Tomorrow, Philadelphia indie folk band TEOA (until recently The End of America) will release a hopeful and anthemic song called “Not The End.” It’s an appropriate song for the uncertain and isolated times brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, but the trio’s Trevor Leonard says that connection was accidental.
“It’s coincidental, actually,” he says. “I was writing it before all this happened. I was just kind of feeling down and overwhelmed by the general decline of the state of the world, and I was kind of inspired to search for a way out of my despair. Sometimes I ask myself what is the message that I need to hear that I want to sing to myself? That’s really what inspired it. It seems even more amplified now in the situation that we’re in, which is insane.”
The new single is a quick follow-up to “The Light Within,” a 6-song EP TEOA released less than a month ago. And before that, the group — Leonard, Brendon Thomas and James Downes — appeared on the venerable NPR series “Mountain Stage Radio.”
The band, featuring three men who were frontmen of their own bands before joining forces, met on tour in 2005. Since then they’ve been named “Favorite New Artist” at the 2006 Philadelphia Folk Festival and “Most Wanted” Emerging Artist at the 2017 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, shared stages with David Bromberg and Larry Campbell, and were chosen by Beck to perform for his Song Reader sheet music release show in Los Angeles.
We chatted with Leonard about the band staying connected with each other and fans during the shutdown of the music industry, a few choice cover songs and harmony singing.
TEOA has really embraced livestreaming, including your weekly “quarantine mini series” (Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on the band’s Facebook page).
It’s been cool kind of getting in that flow of catching up, “What did you guys do this week?” and also talking to our family and fans. We want to hang out with each other and we want to hang out with our crew, you know, our fans. It’s a good way to get together and have a break and chat and hang out a little bit. It’s partially that and we’re starting to do these performances. Since we’re all in different places, getting to sync up and record and stream all at the same time has been a big challenge.
There’s kind of a bleak outlook, we can’t be together and perform live. We kind of figured that’s the next best thing. And a lot of our shows, we like to banter with each other and interact with our friends and fans, so this is kind of a way to do that. At this point, why ever stop? I don’t know why we never did this before, but we’re going to keep going.
On “The Light Within,” you cover the relatively obscure “He Was a Friend of Mine.” Were you introduced to that song by the Bob Dylan version?
It was actually The Byrds. We were honored to do a Monterey Pop tribute show in Ardmore a couple years ago. Each group was a different performer, and we got to be The Byrds, which was awesome. There were so many cool songs that they played in that set. We were really heartbroken by Tom Petty’s passing away, and that song was front in our mind.
You also cover Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on the EP, a song so many artists have covered. Why did you decide to do that one?
Likewise, we were honored to do a tribute to Jeff Buckley at World Cafe Life for the anniversary of his “Grace” album and we did “Hallelujah.” We really went full-on to recreate the song exactly like Jeff Buckley did for the show. We did just one guitar and added our harmonies to some verses. When we decided to record it, we did a slightly different spin and made it piano-based. It kind of came to us. It’s neat. We wouldn’t probably have chosen to do that song because of how iconic it is and how many versions there have been, but it was such a special show. When you kind of learn a song and perform it, it’s a whole new attachment to the song, this new kind of uncovering of the sort of secrets of it. It’s an intimate sort of thing and we got even more attached to it.
Did the three of you have a natural blend vocally when you first started singing together or did you have to work on your harmonies?
We certainly did work at it, but back to probably 2006 we were all solo artists and we started touring together, and somebody would be playing, they’re singing up on stage, and we would harmonize. We all kind of came from being the lead singers of our respective bands before that. We kind of naturally started to sing together. One of our friends said, “You guys would be idiots if you didn’t start a band,” and we said, “He’s got a good point.” We went home and leaned “Blackbird” and started writing three-part harmonies to “Blackbird” and we were off and running.
Photo credit: Brian Blauser/Mountain Stage