Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers
By Adam Norris
The River Sounds 2022 festival has pulled out all the stops for its January debut, and you can currently hear one of its most anticipated acts all over triple j with their latest grunge- pop-punk anthem, ‘Miss Your Birthday’. Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers are coming to town, and though yes, they are all female, calling them a girl band is kind of missing the point…
“We try and stay out of the political side of music,” bassist Jaida Stephenson tells me over the phone. “We obviously care about it, but one of our really big things is that we always wanted to be identified as a band. Not a girl band, you know. It’s a really big thing for us, because a lot of people still, like, see us at a show and say ‘you guys are really good for a girl band!’ It’s pretty crazy. But this push that’s been happening lately is so rewarding to see, all these female acts and first nation acts are represented way better in the media, on radio stations and in festivals. It’s amazing.”
It’s a time of long overdue reckoning withing the Australian music industry, with a lot of entrenched attitudes and behaviour called into question. It must be a remarkable time to be a young band, I imagine – breaking into the spotlight amidst exciting new strides in representation and opportunities.
“It feels super important. Even when we started out back in 2015 there wasn’t really that much talk about it, it was only in the past four years or so it’s started to be discussed more.
The thing is, there are so many amazing women in music who have been underrepresented, and it’s been super cool living in this age seeing this push for equality.
Not only with females, but queer people, first nations people, this push to get that lineup diversity. Not put up with that bullshit in the music industry any more.”
Though they really are still a young band – and one whose trajectory was interrupted by a global pandemic, no less – Teen Jesus have a remarkably layered, catchy-as-hell sound. It helps that the four are all best friends from school, of course, but finding themselves with a forced hiatus also turned out to be a blessing in disguise for their musical evolution.
“I think it was for the best, to be honest,” Jaida says of Covid’s impact. “2019 was our first year out of high school, so we went straight from studying for fifteen years to touring Australia, and we kind of had no break. We hadn’t spent much time for ourselves and figured out what we want to do, and it gave us this awesome opportunity to do that and to write new music, to have a step back and say, yep, this is actually kicking off now, how do we want to tackle this, what do we want to do? I think it was really important to have. But you know, it went on for maybe a bit too long,” Jaida laughs. “Would have liked Covid to stop maybe a year ago. [But] we had this goal that we wanted to write 100 songs [in that time], which is a bit of a reach. But I reckon we probably wrote, including the unfinished ones, around 50. It gave us an opportunity to pick the best ones out. Before that, we were juggling like high school and the band, and trying to write music at the same time, so any song we wrote was one that we played in our live set. But now we get to pick and choose our favourites.”
It’s a process that has already resulted in two epic singles – ‘Miss Your Birthday’ and, back in July, the aptly named ‘AHHHH!’ – and the promise of a headline tour throughout 2022.
The River Sounds festival will mark the first time the Canberra foursome will play Bellingen – and with some fairly epic company, including Baker Boy, Regurgitator, Butterfingers and more – though for Jaida, it won’t be entirely new ground. Instead, it will be a return to a personal fave.
“I was born in Murwillumbah, and though I mostly grew up in Canberra, most of my family is from that end of the North Coast, and I’ve stayed in Bellingen before. I really, really love it. I went on a trip up there in 2018, and my uncle lives in a little commune around Bellingen somewhere. So when we got the offer, I was so excited. I really reckon it’s one of my favourite towns in Australia. These [inland river towns] all have a similar vibe, a bit hippy, very laid back. I really enjoy it, I think it’s really nice. It feels quite similar.”
WHAT River Sounds Festival
WHERE Bellingen Showgrounds
WHEN 14-15 JAN 2022