At Risk Teen
At Risk Teen (or ART) - a shadowy avant-garde sound coming out of the heat haze of Alabama. Their experimental, sinister noise constantly shifts and pulses, never comfortably settling on one tune when three competing ones will do. Think Trailer Trash Tracys with less garage rock and more... noise. After putting their music on the Soundblab Unsigned Mixtape, we just knew we wanted to find out a little more about where this beautiful racket was coming from, so we caught up with mainman Blue Sullivan to talk about troubled kids, pop music and why he hates Mumford & Sons.
At Risk Teen: Who? How? What? Why?
Since 2005, At Risk Teen has always been pretty much me and a roving group of contributors. When I lived in Los Angeles, my brother Jody played a huge role. His taste in rock and electronic was, and continues to be, impeccable. He contributed sounds, samples and ideas to most of the stuff back then. I moved back to Alabama (my home state) in 2008, and I've since added a couple of really interesting people--Amanda McCoy and Stephanie Hoskins. Both are better musicians than me, and McCoy is pretty great on ProTools. I can't say that our sound is any more 'professional' since they came on board, but the songs probably start more that way before I fuck them up.
What are your influences? What inspires you?
I always loved My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver, Guided by Voices, Chemical Brothers and xtrmntr-era Primal Scream. Robert Pollard has always been a hero. He was almost 40 when Bee Thousand hit, and though he's never become the superstar he should have been, he keeps writing great songs anyway. I interviewed him once when I was working as a music writer in Atlanta, and he provided a rare instance where meeting one of my heroes wasn't a colossal disappointment. He was a really nice, hilariously funny and cool guy.
How did you get started making music?
It actually started when I remixed a song by a friend of mine's band. One of the coolest people I met in the 12 years I was in LA was a guy named Alex Simler, who was (and may still be) in a UK band called Mad Staring Eyes. I loved the song 'New Thing' off their first album, and asked if I could remix it. The remix never happened, because in the process of doing so, I came up with the idea for 'Goodbye, Summerland' (our first song) instead. And so At Risk Teen was born.
From what I've heard of it, your music is very trippy, discordant, sometimes harsh. What are you trying to convey? Is your music a reaction against something?
I remember seeing My Bloody Valentine about 20 years ago. They launched into the opening riff for 'Only Shallow"' and about 400 people involuntarily leapt up in unison. It was like the mother of all jump-scares. Their set was like waves of heat rolling over the audience for 45 minutes. They were so loud during 'You Made Me Realize' that the crowd actually got angry and literally chased them off the stage. I thought a riot was going to happen. I walked out of there with the biggest smile on my face. I knew I wanted to make something that would provoke that kind of visceral reaction.
Could you see yourselves ever writing a conventional pop melody? Do you like any pop music?
I actually like quite a bit of pop music. I'll take Katy Perry over fucking Bon Iver or Mumford & Sons any day. All these oh-so-tasteful alt-folk and faux-Americana bands are like a million shades of beige. Most of indie sounds like one big soundtrack for the world's largest Ikea. We need a new Johnny Rotten to piss on all that beige. As for doing pop myself, there are just a lot of people who do it way better than I do. I'll leave that to them.
What equipment do you use to make your music? How do you approach creating music?
Honestly, my equipment is whatever I can steal. I use some pretty rudimentary programs and pretty crappy instruments. The girls play better than I do, but I don't want it to sound too professional or pretty. I want it to sound dirty and a bit out of tune.
Where does the name come from?
I dunno if you guys use the phrase as much as we do over here. But 'At Risk Teens' are so-called 'troubled kids. Kids who drink, use drugs, steal, get pregnant (not necessarily in that order), or whatever. Plus, since I originally planned only to remix my friend's song, I liked the idea of putting 'A.R.T. remix' on the song. It sounded like a more clever idea eight years ago when I was more-frequently loaded. But I still like the name nonetheless.
What were your first musical loves?
The first cool ones were like Cheap Trick, Zeppelin, Sex Pistols, Screaming Blue Messiahs (I still love the album Gun Shy) and Prince. Those were some of the first bands I remember being madly in love with.
What music are you loving right now? What music do you hate?
I like the new GBV album. I really like the Echo Lake album, that one by The Field and the new Trash Talk EP. There's so much dull, quiet stuff around that it makes a straight-forward hardcore band like Trash Talk sound like fucking Captain Beefheart. Maybe the most over-praised album of the last year was that shit M83 disc. So overly fussed over and glossy. They sure made nouveau-prog sound expensive and fancy, but to what end? To remake Tales from Topographic Oceans? Why bother?
What's next for At Risk Teen?
Working on new songs for maybe another future EP. Personally, I just finished writing a non-fiction book, and me and Amanda McCoy are about to complete a feature screenplay we'll be shopping. Gotta stay busy in Alabama, man. Stay still too long and the horseflies get you, if boredom doesn't first.
At Risk Teen's new song 'A Tasteful Bloodletting' is available to download on the Unsigned Mixtape now