We've just figured out the formula for total band infatuation: Be local and adorable, craft super-catchy fuzz-pop tunes, and, oh — be named after one of our favorite MTV reality empires. D.C.'s own Teen Mom is all those things and more, with a lead single — the infectious, buzzy "I Wanna Go Out" — blazing a trail well outside the District. The trio's debut EP, Mean Tom, came out in late November, and the band has been playing a smattering of shows around the city. It's playing DC9 on Sunday, so we snagged a moment with members Chris Kelly, Tom MacWright, and Sean Dalby to talk about being a band in D.C. and what they think about their realty-TV namesake. (Hint: They aren't as compelled by Jenelle's downward spiral and obsession with Ke$ha as we are, oddly.)
Tell us about how you all met and formed the band. We hear there may have been a party-crashing situation?
Kelly: "Yeah, we three met at a July Fourth party, which was pretty fortuitous because we love America. We didn't start playing as a band, however, until about six months later. I had to court Tom and Sean for a long period of time — hella wine, hella dine — but they finally acquiesced, and we've been in a very healthy and loving band ever since. Before [this], Tom and Sean went to college together, played in bands together, and lived together."
What does everyone in Teen Mom do outside of music?
Teen Mom: "Chris works for a senator, Sean has four jobs, and Tom's a programmer and futurist-cartographer."
The Teen Mom sound is surprisingly sweet and upbeat, but it's a bit more complex than that, with hints of '90s grunge and shoegaze sprinkled in. What are your influences?
Teen Mom: "Hmm, that's tough to say. I mean, grunge and shoegaze bands have been important to us at different times in our lives, but we never tried to emulate any particular band, genre, or sound, really. I tried, with Mean Tom, to write a few Great Pop Songs (GPS), which, by definition, are comprised of pretty standard and traditional elements, so that they sound kind of familiar, friendly, but hopefully not stale or boring. Which can be a tricky balancing act. But when writing, I try to use my own experience and interests, rather than be bound by influence or aspiration. That's why Angels & Airwaves sucks but Dude Ranch totally rocks. You just gotta do you. Obviously, though, that guitar sound and vocal styling are pretty ubiquitous these days, so I guess I don't really know what I'm trying to say."
Do you have a favorite place to play in D.C?
Teen Mom: "To be honest, all of the venues in D.C. are pretty great to bands and really fun to play at. We've probably played the Black Cat and the Velvet Lounge the most."
Are there other local bands you're digging?
Teen Mom: "We're totally into Shark Week, Young Rapids, and Golden Looks."
Photo: Courtesy of Teen Mom
"I Wanna Go Out" is so ridiculously catchy — can you sense a hit on your hands when you're making it? Is it a kind of new pregaming anthem for this generation?
Teen Mom: "ALL of our songs are hits. This one just seemed to work out a little better or maybe easier. This song, however, is meant for pregaming with shots of rail gin. Also, this song almost didn't make the album, for whatever reason. Our friends convinced us otherwise, even though I do like the idea of having superior B-sides."
What's it like to be a newer band in D.C. right now? How do you see Teen Mom fitting in with the D.C. music scene?
Teen Mom: "We've been playing for nearly two years now, and in that span, a bunch of new bands have popped up, and a lot of them are really good. I think there's a good mix of the kinds of music D.C. bands are playing now, though, which makes for a pretty healthy and diverse musical environment. And it's like, the ‘80s D.C. hardcore era was unique, and there was a lot of great music being made, but it's also super-historicized and, even now, seems to dominate a lot of what D.C. music is 'supposed' to sound like. And that's not cool. Like, I Against I is my favorite album and whatever, but that was 30 years ago, and I think people are surprised that 'pop' bands like ours are coming out of D.C. these days. There's a lot of people doing pretty different things, and it's nice to be a part of that."
What do you like to do in the city while off-duty?
Teen Mom: "Off-duty, we party. Had a very nice Saturday the other week — saw some freaky bugs at Natural History, then checked out the Ai Weiwei exhibit at the Hirshhorn, and then had some soup at a new pho place, before drinking all the beers back home in Columbia Heights."
Considering the name, any chance Teen Mom is a big fan of MTV's Teen Mom?
Teen Mom: "Wait, there's a television show called Teen Mom? We actually don't really know the show that well — I don't think any of us have seen an entire episode. Although I did hear that a former cast member released some hot tracks, so I might have to check those out."
Listen to Teen Mom here:
Photo: Courtesy of Teen Mom