Teen Suicide “It’s like the opposite of a big middle finger, whatever the opposite thing of that is.”

Photo: Nick Hughes

Teen Suicide, led by Sam Ray, have been releasing music with various lineups somewhat officially since 2011. With a sound commonly classified as lofi (though spanning across multiple genres and styles) and songs with themes of death, drug addiction, depression, and dropping out of school to start your dream job as the grim reaper, just to name a few, Teen Suicide have garnered a steady following over the years. The band recently signed to Run For Cover Records and re-released previous albums I Will Be My Own Hell Because There is a Devil Inside My Body, DC Snuff Film, and Waste Yrself on vinyl and cassette at the end of last year. The current lineup (Ray, Alec Simke, John Toohey, and Sean Mercer) also recently released a brand new record, It’s the Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir the Honeypot.

Tiny Mix Tapes chatted with the band during their current tour about a looming band-name change, being signed to Run For Cover Records, and how their new 26-track album is like buying a big watermelon.

This is the last album that you’ll be releasing as Teen Suicide; how do you feel about it being the last thing that you’ll release under that name?

Sam Ray: I feel good about it, how about y’all?

John Toohey: Um I think it’s a hell of a way to leave the moniker

Ray: without a doubt, it kind of does everything there is to do there

Toohey: It’s definitely a culmination I feel like, of Teen Suicide as a project, it’s always been really sort of like, not tied down to any particular genre, and it’s kind of been about a large degree of exploration of that, it just kind of takes that theme and pushes it to a whole other level of that just being bounded by, like all Teen Suicide I guess is sort of like bounded by kind of a loose…

Ray: … But this one’s pushing it at, this one just pushes past that.

Toohey: Yeah completely broken…

Ray: It’s like the opposite of a big middle finger, whatever the opposite thing of that is.

There’s definitely a little bit of a different feel to this album than in your past releases, what’s behind that shift?

Ray: Umm, all the past albums were written while strung out on heroin, as the person writing all the songs, and this one wasn’t, which is pretty nice. It was written largely, just smoking a lot of weed, and…

Alec Simke: Also a lot more collaborators…

Ray: Yeah, it was, a lot of the old stuff was written like me, at home bored, and like up all night, or like me and our drummer at the time, Eric, or like, sometimes you [Simke] in the mix, or sometimes Caroline [of Infinity Crush] occasionally just like at one of our houses, and this one was, uh, there was no like rule to it, like people could send things in, Spencer [Radcliffe] was sending horns, me and Sean were doing things at his house, or at the studio bringing people in like Max doing trumpets, umm, there wasn’t any real like, structure to the way it was getting done, which I mean, like was good. The next one we’re doing is the opposite, it’s all structure.

What story did you want to tell through this album and production and playing it, I know that’s a really collaborative process with you guys.

Ray: Um, there’s like a couple things going on I guess, there’s like two, three very loose narratives going on on the record, I said before, it’s very structured like the way you hear urban legends, told about from people over and over and over, growing up with people and you hear stories and you never know which ones end up being true. A lot of the times the weirdest stories that you’d never believe are the ones that are completely based in reality, and um, kind of vice versa. So the record kind of ran with that idea and it was definitely inspired a lot by the actual process of trying to write the album which, at least the first, was a pretty unequivocal disaster, like uh, trying to record with Eric, was pretty much a disaster and then he left so we weren’t even able to do that. And um, not that him and I weren’t able to get a couple things done that I like, but like after that it kind of fell apart, so rather than rewrite the record, we thought it would be better to add that into the mix and keep running with it. There’s a couple different things going on…

What does this release combined with the fact that you’re changing the band name mean to you guys?

Ray: Relief.

Toohey: Yeah, uh.

Ray: I’m relieved to have it released and out of my hair, and I’m relieved I get to change our band name to something I don’t hate [laughs], and like to do a record after this that I’m even more proud of ya know.

Sean Mercer: It’s also, maybe nice to have some songs that are from a more recent era to be playing right now.

Ray: That is a big part of the relief with this tour and everything, yeah.

Mercer: We’ll be moving forward, but there’s still a bunch of songs off of the most recent one that we are working out for live shows that we’ll have…

Ray: Even when we change our band name we’ll still be playing all the same songs, so like, it’s nice to have a deeper well to draw from cause a lot of the work before was trying to make the older songs fun somehow to play.

