Less Pizza, More Pogo: Teenage Bottlerocket takes back pop-punk, one song at a time

Teenage Bottlerocket

Punk rock songs about girls are as timeless as punk rock itself, but on the latest album by Teenage Bottlerocket, the Wyoming punks made a conscious effort to write about other topics. Well, at least half of the time.

“This time we have a song about the game Minecraft, we have a song about a serial killer, a song about a haunted house, a song about eating pizza,” rattles off vocalist/guitarist Ray Carlisle, “but as we finish every record we sit back and take a look at how many songs are about girls on this sucker, and how many aren’t about girls. That’s a ratio we’re always interested in, and it’s about 50/50 on this one.”

The band’s sixth full-length, Tales From Wyoming, is more of the band’s patented pogo-punk, with choppy riffs and bouncy sing-alongs, but it’s also an album that sees the band making a few high-impact changes. One: It’s their fifth album recorded at the Blasting Room, but the first one actually produced by the studio’s legendary Bill Stevenson (Descendents, Black Flag). Two: There’s a full-on acoustic love ballad on this album called “First Time.”  

“It’s literally the first time we’ve ever recorded an acoustic song,” explains Carlisle. “My friend Sarah from high school played cello on it, and it’s kind of a rock ballad, I guess. Actually, there’s nothing rock about it; it’s an acoustic song.”

Another huge shift for the band this time out is a move to Rise Records, a label known more for their metalcore and emo bands, although Teenage Bottlerocket does have some punk brethren on the label, including Bouncing Souls and Hot Water Music. It’s a label change that Carlisle hopes will bring them new ears.  

“It’s been really cool being on Rise,” he says. “We wanted to try something different, and it’s definitely been different. I don’t have anything negative to say about the experience, so that’s good. They have an insane amount of subscribers on YouTube and it’s cool that the video for [lead single] ‘Nothing Else Matters (When I’m With You)’ has gotten a lot of plays, so that’s fucking awesome.”

Carlisle says he admires Rise’s fresh ideas and that they have a really good handle on how to market bands. He adds that Teenage Bottlerocket, which includes his twin brother Brandon on drums, vocalist/guitarist Kody Templeman (also of the Lillingtons) and bassist Miguel Chen, saw the potential to reach a different audience when they played Warped Tour last summer.

“The whole tour we were like, ‘Who the fuck are these kids? Who the fuck are the bands on their T-shirts?’ There’s this whole other scene,” he says. “We grew up with Lagwagon and Propagandhi and NOFX and Green Day, and all of these other bands. Times have really changed. Not to say that our goal is to captivate a brand new audience with this record because we’re on a new label, but I think it’s cool that Rise gives us the opportunity to get our music to people who wouldn’t hear it otherwise.

“When we played Warped Tour, there were a lot of kids who had an Asking Alexandria shirt on, and they’d buy a Teenage Bottlerocket shirt,” he continues. “That kind of stuff I really like. I think that’s cool. Our music isn’t just for one type of person, you know? As far as girls go, are there going to be new girls listening to us [because we are] on Rise? I’m sure my girlfriend doesn’t want there to be!”  

Capturing a band’s live sound in the studio is always a task, and while Stevenson and the Blasting Room crew are very accomplished and capable, Teenage Bottlerocket are known best for their balls-out live show. Carlisle says the secret to making Tales from Wyoming as live-sounding as possible was keeping things simple and real. “Well, we didn’t cheat,” he says. “We’re very particular about if we can’t pull it off live, we don’t do it. We don’t double up voices for a three-part harmony because it’s only me and Kody singing, so we can only do the two-part harmony. Stuff like that keeps it real to what we do live.”

Carlisle says the band had a lot of time in the studio and worked closely with Stevenson to make the album as punchy as possible. Luckily, he says, Teenage Bottlerocket aren’t a hard band to work with. “We’re an easy band to record, but we’re also an easy band to mix live,” he explains. “Just make sure everything is on and go. We’re a meat-and-potatoes band. We don’t use a bunch of fancy pedals; we just plug directly into our amps and let it rip. But I think this album is an accurate representation of what we sound like live.”

With a couple of huge metal fans in the band (Carlisle and Templeman are often rocking Metallica and Slayer shirts in press photos) and with their epic stage-entrance song choice (Slayer’s “South Of Heaven”), we have to ask Carlisle if Teenage Bottlerocket would ever consider turning to the dark side someday and cranking out some metal.

“What, like make a pop-punk version of ‘Reign In Blood?’” he says with a laugh. “That’s probably not too far-fetched. But a lot of those metalheads are fricking noodlers, man; they really rip it. I just don’t have the capability to play that stuff. But we like metal. Kody loves metal.”

Growing up on thrash metal, Carlisle still remembers the stoked feeling he got when he first heard Metallica as a kid, and he still gets that feeling listening to bands in his current peer group.  “When music gives you the feeling; it’s the feeling,” he says. “When that Menzingers song ‘I Don’t Want To Be An Asshole Anymore’ came out and there’s that first verse, and the way that Greg Barnett’s voice sounded, it made the hairs on my arms stand up. It just gave me that nice, cool feeling, and I love when music can do that.”

While recording Tales from Wyoming, that feeling Carlisle talks about came full circle on one of his own songs—and on a tune about Minecraft, no less. “We were playing ‘They Call Me Steve’ and we were doing pre-production on it, and finding the right key to play the song in, and I had an overwhelming feeling of awesome just playing that song,” he says. “Music can do that to people and it’s cool; I love it.” S

A version of this story was published in Substream #45.