As the Teskey brothers prepare to tour the UK, Josh talks us through tracks from some of his favourite singers
Whilst the idea of a different city every night might be romantic, when you have small children, a different city every weekend is far more practical.
“We want to be present fathers in our kids’ lives,” says Josh Teskey. “Which is a hard thing for a lot of people. A lot of musos are really failing at that, you know.”
The blues-rock duo have turned their European and UK tour into a family affair, basing themselves in the region for a few months and travelling to gigs on weekends. It’s not a model that might be feasible for a lot of touring acts, but with fifteen years in the industry under their belts, the Teskey brothers have earned themselves a more comfortable schedule.
This April and May sees the brothers visit the UK for a string of dates, including a stop at London’s Eventim Apollo. Ahead of the shows, we caught up with Josh to talk about the great voices that he continues to take inspiration from, and what makes singers like Otis Reading and Aretha Franklin special.
‘Drown In My Own Tears’ – Ray Charles
I had to get a Ray Charles song in there, and this is my favorite Ray Charles song. Ray Charles is one of my top singers – just the tone he had, the range, the elasticity to his movement… This particular song has that amazing melody, really that gospel vibe going on, and it’s so piano driven. I love singing this one as well – I sing this with our piano player Olaf Scott and this is one of our favorite ones to do in a stripped-back way. There’s just so much feeling, so much soul to this track.
‘Security’ – Etta James
I was very close to putting down ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, but I went with this one. Etta James is another one of those singers with absolute passion. I’ve watched lots of videos of her performing live and the energy, the passion she put into her singing… it’s pouring your heart out on the line. She has this crazy range and this high belt that she could put out there. I love Etta James and she seems like a really interesting character as well. She seems like a tough cookie, which I think you had to be in those times, particularly the women. Some of these women that were bosses in the industry way back in the 60s and 70s, I mean… What a character she must have been, to be able to hold that space in the insane patriarchy that would have been kicking around back then.
‘Try A Little Tenderness’ – Otis Redding
Otis Reading is one of my favourite singers, probably the one. This track particularly – there’s nothing else like it. I think the way this one builds and gets bigger and bigger throughout, and yet it kind of does it all within three and a half minutes… and then he’s belting it towards the end. When I’m talking about Ray Charles or Etta, their singing kind of seems to really flow and get right into the soul. What I like about Otis’ singing is that he’s in the moment of every song, he never sings something the same twice. I’ve listened to most of his songs hundreds and hundreds of times since I was 12 years old, and I still can’t sing along with him. He’s just got this bizarre timing. There’s no one else like him. You hear one word coming from Otis and you know: this is Otis Reading singing.
‘Prove It’ – Aretha Franklin
It’s the same thing with Aretha, really – you hear her voice and you know that’s Aretha, straight off the bat. I think she’s just one of those freak of nature sort of singers. Just the notes she hits, like, how high she went. Even her talking voice – I think there’s just something in the training she must have done. Her instrument was just extraordinary. Her whole life, she never missed a beat. That’s what I love about her more than the Ray Charles and the Etta James feeling and soul – I’m sure Aretha could do that as well – but she had the capacity to be able to do what she does with this killer style.
‘Hey Jude’ – Wilson Pickett
I was lucky enough to see Wilson Pickett live. He’s one of those gravelly singers – at times it reminds me of myself as a singer, where he goes harsh on his throat and just somehow pulls it off. It sometimes looked like he was struggling, but he put so much passion into the singing – he didn’t seem like a range guy but he had this incredible tone. I could really pick Wilson Pickett’s voice out of the mix of it as well. So I love him as a singer. I love his sound, I love his soul.
But this particular song is really important to me because there’s something about Wilson Pickett. Down there in Muscle Shoals the Swampers were the band on this one, and it looked really cool with Wilson in the middle. You’ve Duane Allman in there doing the guitar solo, so it’s a mix of Southern rock with that soul stuff. And doing a Beatles song to boot. There’s something about all those different worlds colliding.
‘Write Me A Few Of Your Lines’ – Bonnie Raitt
I’ve seen Bonnie Raitt live a couple of times too. We’re playing a festival with her soon – we’re gonna be on the same lineup. What a machine, you know. I love her voice. I think she’s one of these guitarist-singers, and I think she’s really underrated as a singer. I find her voice to be absolutely perfect. I love the way it’s got a little bit of that Ray Charles thing to it, that effortlessness – it just feels real when she sings, sort of casual and beautiful. And she’s just got this insane catalogue of music that she’s put out over the years, and it’s still going. She’s got this incredible stage presence as well. She sort of holds people really, really well – you feel really comfortable with her. She just gets up there, kicks back… It just feels like you’re sitting around drinking coffee with her at the table. I think that’s really special.
‘Lovin’ You, Baby’ – Charles Bradley
I kind of stumbled across Charles Bradley. He came to Australia and played at the Golden Plains Festival, which is a radio festival I went to. I hadn’t actually heard of him, but this performance changed my life. A lot of these old soul guys, I saw them in their older age, and Charles was at his peak when I saw him. He gave absolute passion, absolute love, and put everything into that performance. Charles did that more than anyone I’ve ever seen. He looks like he’s tearing up at the end of every single song, and he just gives every single bit of emotion.
I like it when singers feel genuine and you really believe them. Sometimes you don’t know if people are really doing it or if they’re acting it out. But you see interviews with Charles, and he just was that guy, like, the way he spoke. He was 62-years-old when made his first record. He spent his whole life being a James Brown impersonator. And then at that point, at 62-years-old, he had this record that made it out there. So he just gave it everything. He died only a few years after that, and I feel like he knew he only had a little bit of time on this earth to give everything he could to people. It’s something I took from that show, when I saw him. This particular song is the song that always takes me back to that moment, being in the audience watching him. It gave me goosebumps all over. It still does every time I hear it.
‘How Blue Can You Get?’ – BB King (Live In Cook County Jail)
BB King was famous as a guitarist and all that, but what an incredible singer. I think he has one of the coolest voices around. Once again, it’s the passion in his guitar playing and in his singing. This particular live show was just absolutely epic. It’s an incredible record all around. From a very early stage, me and Sam always listened to BB King. He had an incredible range, you know. He’s got that that kind of blues thing going on, and I wanted to make sure we had a blues singer in there as well as soul.
‘If You Want Me To Stay’ – Sly and the Family Stone
Sly Stone is such an incredible voice with such an incredible tone. I watched his Woodstock performance and from when I was very young I was like, “I want to be able to do that”. It’s really interesting, because Sly had his own sound, but he could have been a legend as much as the rest of them. I also love how much of a character that guy was, you know. You see him rocking up the interviews back then in the 70s, not being able to find where to sit down… He just seemed to be that guy, you know, all rock and roll.
Their new album, The Winding Way, is released on Friday 16 June via Decca Records.