“If we stop touring, are we even a band?” considers Future Teens’ co-vocalist Amy Hoffman. They’re almost certainly joking, but Future Teens have built up so much of their reputation on their life-affirming live shows that there could be an element of truth to the statement.
Three-quarters of the Boston group – Amy, co-vocalist Daniel Radin, and bassist Maya Mortman – are on a Zoom call to discuss their excellent new album ‘Self Help’. Yet it’s also proving to be an opportunity to reflect on a successful debut UK tour and re-evaluate the group’s relationship with their ‘Deliberately Alive’ EP – arguably the most intensely personal release by the quartet (completed by Colby Blauvelt) to date.
Given the nature of the pandemic, the UK trek – which included a crowd-winning set at Bristol’s Booze Cruise – was a real road test for the songs from the EP. Getting to play songs like ‘Guest Room’, which ruminate heavily on mental health, mortality, and the meaning of life, also proved to be an eye-opening experience.
“It was really heartening to play those songs,” says Amy. “So much of that EP came from a place of utter despair, but that’s not the part of the songwriting process that rings true anymore. I came out of the other side of ‘Guest Room’ feeling extremely grateful. Now I can think about how the place that song came from was really painful, and that was where I was at the time – but actually, so much of what I thought about myself was bullshit. It’s a very cool transition from the headspace I was in while working on that EP to now.”
And while ‘Guest Room’ is a song that connects thanks to its open-hearted honesty, the quartet have repeated the trick multiple times on their new album’ Self Help’, crafting a record that digs into issues of sobriety, relationships, and mental health, often approaching such challenges in tactile, smart ways.
Most notably, this can be seen on the second single, ‘BYOB’. A clever play on the notion of ‘bring your own booze’, instead it’s a deconstruction of sobriety and mental health and the role alcohol can play in these discussions. It was written mid-pandemic with Amy just four days sober.
“I will never be thankful for the pandemic,” they say. “But because of it, I completely changed my life. Sobriety would never have been a thing for me without it, at least not at this point in my life. Because of my sobriety, I got an important mental health diagnosis, and I could move forward knowing I had this awesome support group around addiction and sobriety and bipolar.
“I don’t think we set out to write an album of mental health bangers. But somehow – despite Daniel having a completely different relationship with alcohol and mental health – we found that overlap. It was just another beautiful experience of trusting my friends.”
This sense of camaraderie is fundamental to the success and appeal of Future Teens. It extends beyond the four people and out into the audience, thanks to the group’s ability to foster an environment that is welcoming, inclusive and fun. “Wholesome” isn’t in keeping with the dangerous image of rock’n’roll, but it also doesn’t mean boring or bland.
A Future Teens set often starts with a huddle, with the band members throwing hands in the air, and frequently features daft games of hide-and-seek between Amy and Maya. Meanwhile, the crowd is encouraged to holler ‘Boston sucks’ in increasingly drawn-out and elongated ways during ‘In Love or Whatever’. It makes for an enjoyable, fan-friendly experience.
“There are these rock’n’roll tropes, and we’re happy to play with them in our music videos,” continues Maya. “But I believe that the true spirit of rock’n’roll is in finding your inner child and just having fun and doing whatever we want in the nicest possible way.”
“If people want to mosh or have a wall of death at a Future Teens show, I’m all for it,” concludes Amy. “But I’d be constantly aware that there might be someone there who doesn’t want to be in something like that, and they might get stuck. So, on the rare occasion it does get rowdy, my entire energy is like ‘who is uncomfortable’ or ‘is anyone upset’? – although it’s very rare when I’ve had to be like, ‘dude, are you good?’ People are ultimately good to each other.”
Ultimately, however, Maya’s comment about finding the inner child rings true for Future Teens in more ways than one. During the recording of ‘Self Help’, Future Teens were joined in the studio by Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years, who helped lay down some guest vocals.
Campbell brought in his son, Wyatt, who occupied Future Teens by giving them temporary tattoos and lifting the energy by bouncing around the room while his dad sang. For his part, Campbell Snr also served as a sounding board for the Future Teens songwriting process.
“He helped reign us in from being too wordy, and that’s really helpful,” says Amy. “We try not to get too precious about what we’re trying to say, but a little outside input helped, and I’m thankful for that.”
Like The Wonder Years, there’s also a positivity in Future Teens songs, even if it’s never openly apparent. There’s also humour – even absurdity sometimes – that is often overlooked. The label’ bummer pop’ doesn’t really sell this – and Future Teens have leaned into this – but with sadness being synonymous with isolation, it fails to capture the sense of community – joy even – about finding kindred spirits and sharing in the experience.
Equally, there’s never a sense that Future Teens have all the answers. There’s no manual about growing old, but there is an honesty and a purity to discussing heavy topics with a wry smile and self-effacing charm as they try to figure shit out like the rest of us. This is especially true when it comes to tackling issues of relationships in song.
“I think we’ve always tried to avoid the ‘woe is me attitude in our songwriting,” says Daniel. “But no matter how hard we’ve tried, we still got labelled as ‘oh, they’re sad because they’re going through a breakup’.”
“What to us is something that was really tongue-in-cheek came out differently,” continues Amy with a somewhat rueful laugh. “A couple of the songs on the new record are still about relationships, but they’re less lovelorn torch songs – that’s a new phrase I learned from Daniel yesterday – and more ‘here’s a thing that’s difficult in our relationship, and here’s how I’m processing it. So, on ‘Same Difference’, it’s going through: ‘this is what I thought about love, and here’s how I’m learning about how I was wrong’. Or, as Daniel put it, it’s like the idea of a soulmate: it’s cool, but it’s not true. Or the last song on the record [‘Going Pains’]; it sounds like a forlorn heartbreak song, but it’s really about being thankful for how relationships grow and adapt while we’re away.
“Actually, while we were on tour, we were discussing these songs, and Daniel said that we’re all now like Version 3.0 of ourselves,” concludes Amy. “I think that shows through in our songwriting, and especially in the songs about our relationships and how we treat not only our loved ones but also ourselves.”
‘Self Help’ is ultimately the culmination of this levelling up, with Future Teens sitting on the cusp of a major breakout. Considering their fight to reach this point, few can say such success isn’t richly deserved.
Taken from the October issue of Upset. Future Teens’ album ‘Self Help’ is out 7th October.