A Conversation With: Teenage Kicks
Teenage Kicks have been taking over this city’s music scene over the last few months – selling out shows and drawing crowds and festivals like NXNE and Scenefest.
In the sketchy back alley behind The Horseshoe Tavern, I sat down with bassist, Jeff Van Helvoort, and talked about their success, their sound, and his relationship with his brother Peter, who is lead singer/guitarist.
Are you excited to play the Horseshoe?
Yea, the Horseshoe is one of our favourite venues. One of the best in the city, I’d say.
Where was the first venue you guys played in Toronto?
The first time we played Toronto as this band we played two shows: we played at The Edge and we played at the Bovine later that night. The first big show we played was our vinyl release at Sneaky Dee’s, and before that we played The Supermarket like the month before.
What was the Vinyl release show like at Sneaky Dee’s?
It was good. Definitely better than we expected it to be – I guess we almost sold it out. And that was like only 3 months into us being a band, so we were pretty happy about that.
You guys have been super busy over the last little while – NXNE, Scenefest all that stuff. Anything notable you care to mention?
North By was great. Played the Horseshoe again, it was really great, lots of people there. Yeah, it was fun. Scene’s always a good time. Got to hang out with a lot of friends’ bands, and see a lot of people.
A friend of mine told me he saw you guys play at a house party a couple weeks ago. What persuaded you to do that?
Well, we’ve known Spencer (party host) for about six years now. Well, Peter and I have and he’s been putting on shows at this house for a while. It was actually the last house show that he was going to have because his family is moving. He asked us if we wanted to play, and we actually do stuff like that all the time. We played a Frat House, a U of T Frat House.
How was that?
It was everything you would expect it to be – if you saw a regular teen movie, and you saw a Frat House in it, that’s what it was like. They had smoking inside, and Peter is deathly allergic to cigarette smoke. So he stayed inside the van the whole time that we were there until we had to play. Then I think we played for like an hour, then loaded out, and he was sick for like a week. So yeah, that sucked for him, but the rest of us had a great time. It was weird; it was exactly like a movie.
A lot of the bands that I’ve talked to have said that they feel a different vibe with audiences outside of Toronto. Do you agree?
Oh yeah, totally. Peter and I lived in Guelph for a while – and even just from being in other bands we’ve made a lot of friends in other cities and when we started playing as Teenage Kicks it was almost, not depressing, but it was a little weird of a response. We had never been in a band that has been so accepted in Toronto in such a short amount of time. To play 250-300 people in Toronto, then go and play for like 20-30 people in like Guelph is super weird but I don’t know – it’s getting better now. Maybe we can blame ourselves; maybe we weren’t playing the best we could, so that might have had something to do with it as well. Toronto is just such an interesting scene. So many people in such a concentrated area, and no offense to other smaller cities, but obviously Toronto is a little more concentrated with more people that are up on stuff. Anything that happens for a band in Ontario, or even in Canada really, happens in Toronto. And that’s why we moved to Toronto in the first place – we wanted to do this for real, and we knew we couldn’t do it in a smaller city.
I know that you and Peter are brothers, but how did the rest of you all come together?
Peter and I grew up in Acton – I went to high school in Georgetown, and Cam and Pat both grew up in Georgetown. But I went to a catholic school, so we didn’t really hang out until after high school and we met through our mutual friend, Dylan. Cam, Peter and I were all in a band together, our old band, called Ulysses and the Siren. Our guitarist quit, and we talked about it, since there were so many line-up changes with that band, we said, why don’t we just change the name and go forth with that. So we asked Pat if he wanted to join. Pat and Cam were already in Toronto at this point, and Peter and I were about to move here too.
Do you have any advice for bands that are starting out the same way in this city?
Concentrate on playing your instrument. Concentrate on being the best band you can be, and go from there.
How is playing in a band with your brother?
It’s good. Him and I are ridiculously close. People think it’s weird how close we are. I have two tattoos with his face on me. People think it’s pretty weird. We live together, we work together, we play in a band together. There isn’t much that we don’t do together. We hang out. His girlfriend also lives with us, and she always says, “When Peter talks about something he likes, it’s not just something he likes, but something you guys like.” We were both doing deliveries for work one day, Peter was off to Brampton, and I was going to Milton, but I needed to stop somewhere and buy strings – I went into Long and McQuade in Mississauga and walk in to see Peter, talking to the store clerk about me. There’s always weird shit like that. I look up to him as a singer and a songwriter for sure. I don’t think we’ve really realized it, but whatever I write on bass is just trying to compliment whatever he’s doing.
Your sound is obviously Rock and Roll – where do you feel you guys fall in a city that seems to be getting taken over by indie folk rock?
That’s obviously something we considered when we went into this. It’s not necessarily a problem, but that was going to be something that could potentially hold us back because we wouldn’t get reviewed well. Because we’re doing a style of music that for whatever reason, people look down upon. But all we’re trying to do is write good songs – we’re not trying to put on a masquerade and be a band that we’re not, we’re just a rock band trying to write the best songs that we think we can. We always knew that in a city that is full of folk bands that that might hold us back a bit, but I think that there’s a lot of people that appreciate rock music in this city. I think that there is a lot of up and coming rock bands in this city that will be appreciated, I think all over the world that people are talking about a Guitar Rock Revolution – I know, that’s lame, but guitar rock is making a come back. And I mean, that’s fucking good for us.
What’s one thing your fans should know about you?
To know not to take most of what we say on Twitter seriously. We’re just big jokers. It’s mostly Peter and I on Twitter, sometimes Pat – we just like to fuck around. I was doing this thing called Little Known Facts where I was just making up all these random facts, I did it for a couple of weeks, then people started tweeting back at me saying things like “Oh, I didn’t know that was true!” and I was like, oh man, I just made it up, that’s why you didn’t know!
If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
Oh man. I don’t know if I want to go with something that’s nostalgic or something that’s really had an impact with me recently, like, in the last year or so. But I do also want to go with something that’s good all the way through. There are not many albums that are like that. I think I have to say – I think I can pick it and be confident – I’ve got two actually, two that I’m trying to pick between. I’m going to say Kensington Heights by The Constantines. Because there’s only two songs on that album that I don’t like, and I like the rest of them. Even though a lot of people think it’s not their best album, I think it’s their fucking best. I love that album. I always do Constantines’ worshiping in interviews, and I hate it because I don’t want people to think that we’re trying to be them. I love that album though, even if it’s not as in your face as the others have been, it’s good.
That’s it for my questions, thanks for your time!
No problem. It was nice meeting you!