We’ve been following Baltimore-based lo-fi punk duo Teen Suicide pretty much since their first release went up on Bandcamp, so it was with great pleasure that we were given a chance to chat a bit with singer/guitarist Sam Ray. Check below for a sampling of Ray’s various projects, and read about crazy shows in Philadelphia and Ray’s ambition to write the best pop songs in the world.
Beats Per Minute: Hi Sam! So let’s talk origin story. There’s Ricky Eat Acid material on Bandcamp from back in 2010, is that your earliest officially released material?
Sam Ray: Yeah I think at least officially released. I had the requisite MySpace pages since at least like, 2007 or so. I’ve been writing and recording stuff since I was a freshman in high school, maybe before that actually.
I started giving my friends CDs and things like that. The first band i was in was in 8th grade. We were a two-piece punk band and we put out two CDs which we sold at school for like 2 bucks each. We made our own website and we even had shirts.
And I guess I’d kept up giving CDs out to people, first as a sort of joke still but by the time I was about 16 or 17 it got more serious. around 2010 is when i decided to move from giving CDs to my friends to putting music up on Bandcamp for whoever wanted it.
So a two piece punk project in eighth grade, and Teen Suicide is also obviously a two-piece punk project. Do you consider this, like a return to your roots, or is it something that’s been going on all along?
It’s definitely a return to form. I’ve always written songs first and foremost and seen any weird side experimentation as just that. Often it was the stuff I felt better suited to and it certainly was the stuff that got the most attention but it was just me messing around. I could never consider myself any kind of producer, I don’t know anything about that. I like ambient music, I like experimentation, I like sound art, but above all else I just want to write the best pop songs in the world–maybe the darkest sometimes, maybe the most disjointed, the most dissonant. the most energetic, un-energetic, whatever. Punk. It all comes down to pop songwriting and hooks.
I guess if I had to answer that in a way more succinct way, I’ve always played around with both pop songwriting and weird experimentation and sound art, but this is the first time in my life i feel like i can successfully (or almost successfully) blend the two.
So I guess that explains how something like “salvia plath” fits into the overall scheme of Teen Suicide. It’s just not a punk outlet.
Yeah definitely, and in the context of our new tape it actually fits in a lot better than you’d think. one of our friends pointed that out, he said when he first heard “salvia plath”, which is like the most weird, warped r&b sampling thing ever, he had no clue how it fit into our style, but after listening to the tape it made perfect sense.
Yeah, I agree. It sounds like on the new tape you’re exploring more in general. Some of the lo-fi upbeat stuff from DC Snuff Film and Bad Vibes Forever remains but it sounds less like an exercise in the genre and more something that’s consciously trying to push beyond the trappings of punk.
Yeah. While the live show will probably always stay rooted totally in just like, energy, craziness, whatever–ideally at least–it’s nice to be able to do different things and tie it all together. If we throw together a set for an acoustic/stripped down show or just play with a toy keyboard all night, I could probably pull off a 20+ minute set no matter what.
Do you want to talk a bit about the live show then, based on past material I imagine the energy is always high. What’s the crowd response usually like?
Haha, it really depends where we’re playing and who we’re playing with, etc. We’ve only played a handful of shows so far. Sometimes it’s in our friends basements to an uninterested mix of friends and local college kids. We’ve played in pennsylvania a surprising amount thanks to great friends who help book us shows there, and those are the best shows. Playing in Philly was the best thing of my life pretty much. We played at Maggot House and within 20 seconds of our first song, the crowd had knocked the PA over on top of me and were going crazy.
It was super high energy, awesome response, and generally whenever we play it’s just a really good time. Even if we don’t really fit at all with the rest of the bands, we usually find someone who’s into it enough to dance/jump around and that’s great.
You said earlier that you don’t really see yourself as a producer, but Ricky Eat Acid was really the project that first got any real kind of buzz wasn’t it? Do you still have plans for that, or is Teen Suicide your main gig for the time being?
It’s definitely the main gig right now and probably for a while. I still like to play around on the side and I’m sure i’ll get back into something else since these things come and go, but I’ve missed writing actual, fully realized songs so much. Just in the short time we’ve been recording as a full band, those songs have shifted from 1-2 minute bursts to highly detailed 3-5 minute evolving, shifting, changes pieces. One of the new songs is almost 5 minutes with shifting backwards guitars and a full minute or two of weird, creepy, shimmering ambience at the end that’s a direct link to the Ricky Eat Acid stuff of old (and new). I’ve been playing around with Ricky Eat Acid lately. I’ve done a few remixes and a couple collaborative projects, as well as a series of piano demos [ed. Check below for some of those demos] that i’m working on building into a film score of sorts, but yeah Teen Suicide is the main thing for sure and definitely the project i put the most effort into. Ricky Eat Acid has always been a side thing behind whatever was going on in my life – relationships, school, whatever – now it’s a side thing behind my main band (finally).
I’m hoping that when we finally get to do a Teen Suicide full length, I can work in some weird ambient/tape looped interludes and stuff like that, or piano compositions, anything to give it some texture/variety and exploit my love of weirdo drones.
We premiered one of your tracks a while back drawn from an EP called Goblin Problems that you put up on bandcamp in advance of the aforementioned new tape. Is there anything else you want to say about either of those releases?
It’s great! I’m really happy about it. it’s the first time we’ve recorded new stuff with real microphones and way better production stuff. It’s 2 short punk songs and one tape recorded one that’s kinda different
But yeah okay, the new tape.
It’s sweet, we recorded it between January and April and it’s gonna see release on Friends Records. The tape itself is actually a new EP, called Waste Yrself and the b side is DC Snuff Film. So it’ll be like 2 EPs. Or one LP. Or a split but we’re both bands.
After those two releases, by my count you’ll have four EP or album length releases out this year. How do you manage to be so prolific, I mean you’re doing college too right?
Haha, I am doing college, but not super well. Actually that’s a lie, up until last semester i had all A’s and B’s, but this semester I ran into more trouble. I mean, I’m still enrolled so i’m good, right? But yeah, it’s just a matter of working around our schedules. Eric [Livingston, Teen Suicide’s Drummer] works full time and I go to school, but I fucking love music, we love playing together, and we spend all our free time together practicing, I spend all my free time working on new stuff pretty much. I guess it all adds up. Maybe I’m just incredibly depressed and I need to distract myself from my life with creativity and stuff or maybe I’m just obsessed with becoming a better songwriter and i’m dying to finally write a song so good i’ll just kind of drop dead. One of those is probably true. Maybe both.
Other than the new tape, any other big plans for the rest of this year?
Well, we’re trying to play as many shows as we can. We have one really awesome one lined up later this year that we’re hoping comes through in South Carolina. Aside from that, just practicing a ton and recording new stuff as we write it/play it. Maybe we’ll put something else out. We’re working some splits maybe. possibly a 7″ or a 7″ split. A split cassette. Stuff of that nature. Maybe we’ll do a full length later. Maybe next year. At some point. I think right now we’re just having a lot of fun and we want it to keep being fun. Stuff like this should never be a hassle.