The Teskey Brothers on making The Winding Way, Josh’s vocals and Dolby Atmos

The Teskey Brothers’ highly anticipated new studio album, The Winding Way is out on Friday June 16. Four years after their globe-conquering second LP, Run Home Slow, which followed their debut LP Half Mile Harvest, the artistic vision of vocalist Josh Teskey and his brother, guitarist and engineer Sam Teskey is more defined than ever, with the brothers drafting in honourary Teskey Brother Eric J Dubowsky to take on production duties for this project.

With the closure of their beloved Half Mile Harvest Studios in Warrandyte Australia (where they recorded their first two studio albums), on The Winding Way the brothers made a conscious decision to try something different and headed to Sydney to record with Dubowsky, known for working with acts including Flume, Chet Faker and The Chemical Brothers.

With four singles released from the album to date, The Teskey Brothers have so far teased a record that is more adventurous than their previous efforts. If Half Mile Harvest was the aural equivalent of the sun rising hopefully in the morning, and Run Home Slow was savouring a whiskey in a great bar, then The Winding Way is a comforting fireplace, a warm escape from the cold and a full circle return to the magic of where it all started: two brothers bonding over their pure love of soul, while taking more risks than ever before.

Halfway through their world tour, Sam joins Headliner from Oslo, while Eric joins from his studio in Sydney to discuss the making of The Winding Way.

the reasoning behind branching off from 'our genre' was to explore something new to try to see what we are.

Why did The Teskey Brothers decide to try something different with the production and sound for The Winding Way and work with Eric, and what did he bring to the project?

Sam: We had our first conversations with Eric and we gelled and connected straight away, regardless of the genre [he’s known for]. I think the reasoning behind branching off from “our genre” was to explore something new to try to see what we are. It's very dangerous to keep going down that road where you get pigeonholed really easily into “that's your genre, that's your category,” and we wanted to explore. Eric did an amazing job to look beyond the genres and bring the music out of us.

Also it's so easy to be like, “Josh’s voice sounds great, the first take was awesome. Let’s leave that,” and it's really easy for me and Josh to go, “Yeah, cool. That was good. Let's move on to the next thing.” Having Eric there really pushed us to say, “Let's do it again.” He kept pushing us until it was better.

Eric: Yes, I have worked with Flume, Odesza and The Chemical Brothers, so it looks like, “Oh my God, they hired a techno producer to do their album!” But actually, I come from bands. The band that I had in high school was a soul band with horns. And for my first job I worked with a producer named Arif Martin and he worked with Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack and Chaka Khan.

The music that I love is the music that influenced the Teskey’s music, but that's not what I've been doing for the last 10 years. This was actually stirring something; it was almost like I was falling in love with this music all over again, so I was bringing an excitement to it. I'm not a guy who is with a band every day so it was cool that they took the chance, but this is in my soul, this kind of music. And it all worked out!

we got to make it in a way that you don't really get to make albums anymore.

A lot of thought and time went into The Winding Way compared to your past albums. How is this reflected in the sound of the finished record?

Eric: There are certain albums that come along that you know makes them a special one. Everybody always says, “We put everything into it,” but it really was something that took shape in the studio, and we got to make it in a way that you don't really get to make albums anymore. 

For instance, songs were changing on the fly and becoming something new. Within five minutes, a song would go from one thing to another. London Bridge is one of those. There were moments with this album that I honestly didn't think I would get to experience, just because there are very few albums that are made like this anymore.

I tend to work on a lot of music these days where one part is done in one place, one part might be done in another country, and things are sent over the internet. It's rare that a band is all in the same room these days. I'm really excited for people to hear the rest of it because it just feels human and I think that's what people are craving.

Sam: Yeah, we worked you hard, didn't we Eric? [laughs]. We wanted to do this all in the room together, and then of course that sets up a world of issues. Well, I don't see them as issues, I think they're beautiful things. Like the beauty of the spill of hearing the drums bleed through the vocal mic. 

A lot of the vocals we couldn't rerecord because it was spilling into the piano or something like that – it all works together and I think it's the only way to really create that beautiful live element and that feeling when you're listening to the record.

But it can be tricky when we're in the studio, because when you want to redo the vocal, you're like, “No, we can't.” I think in a few cases it was amazing that we couldn't redo them. Oceans Of Emotions, for example – Josh's vocal take on that was the first one that he did in the room with the band. It was all live. 

We tried to redo it and realised we couldn't, and that was definitely for the better because Josh had this husky, really rough voice that day and he couldn't hit any of the high notes. But if he’d had a really high, booming vocal on that song, it wouldn't have had the same relaxed feeling. There's a lot of beauty to the way we recorded it; that's the beauty of tape.

on Oceans Of Emotions, Josh's vocal take was the first one that he did.