Simke: It just kind of feels like a culmination of sorts, at least me and Sam…we’ve been like, on and off doing this band since like 2012, so it’s been like almost a thing for so long…it never had like any closure,

Ray: We always thought I would sabotage it somehow.

OK so, Big Joyous Celebration has been talked about as an album of growing up or growth and change, do you feel like that’s true?

Ray: Yeah I think so, I feel like it kind of ties into everything that I was writing about, it’s like a then-and-now-type record. Like a choose-your-own-adventure thing where you don’t die.

Mercer: It’s definitely a growing-up record, I mean, I think just like in the first song onward there’s just a lot more experimentation with it and it’s not as…

Ray: And not so much for its own sake anymore where it is like defined… We did the opening track together and everything we put down in place on purpose, like not necessarily planned out. I think it’s a very mature record… it’s aged well already.

What do you all hope this album means to people?

Ray: I don’t know at all, I just try not to think about that.

Toohey: I think he’s tryna put out like an Aeroplane Over The Sea

Ray: Yeah every record I write, I want it to be the new Aeroplane Over The Sea, like no record can ever be that record but like if I could write a record that has half the influence of that record, in terms of like, what it does, not as like a specific sound, theme, or concept or anything, but just like, it’s a record I always think of as like not being made for any sake but its own sake. Which is cool. I think to like, even, momentarily think about how someone interprets something like, that you’ve made is just to willingly drive yourself crazy…

So, Sam, in some of your other interviews you talk about how this album explores themes of addiction and depression in your own life. What is it like for you knowing that all of that is out there for people to hear and interpret?

Ray: It doesn’t really matter, it’s out there either way… You’re like, you’re basically fucked from birth, with things like that… there’s no way to live even somewhat privately but you know what I mean, as a human being, so like, you can either be a liar about it or not. I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter.

Photo: Mia Antoinette

So, for everyone, what was this process of this album like, writing, recording? It’s different obviously since it’s on Run For Cover as opposed to not being on a label…

Ray: I guess the big difference with the Run For Cover thing is we had to wait almost a year for it to get released, which is nice. Normally I’d wait a couple months, get it mastered, make sure I liked it, spend months cycling it around, but in this case, it was a much longer wait. So, other than that, nothing really changed, there wasn’t really any money that wasn’t out of my own pocket, which is the same as ever. There probably could have been, but like…

Mercer: It was nice to hang out in my room recording some of these songs and make like a little bit of money

Ray: Yeah [laughs] that was nice for me too…

Mercer:… For something that we normally would just do anyway

Ray: I don’t know, it was a shorter process than the last record, but it still felt like a long time.

Twenty-six tracks plus a six-track bonus EP is a substantial amount of music, how did this album end up with such a prolific track list?

Ray: There was way more that didn’t make the record and we whittled it down from all the bad tracks to all the good tracks, like the bonus thing is all tracks that were written after the record except for one, so it’s like that was that year spent waiting around not doing anything and I eventually got bored and just kinda put that together. But, as for a lot of songs, it felt very funny to do a lot of songs as opposed to not a lot of songs, the kinds of songs they are made more sense altogether than [in] bits and pieces. I know a lot of people don’t like a lot of songs, but the joy of that is the ones you don’t like you can just throw away and then someone like me who made it, I like all of them or I wouldn’t have done it so, it’s win-win. I’m a firm believer in the album as a format, I think it’s like writing a novel, or making a film, it adds up to something, it’s its own experience. The songs can be taken on their own. I want to write a record where every song can be taken on its own, but the sum of them is much greater still. But I understand that the album’s not really a format anymore in a lot of ways, and therefore, its fun to look at it as something where people can pick and choose from in that case, make their own album out of it; it doesn’t really matter.

Toohey: The funniest thing with like, how long the album is like, I remember you [Sam] sent me what was initially the album, which was 12 songs back in fuckin, it was right around Christmas of 2014 I guess, and I was just like, “Oh shit, like tight, that’s awesome,” and then, a couple months later he was like, “Yo I got these like four or five songs” and I was like, “Oh, like what are you taking off” and he was like “nothing” and I was like, “Ohh OK, so it’ll be like 17, and then a couple months later he was like, “Yo I got these like four or five songs” and I was like, “Tight, what are you taking off” and he was like, “Nothing.”.. then, a couple weeks later he was just like “yooo” and I’m just like, “Throw em on,” yeah…

Ray: Once you actually hear it front-to-back though, it’s different, like you [Sean] were saying, you were talking about that, how it’s kind of like…

Mercer: Yeah it makes a lot of sense when you hear it all together.

