Cats. Bikes. Tapes. No, you are not currently surfing Etsy’s homepage—you’re about to read about an independent band from middle America who loves those three things with a passion. But save the eye rolling for the clueless and recognize that those three objects (my apologies to those offended by the objectification of cats) have become symbols of a substantial counterculture movement in our generation. And, like the symbols of the peace/love revolution of the 60s or the punk movement of the following decades, this adorable triangle has been adopted and nullified by fashion, and the trend turned from what it was or could be to a culture of irony, detachment, and nostalgia.
But will the real cat-lovers please stand up and dust off those original ideas so drowned in the desire to be hip? Enter Teenage Moods, an absolutely loveable two-piece turned more from Minneapolis, MN. Reminiscing about his old bike-delivered tape label, Peddling Records, guitarist Gordon Byrd mused, “I wasn’t trying to win people over to tapes. It was more taking advantage of abandoned technology and promoting the idea that creating is better than consuming.”
The Moods embody the ethos of DIY creativity and fun-loving community feelings that the sincere members of this particular fringe group of oddballs, styled ala the revenge of the nerds, possess and use to inject your heart with warm-and-fuzzy goodness. Self- taught from the start, Gordon and bassist Jillian Schroeder first got together during lunch hours and goof-off time at a dead-end job. Gordon, who also learned on his own, taught Jillian how to play music by learning the basics in a not-so-basic way. “We wrote our first song, ‘Flower Hunting’ together to teach Jillian three chords on guitar,” Gordon explains. “Jillian was eager to learn music and all of our first material was an alternative to learning other people’s songs, which I don't like to do much. The first record was really just the first songs Jillian ever played and we co-wrote everything.”
“In the beginning, I was especially sensitive about being judged for just being a woman,” Jillian said of her learning curve. “Even when people were being nice, like, ‘Did you know that if you turn the knobs on your amp like this you can get it to sound like this?’ Or ‘Oh, great you would like to buy a new bass. Here is our selection of Daisy Rock.’ I could never imagine people saying those passive-aggressive, demeaning things to Gordon! Now I'm more comfortable admitting that I have no idea what I'm doing. I don't know how to traditionally write music. I don't know scales or any of that. But I'm a creative person and I know how I want things to sound. I just keep playing until I find it. That is usually how we write songs, somewhat blind to traditional methods and structures of writing, but we still love the way it all comes out.”
It comes out in “short, straightforward, hook-filled blasts,” as Gordon says, that both sound familiar and strange, but always fun. With their four cassettes recently re- packaged into a mid-life compilation around their five-year band-iversary, the Moods are comfortable being a little crazy, and loose enough to rely on chance. One of their favorite methods of choosing song titles or jump-starting a new track is the (totally not patented) “Magic Hat Method” wherein words are tossed into a hat to be chosen at random. Some song title winners include “Heavy Bunny” and “Tulip Tattoo.” But some of the better ones are yet unused. Gordon and Jillian rattled off a list of magic hat favorites yet to be written: “‘Attitude by Dads’, ‘Hot Goddess’, ‘Groovy Regina’, ‘Lil’ Serious’, ‘Rob Zombie Love Song’, ‘Cookie Sunset’, and anything with the word ‘punks’ in it is always funny too.”
“There are so many explosive laughs at how bad they can be and lots of weird/wow moments too,” Gordon says of the magic hat. “Sometimes those songs end up having some substance to them I can keep feeling.”
And, of course, a love for cats plays a part in Teenage Moods’ songcraft, too. Gordon and Jillian are especially gooey-eyed over Jillian’s baby stray cat Geo, who inspired “Hardship Eyes” with his woeful looks and “No Place for a Tiger” (the latter of which was literally sung to him while the two band members composed it).
Even when it comes to their on-trend kitty love, Gordon and Jillian are never focused on fashion, instead thinking about how to transcend and improve their own Minneapolis reality and the big here-and-now in general. “Living here, you will be miserable unless you are passionately occupied with something,” says Gordon, who spends his days doing media conversion and video work, snooping on home footage from the 60s and before. “It's boring if you are a boring person, and it's ugly and cold if you feel that way too. There is plenty to complain about and it would be easy to leave if I didn’t like so many people here.” An optimist and employee at a “restaurant that serves a lot of meatballs,” Jillian adds with a laugh, “Some people find blizzards encouraging. They’re fun!”
With their whimsical take on life, in and out of their music, the Moods manufacture magic—whether it’s a two-year D&D binger the band went on during the recording of their albums or their songs.
“Life needs more than its raw make up,” Gordon explains. “And if we can conjure some beauty, adventure, or just some fun sounds out of an otherwise harsh reality there is some magic in that. Any real life stuff that goes into a Teenage Moods song is rendered like a cartoon. I want to get excited. I want to have fun. I want to feel young forever. Simple, dumb and fun will get me through quite a bit.”
Teenage Moods’ simplicity, combined with their self-taught history and face-forward, tongue-out approach to now, disperse their bite-sized, charming songs from the trapped but lovely land of cute into a free-wheeling, loose-hinged ether that’ll get you high on a good, playful mood.