The Teskey Brothers on the enduring nature of their timeless sound

Josh Teskey can really wail. The lead singer of blues rock band, The Teskey Brothers is a man possessed by the holy spirit of Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett, sent here to deliver us from mediocre vocals. Despite invoking the old school sounds of a bygone era, this group isn’t from the Deep South, but is one of Australia’s best kept secrets. For now.

Formed by brothers Josh (vocals and rhythm guitar) and Sam Teskey (lead guitarist) from Warrandyte, Melbourne – later joined by Brendon Love on bass and Liam Gough on drums – The Teskey Brothers went from busking on the streets, to eventually releasing their self produced and released debut album Half Mile Harvest.

Josh took his early inspiration from soul singers Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Bill Withers and Stevie Wonder, while Sam’s ears pricked to the psychedelic sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Eric Clapton and The Allman Brothers Band, which would go on to inform The Teskey Brothers’ sound – although Josh shares that they didn’t start writing songs until later in life.

“When I was about 12 years old, me and Sam would be on a couple of guitars, wailing across the marketplace and always loving that rhythm and blues sound,” he reflects on their early busking days. 

“I have been singing like this since I was a kid. We’d be screaming across marketplaces in this bluesy kind of fashion, playing some crazy Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, blowing some harmonica and singing in the way I did, with Sam wailing away on guitar. 

"But it was a different matter to actually start writing songs in that style. Then the four of us basically played constantly, every weekend for close to 10 years before we even recorded anything.”

It's a timeless sort of music that is in people's hearts, and it fills my heart to keep that alive in the world.

Since their impressive debut album, the band have expertly crafted their signature bluesy sound, and the world outside of Australia has finally started to take notice of The Teskey Brothers, usually noting their astonishment that they hadn’t heard of them sooner, and praising them for reincarnating the sounds of the ‘60s soul greats.

“We never expected to see much from this kind of old style,” Teskey admits. 

“We didn't think it was ever going to be a popular genre or a style of music that people would really get behind. We've realised over the years that there's a real place for it and a real love for this classic sort of sound, and it's really beautiful to see. I feel a lot of love for the world for having a place for that still. 

"Rhythm and blues has been here, and it seems like it's gonna stay here – it's a timeless sort of music that is in people's hearts, and it fills my heart to keep that alive in the world.”

Teskey is here today to talk about the band’s new album, Live At Hamer Hall, recorded last December mid-pandemic to an empty room. The group’s songs were reimagined by arranger Jamie Messenger and performed live onstage at the iconic Melbourne venue with Orchestra Victoria, led by conductor Nicholas Buc, and streamed live to fans across the world on YouTube. 

The 50-minute performance features hits from the band’s two critically acclaimed albums Run Home Slow and Half Mile Harvest, and includes two original Teskey Brothers Christmas songs, Dreaming Of A Christmas With You and Highway Home For Christmas.

“For the set list, we've tried to pick the more melodic pieces that we thought would suit an orchestra,” he explains, adding that impressively, the album was recorded live. 

“It was magic as far as the band syncing with the orchestra, having no audience in the crowd and just focusing on the music and singing in this beautiful room. There's a beautiful thing about performing live and the energy of people, and I love that, but there is something about having that pressure off you with no audience where you’re just focusing on your musical performance…” he trails off at the memory.

When you listen to this recording, you can hear a pin drop in there.

He’s comparing Live At Hamer Hall to the band’s 2020 live album, Live At The Forum, where the audience are a key part of capturing the electricity of the evening.

“It captures the energy,” he agrees, “and you can hear the way we're feeding off the energy – it feels so fed by the adrenaline of the night. When you listen back to a recording, we were rushing things and I had blown my voice a little bit; I'm screaming and husking away,” he laughs good naturedly. 

“I’m going 110% the whole way through because you're just feeling that beautiful energy, but when you do something like this in Hamer Hall to an empty room, there's a real sensitivity about it. You can imagine that every one of these notes is echoing through that empty hall. When you listen to this recording, you can hear a pin drop in there. It’s a really beautiful musical performance, not fed by any adrenaline of performing to an audience.”

The two Christmas tracks on the album are bluesy Teskey Brothers numbers through and through, tapping into themes of spending time with loved ones. Teskey’s personal favourite Christmas songs are Otis Redding’s version of White Christmas – “that’s a ripper” – and a more obscure choice from fellow Australian Paul Kelly in his song, How to Make Gravy.

“You’ve gotta walk a tightrope of how deep into Christmas you go,” he says of avoiding Christmas cliches. “I wanted Dreaming Of A Christmas With You to be a Christmas song, but I wanted it to be a beautiful bit of poetry, and for it to lyrically make sense. It’s a love song about separation leading up to Christmas. 

"It's very Australian themed, to be honest. The Murray River separates the two bits of land here, and there was a real hardcore border between these two communities that were separated by that river during covid. I wanted to make it like a love song, but with some Christmas themes in there.”

Highway Home For Christmas was written by Gough, which has a more psychedelic flair to it.

“That's his sort of world,” Teskey acknowledges. “The Teskey Brothers’ songs are a real mix of the different individual members. It's an almost psychedelic, freaky kind of song, but it's got a little Christmas theme to it. 

"We’ve got a real appreciation for Otis Reading and Stax Records where they did these songs with a little touch of Christmas about them, like a couple of sleigh bells or something like that, but they are these beautiful songs, and we wanted to do something in our style.”

I was really rough around the edges and really husky because I’d been gigging and singing every night, so it was really raw!

Headliner wonders if Teskey has seen the viral videos circulating the internet of people reacting to his stripped back performance of Rain for A Colors Show (watch it immediately; we’ll wait) – one viewer succinctly summing up his raw vocal performance with the words, “When Thor gets the Soul Stone”.

“I've seen a couple of them,” he admits, smiling modestly. “I've had a really good time watching a couple of these. We did this in this funky little warehouse in Berlin and I did that in front of that mic after back-to-back shows. 

"I got up early in the morning and did that session, and I was really rough around the edges and really husky because I’d been gigging and singing every night. So it was really raw, but I guess it actually came out kind of cool because of that. That’s probably one of the biggest videos that we've ever done. I had no idea when I was doing it how widely viewed that video was going to be.”

The Teskey Brothers are taking the orchestra on tour in Australia starting in January 2022, and Teskey looks forward to the day the band will perform in the UK again.

“We can't wait to be back,” he says as the interview comes to an end. “I love being in the UK. I can't wait to be back over there having a nice room temperature ale in one of those beautiful pubs.”

For now, it’s only covid-related restrictions standing between the band taking their show on the road and them finding inevitable widespread global recognition. In the meantime, don’t ever let that man clear his throat.