Last week, I had the honor of grabbing a drink with one of our favorite Brooklyn bands, Teen Girl Scientist Monthly. Between sips of beer at Tradesmen—a great local watering hole in East Williamsburg—I got the chance to ask a few questions about the group before hurrying with them off to their practice space for a rehearsal and impromptu photoshoot.
TGSM are getting ready for what will surely be an epic album release show this Saturday, July 18th at Cameo Gallery (you can get tix here) for their newest LP HYPER TROPHY. We took pictures and, as a gift from the band, a demo of their newest track: "SUSIE!" which is set for release later this year, along with five other cuts from the HYPER TROPHY sessions. Enjoy.
Melissa Lusk: We met a guy yesterday who’s lived on the same block for the past 45 years and he was able to point at places and be like, “That house is where so-and-so use to live..."
Matt Berger: “DJ Money used to live in your house! He battled Grandmaster Flash. He was really good.” And we’re like… alright! [Laughs] Cool! Yeah, that was like 30 years ago…
ThrdCoast: [Laughing] That’s awesome. Okay, let's start with an icebreaker. How did you guys meet?
TC: Let’s start with Matt and Melissa?
Dan Muhlenberg: Haha! That’s a way different story.
MB: Yes, a very different story.
ML: So, we’re married and we’ve known each other for a long time. You know, from marriage...
MB: Yeah, we met during marriage…
ML: …But I actually joined this band late. The band started in 2010 but I didn’t join until 2012. We meet at NYU. Morgan, who’s the lead singer, also went to NYU. And Pete, our keytarist, also went to NYU. But we weren’t in the same classes…
MB: None of us knew each other really.
ML: It was all these sorta loose connections.
MB: Morgan and I had a band called The Hey after college. And that was like the only band I had ever been in in New York. That dissolved in 2009. Didn’t know what to do so I spent 2010 writing a song every week, not really knowing what I was doing at that point. I invited Morgan to join the band, she was the first person I called. Then I called up Mel, who was away for the summer. She was getting back the week before I decided to book a gig so we had to to get ready for it. I asked her, “Hey Mel! Do you want to play keyboard and sing backup vocals for this band?” and you were like…
ML: Okay. So he had been working on a song every week and we had done another joke project called “Ghosty” earlier that summer. We knew like seven songs.
MB: Played once, that was it.
ML: Most of the songs were a max of like 20 words per song. You know? It was goofy.
MB: Yeah, so I asked her again later in the year, “Do you want to play in the band?” and she was just getting back that week and she’s like, “Umm... What’s the name of the band?” I said, “It’s called Teen Girl Scientist Monthly,” and she was like “Oh, it’s a joke band… nah I’m good.”
ML: I was like, “He can’t be serious about this one.”
MB: So then we played and the first show was, like, really amazing. We had a really cool response so we immediately recorded the first five songs.
TC: Who’s still in the group from that original band?
MB: Now just Morgan and me, but there were four other people and it was a violin as opposed to a keytar. So about a year and a half later we moved some stuff around and Mel and Pete joined the band. Because we wanted to go more electronic and try different voicing stuff. Around that time we saw Dan playing for the first time.
ML: We poach.
TC: Is poaching a bad thing?
MB: Well, it’s because we play with our best friends! We had a really great guy in the band named Matt Zoo who was a jazz drummer and could play pretty much anything…
ML: He still is a jazz drummer …
MB: Still is a jazz drummer! He’s not dead. Despite all my attempts.
MB: But we saw Dan playing with Hannah vs. The Many. They’re awesome! I guess it would be like “cabaret punk,” yeah?
MB: He was the drummer and we kind of needed a drummer for a tour and we asked him to join, so that’s how we know each other. Just through the scene I guess.
DM: Yeah, they asked me out.
MB: We asked you out. And you actually said no the first time we asked you to join the band permanently. And then I asked him again in January later that year and he was like, “no” again and then it was the next tour. The end of that next tour was like a scene in a movie. We were hanging out in Philadelphia after like six different cities and I was like, “So... it’s been a lot of fun right?”
MB: And you were like, “Yeah! it’s been a lot of fun!” Then I think I stalled and you said something like, “Oh, we should probably keep doing this.” And I was like “YEAH! YEAH! TOTALLY!”
DM: It was definitely not direct [laughs].