Ray: We kept getting bored, cause we’d think the album was done and I’d have nothin to do, so I’d start writing things with like Spencer, like “Pickup Truck,” “Violets,” “Wild Thing Runs Free,” and one other song, I forget which one, were written by me, Spencer, Harmony, and Mat, kind of like a combination. We were gonna do a funny band, but then like those four songs, I still can’t remember the fourth, they worked like, they were like missing pieces needed for this record specifically. Oh, “Hurricane” was the other, so I was like “ahh fuck” so that was the moment where I’d asked Jeff Casizzle [Casazza] [laughs], “How many songs you could put on a record without it being too much?” and he said “25 tops,” and I was like, “I got four more” and he was just like, fuck it, if it fits on an LP or on one CD still, like we can do two LPs.

That’s nice though to have a lot of songs, especially on cassette, it’s nice to not have to flip the cassette over after like five minutes.

Ray: It’s more bang for your buck, that’s right… It’s like buying a big watermelon, you can eat it whenever you want… Why would you buy the watermelon slices, for half the price it’s always better to buy the big-ass watermelon, and its more ripe too. You can keep the watermelon for a mean minute, and you can eat it whenever you’re hungry. I would fuckin kill for a watermelon right now, that would be so refreshing.

[all laugh]

What, if anything, was different about the process surrounding the album being made, as far as being signed to RFC, other than the fact that it took, like a year to come out?

Ray: Absolutely nothing. Um, having someone to answer to maybe, but every single thing I brought to them they were cool with, so that really didn’t change anything. It was fun to be pushed to write something for them specifically, it was like a weight of expectation and like a desire for it to do well and sell, and therefore, you do all the things you wouldn’t do otherwise, but that never felt like uh, anything to stress about or worry about. Honestly I’d be more stressed about it if there wasn’t the expectation from them and just me, cause I’m unhappy with everything, but they’re happy with it. So I figure, if they’re happy with it, I can relax. It’s kinda nice. I guess we wouldn’t be doing this tour, that’s something.

So one last question, what would you say is the most meaningful or memorable part of this album overall?

Ray: Musically or writing-wise?

Either, or both!

Ray: I’m gonna think a sec….I don’t know, what do I like on this record Sean? You know… you’ve heard me about this…

Mercer: Uhhh I can’t answer that one for you… I mean for me, again, this is just very much from my point of view, but I’ve worked on a couple of the songs, so I really like the opening track just cause like, it was just so much fun to make…

Ray: It was satisfying to get finished

Mercer: … Yeah, it was a really satisfying project to do. One of my favorite memories on that is Sam playing the keyboard solo on that song [Sam laughs] and just texting the whole time, and just texting and playing this awesome solo…

Ray: I was just making it up

Mercer: That was a really nice moment…

Ray: It was fun.

Mercer: It was fun, to hear it from that, like it sounds very focused, it was an awesome solo and he was just making it up, he was just making it happen.

Ray: I gotta say the song “Pop Song.” I started that, I wrote that over the summer 2014, got a version of it that sucked done in the fall, but it wasn’t until maybe April or May when the album was done that I finally figured it out and got it to work. It was such a big difference from how it was before. I was unhappy with it, now it’s one of my favorite songs on the record, [and] lyrically it’s my favorite so it would have crushed me to not get it good. So getting to get it good, that’s good by me. Torts [Alec], what was your favorite?

Simke: My favorite? I guess finishing “Alex” cause we started that…

Ray: Yeah in like 2013

Simke: Yeah, we like, played that live in like the summer of 2014.

Ray: That song went through like… three drummers, all of them were good, but like, we ended up, we recorded with Sean, that’s when you [Sean] joined the band. That was pretty satisfying, too.

Mercer: Yeah I wasn’t even in the band when we recorded that song, I just recorded that song.
Toohey: Yeah like Dexter was playing that on tour, and you [Sean] came up to me and I know you were joking but like, it was so funny, you were like, “Man, Dexter fucked up my drum part.”

[all laugh]

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