FEST Feature Friday: Tea Leaf

Written by Kayla Albee

Photo by Francesca Tirpak

Tea Leaf, the solo project of singer-songwriter Tom Lee, will be performing an acoustic set at FEST this November in Gainesville, FL. While Tom has performed at FEST in the past as part of the punk band Hora Douse, this will be the first year that he’ll be playing a solo set.

Tea Leaf’s new EP, Motions, was released on September 20th. You can stream the EP below, and check out this week’s interview with Tom Lee where we talk about vulnerability in writing, performing as a solo artist, the FEST community, and more!

Photo by Francesca Tirpak

Q: Tea Leaf shows a vulnerable side that, while immensely personal, is also easily relatable. When writing, do you ever have second thoughts about the level of vulnerability you're putting into a song?

A: Oh yeah, all the time. I think it’s become more of a recent thing where I’ve started to be more comfortable with my openness, because I realise, that’s how I relate myself to most songs I like from other artists. I used to guide my writing more discretely and try to be a little clever or poetic in my wordplay or imagery, so my lyrics were a little less earnest, and there’s an art to that too, but right now, I think it makes sense for me to write bluntly about these things that feel raw and intimate, because it’s natural for me to do so.

Q: You have experience performing in a band, as well as playing solo. How did you transition from writing for a punk rock band to writing stripped down songs as a solo artist?

A: They were both always a constant for me. I grew up listening to bands and punk music, so playing in bands was how I worked up my confidence and writing chops, but the practicality of being in a band isn’t always as simple as being a lone songwriter. Particularly now where I live relatively far away from my bandmates [in Hora Douse], it’s much easier to rely on myself without waiting on anyone else, so I’ve naturally inclined myself to creating and touring more often as a solo artist, because I was never going to stop writing and performing my songs. Also, a lot of the songs I write with bands usually start off on my own too!

Q: You'll be performing a solo set at FEST this November! With FEST being very band-dominated, what are you looking forward to as a solo artist?

A: I’m nervous! I’m aware I’ll likely be the quietest set of the whole FEST, but I think it’ll be a lovely time. I’m on at 2 PM during Sunday at the Civic Media Center. The vibe there is always sweet and relaxed, so I hope there’ll be some people looking to find a reprieve from all the noise towards the end of the weekend. I’m also hoping to have a few friends sing with me, so not an entirely solo set!

Q: What artists are you most looking forward to seeing perform this year? Any specific songs you'd love to hear live?

A: I’ve not thought too hard about this honestly! My main motivation coming back to FEST is to see friends over bands. So I suppose, my friends’ bands! Particularly the pals I’ve met over the last few years, who I only get to see out in the States. I met and hung out with Tim and Vi from Gutless last year, but it was after they played, so I missed them. But I’ve listened to their songs a bunch since, so I’m excited to catch them. My friends in Fresh are flying over from the UK with me too, and it’ll be their first FEST and US trip, so that’ll be exciting to see. They’ve put out a great new record recently, and are on an ascendant trajectory, so I’m excited to watch them rock a full house at Loosey’s. There’s Gilt and Bike Tuff, who are good buds. Obligated to see one of the last US Astpai shows too. I’ve never seen Less Than Jake before, I guess. There are too many bands to name! I’m looking forward to belting the outro of “Getting Sodas” at TWIABP again!

Q: FEST is known for its strong community. In your opinion, what do you think makes FEST so special?

A: There’s a real positivity, kindness, and solidarity within the FEST community that feels kind of unmatched anywhere else I think. With what I’ve experienced anyway. I never intended to return three years in a row, but I’m doing it, and I think it’s because of the warmth of the people I’ve met out there. Also the warmth of the Gainesville weather beats my cold and rainy hometown of Manchester any day.

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