OTwo Interviews: Teenage Dads

Image Credit: Image Credit: Hector Clark

OTwo Co-Editor, Isabella Ambrosio, sits down with Aussie indie-rock quartet, Teenage Dads, at 2 a.m., after a couple of pints, in the back of their tour van to talk about anything and everything Teenage Dads.

“Ginger bikkie?” Bassist Angus Christie queries, as I’m wedged between him and Vincent Kinna, Teenage Dad’s drummer. His hospitality is admirable, as the five of us cram into the back of their touring van, made up of two three-seaters facing each other and a small table. The Irish night filtered through the tinted windows, and we were left in almost total darkness as their tour manager left us to scour the Dublin streets in hopes that he’d find food. 

I take the ginger bikkie from Christie, thanking him, and turn to Vincent Kinna who then asks me, “Would you like a… mushy banana?” Their hospitality was humorous as if I had just entered their home. And in a way, I had since the van had been their (moving) home for the entirety of 2023. With over 90 shows under their belt this year alone,  they weren’t just touring as a band, they were touring as friends. 

Teenage Dads was founded in 2015 while the four members were in secondary school. Breathing life and excitement into indie pop with a fun, charismatic attitude, the band has released one full-length record and four EPs. Their most recent EP, Midnight Driving, is the perfect introduction to their music and quintessentially Teenage Dads. Their upbeat melodies, eccentric lyrics and scenarios are backed with resounding basslines that are a guaranteed serotonin boost. 

As the clock struck 2 a.m., I leaned forward and asked the question that started it all: “What got you into music?”. The brother of the band’s guitarist and backing vocalist Conor McLaughlin had been playing music since he was eight years old, which undoubtedly informed McLaughlin’s approach to the art: “I got him to teach me a couple of songs on the guitar. From then, I would bother him to play his guitar, and it got to a point where I should’ve just gotten my own guitar.” Lead vocalist and guitarist Jordan Finlay started playing piano when he was eleven years old, and it turns out his favourite French composer, Yann Tiersen (The Fabulous Destiny of Amelie Poulain), was playing downstairs at Whelan’s the same night. 

“Ah, bullshit!” Kinna cries out when Finlay relays the news that they’d just missed his performance. He continues, “Because he’s French, I never thought I’d ever be able to see him. So, seeing the guy who inspired the way I play and stuff, downstairs in the same building…” As Finlay recalls his beginnings with music, he reveals he learned to play the flute at the age of nine, which earns an, “Oh, bullshit!” from McLaughlin, who had no idea, “That’s the fuckin’ word, mate.” Angus Christie was encouraged to play the trumpet by his mother when he was seven, because, as he tells it, “the trumpet was cool.” This earns a chuckle from his bandmates and he soldiers on through it, “I didn’t realise that the trumpet, in tandem, with ‘not very popular’ and ‘doing scouts’, wasn’t very cool, so,” Christie hangs his head in mock shame as the rest of them laugh. Even though it was short-lived and overall enjoyable, Christie valued his social status and decided to end his stint in trumpeting. His mother then pushed him to join the music programme in secondary school where chose to pursue bass, “cause that was the second coolest thing to the trumpet.” Now it’s Kinna’s turn: “I got into music because Connor asked me to play drums in a band that ended up being Teenage Dads.” Kinna elaborates – he comes from a musical family, and he had a drumkit when he was younger he wishes he actually played. Interestingly, when they started the band, Kinna didn’t know how to play any instrument, since he discovered his passion for music alone rather than through the encouragement of his surroundings. 

The boys cite bands such as Coldplay and Red Hot Chili Peppers and artists like Neil Young as their influences. But their different tastes don’t affect their dynamic as an ensemble. They often joke that being friends did little for the band dynamic, although McLaughlin explains he can’t imagine trying to form a band through “forums” or “Facebook group”. He continues, saying that he thinks they’re “quite fortunate that [they] knew each other already and it started for fun, and it is still really fun.” Kinna adds that it’s nice to make jokes about school seven years after the fact. They started playing cover gigs in high school at parties, “Not many turned backs either!” Finlay chimes in, “When there are only seven or eight people there, and you see one leave, you’re like, ahhhh,” Finlay’s face rearranges, and the entire van bursts into laughter, “It kind of works in percentages,” Christie cuts in, “Ah, there goes ten percent of our crowd.” 

“We’ve done that grind,” Finlay elaborates, “So many shows like that. We did one, like, two weeks ago.” McLaughlin swoops in, “I remember playing a few parties where you could see it was cooler at said party to stand at the fire than it was to stand in front of the band. Like, I can see you all over there. Just take a couple steps closer. There were a few gigs where I felt disheartened, but then the hosts’ parents were like, ‘You guys are fucking awesome. Here, have more money.’ And feeling terrible for taking money for playing to no one. Overall, it was a supportive group around us.” Kinna recounts what people thought of the ‘band’ when they were in secondary school: “If we wanted to go have a jam [in the music room], some people made fun of us.” But McLaughlin insists it was high school, and that they themselves never pictured the band going this far because it was always just for fun. Just like the way they played four-square, they’d play by kicking a soccer ball at each other – for fun. They do insist on letting them know if anyone is looking to play soccer-square.

Their genuine friendship and their brotherly bond have dramatically influenced their work, making their music contagious and enjoyable. Songs from Midnight Driving like ‘Teddy’ and ‘Hey, Diego!’ capture that fun, based on fictional storylines as well as the children’s show Go, Diego, Go!. The fun doesn’t stop there, with their comic-style album artwork, silly music videos, and fun Instagram posts. But you can see them individually reflected in their music. Songs and their designs are inspired by pop culture – animes, TV, and films that they individually like. Hence, ‘Hey, Diego!’. “Things come up and you look at it, and go, ‘yeah, that’s sick. Let’s steal it,’” Finlay jokes. McLaughlin elaborates, “Cinema is the way of storytelling we all relate to,” an aspect that is particularly evident on the track ‘Teddy’. Their songwriting is engaging – it’s something for the listener to imagine, not just something they listen to. The dialogue occurring between the ‘main character’ of the story and the ‘policeman’ asking where Teddy was, the visual description of events in the lyrics, brings an extra level of storytelling to songwriting… It’s very cinematic. 

When Teenage Dads mix eccentric percussions with catchy melodies, you’re sure to get a fun track. If you listen closely, you can find pieces of their hearts within the music. This is especially true for the single ‘Speedracer’, released earlier this summer. It was the second time they worked with an external producer, and they didn’t want to feel pressured to produce the song in a specific way. “Never had a situation where someone’s been there and said every idea was good,” Finlay elaborates, “We kept saying ‘Ah, I don’t know,’ but [the producer] does this head-bob thing when he likes something, and he was doing it the whole time.” It was a painstakingly long process, but in the end, “It felt like Teenage Dads, and more. And it felt so good.” Christie adds on top of McLaughlin’s statement, “It was a really good curation of ideas.” 

“Bruh,” Finlay mutters. A clearly drunk couple has wandered close to where we’re seated which prompts the boys to turn into, well, boys, as a roar of laughter overtakes the van. I can’t help but join in. When it ends, McLaughlin queries, “Can I have another bikkie there, Angus?”

As the drunk couple wanders off elsewhere, the conversation returns, and goes on, and on, the clock creeping towards 3 a.m. by the time we finish. At that point, what remained were four lads sitting in a van, across the world from their home, after headlining their first UK/EU tour, chatting about this band that embodies who they are and what they love.

When asked about a potential new album, Finlay hesitates, “Yes?”