John Teer | Music Feature | Indy Week

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John Teer


Ten seconds ago, John Teer was talking about his band, Chatham County Line. To be more exact, Teer was talking about the dismay he feels whenever he hears that Chatham County Line is one of the most popular Americana bands in all of Europe. Now, though, he is clueless.

Almost instantly, his ears perk up, and, almost innately, his fingers set to tapping. The helter-skelter bassline of The Flaming Lips' "Fight Test" pumps overhead, Teer keeping immaculate time as a smile sweeps across his face in one unhesitating motion.

"Now that right there is perfect pop," he giddily declares, his eyes brightening up behind those high-riding glasses as the bartender at Mitch's Tavern finally opts out of Weezer's sulky "Pinkerton."

This man loves music. This man knows music. This man makes music. And those are the first few facts that anyone needs to know about Teer, a 26-year-old Shelby-raised bastion of musicianship and manners. Teer has been hard at work with his love for quite a while, playing some sort of music nearly every day of his life since his Mom--an organist and recently retired high school English teacher of 40 years--began teaching him the Suzuki method for the violin at the age of 3. With a Mazola margarine box glued to a ruler and a pencil for a bow as his instrument of choice, he can remember sitting indoors--doubtlessly playing, practicing and listening--while his friends laughed outdoors.

"Oh, I practiced for hours and hours and she pushed me to do it. And I hated it," Teer laughs, the steel-eyed portrait of his modern country hero, Dwight Yoakam, painted thickly on his T-shirt, refusing to crack a grin. "But now I appreciate what she did for me. I hear music so well now, I can just join in with anybody ... from jazz to funk to reggae to Dixieland jazz."

Long after his 13th birthday, Teer stopped concerning himself with his parents' musical proclivities, finally finding what he casually calls "good music." Latching onto the sounds of the classic-rock luminaries like Hendrix and Page, he bought his first guitar. Picking up his first few bluegrass albums shortly out of high school (he recalls an early Sam Bush record and John Hartford's "Morning Bugle" as true tinder), Teer began to pay close attention to the genre. Before long, he was boot-level deep in the sound of Americana.

Eschewing college (he enrolled at N.C. State, took classes at Wake Technical Community College and considered shipping north to Berklee College of Music) in favor of an on-stage apprenticeship, Teer formed Burgeon--an eclecticism-geared, bluegrass-based fusion jam joint--with his best friend Chandler Holt, Waylandsphere's David Titchener and Stephen Koster. In retrospect, Teer sees the outfit's two-year run as something of a professional quest for maturity, as he and his bandmates scoffed at the Phish and Widespread Panic antics of their contemporaries, opting instead for deliberate songwriting originality.

Teer moved on, briefly joining the Two Dollar Pistols on fiddle as Burgeon fell by the wayside. He and Holt began taking note of Stillhouse, the local, lap-steel favorite, which included Dave Wilson and Greg Readling. Teer and Holt, impressed by the Byrds/Band approach of Wilson and company, befriended the crew, sitting in occasionally and simply marveling otherwise.

Before long, Chatham County Line was in the works, practicing at the famed Blue House on the corner of Boylan and Hillsborough until the break of dawn. But Wilson joined Tift Meritt and The Carbines, and Teer hooked up with Thad Cockrell's "no alt in my" Starlite Country Band.

"Chatham County Line wasn't supposed to be this. We would just play at Sadlack's and just be the local band that people knew because we all played in another bigger band," Teer reminisces. "Then Chris Stamey saw us play and told us he would love to record us, and that he would pay for everything."

Now, Teer couldn't be happier. He holds down a day job teaching music to some 40 students in half-hour increments by way of the tested-and-tried Suzuki method. He tells each of them that with just a bit of practicing and listening every day, they can understand music. His mom couldn't be happier.

Life with Chatham County Line looks better with every energetic set, with every late-night practice, with every laudatory review (and there have been plenty). Their self-titled debut, out on Bonfire Records, is as solid as any roots music debut this year, full of careful, studied song craft and ebullient, awe-inspiring instrumental risks. Stamey's production is perfectly flawed, rendering the record as an uncommonly visceral affair of its own genre. They rollick during "Tennesee Valley Authority," haunt during "Wichita Central" and manage to burn the barn and shed some tears with "Song for John Hartford."

"With this band, there's no star. Everybody works together," Teer beams, singing each member's praise in generous five-minute intervals of genuine admiration. "With us, we're all great friends, and it's all about the band--just like The Band."

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