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Interview: Marshall Gallagher and Anthony Salazar of Teenage Wrist

Teenage Wrist
14 February 2021

Photo by Lindsay Mann

When Teenage Wrist co-founder Kamtin Mohager (vocals, bass) left the band in 2019, Marshall Gallagher (vocals, guitar) and Anthony Salazar (drums) grasped the opportunity to push the band’s sonic sound to the future. While there are still subtle ’90s shoegaze hints throughout the recently released Earth is a Black Hole (Epitaph Records), Gallagher and Salazar have embraced a more commercial alternative, post-grunge sound as evidenced by the dreamy “Taste of Gasoline” and the anthemic title track with it’s slow build that gives away to an explosive chorus.

Gallagher and Salazar recently spoke via a Zoom call about the impact of Mohager’s departure, how the current pandemic environment has caused Teenage Wrist to rethink the album cycle, and the shows they’ve been binging with some extra time on their hands.

I saw Teenage Wrist at the Sonic Temple Festival in Columbus, Ohio in 2018 and, at the time, you had two more members. What’s happened with the lineup since the last album?

MARSHALL: To some extent, it has been a revolving door. Kam, Anthony and I were the core members up until mid-2019 and then Kam exited the band, his life was going in a different direction. Anthony and I decided we were going to keep going. We had some demos in the works and the team was board, so we went for it. As far as the other guitar players, the other members we’ve had, we’ve probably had six different people in that role. It’s just to keep someone around that can hang and is trustworthy and is in it for a long haul and is also down to not make a whole shitload of money. We’re very much a small band still.

When Kam left, there was never a discussion of changing the name or anything like that?

MARSHALL: There was no creative control butting heads or anything like that, Teenage Wrist started as a fun, for lack of a better term, side project and then it grew into something that was more than that and had more potential than we had originally ever imagined. So, when Kam wanted to exit and pursue a different career path, and continue with The Chain Gang of 1974, we just didn’t see the point in calling it just because we had lost a key member. We had this momentum, we had this following, we had this sound, we had to at least try to keep going. And that’s what we did.

Marshall, it seems like Teenage Wrist isn’t your only musical outlet. Do you have a duo thing you do as well?

MARSHALL: I’ve been involved in a number of different projects over the years. I think Teenage Wrist has kind of become, well, it has been for a minute, the main thing, the thing that comes the most direct as far as my contribution to it. It comes from my head, it comes from my heart. But, yeah, before Teenage Wrist I had a band called Swing Hero which Anthony played in. That band just kind of bled into Teenage Wrist. I started writing with Kam and it was a very similar sound to Swing Hero, very guitar driven, kind of teetering on grunge, but it was more in the emo lane. I was sort of trying to phase that Midwest emo stuff that I had grown up into there as well. With our powers combined, we formed Teenage Wrist.

Around the same time, I was trying, somewhat successfully, to have a pop band called Shallows. I was working with a girl named Dani Poppitt. We put out a couple of singles and we put out an EP. We’re still working together, still writing. The project itself dissolved just due to some unfortunate things that happened with our management.

Other than that, I produce records, probably nothing you’ve ever heard of at this point, but I have actually been working with Kam on his new project, Heavenward. We’re doing a song right now, we worked on it yesterday.

What do you think was the missing ingredient with Swing Hero that you found with Teenage Wrist and were able to get a record deal?

MARSHALL: Swing Hero, nobody ever heard of, that was very much a passion project that I just wanted to do myself to have a band, that was just me. All the material came from stuff that I would write and I would program. Teenage Wrist was me, Kam and Anthony. Those two things really added something completely new.

ANTHONY: What’s funny is that I’ve drummed in every project Marshall has ever done. I played drums in Shallows with Marshall, I was hired for them. I was in Swing Hero, he had a friend of his from another band play on those, but Marshall wrote a lot of that. Even the song “Daylight,” from the Teenage Wrist 2018 album Chrome Neon Jesus was originally a Swing Hero song that we used to perform and then it moved into the Teenage Wrist realm. It’s all a family.

There are many records that take a few listens to really start to wrap your arms around. With Earth is Black Hole I found myself recognizing the songs and lyrics on the second listen which doesn’t happen that often. I think you’ve written some great songs with great hooks.

MARSHALL: It’s not so much that we’re trying to make something that is going to be commercially viable or catchy or anything like that. I think it’s just we all come from songwriting backgrounds, we’ve all spent some time in Los Angeles doing co-writing sessions and working with pop artists. We all kind of appreciate and have grown up with, as much as we love underground stuff, shoegaze and hardcore and all these other influences that seep into Wrist, we love alternative and pop music from every decade. It’s always been important to us to have something that, at the very least, we can remember and sing along to. It should be immediately impactful or recognizable at least.

