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Driving in Circles

Calgary Sun November 14 2004

What a difference a couple of months can make. The last time I talked with Jeff Martin, all he could do was rave about the work he and his veteran Canadian rock trio The Tea Party was doing with former Creed frontman Scott Stapp.

He even indicated the possibility was great that Stapp would replace him as Tea Party’s vocalist allowing Martin to simply become one of the band.

Well now, after the results came out on a horrendous collection of songs inspired by Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Martin is no longer singing the same tune.

“Nope,” Martin says, when asked if the Stapp-Tea Party collaboration would continue.

“We just stepped away from the plate because right now,” he pauses, choosing his words carefully, “I like Scott very much as a person, but there’s a lot of baggage there.

“And you know how I’ve made a career out of having a bag of demons — but I’ve tamed them all.

“He hasn’t learned how to do that.

“The problem with Scott is that there’s too many cooks in the kitchen and he’s misguided right now.

The one positive that came from the collaboration, Martin is first to admit, is the powers that be south of the border were now aware of who The Tea Party was, and they were ready and willing to listen to whatever the band brought them.

It couldn’t have come at a better time or with a better album.

The T.O-based act’s latest release Seven Circles is a straight-up rock record that was produced partially by Bob Rock, as well as Gavin Brown.

Since its August release Martin says the reaction — here and from record execs in the U.S., where it will get an early New Year release — has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It doesn’t shock me because … what is very apparent from the reaction we’re getting is how accessible it is,” says Martin.

“It’s become accessible while still retaining the hardcore fans — so we’ve done something very rare.”

Part of that accessibility was attained through doffing much of their world music instrumentation, which some, through the years, had deemed overly indulgent and added to the band’s reputation as being a little — OK, a lot — on the pompous side.

Martin says the pared-down approach they took wasn’t necessarily about proving or disproving anyone else, rather proving something to themselves.

“There were some misconceptions out there — well, maybe not misconceptions, maybe some of the impressions of the band were true,” he says.

“But the thing is we’ve always been a band that rises to the challenge.”

One of the biggest challenges that came with completing Seven Circles was the death of manager and friend Steve Hoffman last year.

The news of his passing was one that hit Martin, bassist Stuart Chatwood and drummer Jeff Burrows hard — Seven Circles is dedicated to him and his loss is broached on one of the album’s cuts.

“The best thing about music is that it can be therapeutic and it can also be cathartic,” Martin says.

“For instance, the morning he passed away, I had two choices — either a nervous breakdown or I could go and write that song Oceans, and that’s what I did.”

.Mike Bell