Interview: Jeff Burrows Of The Tea Party On Drum Marathons, Mental Health, & Upcoming AustralianTour

Interview by Terresa Allen

Midway through their sell out Canada & United States Black River Tour and just weeks before they hit our shores for the band’s Black River Australian Tour 2019, Jeff Burrows drummer and percussionist for Canadian Rock Royalty – The Tea Party took the time to speak with GC Live’s Terresa Allen about the bands affinity for Australia, the inspiration behind the new single, drum marathons, wine, mental health and more.    

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us here a GC Live, you guys are now into the second leg of your Black River North America Tour is that right?

‘Absolutely, that’s right we just flew into Winnipeg today and in 15 minutes the opening act goes on, so literally I’m cruising around back stage here now talking to you.’

It’s a pretty massive tour, you’ve been on the road since back in March, how’s it all going?

‘Yeah, it’s been a good one. A bit of a learning experience, we haven’t had the radio success that we’ve had with Black River in such a long time and management wasn’t ready for sell-out, after sell-out, after sell-out and it’s been like that. Everyone’s firing on all five cylinders and everything is rocking and it’s fantastic, we couldn’t ask for more.’

That’s great to hear. The new single Black River, where’d the inspiration for that come from?

‘It actually comes from Australia. At Jeff Martin’s home studio, there’s a river out the back and that place, well it’s just truly a Shangri-La, just magnificent and he always misses it when we’re on the road.  So, we were writing and jamming these tracks and there was a big flood going on, this river literally runs through his backyard. I looked at him and I said, “Dude your Shangri-La River is turning into a Black River” and there is was, it kind of stuck and here we are now.’

The Australian connections continue, I did see somewhere that you even had a Black River Australian Shiraz made?

‘Oh, yeah that was on tour. I think everyone knows our affinity for most things Australian, especially the wine and someone in Buffalo, New York made us a few cases of Shiraz and then made up the Black River Label to go on it. It was pretty fantastic, I was like are you kidding me – it was really good. I mean, it can’t complete with the Barossa Valley certainly, but for someone to put that much effort into something for you it’s quite an honour and pretty cool.’

Speaking of Australia, you are due here June 19th; first show is in Hastings, then you’ll be up here in my territory Queensland a little later in the month – really looking forward to that. What’s your favourite place to visit here in Australia when you’re not working?

‘I can’t say I like one more than the other I don’t think. For all round chill I really like Brisbane, if we are talking about big cities, but then for arts and culture I love Melbourne and for the sites I love Sydney. So, you can’t really, really choose if you know what I mean, it’s all pretty amazing everywhere.

So, I’d say we are very luck and really fortunate that we probably get to see the best of the best every time we go. We may well get to see more things than the average Australian because we get to do all the touristy stuff. Like, I’ve never been to the top of the CN Tower in Toronto, where as if someone come over here from Australia it’s probably one of the things that they would do. So, we are really fortunate to have gotten to do all of these fantastic things and gone to these fantastic places – it has been incredible.’

That seems likely to be the cherry on the top of a fantastic career, one where you have been making great music for 30 years. Where did all three of you first come together?

‘Not 30 yet, it’s 30 next year; but we all meet in a small town out of Windsor called LaSalle. That’s where Jeff (Martin) and I had our first band, back when we were ten and eleven years old. So yeah, we’ve been doing this for almost 40 years now really. Then in high school we meet Stuart (Chatswood) at a very young age and we were doing the whole band thing with him from that point – amazing.’

It truly is an amazing career, you’ve a back catalogue that speaks for itself across those years and you are still producing music that hits the spot, sells out tours.  

‘Yes, it’s pretty unreal, I can’t even put it into words. We are forever grateful, but to be able to be doing what we are doing right now, it’s quite a shock – I really don’t understand it.’

Can we expect a new album, coming of the back of Black River?

‘Oh yeah! I think we’ll have some stuff ready for the Australian tour and then, by next year for the 30th Anniversary there’ll be a second half to that, which will culminate into an album – well that’s the way I see it happening anyway. Jeff Martin has literally been in the studio for the last three days, doing mixes on five other songs beyond Black River, so I’m thinking it could be out in maybe a month or so hopefully, but we’ll see – fingers crossed.’

Have you got a name for the upcoming Album?