With 2020 being what it was, how did that play into the recording, the making of the videos, the release schedule?

MARSHALL: It was a massive roadblock. At first, I think it was going to be a July or August release. The whole thing got shifted over at least 6 months, if not more. We had recorded a song in December 2019 but we really dove in in February. At some point, when Covid-19 really started popping off, we took a break for a month and a half because we didn’t know if we could even be in the studio. We didn’t know how many people we could have in the room and if somebody had a whiff of sickness, it was like, “Nope, shut it down.” It set everything back, but it was almost nice to take a break in the middle of making a record and sort of step back and be able to hear it with outside ears, almost.

ANTHONY: The other thing that happened, because it was our first body of work without Kam, we had done all the basic tracking for drums, guitar and bass. That was about all we were able to get done before everything started locking down. So then, probably about a month or so after that, individually, we started going on with Marshall mostly doing the vocals. There was that month of looking at what we had ended up with, we were proud of the songs as demos and the body of work that we selected but there’s that month of sitting where you’re kind of like, “How’s this really going to translate?” And, Marshall said it to us, how do we really feel about it. And then coming back after a month and hearing the record, we were like, “Wow, this is a really great record” and we were really excited. Getting to come in and slowly add things on in safe numbers, two or three people at a time, all of a sudden there were all these really great ideas and things that just sort of came out that maybe wouldn’t have even happened if we had tried to get everything done on time. So, in some weird way, everything turned out exactly as it was meant to. And then we ended up releasing the song “Silver Spoon” in August and pushing forward as we are now.

You’ve released a few videos which I’m assuming you made in 2020.

MARSHALL: Those are actually pretty recent. They were within the scope of the whole Covid thing, it’s not like we made a bunch of videos before everything hit. We were able to come together with some very small, safe crews and everyone getting tested all the time and just do what we could with what we had.

Was the plan to make videos before the album came out or was it something you shifted to when you released the album would be pushed back and you probably wouldn’t be able to hit the road as soon as it was released?

MARSHALL: We always planned on making some videos. This is the first time we’ve done two videos for an album cycle so I think, in lieu of touring, we’re doing more video stuff than we normally do.

ANTHONY: We also wanted to show off a little bit, like where we wanted to take things. A lot of our visually representation has been very minimal in the past. So, I think we took the opportunity to be like, “Let’s do more and demonstrate the new direction, visually even.” And both those videos, done by Lindsay Mann and Gilbert Trejo, were done in a really short turnaround. When we released “Earth is a Black Hole” video, that was probably, what, just a few weeks after we had shot that? And Gilbert Trejo, we filmed the “Yellowbelly” video right after the new year and he released the video the next week. We worked with very talented people with very strong visions. That helped too. Having two videos, we thought it would be fun to put things out there visually since we’re not sure when the next show will be. We figured we’d give people some more to play with.

The videos are pretty different in look and feel. Were ideas pitched to you or did you have any say on the creative direction?

MARSHALL: The “Earth is a Black Hole” video, and, by the way, I should say that they are two separate entities that directed them. Lindsay and Gilbert don’t work together, hence the totally different direction. The “Earth is a Black Hole” was something that – full disclosure, Lindsay is my girlfriend – we had a lot of time to toss ideas around and conceptualize some stuff. The inspiration for that was that I follow this Instagram account called OutofStepDotNet and they are always posting old footage from shows and videos and they had posted this GWAR video. All the GWAR shit is really terrible quality broadcast camera, bad green screen kind of stuff. It’s got that slightly uncomfortable over-the-top monster movie vibe to it. And, I sent it to Lindsay and I was like, joking, “Ha ha, this is what we should do for the video.” She was like, “We’re actually going to do this.” It’s something we all kind of collaborated on and added our own spice to. The Gilbert one was just a solid pitch, it was something he had come up with and we went with, it was by far the best thing we had received for that video.

There’s something about the “Earth is Black Hole” video that reminds me of Spongebob Squarepants. I think it’s the boxy costume you’re wearing.

MARSHALL: I can see that.

Touring plans are probably not on the table yet. Is it possible that you might go back into the studio and record some more material if it looks like you won’t be able to get on the road in 2021 to promote the new album?

