BY SHALEEN DESTEFANO
Wash Park is home to punk pioneer and badass female drummer, Lynn Truell. For the better part of two decades, she has been with the iconic band Imperial Teen, known best for their profound hooks, and their ability to write songs that exhibit realness, joy and energy that only good friends could conjure. Roddy Bottum, Will Schwartz, Jone Stebbins and Lynn have an unbreakable bond and don’t let the miles between them block their ability to continue to write music we love. We were able to learn more about their unwavering success as they set off to tour their new album Now We Are Timeless.
Imperial Teen has been a band for over two decades. You each live in different parts of the country, living different lives. Clearly, you are a family because distance hasn’t stopped you from evolving together. How do you manage to continue making new music?
Lynn: Us living on different coasts and with me in the middle in Denver presents a geographic challenge. Additionally, we all are very involved in our lives and lifestyles in our separate places – Bay Area, LA, and NYC. However, because of our long time friendships we stay in touch naturally as friends do sharing anecdotes of joy, mischief, challenges, and tragedies in our life, advising and supporting one another along the way. From an artist’s perspective, this communication and connection is the basis for lyrics, melody, art – turned into song.
This current process is true to how we have always worked together, only now there is the physical difference. So technology, air travel and the “getting together” in different combinations of the 4 of us in one room is the current reality of our creative process.
Being in different locations, walk us through the creative process from concept to delivery?
Lynn: Over the years, each of us have come up with a song piece, song chorus, verse melody, a guitar or piano line. Also, whole songs have come through in an hour during a regular practice session. Today, it is still mostly that way with the addition of trading ideas via technology and adding from there. We have also tried to continually challenge ourselves in adding interesting keyboard sounds or pads, and adding percussion with vocals or other elements rather than digital or typical drum kit kind of stuff. We tend to write poppy choruses that sound more on the joyful side, but we sprinkle in darker lyrics at times to introduce conflict. Not all is as it seems.
The new record maintains such a fun spirit, as Imperial Teen has always been known for, but there is a deeper sense of wisdom and maturity that continues to grow with the band. How do you seem to manage these pieces and stake this balance so effortlessly?
Jone: (laughing) I’m glad it looks effortless!! Actually, though, our songs are always reflections of who we are. Guess what? We are fun and mature! I love where we’re at this stage of life. I feel super lucky to have the creative outlet that is this band and truly treasure the bond we share.
Let’s talk about the title, Now We Are Timeless, and the image of your new album. We love the juxtaposition of an iceberg in the midst of ecological crisis, clearly sinking, melting, disappearing, the absolute antithesis of timelessness—they pose the question of hope and beauty in the wake of age, a fading icon shining brightest in the final phase of its demise, exuding light and glory as the world falls apart. Can you tell us more about this inspiration? How does this speak to the future for Imperial Teen?
To us the cover is a sense of creating a monument that is monolithic yet not fixed in time. The iceberg is iconic and huge yet is always melting, perhaps rapidly so. We think it’s a good statement that relates to the creative and the transience of our lives and culture.
It seems like yesterday when you put out Feel The Sound in 2012. What changes have you seen in the music industry even from your last album release?
Jone: Oh my, gosh, there have been lots of changes!! And from the beginning of our career even more! Most noticeably this time around, for me, was the pre-release of teaser singles prior to the actual record coming out. We had 3 songs, Walkaway, We Do What We Do Best and Don’t Wanna Let You Go come out before the release of our album. Also it’s crazy how much YouTube and social media play into the release. We had videos created with a photo and the lyrics put up on YouTube. “Lyric videos” were new to me. We also made a very fabulous and joyous video starring the illustrious artist and provocateur, Tabbboo for the song Don’t Wanna Let You Go. Basically people come to their music in so many different avenues and angles that there’s a lot of varied methods to get the music to them!
Roddy: I’m listening to the Ring Cycle from the NY Met Performance in 2013 and Cate LeBon and Billie Eilish.
Jone: I have been listening to a wild psychedelic French band from the 60s Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes and, honestly, I’ve mostly been listening to Imperial Teen as I’ve been practicing so much in preparation for our upcoming shows!!
Lynn: Sharon Van Etton, song Lightyears by The National, I’m also dipping into old and real jazz.
Will: Blood Orange, ALVVAYS, CRICKETS (another band Roddy is in)
Can we expect Imperial Teen to be playing in Denver anytime soon?
Absolutely, Denver is one of our favorite cites, especially ‘cause Lynn, our drummer, lives there. We love to visit Colorado.
Lynn. Any opportunity to go back home works for me. We just played Twist And Shout Record Store on Colfax last week but expect another Denver show this tour cycle for suresies.
We wait in anticipation for the next Denver show! In the meantime, we will sit idle with Walkaway, The Girl and Timeless (our personal faves from the new album) on repeat. Be sure to check out “Now We Are Timeless” on Merge Records.