MB: And then there’s our bassist Eryck who’s just a really sweet guy.
MB: Who just joined the band...
ML: No! He use to play in our soulmate band, Jackpot Tiger, who we’ve played a shit-ton of shows with and whom we went on tour with two years ago. Jackpot Tiger broke up and afterward we got Eryck.
TC: So how long has the current roster existed?
MB: Only about six months?
MB: Eryck actually does a lot of vocals on HYPER TROPHY, the new album, but the bass was recorded over the summer before he joined, kind of between basses.
ML: Actually the guys who play bass on our album are all great. There’s Gary Atturio who plays in the band Belle Mare. He recorded our first album. And then Matt Gliva, who was our bassist before, is on there...
MB: He did some stuff.
ML: ...And does Nick play bass?
MB: Nick does on one song and I’m also on that song. There’s one song that has four bassists on it.
TC: Four bassist?
MB: Yeah, four bassist, because we just took parts from a bunch of different takes...
DM: They all play at the same time.
MB: No, no, no, no, no.
ML: It’s a really heavy track.
TC: Can you tell us a little about what has influenced your sound?
MB: Ummm... Pizza?
ML: Yeah, well, Modern Dances was very much summertime. Exuberant. We’re young and crazy and going to do stupid things kind of album.
MB: Kind of!
ML: But this one comes from a much more thoughtful place. The content of the songs is a little more serious.
MB: It feels a little more specific too. You know, the first album was very drawn out. The music was written over, like, three years. And it was recorded over a year. While this one was all done over a six month period. Written in two, recorded in six months. Which was longer than we wanted to take.
MB: But who... Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! The bands we’ve been listening to in the car all the time? I can think of a lot of bands we don’t sound like that inspire us.
DM: You know, the only memory that comes to mind is us listening to Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen, which we do not sound like.
DM: And Graceland by Paul Simon... we could say we tried to be that.
DM: Why not?
ML: Well, the only time Matt was like, “I want it to sound like this” was for "Snowcones." It was “Only In Dreams,” right?
MB: Oh, yeah!
TC: That’s so funny. That’s exactly what I thought of when I heard that track.
MB: Yeah, well we were recording it and got to the end and were like, “It’s not quite right... we need like an influence track.“ Then three people looked at me and were like "...'Only in Dreams?'”
MB: And I was like, “Oh, I guess it could work.” And they were like,”No! It sounds like 'Only in Dreams!'”
MB: And I was like, “Oh! ...Fuck us.”
TC: That’s not a bad thing.
MB: No, it’s not a bad thing as long as you realize after you record it. Before would be a problem.
ML: And there are the historical influences for the band. Like the Pixies.
MB: Yeah, the Pixies.
ML: You got Morgan in a lot of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs!
TC: How did you meet Morgan, Matt?
MB: Through a friend. Originally I wanted Mel to sing.
MB: Yeah, but you were doing your own music. A friend was like, “I know the perfect person for you,” and introduced me to Morgan.
TC: Do you write the songs?
TC: Even the ones Morgan sings on?
MB: Yeah! I write all the chords. And then Mel wrote the lyrics for one of the songs this time.
ML: Yeah, but you wrote the melody. You’re the main songwriter. Don’t be shy.
TC: What does the songwriting process turn into once you add the other elements? Like bass and drums, etc.
MB: I actually was just talking with Pete today and, it kind of works this way with everybody, but he sent me a demo of this band he’s in called Brontosaurus.
ML: It’s his band.
MB: It’s his band. [Laughs] He sent me a demo for it and the songwriting wasn’t quite complete yet, but all the texture was there. And it made me think about our recording process where the songs are, like, very bare-bones, and Dan comes in and makes it a little heavier. Twists up the beats and stuff. Pete adds a ton of texture. Morgan and Mel work out all the harmonies and stuff like that. The song really grows.
TC: Do you layer your recordings usually? Starting with drums.
MB: Yeah. We did more live stuff for the first album. But this time it just worked out this way. Especially when our last bassist left the band right when we were starting to record. Then Dan and I would record drums and guitar together, and that’s what’s all live. And then we’d add the rest of it throughout the summer.
TC: A really interesting thing I've noticed about a lot of Brooklyn bands is how ephemeral the members are, which makes each record like a chronicle of a specific period. Like, between your first album and HYPER TROPHY, there are intrinsic differences that occur simply because there are different members, even though it’s the same band.
