Track By Track: The Teskey Brothers Explore ‘The Winding Way’

Dean Budnick on August 25, 2023
Track By Track: The Teskey Brothers Explore ‘The Winding Way’

photo: Ian Laidlaw


“If you were to extend the title The Winding Way even further, you could say, ‘The Winding Way of Life,’” Josh Teskey says of the third studio album that he and his brother Sam are releasing with their longstanding musical project. “It’s the unexpected challenges in your life, the different twists and turns. These are stories of love, life and relationships, coming from the point of view of me and Sam. We are in our mid-30s now. It’s a different time than when we were writing in our early 20s.”

The Teskey Brothers had been performing for nearly a decade when they released Half Mile Harvest in 2017. That record, which was named after Half Mile Harvest Studios in their hometown of Warrandyte, Australia, soon garnered international renown for its appealing mélange of throwback soul and contemporary blues. Similar acclaim followed the release of 2019’s Run Home Slow.

The pandemic then stymied a projected third album. Sam recalls, “We were isolated from each other and found it hard to collaborate properly. There was also that disorientation a lot of people felt when things were happening, then canceled, then happening, then postponed. It kept us from getting in the studio and putting down an album, but the benefit of having that time is that it allowed Josh and me to get a lot of ideas ready.”

When the moment finally arrived to reenter the studio, Half Mile Harvest had closed. This led the brothers to record in Sydney with producer Eric J Dubowsky (Flume, Chemical Brothers), a transition that corresponded with the album’s themes. The Winding Way explores life’s byzantine paths over nine original songs, along with a cover of The Zombies’ “This Will Be Our Year.”

During the interregnum between albums two and three, both of the Teskeys released solo records and Josh notes the impact those projects had on The Winding Way. “It was a fun way for me to remain creative and it was nice for Sam to have that outlet,” he offers. “Sam’s a songwriting machine, and he’s got a bunch of material that he needs to get out there, but not all of it is suited to The Teskey Brothers. He brings that psychedelic, rock-and-roll aspect to the project, and I’m bringing in more of the classic soul element. The meshing together of all that is what makes our sound what it is, and I’m happy with how it came together on this record.”

I’m Leaving

SAM: This song sums up the album for us and why it’s named The Winding Way. The song was potentially going to be called “The Winding Way,” and it was going to be the title track, but the working title “I’m Leaving” always just stuck. So we left the working title, but to us, the whole concept of the album is moving through many parts of your life and coming to a different stage.

It’s about moving away from Half Mile Harvest Studios, where we recorded all our albums. The beauty of a song, though, is that for another listener, it can be something totally different—whatever you are leaving at that time, whatever journey you are in at that moment. So I want to leave it open for everyone, but it’s about our old studio and the street name was Winding Way so it worked perfectly. [Laughs.]

JOSH: This song is true to the Teskey Brothers sound. It’s different, but it’s definitely our sound. So that’s almost like a reassurance for the listener before we take you on some more freaky journeys into the other stuff that we’re going to experiment with on Side B.

This is a song about saying goodbye to a house, saying goodbye to some land. That’s what was going on in our life— we were packing up and we were leaving Half Mile Harvest Studios. It’s talking about saying goodbye to somewhere that you connect with deeply, but also being ready to move on as well. It’s a positive song because it’s taking a step out onto the wild road that waits ahead, the winding way—the road that’s gonna wind you through life.

Oceans of Emotions

SAM: This is a love song for everyone in that stage of their life, where things are starting to get rocky but deeper. You go through that with any good relationship, when maybe you get to the 10-year mark and you go through a big journey together. Then at the other end of it, you trust that neither of you is going anywhere. The rocky roads make the relationship stronger.

It was a fun one to put together because it came about in many lights. I wrote the song quite a long time ago in a different way. It was a much more bluesy song and it just never worked for Josh’s voice the way that I had written it, so we tried it in many different ways. We got country for a little while, then ballady, then we finally discovered this 4/4 groove that it’s got now quite late in the recording process.

