Text & Interview: Andy Fenwick
Photo: Michael Freeman
The great chorus: it’s the unicorn of recent rock (and by rock, I mean: it has to rock). Higher-profile bands than Teen Vice get away without writing great choruses, and that’s a crime – at least until Teen Vice ascends to where they belong. Namely, on everyone’s turntable. Overstatement? Take Ravelin premiere track “How Does It Feel,” a blissful slow-burn, asking … well, you know, and ending with a sweet afterthought of a low, Calvin-Johnson-like vocal. Or take “Kiss It Goodbye,” also from new album Saddest Summer: Before launching into a killer, indelible chorus, “Kiss It Goodbye” doesn’t go where you’d think; verses are sung against a descending chord progression with no hint of pop explosiveness. As if that isn’t enough, the bridge arrives – and it’s better than the chorus. The only words that fail are mine.
At the risk of devolving into a simple list, here’s three more: “Cochon Deluxe“ begins with old-school beats, large-style, and expands into a sneering, action-packed screed. Anti-Privilege” offers a winding, earworm of a chorus, while “Softee” is the Xiu Xiu/My Bloody Valentine/Chrissy Hynde collaboration we vote for when we dare dream.
Teen Vice isn’t doing this outta’ nowhere. May Dantas earned fame in South America with the Fingerprints; drummer Derek Pippin and bassist Joshua Ackley founded the beloved, on-hiatus Dead Betties; Tammy Hart has played in MEN and Making Friendz, all the way back to her solo albums (as Tami) on Le Tigre’s Mr. Lady Records.
Ravelin spoke with Ackley and Hart about The Saddest Summer.
Talk about the writing of ”Kiss It Goodbye.” How did that song come together? The chorus is phenomenal.
Tammy: Thank you! That song was written back when I was living in the PNW and dating someone on the brink of superstardom. The level of care and attention put into fame was very off-putting for me and what ultimately was the final nail in the coffin of that relationship. I was very open towards my distaste of fame. I found that same struggle kept creeping up in my life, in other bands I played with or in, in my jobs outside of playing music, and in friendships. The song feels just as relevant to me now, as it did then, not to say I don’t have any ambitions, I do. But I’m more in touch with and secure with the fact that my ambitions are much different than someone obsessed with being a famous person and surrounding themselves with that.
It’s exciting to hear the varied approaches of tracks like “Softee” or “How Does It Feel” without the album losing a breath – if anything, it’s all the more exciting because of those tracks. Did it feel that way while recording?
Tammy: I was very excited to team up with Josh as a songwriting partner. I think we are pretty aligned in our vision for this to be a vehicle to showcase what we are both capable of, and that’s what drew me to this project. I started out making records as an acoustic singer-song writer, then played in no-wave/garage bands, then made a RnB record. I think it’s pretty safe to say I have always aimed to be eclectic.
Josh: Thanks! Yeah, it’s interesting because we essentially have a war chest of songs, so many songs of varying styles, but this album didn’t really have a roadmap—which is new and terrifying for me. Tammy really helped me feel comfortable letting the album build itself, without a drawn-out sketch of where we would land. So, we recorded until we felt it was right, and voila, I’m extremely proud of this record!
Did those aforementioned two songs fit in without a second thought, or did you say “let’s try this?”
Tammy: We actually said “let’s try this, to both of those songs. When we were in initial stages of putting out this record, it was going to be a four-song EP … now it’s 11 songs … ha-ha. Josh and I are both fiercely prolific … gosh, I hope that doesn’t sound douchey [It doesn’t. -Ed]. Anyway, we have this competition to out write every song that we think is the best one. That keeps me going.
Josh: Yeah, we really do have a stable of songs that are in constant competition with each other. And there is a good number of them that take us out of our comfort zones, which is really exciting. I was very against putting “Softee” on the album, but one of my biggest mistakes in my former band was not listening to advice—so I listened this time, and now we have a very multi-dimensional album. And when a song like “How Does It Feel?” presents itself, you put it out, no question.
If anything, what’s something you did on the record, that you hear now, and already think to yourself, wow. I wish we’d done more of that.
Tammy: I’m really proud of “How Does It Feel” and “Y U WNT 2?” but at the same time, I do think I could keep pushing the boundaries with expanding harmonies. I put four or five on “How Does It Feel”, and three harmony layers on “Y U WNT 2,” but I do feel like there’s room to get weird. I’ve also taken off my honorary Kurt Cobain “Kill The Grateful Dead” T-shirt, and have finally allowed myself to openly embrace things like Steely Dan-esque layered guitars solos. I did those both in “Softee” and in “Y U WNT 2”… basically, I just want to be my nerdy self.
Josh: I am a diehard fan of classic hip-hop beats, and I think so many bands got the infusion of hip hop beats in rock very wrong, for so long, and that’s why I am extremely happy with “Cochon Deluxe.” That is a hip-hop beat, with metal on top—no gimmick. On our next record, I would love to show off a little more of our 70s rock side. It creeps in and out of “Saddest Summer”, but we have some real Classic Chevys that I am dying to take out for a spin.
I always like hearing what bands were listening to, by other artists, while recording in the studio. Was there anything most unlike Teen Vice that everyone dug?
Tammy: I was influenced by everything from Gary Glitter to Wilco to the Ramones to the Jayhawks, to ACDC’s Jailbreak, to anything with “Kim Deals heavenly voice”. I’m like Sybil writes songs on this record.
Josh: I’m insane when it comes to quality control. I love everything about recording and obsess over it. So, I actually put myself on a very strict Madonna diet every time I’m recording. And I pretend I’m her producer, and I have “conversations” with Madonna about what we should do differently with the song structures and the flow of the album. My “conversations” with Madonna keep me from driving the band crazy and ruining my friendship with producer and engineer, Eric Shepherd at 28 Below Studios.
Was there a surprising influence on the record? Non-musical?
The horrible state of injustice in the U.S. regarding policing and the overall criminal justice system. I left watching the “13th” (criminal justice documentary) and wrote at least 10 songs. They are still coming… A couple of them made the cut on “Saddest Summer”.
Already writing new stuff? Or hungover from the album?
Tammy: We have an entire album in waiting—some things we are really proud of… If we are lucky we will always have a couple of tricks up our sleeves.
Josh: I’m already OBSESSED with the next record. I have a running list of all of our songs, and I rearrange them almost every other day. I have like, ten different concepts for the cover and four video concepts.
Your band name: Do you get unintentional email correspondence?
Tammy: Nothing juicy yet, pretty much just emails from Ashley Booking, Lee Sobel… how do they get our emails? Am I mean? … If anyone is reading this –they have openings at The Bitter End, The Delancey, and Desmond’s Tavern?! Um yikes, have you ever been there?
Josh: HA! Well, not really the same, but we are NOT “Team Vice”, which I’ve heard us called. That is a horrible, no good, very bad band name. We are Teen Vice—which is a killer band name. We’re essentially the bad-news girl on the playground who you wanna hang out with, but your other friends are too scared. You know she’s having the most fun, though.