Words by Jonathan Stout
Teenage Halloween’s self titled debut album, released via Don Giovanni Records in September, is much more generous than the average punk record. The band’s six members create textured and harmonious arrangements, resulting in a lushness that can be rare within the genre. From there, vocalist/lyricist Luke Henderiks pulls the listener in closer with earnestly reflective commentary. Though they may wear their influences on their collective sleeve, there’s no doubt that the band has carved out their own unique niche, with songs that are both fun and thought-provoking.
Off Shelf: Your sound brings to mind contemporaries like Jeff Rosenstock, Joyce Manor and Titus Andronicus but also with shades of 90’s punk via Jawbreaker and the Promise Ring. What sets you apart from most punk bands, and the aforementioned references, is not only your textured arrangements but your lyrics which give voice to the struggles of the modern queer movement. It takes a lot of bravery to address this, at what point did you feel comfortable singing about it plainly in your songwriting?
Luke Henderiks: We are really honored to have those comparisons because all of those bands were crucial in a lot of our upbringings, we definitely wanted to shape our sound off of those bands but have a unique and radical way of explaining our personal and outer struggles with the world. We are all in a way people who deal with a lot, so we all try to relate as much as possible to the words. I personally felt comfortable singing about this stuff when I was about 17-18 because that was when I was publicly out as queer, now at 22, a big thing I’ve tried to take into account is the concept of being vulnerable about deeper and inner mental health in our music, which has been in its own, a new type of thing to get used to.
OS: With so many members in your band, I’m sure there are many musical influences informing the songwriting. Are there any musicians/bands that you all agreeably share as major influences?
LH: I think we all have a love for Grateful Dead, Big Star, The Kinks, The Promise Ring, Elliott Smith and Modest Mouse, we all have more intricate personal acts that we love more than these bands, but these seem to be the main agreements.
OS: How did you all originally come together to form Teenage Halloween? Is there any special story/specific meaning behind your band name?
LH: The band name actually came from the Jeff Rosenstock track “Twinkle”, it was a very sentimental time for me at a point where I felt very alone and a time where music was something very therapeutic for me. We started in high school, which feels like ages ago, and we kept playing in different lineups until three years ago where our group and sound was completely solidified.
OS: Much of the album’s lyrical subject matter deals with deeply personal struggles, but the song “Sweat” addresses the current bleak political spectrum with the lyrics: “Don’t want to live in a world ran my fascists but there’s no control in every facet”. These feelings of frustration and hopelessness are shared among many people across the country right now. How are you feeling in this regard as we quickly approach the presidential election?
LH: I feel powerless but very charged at the same time. This song was written about a year after Trump was elected so the flame was at a similar height but a bit less than it is now. It had me deeply thinking about my place in this world and the power that I wish my loved ones had to deter and be away from this cruel world. I overall have been trying to be more optimistic hoping that maybe small change could lead to bigger change. This song is just a political love song, written in one of the most groundbreakingly strange ages in history.
OS: Do you feel, as a community of musical activists, that people are coming together more recently to address political or societal issues? I see so many politically frustrated songs surfacing right now
LH: I think so, but I think, myself included, that there needs to be more hands on activism, a song or a post is the first step, the next step is to take the streets!
OS: Right on. What did you want to accomplish with this album? Were there any musical or lyrical goals you were shooting for?
LH: We wanted this record to be an open outlet for people to relate to, I wanted to be as public with my personal issues as possible so maybe change could come in solidarity. I hope that we found a way to impress our friends and family with a record that feels like a real step up from the last one. This piece definitely speaks for the last three years of our lives trying to navigate ourselves in a very outlandish and hard working environment.
OS: What was it like releasing your album during such a tumultuous time? Did you have to postpone a supporting tour?
LH: It was hard, we had to postpone some things due to serious social issues in the world, and on top of a pandemic, we had issues even getting the behind the scenes things finished due to the lock down. The record was going to come out earlier but we ended up having it come out much later. Sadly, we had a 40 day supporting tour for the record planned throughout the US and Canada, booked by Alex Martin and us, it was gonna be the biggest moment of our lives but we have big plans for the future after this one.
OS: In the song “Racehorse,” you sing: “How the fuck should we all stay sober? Don’t think that it’s possible to get by without our stomachs full”. Many people who didn’t even have depression or anxiety before the pandemic are now experiencing severe symptoms, which has led to excessive drinking and substance abuse among some. Do these lyrics speak to the isolation of the pandemic, or were they written beforehand, perhaps referring more to being queer in the suburbs?
LH: Absolutely, the pandemic has made people feel in a way that has never been felt before. I wrote this song awhile back when I was struggling with substance abuse issues myself. It felt like a telling story of a person that was struggling with self, but on top of that trying to mask it with outside entities.
OS: I know you just recently released your album, but do you have any upcoming plans or announcements that fans can look forward to that you’d like to mention?
LH: We can’t mention anything yet because its all in the works! We have a album release livestream on Don Giovanni Records’ YouTube page on 10/30 with our good friends in Little Hag. It starts at 7:30PM, hope we see you there!