MARSHALL: That’s a really good question. That’s the million dollar question right now, to be honest. We have no fucking idea. It would be awesome to go and record new music. If we actually did it, I have no idea when it would come out. And, I am anxious to start poking around for the next sound but it seems like a way off. It’s been such a long runway for the new album, we’re just crossing our fingers super hard that venues are going to start opening back up by the end of the year.

What would you consider to be safe, where you’d feel comfortable to start playing live shows in front of people?

ANTHONY: It’s not really up to us. Whenever it’s safe to do, we’d love to. A lot of things we were talking about doing were getting re-booked or moved around. As far as what’s safe to do, we really want to experiment with a livestream, like a full-on, purchased, people come in live to watch show, but in the meantime we just want to find ways to take advantage of the situation we’re in right now and make sure we’re in a strong position to play shows because I think the worst thing that could happen is that as people start booking stuff and making promises and then, as we learned last year, it just doesn’t go that way. I think the safest thing to do is just play things by ear. As far as shows and what’s safe to do, we’re not really going to make that decision, we’re just going to make sure everybody else is on board and gives us the okay because we have a team of people that are looking out for us. We’re going to trust them. It would be nice to play a show or two by the end of the year.

Has this inspired any new creative ways to reach audiences? To stay on the top of minds, to stay relevant, it seems like you need to think about making videos or doing something to keep your name out there.

MARSHALL: Epitaph has been super supportive of everything we’ve wanted to do. We’re lucky to have them in our corner. Anthony had some really cool ideas on things we can do on social media. I don’t know if this is true outside of me, but everyone seems to be getting kind of sick of watching a guy on Instagram TV with an acoustic guitar. I feel like that died about a month in, nobody is psyched on that any more. We do have a practice space where we can record stuff.

ANTHONY: I’ve talked to people about taking advantage of the time. Social media is such an extreme platform, you don’t have to just put on a live stream and have poor quality and do stuff. We just want to interact with our audience, really make content that is short and sweet and to the point of high quality, a high caliber. Stuff that represents us well. We have these playthrough videos, we’ve never done any demonstrations of us playing any of our parts individually to give insight to our audience to how we do things. People have asked. A huge quantity of our fanbase are musicians so I think what we want to do this year is start playing around with short videos, self-produced things where we can interact with fans. We’ll have a good album cycle without touring if we find a way to keep engaged with everybody.

Who do you consider peers that maybe aren’t at the same level you’re at, with a record deal and touring under their belts? I discovered this band called Gleemer that I think fans of yours would dig, if they aren’t already familiar with them.

MARSHALL: From my perspective, those guys are at our level if not beyond because we like them so much. I love their records and they seem to be just killing it all the time. The other band that immediately comes to my mind for me, that’s super inspiring and that we’re kind of on the same plane, is Holy Fawn. That’s probably my favorite band of the last two years.

ANTHONY: There’s bands that we like collectively, ones that we know personally – there’s a whole slew. Marshall turned me onto Holy Fawn. They toured with Thrice not long after we did back in 2018. My friends in the band Lowlives are really cool, they are an LA-based band with two of the members of Lostprophets. They are just a band that we always tend to run into. They are just a really, really phenomenal live band and they deliver with their production and their material. Also, we played a show in Boston with Fiddlehead that are really cool. That includes a member of the band Basement.

Any Netflix or Hulu binging you’ve been able to catch up on since you’re pretty much housebound?

ANTHONY: I don’t watch TV. I’ve never really been into shows, but before everything shut down I was watching Rick & Morty. And Big Mouth, I was a massive fan of. Now that everything’s really gotten into a flow, I’m finally becoming a Netflix binger and I hate it. I love it, but now I’ll come home from work and spend 4 or 5 hours watching something and I’m like, “What did I just do?”

MARSHALL: My guiltiest of guilty pleasures has been Cobra Kai. I haven’t gotten through the third season. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t know if I can take it anymore. At least it was self-aware but now it’s becoming a little bit Degrassi. At first, I was like, “This is hilarious.” They know what they are doing, everything is cheesy 80s music.

ANTHONY: I’ve gone down the opposite route. The show that I’m binging with my girlfriend is Outlander, it’s like this hyper-romantic show, it’s great, I didn’t think I’d like it.

I’ve been watching Brooklyn Nine Nine on Hulu.

ANTHONY: That show’s hilarious.

MARSHALL: One of my first gigs when I got to LA was I signed up for central casting and I was an extra on Brooklyn Nine Nine, just walking around in the background. I got paid $50 to walk around in a circle on the set for like 5 hours.

ANTHONY: I hope our fans will go on a deep dive to find the episode where Marshall’s in the background. Maybe that will be our claim to fame.