We’d been working on the song all day in a particular way, and then Eric, the producer, came in and said, “We just need to change it up.” We flipped the groove, changed the tempo and then Josh’s voice fully opened up to it. It’s amazing how much a groove and a tempo change completely changed the way that Josh sung it.

Since it was the end of the day, Josh’s voice was rough and raspy, but we couldn’t do anything about it because it was all live—his voice was spilling into the drum mics. That’s the way we like to record because it sounds more real to us. We did try to redo it, but all the later vocal takes were too polished for the craziness of the song.

We eventually stuck with the original vocal take. He couldn’t have done it that way if his voice was in perfect shape. It was the ideal song for him to sing in a low register and a really beautiful tone. It’s a perfect example of why we like to record live to tape and the energy it has when we do that.

Take My Heart

JOSH: When I talk about this one live, I dedicate it to parents, particularly those who’ve got young kids at the moment. It started as a love dedication to my son who was born in the middle of 2021. I had written a song about my daughter, my first born—it was on my solo record—and my partner encouraged me to make sure that each of my children had a song about them.

It ended up being more of a song about being a parent. When you’ve got two young babies, you dedicate your whole life to this moment. You’re working hard to look after these vulnerable little people.

So it’s a parenthood song, but it also links to the theme of this record as well. It’s another one of those journeys on the winding way of life.

London Bridge

SAM: This was a track that we wrote in the studio. When I’m making an album, I usually block any new song ideas, but I couldn’t block this one. It had to come through.

With any relationship you have hard moments, and I think this song crept in there through me because this was one of those moments where it felt like everything was kind of falling apart.

It began with an email where I said, “That’s what a burning bridge looks like.” Then I was like, “Oh, there’s a song in that.” [Laughs.]

So I started with that lyric, and when I got to the hotel in Sydney where we were recording the album, I started nutting out the chords on my iPad piano. Then I called the producer and asked if I could get into the studio earlier to play the piano in there. So I got to spend the first three hours in the morning working on this idea. It all happened organically.

As we were finishing cutting the song, the Queen in England had just passed away, and the code name for that happening was “London Bridge is falling.” So it feels very relevant in the moment. For us, it’s about seeing the world fall apart over the last couple of years and how the society structure sort of collapsed. It felt relevant to release it now.

Carry Me Home

JOSH: This one is a nice palate cleanser, where we sort of bring it back to basics a little bit before we go into the higher production kind of songs.

I showed the chorus to Sam, and we initially fleshed out a demo on a couple of acoustic guitars. Then it went down a whole path where we tried to bring the band in, but it never quite worked as a band song. So we went on this whole circle and finally decided to go back to the way we did in on the very first demo. It’s a bit of slide guitar, some harmonica and us singing together. It’s live in the room as well, which is beautiful.

Lyrically, I think of an old soldier out on the road. It puts the imagery in my head of him being stuck out there, missing home.

This Will Be Our Year

JOSH: I always wanted to find a song to cover where we could do our thing with it in a way that no one had ever really done before. You think of Wilson Pickett or Stevie Wonder doing a Beatles song, or Donny Hathaway doing that John Lennon track, “Jealous Guy.”

A big thanks to Eric Dubowsky on this one. He had the epiphany that we should do this Zombies song when we were trying to think of a song like this to cover.

I think this is a really amazing song and it’s in the back of everyone’s mind, but it’s not the big track that it could have been. [“Time of the Season” was the Top 5 hit from Odessey and Oracle.] It also fit the theme of the record and was really fun for us to do.

Blind Without You

SAM: We want to be open to each song and allow it to be its own thing. If a song isn’t supposed to be a soul song, then it’s not supposed to be a soul song. That means a lot of my songs don’t get used for the Teskey Brothers because they just don’t fit.