Speaking of Josh’s vocals – his husky, soulful tones are the cornerstone of the band’s sound. In terms of capturing his voice, is there much to be done when recording him, given that he will perfectly nail a take on the first try?

Eric: Well, that's the thing, you really don't have to do anything! My methodology was like, “Stay out of the way as much as I can.” When someone's a great singer like Josh – he is a great singer, truly one of a kind – it's easy almost to rest on your laurels, because he's got incredible tone and power.

Everybody goes, “Oh, my God, you're amazing.” So I was always just making sure that he was telling the story of the song. So yes, that take was amazing, but it was more about, “What are you saying there? Would you put emphasis on that word? Or is that a thing that you’ve got used to?”– like a riff a guitarist has or certain patterns that they follow. The main thing that I was focusing on was, “Okay, we know the vocal is going to sound amazing, so now I want to hear the story.”

It was one of the greatest moments that I ever experienced in a recording studio.

There were a couple of times when all I would have to say was, “What are you saying here? Who are you talking to?” and then this amazing little shift would happen. It would give me goosebumps because it was already amazing, but then it was like, “Okay, now he's actually a storyteller here.” So that was what we were talking about from day one; digging into the lyrics, and making everything as great as it can be.

As far as producing a vocalist, it was a dream. But then at the same time, I was not letting myself get seduced by that amazing tone, because I still have a job! So I was definitely trying to push him as much as I could to make sure that everything felt totally authentic and it was connecting.

Headliner got to witness your recent single, London Bridge being played live for the first time ever at your sold out gig at London’s Hammersmith Eventim Apollo. Did you always plan to play it in the UK capital for the first time, and was it written in London?

Sam: Yeah we decided we were going to save it for Hammersmith in London. It was awesome and a lot of fun to save it for you guys. This one was actually written in Eric's studio in Sydney. Instead of trying to record in three weeks and block out every hour of the day, we tried to make it a bit more family friendly in that we would record during the day more and leave lots of space around it so that we could spend time with family as well.

That space also allowed us to dig deeper into the songs and be able to write on the fly in the studio too. That one was one of the only ones that was really fully written while we're in this recording session. There's a beautiful grand piano in Eric’s studio so we would come in early in the morning, play around on the piano and have a little bit of a jam and it managed to slip its way on the record, which is awesome.

Eric: It's a tough thing, because like I said before, the songs were great before I was going to start meddling with them and go, “You know what guys, I feel like it's not happening.” It's a tough thing to go into the room and tell everybody when they’re all excited.

When Josh hit the chorus for the first time, it was one of the greatest things I've ever heard in my life.

Do you have an example where this happened?

Eric: Like with London Bridge, everybody loved the end of it every time. The first three quarters of it are very different and I was always looking forward to the last part – the outro, that's still the same as it is now. When everybody came in for the playback and it got to that ending part everybody went, “Ah, this part is so good!” I was like, “You know what? Hear me out here. Everybody loves the end of this song, right? What if the whole song was like the end? The whole song.”

We completely dismantled the whole thing. It was like, “Okay, just piano, vocal and sing it.” It was one of the greatest moments that I ever experienced in a recording studio. When Josh hit the chorus for the first time when we changed the tempo and it was just piano, vocal and then the band came in, it was one of the greatest things I've ever heard in my life. We had already done probably 10 takes of a different version of the song, and then we got to do this one. We didn't rest until we thought everything was as good as it could be.

I saw Sam was writing it almost from day one. I remember coming in and he was sitting at the piano. I got to see the evolution of that and how it came together in this magical moment in the studio. The string arrangement is incredible. All the pieces came together. It's a beautiful song.

London Bridge is good staple point of how the album was created – everything felt very organic.

Sam: It completely changed the way Josh sang the song. I wrote it in a particular way, and I would sometimes get attached to that original way. But you need someone to come in and say, “Hey, let's try this.” 

Because I want Josh to sing the original melody and I'm trying to get into it, but that original melody maybe doesn't really work so well for his voice or his phrasing or his the way he sings, so it was exactly what the song needed. All of a sudden, Josh opened up and all the soul came out of his voice and he sang it in a particular way. That was a real moment for me.

Being a songwriter, it's really hard to make those changes yourself. You get very attached to the original way you wrote it, and you would never even think about changing it. That's where Eric comes in and pushes you to make those drastic shifts that actually make the song.

It was special how that came about. It definitely depicts a beautiful journey in the creation of the album. It's a good staple point of how the album was created in this way – everything felt very organic.

