By Andy O'Connor (TX)
Imagine if Joy Division, Sonic Youth, and Hüsker Dü got together for a jam session. Everyone wanted to stick around for some Akira, Broken Flowers, and a few episodes from Twin Peaks' first season afterwards. Make a run for beer before the store closes at midnight, order some pizza (from a local joint, not a chain), plop on the couches, and chill out. Philadelphia post-punk unit Psychic Teens sound like the result of such an evening. The trio is dark and melodic, but also playful. They're the heaviest of the new wave of post-punk groups, injecting noise rock and heartfelt anger not seen in many Curtis-come-latelys. Psychic Teens released TEEN last year and HALO, an EP of Nine Inch Nails covers, recently, and both are recommended if you want to get both heavy and moody.
Check out my interrogation of the band's vocalist and guitarist, Larry Ragone, below.
Crustcake: What was the making of TEEN like?
Larry Ragone (vocals and guitars): TEEN was quick and surprisingly easy. We bought some cheap beers and we packed our own dinners from home. That pretty much sums up the record – most of it was ready before we walked into the studio except for the vocals and lyrics, which I ended up doing on the fly. We knew what we wanted and worked with a good friend who knows our sound. We didn't even realize it'd be an LP until after we were finished.
Crustcake: Your description on the bandcamp page is "Sounds like that time you spotted your creepy metalhead brother at 80s night," but quite a few metalheads have embraced post-punk in recent years. What do you make of this interesting crossover?
Ragone: I haven’t really noticed that crossover – at least not in Philadelphia. Unless you count people arbitrarily wearing Joy Division shirts.
Crustcake: I've heard comparisons to Ian Curtis concerning the vocals. Would you say this is accurate? How you say vocals are approached?
Ragone: The vocals are the last thing on my mind when we are composing songs – at least on the first record. When it came time to decide what I wanted to do for TEEN, I knew that a monotone and atmospheric approach fit the music we had written quite well. Even the songs that were “heavier” or more “punky”, I figured that I had to keep it all sounding consistent.
Crustcake: Psychic Teens also feels heavier than many post-punk-influenced bands, mainly because of the noise-rock influence. How does that work into the music? Do you want Psychic Teens to be heavy?
Ragone: Yes. We love heavy music. Dave and I both listen to metal and Joe loves punk rock. It definitely comes out in the song writing. The initial band practices that lead to Psychic Teens featured stuff that was more “riff-driven” as opposed to the more bassline driven stuff we are playing with now. I think that the aggression that is conjured when playing heavy and loud music supplements our live performance too. We don’t want to run the risk of ever being boring or monotonous while playing a set.
Crustcake: Quite a few of the songs feature driving bass lines. Where does that element come from?
Ragone: Definitely a product of our influences. Pretty much all of our favorite bands have really melodic, prominent bass lines. My favorite songs are usually structured/arranged with the basis resting entirely on the rhythm section, and then the guitars add layers of texture.
Crustcake: The cover of TEEN, with the heart X-ed out, is quite stark, almost deceivingly cute. What does it mean to you?
Ragone: It represents the lyrical content and feel of the record. Unmistakably, this is a record about heartbreak and anger and insecurity. The cover is a very simple representation of its content.
Crustcake: The band incorporates anime into the band's visual aesthetic, such as the Ramona Flowers tee. What makes you want to work with that?
Ragone: Visual arts are as important to the band aesthetic as sound. I am a fan of comics and Japanese animation and I really think that today, people are more up on that type of visual medium than before. With images like the heart and the x from the album cover to a recognizable image from Scott Pilgrim people can make connections to other mediums while experiencing our music.
Crustcake: Does living in Philadelphia influence the band at all? What's the side of Philadelphia not a lot people see?
Ragone: Living in Philadelphia really influences the band – not as much in the sense of lyrical and musical content but certainly in our work ethic. I feel as if we need to work harder to keep up in Philadelphia. There are a lot of bands out there all competing for the same shows with the same promoters. It can get cliquey - I think the only way to combat that is to keep coming back with interesting and unexpected content and to keep peoples cellphones in their pockets while we are playing either with excessive volume or a strong visual showing.
Crustcake: Recently, you released a set of Nine Inch Nails covers. What about that band has made an impact on you creatively and/or personally? What did you want to add to the songs?
Ragone: Nine Inch Nails is a major influence on each of the Teens as well as the band as a whole. Their combination of electronic/dance music with angry, fast, loud punk/metal, not to mention mixing incredibly ugly sounds with hummable melodies, blew my mind at a young age; this was well before i knew about any post-punk or noise bands, and NIN got me to check out a wider variety of music.
Ragone: When we first came together, one of the influences I cited was The Slip-era Nine Inch Nails. Very basic and pounding rhythms with angry lyrics. I don’t think Trent Reznor gets recognition he deserves as a producer or musician. He’s great.
Crustcake: Is there a particular reason you focus on early NIN material for the split?
Ragone: This Pre-The Fragile-era – I feel is Nine Inch Nails at their purest form. I think Reznor opened himself up to too many outside influences after The Downward Spiral. A NIN political song? No thanks. The Downward Spiral is so introspective and angry. I tend to write my lyrics the same way. Plus the guitars on Broken are HUGE. Also, the obvious fact that those are all songs we all knew inside-out from hearing them a thousand times over the last 15-20 years, so it made them easier to learn and instantly more recognizable.
Crustcake: What's next for Psychic Teens?
Ragone: I think it will be a repeat of last year – some shows sporadically during the summer and then in fall we plan to have some new music available, hopefully a new 7inch at least. And playing more shows again once that comes out.
Crustcake: Juicy J can't say no to drugs. What can't Psychic Teens say no to?
Ragone: Free pizza.