumn and we will of course have a real drummer and bass man then. Maybe some more guest musicians? Let's see.
What's your opinion to line up changes generally?
We had many changes in the rhythm group until we got to know Uwe and Reiner who played with us over six or seven years. Maybe Reiner will join us on the next tour again and Uwe played the bass in 101. I would prefer this friendship based line up. The last word is not spoken yet.
You are around for about 16 years - is it hard to keep a progband alive?
16 years are a quiet long time for every non-profit project one can do with other people. This is not dependant on the fact that we are a band or a musical style we have. All need to earn money, have a family or whatever. We still make music together because we are friends and the the things we do/did together give us something we don't want to miss. That's the point. More, we get a lot of positive feedback on what we are doing. That makes fun. If fun stops the break is near... in every project.
Is the german prog scene healthy?
Absolutely no. It starts with the media (radio, tv, magazines) who do not support prog rock or any other non-radio-format music. '... we play only Top40 songs ...' We have fm radio airplays in the states, brazil, canada, france, italy but not in germany. Too bad! In general You have to be famous before you got noticed in german media. More, if You organize a prog gig/festival you cannot expect more than some tens of audience even if saga or asia are headliners. It's hard to find new young fans and the older ones are getting lazy. Even if there are ten-thousands of people who would like such a kind of music they don't really know that it exists... Internet as a new media may help.
Is there a most important event in the history of the band?
I guess that the gigs with fish have been the most important events. These have been our first break outs of the local scene. But, to be honest, being in the net with our songs and getting fans and reviews from all over the world helps much more now.
What do you think about the situation of your musical genre in the presence and what will change in the future?
Progresive Rock has two aspects. First the old well known bands which are getting out of sight more and more, e.g Fish, Marillion, Genesis, Yes, etc... Second some 'new' bands who are really progressive by means of the word and get new young audience. Let's think about dream theater or spock's beard, or... My all time favorite is 'a trick of the tail' - would a yet unknown band succed with such an album as debut next year?
What kind of compromises would you make to push your career?
All at least for a shorter period of time - if I/we can expect to have an effort without loosing health, friends or family.
How would you describe the development between the new record and the records before?
101 was the first recording where we did not have the aim to play exactly the same stuff on a live gig. We experimented with sounds and instrumentation in a way we never did before. For example 4 guitar tracks at the same time, more than one keyboard, the female voices, violin, etc. We had a lot of fun with all that and be sure, the next album will be more experimental again ;-)
Can you tell me something of the process of creating the new record? Were there any problems or went everything well?
Of course we had problems. As I mentioned before, we sent around tapes and met each other every 8-12 weeks. We all have been very very busy at our daily jobs. Our equipment was a 8 track tape and an atari which controlled the keyboards. Synchronisation was embarassing...If You listen to the album you can imagine that 8 tracks are easily filled with accoustic instruments and vocals. We mixed in Uwe's bass lines for '101' in the studio - he sent us a cd... Sometimes I wanted to add some more backing vocals or anything but we didn't have space left on the tape. But we wanted to produce the cd with the technical equipment we had. So here we are! Doesn't sound that bad, does it? Next time we gonna rent a studio - maybe ;-)
What about the decision to work with QuiXote Music? Why not Angular, Tempus Fugit etc...
Well, I'm involved in QuiXote Music, a label from musicians for musicians. But anyway QuiXote and Tea For Two are seperate things. I guess the main reason why Michael and Oliver agreed to the QuiXote deal was that Tea For Two (as all the other bands) have non-usual good conditions.
Progfans are ignorant and narrow-minded. They live in the past and don't care about the meaning of the word progress.
Are they? I heard or read words like 'we listen to / make the only intelligent music on earth very often. A personal musical taste is mixed with a strong élite thinking. Much more than I experienced this with fans of other music genres. The extreme proggies (fans and musicians) are really proud of their shared illusion and can get very angry and unfair while claiming to be impartial. The funny thing is that the word progressive stands for something new, not for 'old-fashioned-non-mainstream-long-song-rock'.
It's absolutely o.k. with me if people prefer to listen to the old styles and sounds. If somebody doesn't like the new music I present as a band, label or distributor I may think about changing the music itself or better find a new audience and new reviewers. If I then excuse myself by saying 'Progfans are ignorant and narrow-minded and live in the past' I would not be even better! Isn't that kindergarten stuff? ;-)
Hmm, I prefer to name our style 'experimental rock/folk'and let the audience decide whether it's 'progressive' or not... But most prog rock fans I know personally are NOT ignorant and narrow-minded!
So you could have the possibility to make this record again. Would you change anything?
Be sure I won't. I would spend the energy, time and money to record new songs. I need progression. Haha! After thinking so much about 'progressive' this gets confusing ;-) And we have so many new ideas. I can't wait to record them!
Anyway. An album is a project and a project needs to come to an end.
There are compromises: 101 is a low budget home-recording.
Record again - we would have slightly different sounds, less noise with the same songs..That would be great from themusicians point of view but would that really get us much better reviews, more fans? Would that have any influence on the amount of radio plays? I'm really looking forward to present the 101 songs on stage -in as many different countries as possible - and then start with new material and technique.