The songs that need to stick to the melody are ones that I don’t bring to Josh too much. It’s not that he can’t sing the melody, but it’s like getting a Lamborghini and putting it on a road where you can’t drive very fast. [Laughs.] Josh has such an amazing voice, I’d be a bit of a killjoy to give him a song and ask him to sing it plainly. So sometimes songs get shelved for that reason.

The way I wrote this song, the melody was built out of lots of vocal harmony, kind of like a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song where everyone’s singing the melody. So the melody was quite structured in a way, but Josh was really attached to it.

It’s written as a duet. The second verse is the person left at home. So while there’s only Josh’s voice on this one, I can imagine a future version with a guest singer as well.

Rich Man

SAM: This was one came together quite quickly. I had this chorus idea for a song and one verse, then I showed it to Josh, who came up with a second verse. Then it just sat there for a while and we shelved it.

A couple months later, we said, “We should try and finish ‘Rich Man,’” and when I listened to the voice memo that we’d made, I was like, “I think the song’s finished.” [Laughs.]

It’s obviously very Beatles influenced. When we were writing it, we were watching the Get Back documentary so a few things got swept in that world.

When we were in the studio, I think it went on for like nine minutes, but on the record, you only hear four and a half minutes of it. It just keeps going, which is a lot of fun. It’s a couple of verses and a chorus, and then a psych-out at the end.

We want to get together a deluxe edition of the album at some point, where we’re gonna do all the alternative takes because there were some pretty out-there versions of these songs that are cool, but they just didn’t work on the record.

Remember the Time

JOSH: It was fun to do a real groove-based track. I’ve been digging this one when we’ve been playing it live.

Lyrically, once again, it’s about that journey of life. As relationships grow older, they change and mature. There’s something about the early stages of a relationship and the things you do. Then when you get to know someone, it becomes different but there’s also a beauty in that change.

So it’s talking about that and saying, “There’s a positive in all this.” As we get older, life gets more complicated with each year. Having kids complicates things. There’s not as much simplicity as you used to have when you were the young, carefree self that you were in your early 20s. This song is about reminiscing about that time in your life, but also being in the present and saying, “You know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

What Will Be

SAM: “What Will Be” is a song that I had shelved for a long time. I was into the concept and the hook idea, but I could never write any verses. Then, when we got into the writing session, we ended up with way too many of them. We had pages of ideas for the verses and had to cut those down to what felt right for the song.

There’s another version that might end up on the deluxe edition, which is longer and a progressive, hypnotic sort of thing. The verses are repeating and it goes round and round.

But then we come back to the analogy about putting the Lamborghini on a road with a 20-kilometer-per-hour restriction. So we changed the song completely to suit Josh’s voice.

When we rerecorded it, Josh did the chorus but not the original melody. We left it open for him and that’s how the song sort of started. Then the rhythm slowly came in. His voice got a bit more structured, but then it turned into a big jam that we cut down for the record. So it’s a good track that got taken to another place with Josh’s voice.

JOSH: This is the most amazing song for me. I love where it got to in the end, and this has been one of the most beautiful songs to play live.

I guess more than anything, this track has the kind of psych-out stuff—the Sam Teskey element that he brings to the record. I think it’s important that Sam has his solo records as an outlet for this kind of stuff, but we still want elements of it in the Teskey Brothers.

This is something that we’ve always done, and I talk about it in our live set. We’ve got a lot of these 6/8 grooves that are soul ballads. Then in the live set, I like to take it where we would on the record, where toward the end, we get a little bit more rock-and-roll.

We recorded this one late at night with a few beers in hand. It’s essentially a jam and then, once we got the basis of it down, we added all the tightening of it up on the top. But the core of it is the wild journey that we went on live in the room. There’s a 15-minute version of this, because where it sort of fades out, it just kept on going. So we’ll probably release that at some point when we do a deluxe version of some of these songs. There’s horns and everything all the way through right to the end. But for the record, you get the hot seven minutes.

We’ve always been big believers that the digital record should be what you can fit on vinyl as well. That traditional 45-ish minutes of music is a good listening experience.