Teen Mom has existed a bit on the peripheries of the DC scene with their name steadily appearing on more and more flyers and Facebook events throughout 2011. This year saw a big upswing for the band with a bevy of local shows and a spot at the summer stalwart Fort Reno. The trio is known for jangly pop laced indie rock but their lyrics ruminating on the more melancholy aspects of life allow Teen Mom to stay fresh alongside the multitudes of acts riding the same wave. I recently emailed with the group regarding their history, the upcoming EP and the negative aspects of nostalgia.
What is the origin of Teen Mom?
Chris: I met Tom (bass) and Sean (drummer) through friends. I had just moved back to the DC area the summer of 2010. I had been writing some new songs and was looking for people to play with. I finally convinced them to play with me that winter and had our first show in March.
2011-2012 seemed to be a really great year that built consistently with Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Fest in the fall and continuing with Fort Reno this summer. What are your plans for the rest of 2012? Are there any hopes of a tour or full album release?
Chris: The fall STTP thing was actually kind of a disaster because Tom and Sean were out of town (I had said we could play before making sure), so I played a mini-set by myself which wasn't very successful. That said we actually did play as part of another STPP event at the Black Cat along with Mittenfields which was a lot better. That is the only time we've played the Black Cat Mainstage, which was sort of a dream. Playing Fort Reno was really great too; we played with a really sweet high school metal band Upforth. This label Analogue Edition got in contact with us and is going to be releasing the Mean Tom EP on vinyl. That should be ready by early September, which we're excited about. Hopefully within the next few weeks we'll have the EP up online and available on vinyl. I suppose for the rest of this year, the hopes are to get the vinyl out soon and then get some new songs out there in some way later.
DC is definitely known for being a more punk and hardcore community, but that is certainly changing with more bands forming that embrace the garage rock sound. How have you found Teen Mom to fit into the DC equation? Did you see breaking into the DC scene to be a generally positive experience or did you find it hard at first to get shows and connect with other bands?
Tom: As far as bands that we see playing shows around, there really aren't that many punk & hardcore bands anymore and very few who would not admit a strong influence from other types of music.
Sean: I think there's definitely a contingent of DC garage rock bands forming. There's also a good mixture of pop punk and shoegaze elements in a lot of them. Teen Mom fits in pretty well, although I think we try to keep things a little more dance-y and mess with dynamics a bit. Breaking in has had ups and downs. Most of the guys we've played with have been really warm and welcoming to us and our music and I hope vice versa. We play with local bands frequently and try to offer them spots on our own bills whenever possible. I'd just like to see more people coming out to local shows randomly and/or hanging out at the multitude of music venues that I wish existed. Basically, everyone we've meet has been sweet, but there's neither a really huge infrastructure to support a lot of music nor much of a culture of listening to random music around town. So, that's been cool to witness first-hand but kind of a drag when you realize your music is rarely being heard by stranger's ears. At least at live shows.
Chris: DC music folk have been very friendly and most people have been really supportive.
The past few months have seen closings of some really special and genre crossing DIY venues (The Cherch & Subterranean A) leaving people to wonder what and if something will pop up to fill the void. What are your thoughts on DC's DIY scene and what can be done to improve it (if it needs to be)?
Chris:I don't think DC is set up to really support DIY spaces…rent makes it harder to have places here than our neighbors have it in like Baltimore or Philly. I think having more spaces like that is a good thing and if kids want it, then they'll figure out a way to make it work… field of dreams
Tom: I had never been to either, though I had seen a show or two at the Paper Sun. I don't think that DC can sustain a DIY scene, given the housing situation, lack of loud industrial areas, and stringent enforcement of all unimportant laws.
Sean: I've never been to either, so maybe that reveals that I just haven't been looking in the right places for DC's real music scene. Sad that they're not around anymore, but my view is similar to Tom's. I don't think a DIY scene is really manageable in DC. While, ultimately, there need to be a lot more of them, there are some great venues in DC with local acts playing frequently. It's also not hard at all to book these venues (Black Cat backstage, Velvet Lounge, DC9, etc.). There needs to be more “Hey guys, instead of networking with a bunch of assholes after work over some shitty beers, let's go to the Red Room and listen to some music, talk about it, and drink some shitty beers.” If that kind of attitude catches on and there's a nightly groundswell of people at the few music venues we have then more dive bars will open up with some sweet stages and more shitty beer for us to drink. Instead, we have tacky bars popping up on U Street where the networkers drink beer that they think isn't shitty. Music is fucked in this town if that's the common denominator for nights out.
Teen Mom's music seems to straddle the juxtaposition seen in recent bands of sad lyrics interplayed with more upbeat dance-laced pop-rock. This is seen especially in the song Gehry with lyrics such as “I'm sad because I really like sadness” and “Someday I'll finally be happy/One day I'll disappear for a long while”, but the song's beat, while subdued it definitely has a lively drum and guitar mixing. Is there one side of that “happy/sad” equation that represents the band's ideals more as a whole?
Chris: Hmm, I don't know. I guess that is seen a lot in music today – but I think pop music has always straddled the line between upbeat music, like traditional major chord progressions while singing about how lonely or miserable you are. It’s not totally an Artist Decision I’m making though, it’s not intentional. Also I’m kind of embarrassed by, you know, mopey/sad sack lyrics, so I tend to view lines like sad because I really like sadness as almost tongue-in-cheek, perhaps though just because I find that stuff embarrassing.
Tapes have been making a revival this last year or so in the indie scene, in large part due to the cheapness of production and the easy portability for merchandise. People also seem to have a real connection and fondness for tapes. Where the main factors when you decided to put out a tape the easy/cheapness of tapes or do any of you have a personal connection/history with tapes that made creating a tape more poignant?
Chris: Tapes have become pretty popular these days, I don’t know, I’m concerned about nostalgia, because my view in general is the past wasn’t better but worse. People forget that because nostalgia dismisses the reality of the past. I suppose vinyl is a different, though, because it sounds better in a lot of instances and it’s not solely a way of recapturing some vague past. It’s actually a sound quality/how music is supposed to be listened to thing instead of a kitschy nostalgic/’recapturing the glory days of what…The 1980s?’ thing, fuck that, fuck Reagan.
Teen Mom's Mean Tom EP will be avilable on vinyl and for digital download in early November.