“We wanted to make music without consequences,” says Nick Krill, Teen Men guitarist, over pizza in his hometown of Wilmington. “Something fun, where it doesn’t matter if it fails.”
He grins. Krill is most known for his work with Delaware indie pop stalwarts The Spinto Band, where he contributes lead vocals and guitar. But right now, he’s focused on another project, Teen Men, a looser, zanier side project whose first single, “Hiding Records (So Dangerous),” was released earlier this year.
Teen Men seeks to explore the relationship between music and video, and is equally focused on both. The band’s line-up consists of two musicians—Krill and Spinto guitarist Joe Hobson—and two visual artists, photographer Catherine Maloney, and local filmmaker Albert Birney (who’s worked with Dr. Dog and Ra Ra Riot, among others).
The project first came together in Fall 2011—“I had just finished recording with The Spintos and was exhausted, and Albert had finished a long project as well,” says Krill. He sent out an email to friends and fellow musicians, inviting them to come over for a casual jam, and “Joe and Albert showed up.” Together, they struck on this idea to create music and videos at the same time and “see what happens when one influences the other.”
“We did three songs—then nothing for a year,” says Birney, explaining that everyone was tied up with other projects. Fast-forward to this spring, when they all found themselves in a similar situation to 2011: drained, but eager to work on something fun.
The name Teen Men was inspired by a vintage ad in Playboy magazine—“we were hanging out at the studio, where there’s this huge shelf full of books and magazines, and there happened to be a few vintage Playboys from the late ‘60s,” explains Birney. “We were flipping through them—for lyrical ideas,” he says with a wink “And there was this one particular ad, I think it was for sweaters or something. And it said on it, ‘The new fall line. For boys, men, and teen men.’ And we just all cracked up.”
Yet something in the name struck a chord. “When you’re a teen man, you’re in a constant state of self-discovery,” says Birney. “And you can apply this idea of finding yourself and growing to your whole life.”
Krill agrees. “The attitude of the teen man just seems to match the whole attitude of this band,” he says. “It’s about just having fun and thinking you’re never gonna die.”
Exploring and indulging creativity is key for the band, who refuse to be bound by traditional songwriting paradigms. Songs in their current repertoire were composed “kind of every single way,” says Krill, with music inspiring videos, or vice versa.
One to-be-released tune began as an instrumental piece, then became something more when Birney started messing around with video footage. He began screening images of body parts, “and so Nick wrote lyrics about that,” he explains.
Other times, studio brainstorm sessions lead to fun performative ideas first, such as tune “Question / Design,” in which the band uses a giant magic eight-ball to interact with the audience. With those, the lyrics come later.
The band furthers its art / music ties through the use of video that accompanies the music. “We have this synchronized projection that is very much a part of our live show,” explains Krill, who notes that bass and drums are incorporated into the projections. (“It all goes back to that initial email,” he says when I ask why they don’t have a drummer or bassist. “No drummers or bass players showed up!”)
Instead, the band pre-records bass and drums in the studio, then tweaks them digitally before incorporating them into the projections. “The video is kind of like a fifth member,” says Birney.
As we continue chatting, the band is abuzz with new and exciting ways to manipulate the projections, from deliberate shadows to the silhouette of a bird on a wire, and talk eagerly while chowing down on pizza. However, they’re also very aware that some may view these antics as hooky, and are careful not to verge into what they call “Carrot Top territory.”
“We’re trying to create a whole, cohesive vision,” says Krill, reminding me that they’re united by the teen man ethos. “We’re not looking to descend into gimmicks.”
But if video is important to the band’s live show, it’s just as important to their online presence. The music video for “Hiding Records (So Dangerous)” is a colorful, zany affair, complete with a lot of disaffected teens, and a semi-famous dancing gorilla named Silvio.
The band tells me the song (and video’s) genesis was an NPR interview with Questlove, in which he revealed how records were like contraband when he was younger, especially provocative artists like Prince. Birney and Krill eagerly recount Quest’s story of how once his parents threw out his favorite Prince record and he had to sneakily sneak out and buy another. “And so the whole theme of the song is about hiding records,” says Krill, “and your relationship with music at that time in your life.”
The video was shot in Baltimore with the help of Towson film professor Phil Davis, and features Birney’s younger sister and her four friends. “It was actually the week before they were all leaving for college,” says Birney, describing the shoot—“so it was kind of a special moment. We got them all pizza and it was this one last chance for them all to hang and dance all day.”
The Teen Men LP cover shown in the video was made using an old Abba record, construction paper, and tape, and was thrown together by Birney about ten minutes before filming began. “It was a very ‘teen men” thing to do, to procrastinate like that,” he says. Krill laughs. “It looks a Teen Man really made it,” he adds.
So will this crudely drawn image grace their real (yet unnamed) EP, due out sometime in Spring 2014? “It’s possible,” says Krill, who tells me that the band has about 10 songs in various states of readiness, and is still working out the details. “We’ll have to see what happens.”
For now, the band’s focusing on the immediate future—which includes a performance at the Work Drugs Christmas Spectacle this Saturday. It will be their ninth show overall, and Krill admits he’s anxious. Still, the band promises some holiday cheer, and perhaps even a Santa hat on the giant eight-ball.
And if nothing else, they want people to leave the show feeling good. “We want them to feel like a teen man,” says Krill, both half-joking and completely serious.
Birney agrees. “They should feel invincible, happy to be alive, and maybe like they want to get into a little trouble.”
Sounds about right to us.
Teen Men play the Work Drugs Christmas Spectacle on Saturday, December 14 at Johnny Brenda’s. The show is 21+ and tickets are $12; more information can be found via the venue’s website.