"If I’m going to speak about something negatively, it’s got to have a purpose"
Teenage Wrist are gearing up to release their brand new album 'Earth Is A Black Hole' via Epitaph.
Created at a time of immense change for the band, mainly in learning how to make music as a duo rather than a trio, the record is a wonderfully vibrant and gorgeously put-together collection of big rock songs with a shimmering streak of positivity running through its core. At a time where it's getting easier and easier to look at the downsides, Teenage Wrist have produced an album that through the means of fuzzy guitars, beautiful vocals and brilliantly considered aggression offers a hand to hold and void to scream into.
We jumped on the phone to chat to vocalist/guitarist Marshall Gallagher to talk about how they set about creating not just the record's sound but also its message...
So where were the first glimmers of this album coming together for you? What do you remember about those early stages? There have been changes internally within the band within all of this, so where in those drastic changes did something start to come to life?
“That would have been middle of 2019. We put out ‘Counting Flies’ in May, so I started poking around with stuff around then. We then did a tour with Nothing and Basement and that ended up being our last run with Cam. Pretty quickly after that, in around July, was when he told us he was going to leave the band. At that time I must have been tinkering around with some stuff that I was going to bring to everybody but from there it became obvious that Cam wasn’t going to be doing this with us anymore. I had two songs and those two songs would end up becoming ‘Wear U Down’ and ‘Yellowbelly’. I had been singing on the demo versions, maybe with the intention of singing them properly, and I got Anthony [Salazar] to play the drums over them just to see if it would actually work. We weren’t really convinced at the time that we could do this band without Cam. He was a cornerstone and an integral part of the writing process and he had so much of the vision for the image and aesthetic of everything. So are we even going to be able to function? Is anybody even going to give a shit? Though then the general response to those demos was, “Okay, yeah. This can stay. This is going to work.’”
Sometimes all it takes is that validation from others to really solidify what you’re doing is good. Because when you’re in the middle of that process, it’s hard to really judge it…
“Yeah, well we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s good. We’ve convinced everybody else that we can at least churn out a couple of good things and the ingredient that may have been missing doesn’t necessarily have to be there. From there we just tried not to think about it. There were so many moments on this record where something would come out idea-wise, and in a normal state would question it and go, ‘Is this Teenage Wrist?’ but then in those moments we would also go, ‘Who fucking cares?’ Let’s just do it and see what happens.”
It feels as though the main thing you’ve got out of this process is developing a record that feels, most importantly, human. There is positivity but there is also doubt, much like how the human brain process emotion on a daily basis. How did that come to the forefront for you?
“This happens with everything we have ever done, but we didn’t intentionally go into this record with a defining theme or any particular direction sonically or lyrically. It just has a way of forming around what is going on in our personal lives. The record because of that is just a 100% reflection of where I was at. ‘Chrome Neon Jesus’ was very much a coming of age record. It was also very much a bummer record when it was supposed to be melancholic and nostalgic, but I was past that feeling. I had been doing a lot of work on myself to get past it. Then ‘Earth Is A Black Hole’ is my attempt at a departure from pessimism and a departure from what people tend to think is nihilistic. Like, you can be a nihilist but that should serve as more motivation to live your life to the fullest and to try every bit of love and happiness and meaning out of the moments that you can get them. It can all just go away at any second.”
You also realise that you may not want your whole band to be defined by this one emotion and one state of mind. You don’t want people to expect to see a certain version of yourself all the time. And if you tell yourself enough that you’re one thing, you’ll start to believe it…
“I’ve really started to see that play out over the last year. The second you put a piece of music out there, it becomes immortal and people become realty attached to it. When you have a change of heart and change of mind and that comes out next, a lot of people appreciate it but it can also fuck a lot of people up. Art should be a little freer than that and you shouldn’t have to convince people that you’re not this version of yourself.”
The thing is that you’re changing as a person so much between those regimented album cycle boundaries, and you don’t want to get to a point where you’re dreading the thought of going into the studio because you have to present this new version of yourself in musical form…
“That feeling increases tenfold when you’re in a band that sings about nothing but bummer shit. When you have no other intent than wallowing in your own sadness. That’s cool for a period of time and it serves a purpose, but I got to a point where I didn’t want to be bummed out anymore. If I’m going to speak about something negatively, it’s got to have a purpose. It can’t just be self-pity and pining and whatnot, because then I won’t want to write it. It becomes this self-fulfilling prophecy cycle where you’re writing because you’re bummed out and you’re bummed out about what you’re writing. You’ll just feel that way all the time and that will really come to define you.”
So how did it feel for the two of you when you realise you had made it through and developed this whole body of work that had a title and actual songs and artwork? In that moment did it shift from, “I guess we can do this” to “Oh, we did it”…
“To be totally honest, I don’t think that feeling has hit yet. The thing that comes next is still very much a feeling of, ‘Who the fuck knows?’. Are we going to be able to tour at any time in the next year? Is the album going to have longevity or is it going to pop off for a month or two before people forget about it? I can’t truly answer it, because we’re not at the point yet.”
So how has your relationship with what the band is changed over the course of this process?
“It does feel like an accomplishment. It has evolved from something I’ve been a part of but not necessarily been in control of. That feels really cool and to now be in the driver’s seat essentially, alongside Anthony of course. It’s a more prominent role and that feels validating and fulfilling to see both of us in that role. It feels like something we have actually done rather than something that has just happened to us. The turning point for me really was when we heard the test pressings. At that point, I was fucking sick of hearing these songs and was ready to move onto the next thing. But it just sounded like it was made for wax and it completely switched my head around. I knew at that moment we had made something that made me feel something and that I’m immensely proud of.”