‘Probably ‘Black River’ – we’ll keep it simple. There will most likely be another single, maybe Careless or another  one we are playing live right now called, Way Way Down. Not sure yet, one’s not necessarily favoured over the other, it’ll just depend what the guys like for radio. For us though, the band, we don’t care, we just want to go tour.’   

If just wanted to ask about some individual stuff you do – the Drum Marathon you put on, can you tell us a little about that?

‘The LiUNA625 Drum Marathon, yeah, I do that every year and it’s my 13th year this year. Last year I raised $40 000 for mental health initiatives and entities. This year I’m upping it to $60 000, so hopefully I can do that, I think I can. It’s the stuff that happens behind the scenes and the setting up that takes the time, when I’m on the road, like right now and I have a couple of hours, that’s when I’m calling people and soliciting sponsorships and you know – begging for money (lol). Then hopefully we can get the drumming done for another year and move on to the other charitable functions, golf tournaments and fun stuff like that.’

The drum marathon and those other events, the money is all used in support of mental health?

‘Yes, it’s for separate entities, for some it’s adults with mental disabilities – like the Canadian Mental Health Association for my region, I’m an ambassador for them, so they get some. My wife works at a teenager mental health facility, for kids going through tough times and they are very underfunded, so some goes to them. It’s spread out all over, it varies, it’s not necessarily all just straight mental health, it can be about mental health stigma, like women with addiction problems.

There’s a place called The House of Sophrosyne, which takes women with addiction issues – sometimes it’s very hard for them to get proper help in a safe female environment and this house supports that and I think it’s fantastic. The women can get help there without being judged by anyone; they get to work with a team of likeminded females, females who have been through what they have been through. So that’s another one we support, it’s varied, but it is all mental health and it’s an honour to be able to do something to help.’     

So, you are really helping the underfunded mental health providers in the community, those that may sometimes seem invisible?

‘Right, I don’t know what it’s like in Australian, but in Canada and particularly our province of Ontario, the amount of funding provided in the health system for mental health was only something like 6% and now with the new government it’s been slashed to 3.5%. It seems that way for everything now. Mental health though, that’s a problem that’s quickly climbing up the ladder, but they are quickly diminishing funding for it too.

It’s just not cool, so we’ve got to do what we can do. I’m not the only one though, there’s so many charitable humans and entities that do that, I’m just trying to do my part, have a good time and show someone something different to an evening out. So rather than a regular evening out we have the drums and something like 20 different bands over 24 hrs, so it’s a lot of fun.

Is it something that’s televised or streamed, something we can tune into from Australia?

‘No, sorry it’s not that big, it’s just a club thing and maybe I’ll get about 600 people there. But because it’s 24hrs, they’ll roll in and roll out. The best would be my Twitter and Instagram accounts – @burrowsdrums, is my handle and there’s info on there, the ways and means to donate, all the links. It’s happening 6 days after the end of the tour here, so I better get moving.’

I’m going back to revisit the wine issue (lol), what’s your favourite drop from Australia?   

‘Easily the one that I enjoy the most, that I can take home in large quantities from the Margret River region on the west coast is the Devil’s Lair. Which is just amazing, both the Shiraz and the Cab Sav – it’s insane. That being said, the Yering stuff is amazing and then there’s the big boys, the ones I have cellared that I won’t open for a while. Some of them are 30 – 40 years old, one’s that you just never want to open.’

What quintessential Australian food would you pair it with?  

‘I would probably say Morten Bay Bugs, Japanese style – Teppanyaki Table style, the bugs there are amazing.’

So, if you’re after something amazing, reserve your own little piece of iconic Canadian rockers – The Tea Party before they hit our shores next month on their Black River Australian Tour. It’s intimate venues only, so you’ll be up close and personal with a chance to saviour all the skill, craftsmanship and passion this trio brings to the stage.       

Wednesday 19 June – Westernport Hotel, San Remo 18+
Friday 21 June – 170 Russell, Melbourne 18+
Saturday 22 June – The York, Mt Evelyn 18+
Sunday 23 June – Metro Theatre, Sydney 18+
Tuesday 25 June – Kambri @ ANU, Canberra 18+
Wednesday 26 June – Nex Theatre, Newcastle 18+
Friday 28 June – Coolangatta Hotel, Gold Coast 18+
Saturday 29 June – The Valley Drive In, Brisbane 18+
Sunday 30 June – HQ Complex, Adelaide 18+


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