MB: It’s true, it’s true. And that’s a weird concern we have. We had a lot of really supportive people behind the first album. Matthew Pertpetua from Buzzfeed said something like “Teen Girl is the pop band you want and need,” or something like that. And it’s hard to go “Ah! That’s great! I really want to change the sound a little bit,“ but will the same people still enjoy us?
It’s actually been really cool. When we sent out the press kit we also sent the album out to three or four people who’ve followed us the longest and have been the most supportive, and it’s been well received. Still nervous about it, but glad to see the change in sound doesn’t make it sound like a completely new band.
[Enter Eryck Tait, stage left.]
TC: I have some friends who rave about the energy you bring to your live performance. I was wondering if it’s important for you guys to try and bring a certain amount of positive energy to the work through your music?
DM: I think that’s almost the most important thing. Because when we review a show we don’t go for technical details. We go over the energy we brought to it. We’re not perfectionists. We’d rather have the right energy and be a little sloppy than be overly controlled with our good energy.
TC: Does it become difficult trying to capture the right energy in the recorded product?
MB: Not this time.
DM: I mean, they had me record 18 tracks in two days, so I didn’t have time to worry about it.
DM: But the way we set it up was kind of, “Here, just play.” We didn’t want something super polished. We wanted it to sound full but not totally different than our live sound. For the most part I would say we captured our live sound pretty well.
TC: You said the first album you recorded more live, and this one has more multi-tracked elements. Do you think you’ll ever do a record totally live?
MB: I want to do it next time. 'Cause for the first album, we spent the whole summer recording it. There were a lot of late nights. We’d finish recording and would go out and hang out together. We’d finish practicing and start drinking. This time, since it was more piecemeal, it wasn’t until the end that we would all get together to do vocals and stuff. It felt necessary, because before we got there it felt like something was off and weird because we were doing everything separately.
MB: You know, Dan nailed the live drums and we were getting a live sound but, like you said before, it’s more about the feeling.
DM: And I think the end product reflects that, but while you’re in the process it doesn’t always feel that way.
Eryck Tait: I feel like I came in during the fun part.
ET: Well, in my experience of recording albums. I came in pretty late on this one but we were at the point where I think it's the most fun. You have the freedom and flexibility. No financial restraints to keep you from saying, "This could be better,” "This could be more fun.” I’ve recorded albums where we’ve had two days because we couldn’t afford any more. So with recording this album and an album I recorded with this previous band, they both kind of had this party vibe that was like, “Let’s get everybody in here, let’s hang out, whoever can come!” And I think that's really the best way to record an album. I love it. I think it just sounds like a party on the album.
MB: There’s a moment on "Aurelie" where we were sitting around and we were like, “Okay, is there anything else we want to do tonight?” And we were like “Oh! let’s have a party scene in the middle of 'Aurelie!'” So Eryck ran downstairs and got whisky for everyone and then the three of us sort of just stood in the room clinking glasses and talking to each other.
ML: Yeah, if you listen close you can hear where Matt throws his glass of water at me.
MB: I spit it on you actually.
ML: Oh, you spit it on me!
MB: Yeah, because in the back of my head I was like, “This is very nice. We should have one track that’s not nice.” So I wanted to be a little bit meaner in the background.
MB: It’s one of my favorite moments because you go like “GAH!” like a bird.
ML: I know you’ve secretly have been dying to spit water on me ever since we’ve been together. You finally got your chance.
TC: Who’s that speaking French at the end?
All: That’s Eryck.
MB: That was the next night. We were like, “Eryck, can you go back in on 'Aurelie' and do, like..."
ET: Like the Muzy, “Now you try.”
MB: “These kids are speaking French and, no, they’re not French”
TC: How is self-releasing your own music?
MB: It’s been pretty good. We’ve gone very little into debt. We would do PR except we can’t afford it, so we just go back to everyone who’s showed interest in the music and ask them to spread the word.
TC: Would you ever do a label?
MB: Yeah! Someone asked us once if we were anti-label and we said no. We just aren’t looking, but it would be cool. I think anyone who would want get more people to hear it, and be into the music we make rather than the music they think we could make... I think we’d be down.
MB: We should head over in a second to the rehearsal space.
TC: Sounds great. Let’s go.