If you’re a semi-obscure garage-punk, being on the road can be a lonely affair playing to small, hostile crowds in dingy dive-bars where the hope is you’ll make enough money to pay for gas to get to the next city and someone will give you a place to stay for the night.
Then there are the nights where things turns out great. For bluesy Toronto garage-punkers Teenanger, who are playing at the Big Eddy Pub on Wednesday, June 22, that was during a stop during their 2010 U.S. at the Saturn Bar in New Orleans – an early-19th century prize fighting club turned venue, complete with a rickety old balcony above the stage.
“You could really sense the real southern history that’s completely foreign to where we live. You could almost see where the fights would be,” said drummer Salvator.
There weren’t too many people there when all of a sudden a bus load of girls on a bachelorette party showed up to spend some time at the biggest dive they could find.
“They all were super loaded that they got up and started dancing like crazy, scandalous, skirts pulled up high – all that stuff,” he said. “That was probably the best part of the tour.”
Teenanger got their start playing dive bars in Toronto. I’m not sure when the first time I saw them was – possibly sometime in 2007 or 2008 at the Tiger Bar, a small, dingy basement venue. It could have been somewhere else, I’m not sure. As Salvatore pointed out, “People in the audience tend to drink a lot when we play.”
The band consists of G.C. Gary on guitar, Riley Wild on vocals, Sharon Needles on bass and Salvatoré drums. They quickly built up a following, playing everywhere, with their propulsive, bluesy, lo-fi punk sound attracting a following of dirt bags and hipsters alike. Think the White Stripes or Black Keys, only darker, dirtier and with more swagger.
Teenanger developed some notoriety, especially after getting banned from a hipster bar called The Beaver after an altercation with the management. That led to the name of their second recording, the double entendre “Banned from the Beaver.”
Teenanger are believers in a lo-fi ethos. Their first two releases were on cassette and they recorded their 2010 album, Give Me Pink, over the course of two cold days in a dark studio in Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood.
In fact, Sidoli and guitarist Jon Schouten started up their own label, Telephone Explosion and began by releasing cassette tapes – in 2008. [Disclosure: They released my old band, Ugly Stick’s, only proper release on cassette.]
Since then the label has graduate to putting out LPs and 7″ vinyl recordings, with free downloads available of every release on the label’s website. Still, Telephone Explosion remains more of a hobby than a business.
“A person lives pay check to pay check, we live record to record,” said Salvatore. “There’s not really any money that comes out in to our pockets, it just gets placed into the record label.”
Recently, Teenanger recorded their second album, Frights, with producer Howie Beck, who has also worked with Feist and Broken Social Scene.
“Even though he doesn’t play that kind of music he got what we were going for and was able to capture the live sound well,” said Salvatore.
While the songs on the album will sound familiar to any fan of the band, Salvatore said the album represents a stylistic shift for the band.
“I’d say there ‘dirty blues’ was the influence on the first record. It had an Americana bent with a little bit of a punk thing,” he said. “With the new stuff, it’s a straight forward punk beat through most of the record.”
When I spoke to Salvatore he was gearing up for several shows as part of the North by Northeast music festival in Toronto. Then, they’re hitting the air and road for a west coast tour, starting in Vancouver on Tuesday before hitting up Revelstoke on Wednesday en route to the Sled Island music festival in Calgary next weekend.
As for the worst moment on Teenanger’s U.S. tour? That was a few days after their New Orleans show, when their van broke down outside an abandoned motel in between Orlando and Miami, in an area known as Yeehaw Junction.
“There wasn’t anybody around, it was completely deserted and it looked like Bates Motel,” said Salvatore. “You got the feeling it was probably some kind of swamp with an alligator not too far off.”
After exploring the motel for a bit, they discovered it was the site of an old bawdy house used to satisfy workers building the roads and railroads.
“The tow truck driver shows up, he’s huge, has about two teeth in his entire mouth, is convinced we were Irish because of our accents,” he continued. Because there wasn’t enough room in the tow truck, half the band had to ride on the flat bed.
“Apparently it was terrifying, it wasn’t secured and they felt like they were going to die at any moment.
“As soon as he heard we were Canadian he was convinced we could get massive amounts of marijuana, put it in an envelope and send it to him without any repercussions. He assumed because we were Canadian we had access to an infinite supply of legal marijuana.”
They were asked if they were communists, then if they liked NASCAR and finally the conversation turned to snakes and spiders. Eventually, they arrived in Orlando where they spent three days waiting for the van to get fixed.
“That was the absolute worst part of the tour,” Salvator said.
Teenanger plays with Needles//Pins at the Big Eddy Pub on Wednesday, June 22. Entrance is free and the show starts at 9 p.m. Videos of each band follow.