Artist Interview: Teenage Wrist

Posted: by The Editor

Teenage Wrist is chasing a new emotion. Most bands who lose one of their lead vocalists also lose a lot of steam, but not them. If anything, after the departure of vocalist/bassist Kamtin Mohager, the LA-based duo of  vocalist/guitarist Marshall Gallagher and drummer Anthony Salazar sounds revitalized. Their debut Chrome Neon Jesus was praised for the pop sensibilities the band brought to their grungy shoegaze, and the recently released Earth Is a Black Hole doubles down on the melody. Still operating within that fuzzy, gazey framework, the band’s sophomore record super-sizes everything. The Alternative spoke with Marshall about Earth Is a Black Hole.

I’ll start with maybe a softball. How’ve you been through this whole situation?

Yeah, a little underhand. I really can’t complain right now. Life is good. The record just came out and it’s cool to see it released into the universe. It’s been overwhelmingly positive reception-wise, and it’s a beautiful day in LA. 

Was there any worry about the way fans would respond to the style change from Chrome Neon Jesus

Oh, yeah, sure. Every time you put out a new record there’s a certain degree of apprehension about it. Either you’re going in and doing the exact same thing you did on the last record and that might be a little boring or you’re going in doing something completely different and maybe people hate it. The important thing is that you just do it. So that’s what we did. It couldn’t have turned out any other way. That’s kinda how I’ve been trying to approach everything in my life, including the record. My whole outlook for art in general is ‘high output, low attachment.’ If it fucking bombs, it’s just another drop in the bucket. 

How different was writing Earth Is a Black Hole versus Chrome Neon Jesus

Actually pretty similar. It’s not the first time Anthony and I’ve sat down to work on music so a lot of it was done just him and I. Either I’d start a demo and get down the backbone of a song and fill in the blanks drum or melody wise – and it’s the same thing we used to do with Kam in a slightly different room and with one less person. The main thing that was different this time around was we did step outside the band and do a couple of cowrites. We had a couple of cowriting sessions that turned out some incredible songs that ended up on the record, and a couple that were either really cool but not the direction we wanted or just kinda underwhelming. It was an interesting experiment. It was a successful one it seems.

What influenced that decision?

We both work with outside artists for other artists, for pop stuff – Anthony’s been producing some singer-songwriter types lately. It was just an attempt to break out of our normal patterns and have somebody spur some ideas we wouldn’t come to ourselves. Personally, I tend to write in the same tempo, same key, pull from the same melodic wells, but somebody will come at me with a slightly different chord progression and that parks a completely different idea. Sometimes you just need a little push, little poke. 

So there was no conscious decision to take Earth Is a Black Hole in this direction, it’s just what happened while you were writing?

Yeah – well I’m not gonna say there wasn’t a little bit of a concerted effort to write in faster tempos, write something that could be potentially on radio, but we tried not to focus too much on the radio. Everything we write is already infused with a little pop sensibility. That wasn’t the goal – the goal was just to start writing stuff a little bit harder, faster, vocals a little more present while keeping the shoegazey textures. Just push the vocals upfront, taking it into slightly more rock territory. 

Do you think then that the differences between this album and Chrome Neon Jesus are overstated by fans? Or understated for that matter, I suppose?

I try not to dive too much into outside – like, YouTube comments and stuff, but honestly about half the people out there think it’s the same thing again, a slight diversion, and some are bored by that – some are like, “Thank God it’s not too different.” But some people think it’s a wild change, a crazy step in a different direction. It’s all subjective, I guess. I have no idea, to be honest. We’re using a lot of the same tools we’ve always used. It’s a different producer, one less guy, some random elements thrown in. Honestly, we’ve done electronic stuff in the past a bit, it’s just been buried deeper. I guess the workflow was slightly different, but working with a different producer will do that. 

I know you’ve said “Silverspoon” was meant to be on the last album. Were there any other holdovers from that one that made it onto Earth Is a Black Hole?

I don’t think so actually. “Silverspoon” was one of those songs that just sat in a drawer for a while. I was trying to finish it, played a half-finished demo for Kam and he was like, “Oh, yeah, it’s cool,” and we were like, “Whatever, it’s not hitting so let’s move on.” Somewhere in the writing process for Earth Is a Black Hole I was digging through a bunch of old shit and I pulled this out. It was missing a lot, didn’t have a chorus yet really. There were some lyrics but the chord progression wasn’t right and a whole section that wasn’t supposed to be there. It took on a new life after two years of just being in a hole. 

That’s wild, going from that to being the lead single. 

Yeah, it crept up and nobody expected it to do anything. The second we started tracking it it was like, “No this is bigger.” It was supposed to be the last song, like a deep cut, but we started laying the bass down and were like, “Oh fuck. This is so much cooler than we expected.” 

I was curious how “High Again” came together. Was that ever meant to be a straight-up pop song? 

