Soul man

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Josh Teskey, lead singer of the multi-award winning Teskey Brothers, has a secret life – as a tradie

By Rob Johnson

You assume potential rock stars get a trade to support themselves while they pursue their dream of playing music. But Josh Teskey did it the other way around. He became a rock star to support himself while getting a trade.

“Music helped me get through my plumbing apprenticeship financially,” he explains. “When you are starting out as a 19-year-old, you’re earning about six bucks an hour. But I’d be playing with the band at a wedding on a Friday night or playing at the pub on a Saturday afternoon. And that would be my pocket money for the week—that extra bit of cash to get you through.”

That love for his trade isn’t just paying lip-service to a long-forgotten job. Even though Josh’s band, The Teskey Brothers, has released three albums and won four ARIA awards (among many other accolades), he’ll still occasionally go out and work on site between tours and concerts. The day we spoke with him, he was ducking out to quote on a job after the interview was finished.

“Plumbing is an absolutely beautiful trade,” he says. “I’m really passionate about it. And I’m really proud to be a plumber. The music and trade mix is such a fantastic thing when you can do it. For many years, some of my happiest years of doing music was gigging on the weekends and working during the week.”

 

The Plumbing Singer

All the rock and roll clichés about ‘overnight success’ apply to The Teskey Brothers—except their overnight success took 10 years. Although their first album, Half Mile Harvest, came out at the beginning of 2017 and shot straight to the top of the independent charts, they’d been slogging away at it for a decade by then. Comprising Josh on vocals, his brother Sam on guitar, along with school friends Brendon Love (bass) and Liam Gough (drums), they progressed from playing parties and street corners to concert stages.

Their fan base grew, and by the time their second album, Run Home Slow came out in 2019, it went straight to the number 2 position on the album charts.

“A lot of my aunties and uncles are musos, and my folks still play to this day,” says Josh. “We have a lot of fun with that. The biggest influences on our sound came from what was going on in the neighbourhood. I was lucky enough to grow up in and around Melbourne, and the outskirts of Melbourne, where there’s always been a thriving rhythm and blues scene. I grew up listening to people like Geoff Achison and Chris Wilson and Sam Linton-Smith.”

The band’s sound is directly influenced by blues, soul and R&B performers of the early-to-mid 1960s. Josh’s vocal performances are particularly reminiscent of singers like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. You can hear the influences in tracks like ‘Hold Me’ or ‘I Get Up’, in Josh’s smoky vocals that used to ring out across building sites when he was working.

“Anyone who knows me, knows I’m constantly singing,” he says. “They used to call me the singing plumber, because you hear me coming across the site. I liked that when I was doing more plumbing and a little bit of singing, it was the singing plumber. Now we call me the plumbing singer, because people are really surprised that I plumb on the weekends. With my record label crew, when they saw my car, they said, ‘What are you still driving this big plumbing truck for? You don’t need to be plumbing.’ I say, ‘I don’t need to be plumbing, but I like plumbing. I love my trade. I’ll always do it’.”

Secret Knowledge

The connection between his music and his trade goes deeper than you think.

Knowledge of how to play blues and soul music was often passed down from older performers to the next generation as they worked together. Josh sees his trade the same way.

“I was honoured enough to be given this skill and have this beautiful knowledge passed down to me from older plumbers,” he says. “A lot of the stuff ’s not written down. It’s an old-fashioned way of passing down knowledge from plumber to apprentice, or whatever your trade might be. A lot of this stuff , everyone does it a very similar way, but it’s story time, it’s knowledge based.

“So, I love that old-fashioned aspect of it, which I guess is an influence in my music as well. So, the secret society of plumbing, I think of it sometimes. The tricks that we know, that no-one else does.”

In between plumbing jobs, Josh is planning to spend the rest of this year touring to promote the album Push the Blues Away which he made with Ash Grunwald, and which was released in November last year. “Ash has been a really great influence for me in all sorts of ways,” he says. “I learnt so much just listening to Ash playing in the corner pub here at home. We just have a lot of fun on the stage together. It’s really just the two of us, real raw blues.”

Throughout June they’ll be playing around the country, finishing in Melbourne around the middle of the month. Then it’s back into the studio to work on more Teskey Brothers material.

“We’ve been doing some things all together in the one room. One take, rehearse it, and it’s just a real good old-fashioned recording process. And of course, it’s all recorded analogue through our tape machine here. It’s just a really good old-fashioned way of doing it. And it’s been really, really fun and we’re getting some great outcomes.”