Cathartic in Nature: An Interview with Punk Rock Band Teen Mortgage
By Eli Duncan-High
My first article for the Music Review Board talked about the current punk scene as well as some of the artists leading the way in the punk revival. One of the bands I mentioned was Teen Mortgage. Teen Mortgage is a two piece band composed of guitarist and vocalist James Guile and drummer Edward Barakauskas. Together, this dynamic duo has created a raw sound that has woken up the DMV. Teen Mortgage has achieved enough recognition that they have opened for high profile acts such as Alkaline Trio and The Chats. I was fortunate enough to schedule an interview with Teen Mortgage to learn more about who they are and what drives their sound.
Eli: How do you feel about punk? Do you identify as a punk and where does your music fit in punk?
James: I identify as punk. Punk constitutes being the underdog and pointing out the absurdity of the status quo, much like a comedian in a way. Our music fits with punk because it’s anti-capitalist and has that “f*** you” to it.
Ed: Everyone has their own definition of punk and it’s subjective to whatever their experience is. It’s a pretty blanket term as to what would apply as punk. Some people when they think punk they think early oi! and some people think hardcore punk. We don’t fit neatly into any of those but it’s kind of a benefit because we can kind of flow and play adjacent to a lot of these groups. From an attitude perspective our music comes from a cathartic nature.
Eli: Ed, as you know the drums are the foundation for a successful band. Who are your biggest influences and how do you incorporate their styles into your music?
Ed: That’s always such a hard question. I’m definitely past the point in my musicianship where I’m influenced by very technical players. I’m more into players that define their own space within their own genre. Even though they might not have the most technical skills or are not the best drummers in their genre. One of the people that comes to mind is Meg White (drummer for The White Stripes) but you talk to people in the garage rock scene and they see her as the perfect drummer for The White Stripes. Technique and skill adds to your palette but what you’re doing when you go up to play is you’re communicating who you are in the song.
Eli: James, you’ve taken the 80s hardcore vocals and made it fresh and new. I can hear a Kurt Cobain-like influence in your music. Who are your influences and how have those influences been incorporated in your music?
James: Some of the guitar players that have influenced me are East Bay Ray, Poison Ivy, Johnny Marr, and John Dwyer. Zac Carper of the FIDLARS has influenced the way I sing, I like his fast type of rapping in his songs that also kind of fits into hardcore. We never set out to be a hardcore band but the music we were listening to pushed us in that direction. Teen Mortgage also takes a lot of influence from the West Coast scene in the U.S. particularly with surf rock.
Ed: Some desert rock as well like Fu Manchu.
Eli: James, you’re an avid skateboarder. What got you into being a skater and what is the current skating culture like? What advice would you give to someone who wants to learn to skateboard?
James: I knew this kid in my neighborhood who skated who had plastic ramps and I was definitely interested in being in the air. This was also around the time Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (a skateboarding video game) came out and when you booted the game up all of this good music came on which also included punk, so I got into punk and skateboarding at the same time. The current skate culture is super cool right now but social media has kind of messed it up a bit. Maybe that’s an old head thing to say but it’s definitely taken some of the value out of it. Like when you used to wait to get the skate magazines and you’d read and go how did they do that? Then you would wait for the video to come out and you get your mind blown but it’s not like that anymore. Now with Instagram it’s way quicker to see everything and it kind of ruins that anticipation.
However, skating is way more creative now and girls and people of the LGTBQ+ community are being accepted in the skateboarding culture. My advice to someone who wants to learn to skateboard is that you have to go out and do it and don’t give up.
Eli: Ed, I understand you love to lift weights. What is your routine when you go to the gym and how do you fit working out with your touring schedule?
Ed: Yeah it’s rough with touring. I joked around when we were doing the U.S. tour that I was going to start bringing weights with us. When I’m on tour I go out there to play drums so I do a light workout to keep the routine. Light weight lifting is also good to relieve the tension you get when you’re sitting in a car for hours. Nutrition is also hard to balance out when you’re on tour as well. I powerlift when I’m at home and I also train with my father. When I train with my father I do bodybuilding motions because it works for both of us and it’s better on your joints which is good for my father. Powerlifting is more of a sport but it’s actually safer than what most people think because it’s a static motion because you’re lifting things that are meant to be lifted.
Eli: When and how did you both meet and realize “oh we have the drive and talent to form a successful band”?
