Catching Up With Imperial Teen's Will Schwartz
By Louis Jordan
Best known for the high school hall strut anthem “Yoo Hoo,” 90’s indie pop darlings Imperial Teen’s boy-girl harmonies and sweetly sour melodies are still alive and well. After almost 15 years together, the band is still making candy apple pop laced with razor blades.
We talked with Imperial Teen’s singer/guitarist Will Schwartz about the group’s new album, Feel the Sound.
Your lead single “Runaway” sounds so huge, with really shiny production. Imperial Teen always wrote great pop songs, but they were sort of scruffy. What made this record different?
I was living in New York at the time, Lyn [Perko-Truell] and Roddy [Bottum] were in L.A. and Joan [Stebbins] was in San Francisco. We would sort of converge for three-day periods to brainstorm and write songs. We hadn’t really made a record like this before. We would record for two days and then leave it alone for a couple of months, so we were coming back to it with fresh ears every time.
What was your concept while writing the album?
At this point we know what we do, and we kind of wanted to make it Imperial Teen on steroids [and] have all the elements we always have, like the melodicism and the harmonies, but make it sound bigger, really get into it. I feel like that’s what we came out with, more of what we do best.
Imperial Teen’s been together for almost 15 years now, how do you feel about the current musical landscape compared to when you started?
It seems like there’s so many more releases than there used to be. Anyone can make a record now. There’s so much exposure to good stuff that a lot of people have better music taste. In that sense it’s harder to stand out. But there’s less of a concentration on songs than there was in the early 2000s or the ‘90s. That’s why someone like Adele does so well, because I think there’s a craving for real songs. The new guard of music journalists are really attracted to a more abstracted take on songs because people don’t want to seem too cliché…I love a great pop song. I think that kind of songwriting never goes out of style. Like, Burt Bacharach, Phil Spector, that kind of thing.
Does Imperial Teen plan to continue after this record, even living in different cities with jobs and side projects?
I can’t imagine ever saying, ‘This is the last Imperial Teen record.’ I just don’t see a point in it. We’re like a family. I think we’ll always know each other and hopefully always want to make music together. We’re just keep the door open kind of people anyway. And I think that’s why we get along so well. We’re not terribly competitive with each other. I think we try to listen to each other and let everyone’s voice be heard. I think that’s all you really need to get along with people.
How would you describe Feel The Sound?
One of the people on our label said about the record, ‘It sounds modern.’ That’s a really nice thing to say about a band that’s been around for a while! We’re not interested in doing the same thing over and over. We do have something together that we had at the beginning- the harmonies and the melodies. But we also wanted it to be landscape-y and atmospheric, something that had a cohesive sound. I think it has a kind of atmosphere to it that maybe some of our other records don’t.
Half of Imperial Teen is openly gay and the other half is straight. Your lyrics have some queer themes, but it’s subtle. Do you identify as a queer band?
I think that there’s queerness in the band, but our identity is four people, you know? It wouldn’t be accurate just to be represented as a queer band. It wouldn’t reflect what the band is. There’s queerness for sure, but…it’s like how in a lot of artwork that I like there are things that are sublimated, there’s a sense of mystery. I like that.