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The Teskey Brothers on turning music into an actual job, and finding their own sound

“In previous years, we’ve kind of been cutting our teeth, and happy to have done that. I feel like we’re ready now to go for it.”

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John Fish

If you’re reading this, chances are you live in Melbourne and are already familiar with this stalwart band who, until recently, hadn’t quite managed to break into the big time. After all, The Teskey Brothers have been plying their trade in the City by the Bay for almost a decade, swinging from gig to gig but never actually taking their tunes beyond Victoria. Now, thanks to some packed-out and much talked about Bigsound showcases, the band has earned some serious buzz.
 
“It’s totally a new thing for us, playing in that kind of situation,” says frontman Josh Teskey of their Bigsound accolades. The band had been playing any gig that came their way for nearly ten years, but never pushed themselves to present to the industry. “We just plodded along doing our own thing. We’d never even left Victoria until this year.”
 
Teskey emphasises it’s a massive and exciting change for the band. “This year we’re taking that approach to put our music out there a bit more. [Trying] to turn music into our actual jobs for the first time.”
 
He laughs, but as far as dreams go it’s all looking rather promising. Years of gradually honing their craft has resulted in a sound that stays true to their blues and soul inspirations, but is uniquely, well, Teskey.  On stage they’re the band that came out of nowhere, leaving every ear puzzled over how an act could sound so seasoned while remaining so unknown.
 
“Maybe some bands get things together quickly and go straight on to putting stuff out there,” Teskey says.  “We didn’t even really want to release anything for a lot of years, because we didn’t think we had anything worth pushing.” He says this is the first time they’ve made a record that they actually love. “In previous years, we’ve kind of been cutting our teeth, and happy to have done that. I feel like we’re ready now to go for it.”
 
Chatting to Josh, you quickly realise that when he speaks of things taking their time to evolve, it’s not just the band’s musical prowess he has in mind. He and his brother Sam have been playing together since they were kids, bonding over their parent’s record collection. They learned the standards in short order, and soon dabbled in writing material of their own. But in making music that comments on life, it helps to experience it first – including all the highs and heartbreaks. That’s where The Teskey Brothers are taking their journey now.
 
“It’s a strange one,” he says. We grew up playing this blues and soul stuff, and it took us a long time to feel we could write in that vein. Prior to that we were doing soul and blues covers, playing these old B. B. King covers, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, all of that. We did have our own stuff then, but never in that genre.
 
“This year for the first time we started writing in this genre, in this soul world, which is what we’ve always felt we were most suited to. Anything we recorded outside of that didn’t really feel like it was Teskey Brothers. They were original songs, but in the vein that we’d always played. So to write these tracks, the challenge was, some of us have gotten older, and you get your heart broken. That’s the thing about the blues and soul. It’s all singing from the heart, singing from pain, and that’s where everyone writing this music, I feel, can connect in that same way. No matter where you’re from, even though it’s American music, it’s singing about heartbreak. So that’s what we started doing as well.”
 
With Queenscliff Music Festival rolling around again, the band can’t wait to find themselves back on stage to spread the love for their debut LP Half Mile Harvest and to showcase just how far their evolution has come. Their sound has one foot in the Stax records of the past, and the other on the road to carving a unique name.
 
“It’s funny, we’ve always been pretty proud to say we connect with that sound. You can hear my vocal influences pretty well, that it’s from Otis Redding and those Stax records. But it’s still very much Teskey Brothers,” Teskey says, elaborating that they never thought about it much. “I like to think of songs as these things that have just come floating past, this clear little thing that just jumps into your head sometimes.”
 
Referencing beloved Roald Dahl character the BFG (Big Friendly Giant), Teskey compares getting inspiration for songs to catching floating dreams: “Suddenly here’s this song, and that song has a mind of its own. It has a character of its own, so even though our influences are from that soul and blues world, the songs that we’re writing have this unique aspect to them. I think it’s always important that the way the song initially comes out, you don’t want to try and change it too much from that. Just sing it how it came to you. Songs kind of write themselves that way.”

The Teskey Brothers will perform at Queenscliff Music Festival, taking place from Friday November 24 until Sunday November 26 with Bernard Fanning, Bob Evans, Lindi Ortega, and Stella Donnelly.