Interview - Imperial Teen, The Luckiest Catch In The Bay

Words by Jason Anfinsen
Photos by Evan Cohen

Without sporting beards, robes or wooden canes, Roddy Bottum, Jone Stebbins, Lynn Truell, and Will Schwartz of the decade-young San Francisco cluster Imperial Teen are the sage prophets of indie pop. The sensible set's initial audio gift was opened by the world in 1996, a recording which left college stoners and snooty magazine editors so Seasick that no amount of Dramamine could cure. After the release of their sophomore sparkle What Is Not To Love, a giant monster with flesh gnawing fangs named Universal Music Group swallowed innocent labels, shiny bands, and good people, before blindly spitting the unwanted bones of discarded victims onto the floor of a dark quiet room.

A forceful explosion of luck blew the mature gang of savvy musicians along a wave of good karma from the foggy San Francisco Bay to the sea lice shores of the Atlantic Ocean where they were safely rescued by Mac McCaughan and Laura Balance. The founding members of Superchunk who began Merge Records way back in 1989 under the Tar Heel sun in Chapel Hill, North Carolina mildly turned fans of the media labeled "queer-alt rock" On in 2002, and for the moment, everything seemed to be working out fine, just fine.

Double luck struck like a fart from the ass of Zeus when The Arcade Fire all but burned down the relic Billboard album chart in 2004. Funeral torched as high as number two, all but etching Merge Records on mugs, hats, and stickers in novelty gift shops of the world above the title "new king of independent cool."

In 2007, when luck doesn't seem to be anywhere, not in our nation's White House nor in the body of former pop idols who no longer have the looks or brains to "do it again," good fortune continues to gracefully spurt from the gleaming pores of Imperial Teen.

The Hair, The TV, The Baby And The Band is an infectious dose of yummy brainwash that leaves an idle mind in danger of a regurgitating mind-suffocating like hit, like a Sunday sunrise marijuana sermon on the edge of the Golden Gate bridge.

"It's Now," with a volatile mid section outburst, is a real turn-on that wonderfully encapsulates this ageless outfit. The catty eruption of dramattitude boils past the point of evaporation and into an atmosphere of unpolluted oxygen. "Sweet Potato" is a thunderbolt of pop that sizzles away the lines of old age. Mac and Laura are godparents of the best looking, most athletic and scholastic champ of the Imperial Teen family.

I sat and chat with Imperial Teens Will Schwartz, the compact guitarist who speaks like Perry Ferrell and spends his downtime in the dance unit Hey Willpower, and Lynn Truell, the fetching drummist and mother of three who is still as punk as when she was armed with hardcore sticks in The Dicks, in the rear of the Crocodile Café in Seattle America September 2007.

Lynn looked very fine and acted warm throughout, as did Will, politely hidden behind shy armor, which loosely wore off as my fiery Q's melted them both into puddles of pretty answers.

JA: Was it scary when the whole Universal disaster happened?

LT: Scary wouldn't be the word, annoying would be a better word. And also they were kind of, we were very, they didn't...

JA: You were the last to know?

LT: Exactly.

JA: As you should be. You are, after all, the band.

LT: It wasn't like we were bummed. We were just a little surprised and like huh, ok, now what are we going to do? But we weren't devastated or anything. It was a relief because they were so mixed up. Like there were some really great people that worked there but they were struggling with the same issues.

JA: So how are things at Merge?

WS: They're just so on top of it and so communicative. And they're peers so they get it, they understand what touring is like, they understand every aspect of it, so they know when to contact us and let us know what the good news is or any news.

LT: They're a part of it. If you write Laura or Mac they'll write you back. It's so much easier with them.

JA: First night on a surprisingly intimate tour will be here at the Croc in Seattle America.

LT: Yeah, because of what everyone else in the band has going on, rather than take those long day drives we just decided to fly to Seattle, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New Jersey, New York, Philly, Boston. Maybe in the Spring we'll do some dates in other parts of the country. It's just what we can handle right now.

JA: And with everyone else being so busy, how do all four of you juggle lives and projects outside of Imperial Teen? I would imagine that nailing all of you down to create an album would be a difficult task.

WS: You just have to commit. It really is about everybody just being methodical and stating when they are available and getting together to do it.

LT: it just kind of makes itself happen. We're pretty lucky in that respect. Like when I got the record in the mail I couldn't believe we did this because we're all living in different places and doing completely different things. It was a bit overwhelming that we did this because it was a landslide of emails, phone calls, and then it finally happened.

JA: So making a record in 2007 is a way different process than in 1996 when you young rascals where first starting out?

WS: Yes definitely.

LT: Totally different way.

WS: We did it in a more traditional way when we started. We lived in the same city, had a practice space, rehearsed three or four times a week, wrote songs and made a record. Now it's really deliberate. If you want to do it, you have to just go for it.

LT: We read your review of our record on The Tripwire.

JA: Really? You aren't going to hit me now are you?

LT: No, I really liked it. My husband said it was very poetic.

WS: We expected to make a good record but I think this feels like something magical happened.

LT: We expected it from ourselves to make a good record, but we didn't necessarily have any expectations that came from it. Once it was on tape and we listened back to it, you hear it almost for the first time. When you're playing the songs it's different than when you're in it literally making the music. At that second when you hear it back and its totally different, it sounds pretty rad. And the reviews have been positive and we've been getting radio airplay, and that's really nice, those are just bonus things for us.

JA: What appeared to be nightmare situation has worked out all sorts of good for you dudes.

LT: Oh we're really lucky. We know that. We deserve it.

JA: (laughs) You deserve it.

LT: (laughs) Well we do, we're not just goofing around. We like doing this. The other day Roddy was talking about how amazed he was that Imperial Teen has made fifty songs together. And I think that in itself is a really cool thing.

Interview - Imperial Teen, The Luckiest Catch In The Bay