James: I moved from the UK to the U.S. to be with a girlfriend I had at the time. I was trying to start up Teen Mortgage and I was desperate to find a drummer once I got to the States. So I went on Craigslist and that’s where I found Ed. We played together for about a month and I already had songs written so we were able to book our first show in DC at DC9. We were really excited to book that show and Ed encouraged me that we should keep this going. Ed was giving me a lot of drive.
Ed: There’s a drive but also a stubbornness to it. There’s been times where we have hit rough patches and if one of us dials back the other one is on it to bring us back up. I don’t think we have ever reached a point where both of us were simultaneously not motivated so we definitely push each other in that way. James is the only person in the groups that I’ve been with that has matched my work ethic. Playing shows is the fun part but there are other things that you need to do to make that happen; like a strong work ethic. There is definitely a certain amount of luck to finding success but when you do find that luck you need to have a strong work ethic as support.
Eli: What makes Teen Mortgage so unique is that it’s a two piece band. Local H is another two piece band where singer and guitarist Scott Lucas uses a modified guitar to play guitar and bass at the same time. Do you use a similar modification James?
James: No but I wish, I use an AB splitter pedal which means you get two sounds coming out of the one guitar and then you can do two pedal chains from either end of it which is how I’m able to play guitar and bass at the same time.”
Eli: Is there any particular reason why Teen Mortgage doesn’t have a bassist or is it that you and Ed have such really good chemistry with each other that you don’t need a bass player?
James: *in a joking manner* Bass players have a lot of opinions, you got to feed them
Ed: Take them for walks
James: You got to make sure they have drinks and food in the back of the van. So why do that when you can just throw the bass in the pedal case. That’s a harsh answer but it’s definitely more feasible to do for touring.
Ed: There’s also an economy to it as well because up until recently we toured in a little hybrid crossover and we could fit all of our gear and merch and sometimes an extra person in there. So for the first couple of years it was good for us economy wise. Trying to find another person you can get along with on the road can be hard to find.
James: I think eventually we would like to expand the band but were not done with the two-piece yet
Eli: Teen Mortgage has some amazing cover art which makes you guys stand out from the rest. Who is the artist for your covers? Do you guys have a favorite artist that has inspired you?
James: The artist for our first and second EP covers is Melanie Be. We have also worked with Kevin Suttick who has done all of our other covers except Such is Life which was done by Alex Doucette. The artwork has a cartoon and comic book kind of innocence to it but we add in some real world, satirical, and horror movie type aesthetic to the art. When you ask me about an artist that has inspired me I would definitely say Raymond Pettibon and Jamie Reed.
Ed: I’m a little bit more eccentric when you ask me about art. One of my favorite artists is Richard Serra who is a sculptor. He is considered to be America’s greatest living sculptor and he works with mostly massive slabs of steel. He does these gigantic installations and kind of did them through utility because when he was going to art school he was paying for his schooling by working at steel mills and that evolved into him sculpting with steel because those were the materials he had at his disposal. He then began to create these huge monolithic slabs of metal. I like the philosophies he instills in his artwork.
Eli: So far Teen Mortgage has released 5 singles and 2 EPs. Could we expect another EP or even a studio album soon? Also what is Teen Mortgage’s plan for their sound? Do you plan on keeping or changing the sound in the future?
James: I’m glad you asked because we got the single “Away” dropping on October 27th and then will probably release a couple of more singles. We also have a vinyl which will include all of the singles and EPs that we have released. The vinyl is on pre-order right now through King Pizza Records. The next part of our plan is to do a full length album but we are still in the feel stages of that. When it comes to our sound we experiment in the wheelhouse where it’s like does that fit into the universe of what we’re doing? If we want to get outside of the universe that would be much later but we’re still enjoying what we’re doing
Ed: We have a lot of stuff in the works but the vinyl will help us tap into a market that we haven’t been able to tap into. With the way streaming works a lot of people are probably going to discover stuff that we have out that they just haven’t accessed yet. So some of the songs will be revisited once we do that. Our sound will also grow with us whatever we are putting out will be a reflection at where we’re at. We are already in a good place because we cover so many genres in what we are doing and I don’t see us exhausting that anytime soon.
Teen Mortgage will be touring with The Smashing Pumpkins and Weezer in the UK and Ireland in 2024!
Below are the dates for non-sold-out shows:
Friday June 7th, Birmingham Utilita Arena
Saturday June 10th, London The 02 *Limited Availability*
Wednesday June 12th, Glasgow Ovo Hydro
Thursday June 13th, Manchester Co-Op Live