What happened with that one was the chorus came first and then I think I dicked around with the verses for months and had no idea what to do. I lifted this beat from this hip-hop / r&b song I liked. It was the same tempo as the chorus I had already written so I figured I’d try it and see what happens. It definitely wasn’t intentionally pop but I do listen to a lot of hip-hop and r&b on a daily basis. I figured, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Like, as long as we’re not rapping over it, you know. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of people crossing genres, but in my mind I was like, “I’m gonna take this hip-hop beat and put it into a shoegaze song.” Then the chorus I guess always sounded pop-punk to me. I don’t know, crossing pop-punk and hip-hop is usually something I hate. Sometimes I listen to that song and I wonder if it’s too far. There were intentions that came out differently – that’s one of them. 

It’s a really cool sound that, you’re right, shouldn’t really work, but I think it does.

Yeah, thank you. Hopefully there’ll be more of that in the future. I’m really gravitating towards trip-hop lately, Portishead, Massive Attack, what’s that other band? Sneaker Pimp. Peak ‘90s trip-hop stuff. That’ll probably make its way in there somehow. 

A lot of songs on here have references to death, dying, graveyards, things like that. Very timely. I was curious if there’s an overarching theme to Earth Is a Black Hole.

It wasn’t something that started as a concept album or anything, but the general feeling surrounding the record and what was happening in my life was – it’s hard to describe – I’ve always felt and been perceived as a pessimist. I do find a lot of levity and good times in life but I’m usually the one to shoot things down. I felt at some point like I was doing myself a disservice doing that. I was sick of being bummed all the time. I made an effort to be more positive, outgoing, and savor these moments. It started informing a little of my songwriting even though a lot of it was strictly a release. A lot of lyrics sound melancholy but it was really me like, “I’m trying to let all this go, and this is what I hope to do. I’m searching for a new feeling, a new version of myself.” The death thing, I wasn’t trying to focus the record on that, but I wanted to get the point across that life should not be taken lightly. It was a stab at being a little more positive, savoring the good stuff in life, cherishing your relationships. It could all end tomorrow. It’s funny – it happened in the course of making the record. Everything changed. It was just like, pandemic. It all played out in real time. I was so glad I started this journey before this all happened.

“Stella” really seems like the apotheosis of that. Lyrically and musically it feels like the natural conclusion to the arc of the record. Was that one intended to be the album ender from the jump?

It was definitely gonna be on the tail end, second to last or dead last. Not really intentionally but as we plugged away that general theme started to emerge. That “I’ll never feel the same” bit came out and it felt like a good way to tie it all together. Once you’re having a feeling, in a moment, once that’s over you’ll never feel exactly that way again. It can be good or bad. There’s a lot of potential for growth. It felt like a definite closing statement.

The imagery that opens “Silverspoon,” that “antacid on a silver spoon” line, is really interesting to me. What were you trying to evoke with that?

It’s the opening to a personal story I guess. Somebody I know, I feel like this happens a lot with people who grow up pretty privileged, they unravel a bit because it’s hard for them to find purpose because money’s not really a thing for them – I’m not saying it happens to all people. But that’s what I was getting at, money, comfort, that silver spoon, it can sometimes lead to sickness, not being satisfied. You’d think having a lot of money would make your life easier. Sometimes it doesn’t. 

One of my favorites on the record is “Wasting Time.” It just feels like a really huge pop rock song, and I’m curious how that one came to be. 

That one kinda came out of nowhere. We wrote that and “Taste of Gasoline” with Colin, the producer. Anything he touches comes out a bit more pop than anything else in the melodic sense. I hate using the word but he brought a lot of urgency, which I guess just means faster. That one was a chord progression I couldn’t crack for a long time. He took it, pried some melodies out of it, and that was that. It wasn’t meant to go for radio to anything, but people seem to like it.

The album cover is really cool, and it fits with the album thematically in a really interesting way I think. Who made that and what was the thought behind it?

I met this guy at a bar randomly – pre-pandemic, like playing pinball or something. We followed each other on Instagram, and he does cool collage art. His name’s Colin Crane, and I don’t think he’s a huge deal in the art world but I’m really drawn to animation in general and in particular some of the Terry Gilliam stuff from the Monty Python era. His stuff is surreal, and it reminds me of that but times a thousand. Like, that meets some psychedelic album cover. We just hit him up and he made four different covers for us. Three were the single covers – “Silverspoon” came out, and the next two were supposed to have their own covers, but I guess best practice for releasing stuff is just grab people with the album art, lead with that. They all came out like that, very surreal, melancholy, but bright and hopeful in a way. We gave him the lyrics and that’s what he came up with. We didn’t provide much direction. It’s really cool. 

Are there any moments on the record you’re most proud of?

I’m really proud of a lot of the tones we got. I’m psyched on everything guitar-, drum-, and bass-wise. We had a lot of time to play with tones. We would normally just roll with one or two amps, but this time Colin basically set up a big playground and let us do whatever we wanted. For what it lacks in cohesion it makes up for in cool sounds. I’m really proud of how it sounds in general. I think “Yellowbelly” is the best song I’ve written. Not to toot my own horn but I heard that and I was like, “Fuck, we’re getting somewhere.” 

Earth Is a Black Hole is out now via Epitaph Records.

Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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