It's 2023 but it could have been done in Memphis in the ‘70s.

New single Remember The Time is about accepting that people can’t help but feel nostalgic for the good old days, but also celebrating the way relationships grow and change. Who wrote this song?

Sam: Josh is the mastermind behind this song. It’s about looking at the past and holding on to it, which is a theme to a lot of the songs in the album. It depicts the journey of the album beautifully. I remember there was a moment with this song when it really hit the pocket. It was when we started adding the horns, we kind of switched into this other world.

Then I started listening to the lyrics more and what Josh was going for, and thought, “Wow, this song is a single.” I just came to it a bit late, but then I realised it's gonna be a good one. It's very exciting to have this song out in the world. I think it will have some long legs on it.

Eric: I love a song like this with the classic soul vibes with horns. The goal was to try to keep this soulful music that these guys make, that I love so much. We didn't change it really, it's slightly more modern, but still no matter what it was going to be The Teskey Brothers. This has a groove like a modern group, but it sounds like a classic song and I love that. It's 2023 but it could have been done in Memphis in the early ‘70s or something.

it's slightly more modern, but still no matter what it was going to be The Teskey Brothers.

Eric, as someone who’s won a Grammy and who has worked with popular songs for Kylie Minogue, The Chemical Brothers, Kygo and Weezer, could we get a glimpse into some essential kit that you have in your recording studio that shapes the records you work on?

Eric: I have used Genelec monitors for a long, long time. The first real monitors that I ever bought were the 1031As around 2000. I had ones that I took with me to Europe and I've mixed so many projects on these little Genelec speakers – I've taken them all over now.

I always know that when I flip my genelecs on, I know how a record is supposed to sound.

Tell us about your Dolby Atmos setup in your studio…

My Atmos setup is made up of Genelec 8320As – those are always the ones that I listen to and it sounds like music to me. I didn't want anything that was too obtrusive, and I trust that my mixes are already good. I actually knew a couple of people who were using those for their Atmos setups and they sound incredible. I'm used to the voicing of those monitors.

Sometimes you want something super flat and clinical, but I just always know that when I flipped those on, I know how a record is supposed to sound. They've always been my go to as far as the final check of a mix. I love how they sound and they're not too big – they don't dominate the room. I've seen some people with setups where it looks like the speakers are gonna fall on your head because they're these giant speakers hanging above [laughs]. So I like the smaller profile of those.

Are you mixing any Teskey Brothers music in Dolby Atmos?

Eric: Yeah, I'm literally finishing a few more tonight! We're doing the whole album in Atmos. I think it sounds really killer.

Sam: Yeah, it definitely sounds great. We just listened to the first few and they're sounding awesome. I'm very excited to see the rest of the album come to light. With the Atmos stuff with this record we've got heaps of ideas for a deluxe edition that we want to go all out with.

We're doing the whole album in dolby Atmos.

Sam, what is it about Dolby Atmos that appeals to you as a songwriter, musician and producer?

Sam: We've been talking a lot about Atmos throughout the record and wanting to embrace the format. I think a lot of bands are a bit like, “I don't know about this modern technology” sort of stuff. For us, it's really cool how Atmos is coming about because it's accessible for everyone to listen to on headphones. 

What I love about it are the dynamics of it; it’s bringing people back to listening to records. We're moving past the horrible loudness wars that we've been dealing with for the last 30 years or more and we're moving into a world where we've got the technology to be able to listen to things how we listen to them in the studio. That's what I've always wanted and what we want to do so we thought, let's embrace it. Let's dig deep on this Atmos stuff, and Eric feels the same.

Eric: The challenge is to maintain the same sort of punch and the centre impact, but we've definitely got that happening now which I'm really excited about. I've done a lot of electronic music where you have sound effects and swooshes and things that you can pan overhead and have it swirl around you, but we're not doing that with this – I'm not taking the guitar and having it spin around you.

For the most part, it's about being in the room with these guys playing the music, so you get the space, but you still need to feel that impact in the glue and the punch of that classic vibe of a record. Now that I’ve found that balance, I'm loving how they're sounding.

Sonos just put out these new Atmos-capable speakers that I think sound pretty killer and I've been listening to them too. I feel like we're moving towards a place where people are going to be able to hear this properly and it's not just for headphones. We're definitely heading in the right direction.

More on The Teskey Brothers:

Josh Teskey on discovering *that* voice as a kid, the enduring nature of their old-school sound and viral reaction videos to his voice.

Sam Teskey on his solo album, embracing a more psychedelic sound and the cycles of life.