Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sam Teskey On His Brother Band’s ‘Winding Way’ To Soul Success

Sam Teskey (L) and brother Josh have taken a classic soul sound and strong songwriting from Melbourne to the world.

In the opening track on The Winding Way, this year’s high-impact release from the Teskey Brothers, the mighty voice of Josh Teskey sings about saying farewell to “the old home” with all its memories and even “old Rosie” (a dog I’m guessing?) buried in the yard. This place was real - his childhood home in Warrandyte, New South Wales, Australia, on the green, woodsy outer rim of Melbourne. And when I ask Josh’s brother Sam about it in Episode 258 of The String, a flood of stories bubbles forth.

“I was born in that house,” Sam says. “And then when we got to be 20 or 21, and we were gigging around the pub scene, Mum and Dad said that they wanted to move out of the house. And I'd already started building a studio, digging out the basement. We just kind of excavated underneath the house deeper and deeper.” So Sam and Josh took over the property and turned it into an artist commune, with up to ten people living there at once, including much of what became the world-touring Teskey Brothers Band. Ten years they were out there as young adults and developing musicians. They built other buildings on the property. Sam and Josh’s wives both had babies there themselves. “A lot of creativity happened in that place,” he says.

As with Big Pink and The Band, band houses tend to do wonders for coherence, commitment and composing. But the story of the Teskey Brothers didn’t really get rolling until they made use of that basement recording studio. As Sam said, they’d been playing blues, R&B and soul music in venues around their region, mostly covers. But one day they decided to record their original song “Pain And Misery,” a lonesome Stax throwback kind of song. And they sent it with low hopes to a well-known Melbourne DJ who had a soul show. He said he loved it and would play it as long as it was on vinyl, because that’s all he spun on his program. They made a short run of singles, and like something out of Memphis in the 1950s, the song blew up. They had to press more records and couldn’t keep the stores in stock. Something was happening.

That was 2016. Today the Teskey Brothers have three studio albums and two live albums to their name and multiple world tours in their history books. This August they played their second sold-out show at the Ryman Auditorium and packed the Basement East just a few days later for a livestreamed concert. That was between playing Glastonbury in the UK on a five-month European tour and playing Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Austin City Limits Fest before heading home later in the fall. Their combination of a classic genre well played, Josh’s undeniably great voice, and well-honed bandcraft made their unlikely ascent from Warrandyte to the world possible. Billboard noted this summer that “The Teskeys’ sound is untouched by modern life, and unlike anything else pumping on radio.”

“It was quite amazing coming over here because we just thought, you know, we’ll give America a try,” Sam says about the band’s uncanny success in the States. “But we're kind of blown away that it caught on, because we thought oh, we're just a couple of Australians coming over playing American music. It felt like probably we were kind of punching above our weight, I guess. So it is really, really awesome to feel great response from the Americans. They seem to dig it.”

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of <i>The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org</i>