Excerpt from the 15th Anniversary Collection liner notes
|Tempest: Fifteen Years of Folk-Rock Revelry
With the seismic shifts the world has experienced during the last 15 years, it's comforting to know we've been able to count on Tempest to consistently deliver high caliber Celtic folk-rock since its inception in the fall of 1988. Those 15 years are lovingly chronicled across this treasure trove of rare studio, radio and live material. And while numerous line-ups and subtle changes in direction are represented, the anthology demonstrates the fact that the band has always remained true to founder Lief Sorbye's initial vision.
"I wanted to use traditional folk music as a platform for a contemporary band that combines those influences with high energy rock and roll," explained the group's lead vocalist and electric mandolinist. "It's an approach that brings traditions into the future and keeps them alive and potent. I also wanted to create a real impact by getting excellent musicians from a variety of genres to sink their teeth into this music in order to infuse it with a fresh viewpoint. Tempest members have run the gamut with people coming out of the folk, metal, alternative rock, blues-rock, jazz and singer-songwriter scenes. Each of them brought something special to the table, both musically and personality-wise. They've all left a mark on the band's musical development. That's the biggest key to the band's longevity and success."
The band's approach to updating traditional music has served it well across a career that spans more than 2,000 gigs and 10 albums-something depicted in vivid detail throughout this anthology.
"This collection gave us an opportunity to paint the Tempest picture on a much larger canvas," said Lief. "We really wanted to give the fans stuff they wouldn't get elsewhere. It showcases sides of Tempest that haven't appeared on records, including special one-off tracks and fun bits that wouldn't fit on a regular album."
The anthology's first disc focuses on the group's studio work. The CD kicks off with "Masters of War," the recorded debut of Tempest's latest line-up and journeys back in time all the way to the band's original 1989 recordings, first released on the deleted and highly sought-after Celtic Rock cassette.
"Masters of War" is a cover of Bob Dylan's scathing indictment of the political puppet masters that tug on the strings of conflict. The track showcases the band's new powerhouse line-up featuring Lief, drummer Adolfo Lazo, fiddler Michael Mullen, guitarist Ronan Carroll and bassist Ariane Cap.
"When the 2003 Iraq war broke out, people wanted the band to make a statement onstage," said Lief. "Political statements aren't what we're about, but I felt the Dylan song said everything that needed to be said. He wrote it during the Cuban Missile Crisis and unfortunately, it's just as valid today."
The disc serves as an overview of the distance traveled by a band that's logged countless studio hours honing its sound.
"The CD shows how the band has developed musically and become more sophisticated over the years in terms of its musicianship and comfort with using the recording studio as an instrument in and of itself," said Lief. "We've made significant progress in using technology and production techniques more effectively."
The second disc focuses on the band's many radio appearances over the years. It includes a number of acoustic songs, live festival broadcasts, as well as songs that have never seen the light of day previously. The CD is also peppered with commentary from DJs to provide snapshots of the variety of stations that have spotlighted the group over the years.
"We've been fortunate to have had a lot of grassroots radio support across the world," said Lief. "We've visited a lot of these stations in person and engaged in some really interesting, one-of-a-kind performances, many of which are featured on this CD. These recordings also show us with our perfectionist guards down. What they lack in polish, they make up for with energy and enthusiasm."
The third disc offers a glimpse into the band's live career-something all members agree is the lifeblood of the group.
"The real magic with Tempest happens onstage in the moment," said Lief. "It has to do with communication with the audience. You don't get that two-way communication in the studio. During a performance, you work with the audience. You collaborate with them to create something new and fresh every time. We've tried to capture that magic on this disc. It's as close to the live Tempest experience as you can get on a CD."
The disc features material from the group's no-holds-barred performance at the 2003 Philadelphia Folk Festival, as well as a couple of songs from a rare 1999 acoustic performance at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, CA. The CD also includes several pieces from Tempest's triumphant 15th Anniversary Show held at Veterans Memorial Theatre in Davis, CA in January 2004. The ambitious gig brought together eight Tempest musicians past and present who were greeted with a packed house full of fans that traveled from around the country to attend.
"It was a fantastic experience," said Lief. "Each musician put their heart and soul into it. Everyone came into it with a really good spirit. It was an impulsive and unpredictable show. We had people on stage who had never played together before and it really worked."
The show contained an encore that came as a hilarious shock to everyone. The current line-up emerged, decked out in black hoods and capes and launched into the spooky, unmistakable intro to Spinal Tap's "Stonehenge." Everything Tapheads know and love was there, from the descending mini-monument, to the medieval dancers, to Ronan doing his best Nigel Tufnel impression. The track is captured in all its glory on the disc.
"Doing 'Stonehenge' was the fans' idea," explained Lief. "We worked on it during rehearsals for the show and it clicked. So, at the last second we got a smoke machine, the capes, and built the monument, which was still drying the night before the gig. It was priceless to see the reactions of people standing in the front. They were going crazy. Some people had their mouths gaping open. They couldn't believe what they were seeing. It was a lot of fun for the band and fans alike."
Clearly, Tempest takes its fans very seriously.
"Without the fans, we wouldn't be here," said Adolfo, the
band's drummer since day one. "That we have such a loyal following
is a real blessing. They're really wonderful people. I can be my own
worst critic after a show, but I've learned that the audience gets more
out of the gigs than I might think. It's amazing when someone comes
up to you after the show and says you did really great. That's what
I take away from each show."
Michael believes the diversity of Tempest's audience directly reflects the band's multifaceted musical approach.
"It's fascinating to see the breadth and depth of people that attend Tempest gigs," he said. "The band really appeals to people from vastly different backgrounds, including varying musical tastes, politics and lifestyles. All of that goes back to the group's ability to incorporate so many different influences-sometimes all in one song-into its sound."
The experience of simply being in Tempest also means a lot to band members.
"I've never done anything as long as this," said Adolfo. "I've never even been in a relationship this long. This is a real record for me. The reason it works is because I truly get so much out of Tempest, and not just musically. We're all great friends and I have as much fun offstage as I do onstage. Even going gig-to-gig on the road is great fun. We laugh a lot. In many ways, the band members are my extended family."
Lief is confident the group will continue for a long time to come. He remains fiercely enthusiastic about its future prospects.
"Ultimately, our 15th anniversary has made me realize that Tempest has just scratched the surface of what we can do," he said. "The musical policy of the group has never become stale. When you dabble in traditional music, there's an endless source of inspiration and source material. We've made a home in folk-rock and I'm just as excited about it today as I've ever been."
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