+ By Dylan Roche
With a genre-defying sound that combines elements of stoner metal, post-punk, and garage rock, the band Teen Mortgage has an appropriately unorthodox origin story to match its style. Serendipitously, band members Jimi Guile and Ed Barakauskas connected through craigslist in 2016. Guile had been searching for a drummer to join him in continuing the band he had established in his native Liverpool, England, before relocating to the United States. He posted an online ad that was seen by Barakauskas, who was merely “people watching” on craigslist and “reading some of the absurd things people say on it,” Guile recollects.
But when Barakauskas heard Teen Mortgage’s music, it was enough to catch his attention. He was even willing to overlook the profile picture that Guile was using at the time—an image of a quirky character drinking a piña colada; it was supposed to be album art, but Barakauskas mistook it for Guile’s headshot. “He liked the songs enough that the picture didn’t throw him,” says Guile.
Thus, the collaboration began. The bandmates have been playing together ever since, taking their music across the United States and even abroad to play for the following they’ve established for themselves via online channels. It started with a show they played in Washington, DC, alongside such big names as Acid Dad and Ian Sweet. “We kind of knew at that point if we could garner interest with a gig like that, we had something good going,” says Guile.
Within a year, Teen Mortgage hit the road, headed to play for different crowds in different cities. Guile and Barakauskas agree that their goal as a band has always been to play the best shows possible, and they knew the only way they could do that was to travel rather than play the same few venues within their local circuit. This gives them a new audience every time instead of playing for the same audience over and over.
Teen Mortgage found its audience online, growing a steady fan base of listeners who find the songs on Spotify and like the way that the band doesn’t fit neatly into any category of music. “We say it’s kind of like a musical Rorschach for some people,” says Barakauskas, meaning that they not only appeal to a broad demographic of listeners but also share the stage with an eclectic variety of bands when they visit cities. “We never called ourselves a metal band or anything like that,” he says, “but you know, we seemed to be able to flow within a pretty wide range of bands and still have a good reception.”
Notwithstanding the varied bands and musicians with whom they’ve shared the stage, Guile says they’ve usually ended up being the heaviest band on the bill. Their list of influences encompasses artists from different decades and subgenres of rock, including Death from Above, the White Stripes, Fu Manchu, Dead Kennedys, Eyehategod, and Red Fang.
With the exception of one song, all their performance material are pieces that they’ve written together. Guile describes the writing process as having an ebb and flow. “There have been times when I’ve put Ed through the ringer, where I’ll rewrite a song a couple of times,” he says. “There’ll be something there, but it’s not as strong as it could be. I’ll have a lyric idea, and then it’ll be a completely different melody, and I’ll have a whole new song with those lyrics. Or I’ll take the same riff and write new lyrics with it.” They released their newest single, “Away,” at the end of October before heading to Ireland and the United Kingdom for performances abroad, and they have plans for a new record coming out soon.
It’s hard to say whether the challenge of writing compares with the challenge of taking their show on the road the way that they do. Although COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns stopped them from playing live for a period, they’ve consistently traveled for most of the band’s existence, sometimes going away for just the weekend, with a Honda CRV tightly packed. Although these days they’ve started using vans for travel, they keep things as lean as possible, taking only what they need for the show.
Not that they’d have it any other way. Playing these shows for eager audiences gives Teen Mortgage its purpose. “I always just saw music as a form of communication fused with self-expression,” says Barakauskas. “Whatever you involve yourself in has a very personal aspect to it. You feel like, when you go out and play these performances and you get these cathartic responses from people, you’re connecting with them on a personal level without having to have that full conversation with them. . . . They get the vibe that you’re putting out.”
That vibe sometimes changes from audience to audience, and Barakauskas and Guile agree that they’re deliberately responsive to their audience. Because punk rock has been around for so many decades now it’s not unusual to find a punk fan in their 60s, so sometimes Teen Mortgage will play for an older crowd. Other times, they’ll have an audience full of young people who aren’t afraid to mosh or stage dive. “That’s the sickest—when there are those moments where people are uninhibited and primal,” says Guile. “You know that you created that energy.”