It takes something out-of-the ordinary to stun The Teskey Brothers.
The siblings Josh and Sam are relaxed and take their own time and pace. They’re specialists at an authentic sound, creating and delivering blues-hewn gems as though they’d drifted from a time machine.
When the brothers were tapped as the cover stars for Rolling Stone AU/NZ’s June issue, ahead of the release of The Winding Way, there was a sense of pride and excitement.
The real surprise, however, was waiting in Port Melbourne, where the lads stopped in for the cover shoot.
Celebrated photographer Giulia Giannini McGauran (GG McG) led a full team on the day at her studio, capturing the bros against an oceanic background – a one-off “painted whirlwind,” is how she describes it.
“Whirlwind” is the right word.
“From the first ‘Are you available?’ message to the shoot, between deadlines, tours and releases we only had eight days,” she recalls.
Rolling Stone print editor Jake Challenor, design director Katie Taylor, and GG McG jumped on a call and, with the clock ticking, the trio brainstormed.
“There aren’t many, or any, photographers we would use for something so unique,” comments Taylor.
The pieces were swiftly moved into place.
“When there’s limited time before a shoot, you have to absolutely follow your gut and sometimes – as long as the research has been done – that ends up being the best way to explore concepts,” GG McG explains. “It’s direct and filters-out any overthinking.”
Just five minutes into the chat, out poured the idea of a painting.
The Teskey Brothers embrace a classic sound and “we wanted to portray them using an equally classic medium. We settled on the general direction of impressionism”, says GG McG. It felt like a “let’s go” moment.
GG McG and her partner Zaac Margin then had two days to make two fully-painted sets, stretching three by six metres.
“We stood there staring at the blank canvas a little overwhelmed with how to approach it, knowing we were about to throw our bodies into painting mode with all the force we could muster”.
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The Teskeys’ art guided their hand.
“We listened to their music for a little while we figured it out. Layers of painting or post-production are very similar to layers in music.”
As that canvas began to breathe, three distinct conceptual layers were applied.
The first was light and shade – an interpretation of the Teskeys’ balance of music themes. The underlayer would have two key tones, one more vibrant, one darker to introduce movement.
Layer two would reflect the “incredible tone” in Josh Teskey’s vocals.
“His voice has a roughness and coolness to it,” explains GG McG. The underlayer would be produced with a punkier dry brush, using thicker and bolder strokes which build on the movement created by the foundation.
Over the top, a third layer representing the group’s guitar work. Think smooth flicks and slides with a smaller brush, for a swirling effect. An ocean of emotion.
Once finished, stylist Benjamin Bates got to work creating two looks, “both beautiful”, GG McG recounts.
A full day of painting with Alex Giannini rendered European-style tailored suits into ocean-dwelling props, an extension of the colourful sets.
Everything was enhanced: from the suits, to the belts, watch faces, t-shirts, shoes and shoelaces. Even the chair on set was painted.
Touch-ups were applied to the lads throughout the day.
Just 12 hours before the shoot, “we took a deep breath and realised that it worked”, adds GG McG. Not only was it a clear winner, the elements all connected, coalesced.
Then, the magic happened at GG McG’s work space.
From the outside an innocuous, converted 1940s newsagent. Inside, the atmosphere was buzzing, as the entourage arrived – members of the RS team (including journalist Lars Brandle and content producer Bella McDonald), Mushroom Music (senior publicist Loz Grice), hair, makeup and stylist (Farnoosh Zehtab, Bates), and, of course, the artists.
“It was really, really exciting to be the cover artist on the front of Rolling Stone, it’s a real honour and it feels like a moment in history for us,” comments Josh Teskey. “I think all bands and artists feel like it’s this moment in your career where you’re like ‘Yes, all right, we’re on the cover of Rolling Stone’.”
GG McG recalls the “nerve-wracking moment” when the brothers strolled in, separately, to experience the concept and styling for the first time. “You just have to keep all your fingers crossed they will like it, own it and embrace it. And they really did.”
She fired away with a flash.
“With all the hullabaloo going on with the painting it needed the simplest lighting to provide a contrast and capture the more real and raw cultural identity of Rolling Stone,” she explains.
The artificial light would create the necessary shadows to create a separation between the brothers and the background.
Murphy’s law is forever practising.
Right before the shoot was set to start, GG McG’s camera stopped working. As teams took their place, her stress levels began to soar. After multiple resets of her device, nothing. Thousands of shoots without a hitch, the camera was kaput.
“I have never experienced blind panic before but it truly was,” she says with a laugh. The drama was captured for posterity; nothing escapes the camera in GG McG’s studio, not even the boss in her moment of need.
Then, a solution.
“Just as I was giving up, something in me just told me to change the lens.”
She inserted one and felt a click. The lens had dislodged and caused catastrophic failure to the camera. From that point onwards, “ever shot and every moment of that shoot felt like absolute joy and relief”.
That joy is captured in the pictures, the final results of which can be seen on the cover of RS, and inside its pages.
Every person in that room, recounts Taylor, “had some ownership of this incredible cover”.
GG McG’s CV now boasts four RS covers – Tones and I, Tash Sultana, The Wiggles and now the Teskey Brothers.
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“Each shoot has just had this incredible energy,” she notes. “It always feels like a really special moment where everyone is incredibly present and there to give it their absolute all.”
Before walking through the door, the Teskeys knew nothing about the ideas that had come to fruition. It was an experience they’ll never forget.
“We were really blown away by the professionalism of everyone involved, a really fun photo shoot to be a part of,” says Josh. “Big thanks to everyone for that. And I love how it’s come out, it’s really different for us.”
Produced by Grammy and ARIA Award-winning studio master Eric J Dubowsky, The Winding Way (via Ivy League) is Teskey Brothers’ third studio album. It’s out now, and recently ascended to the top of the ARIA Albums Chart.
The June issue of Rolling Stone AU/NZ is available at newsagents and at Coles nationwide.