If you’re at all familiar with the indie music scene in Toronto, you’ve heard of Teenage Kicks. Brothers Peter and Jeff Helvoort have been toiling at their craft for the majority of their lives, playing together for more than 10 years, and are the heart and soul of the band that’s graced many a Toronto stage and melted the faces off many a Toronto music fan. Lineup changes, failed attempts at recording their album, and personal issues have plagued them both, but have also fueled them into making some of the most incredible music I’ve heard in a long time. Powerful, emotional, and intense while still rockin fuckin hard at its core, the latest and most hard won effort by Teenage Kicks, Spoils of Youth comes out next week and I for one can’t wait for the world to hear it.
I got the chance to chat with Peter van Helvoort about the hardships the band has endured, and how Teenage Kicks have come through only to become better than ever.
How did you, brothers van Helvoort, come to start a band together, rather than beat each other up or hog the Nintendo controllers? (spoken as the older sister of 3 brothers)
Naturally, I guess. I’d been playing for a few years and then Jeff started his own band. I wanted to give him help that I hadn’t had and eventually we just started playing in one another’s bands. At one point in time we had two concurrent bands of complete opposite genres that had the exact same line-ups. With the exception of the few times he’s quit and a short tenure in Mexico we’ve always played together.
Where did the name Teenage Kicks come from? A sombre coming of age tale, or a pithy youthful footwear reference?
The name is a reference to The Undertones song, but we chose it because we wanted the band to have the same attitude and fervor you have when you’re chasing music as a young kid. There isn’t a thought in your head outside of getting into your parents’ basement to jam every night of the week. I often romanticized the band we grew up playing in, and I missed that feeling… the time before life starts to get in the way, but also before I realized life getting in the way makes better songs.
I have to say, I love your music. It exudes a passion and inner strength that seems to be fewer and further between in music these days. Is this musical “soul”, so to speak, the results of some of the hardships you’ve faced as a band, your brotherly bond, or something else altogether?
I’m a child raised by my mother’s sensibilities. Not to discount my father, but on the whole I’ve learned most of what I know about the “heart” from my mom, and that’s made me an overly sensitive and emotional person. We both have had ongoing problems with mental health and I think that’s allowed me to not really bullshit in my songs. I don’t believe in music being about escapism, so for me my lyrics are where personal truth comes out (ironically I use my own music to escape my reality). I got into music because I didn’t fit in anywhere and I wanted an identity no one could take away from me, it became my way of dealing with rejection of all kinds and I think that’s where the soul comes in.
The new album Spoils of Youth is the result of a sort of rebirth. What happened the first time around that stalled its coming into the world?
We almost made the record a few times before last April, but we kept having label and member issues. The record we did in California got shelved because it just wasn’t good enough, and although we kind of made the same record twice I don’t think the new version would be what it is had we made it ourselves the first time. There was a certain discomfort and frustration that came out of throwing away our first pass. The second time around we just wanted to get the record over with, and I think that uneasiness, anger and lack of desire for perfection is what our previous releases have lacked. In my opinion it provided a human-ness a lot of modern music, and even some of our own, lacks.
What was the turning point to finally get Spoils ready for release?
I accepted that if I didn’t see it through I’d probably always regret that decision, come what may with music or life or whatever. I needed to finish it for closure and I’m proud of this thing… I could walk away from music and feel like I made the album I needed to make.
I don’t want to say your struggle was well worth, but the album really is incredible. You’re just wrapping up a few tour date, how has audience reception been to the new tunes?
The reception has been great. With regards to sonics and energy the new songs fall best into the three-piece. For some reason they retain their energy without too much extra toying.
You’ve got a new album coming out next week, have overcome all these challenges, and have a warm welcome awaiting you in Toronto. How awesome is it to be in Teenage Kicks right at this moment?
It’s probably a lot more awesome than I’m sometimes willing to accept. When you’re trying to live up to your own high expectations for yourself it’s easy to lose sight of the good stuff.
What does the future hold for Teenage Kicks?
Stability, maybe? But most likely not.
Toronto Addicts, don’t miss your chance to check out Teenage Kicks TONIGHT at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern! And be sure to preorder the album Spoils of Youth right HERE, right now.