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Teenage Joans: High school, heartbreak and hunger

Wielding a punchy and punky sound mightier than Thor’s hammer, and powerfully poignant lyrics that cut deep into the soul like a hot knife through butter, Teenage Joans are on the precipice of a meteoric blast up to the big leagues. Aiding the Adelaidian duo in their journey is their debut EP, Taste of Me, which offers five furiously energised, dazzlingly impassioned chunks of hulking Telecaster riffage and heartrending vocal hooks.

It’s fittingly titled, too – not just for how it marks a striking introduction to the band, hitting every corner of their musicality from rip-roaring punk madness to hypnotic balladry – but also for its litany of food references. ‘Ice Cream’, ‘Apple Pie’, ‘Wine’…It seems the girls have a hunger for more than just success.

Before they start stuffing arenas with hordes of rabid fans and selling records by the truckload – we give it two years (hopefully by then we’ll have a full-length album to chew on, too) – BLUNT caught up with Teenage Joans’ vocalist and guitarist Cahli Blakers, who ecstatically filled us in on the making of Taste of Me, their triumphant triple j Unearthed High win, and her undying love for a certain pop band.

I think it goes without saying that onstage is where Teenage Joans shine the brightest. Do you always have the live show in mind when you’re writing a song?

Oh, definitely! 100 percent. I think we both try to write our songs for the live show, and then as soon as we get to the studio, we never know what to do. After we won triple j Unearthed High, Sophie [Hopes] from Tired Lion was our mentor, and she was actually saying, like, “It’s okay to have album songs. You don’t have to write every song for the live show, you can write some studio songs!” And I was like, “Yeah, I guess that’s true.” Sometimes I feel like I get writer’s block, so it’s good to know that I don’t have to always write for the stage. I can just write for the sake of writing.

Congratulations on that win, by the way! Do you remember what was going through your mind when you first found out you’d won?

Oh my goodness, that was such a crazy day! I was at Tahlia’s parents’ work when it happened – they run a car battery company, and I’d just gotten my P’s the week before and had to get the battery changed on my car. Tahlia’s mum knew about it beforehand, because she obviously had to make sure Tahlia rocked up to school that day so she could get surprised; so she was being all weird and keeping an extra close eye on me, and I was like, “What is going on!?” I got the call there and I had to drive to straight to Tahlia’s school, we had a photo shoot and an interview and all of that kind of stuff, and it was just so crazy. But we were over the moon!

Where do you see Teenage Joans going from here? Do you have a game plan, or do you like the idea of just taking it day by day?

That’s a good question. I think we’re still taking it day by day. I mean, we’re always planning a few months in advance – I think our latest plan at the moment is for October, we’ve got some shows coming up then – but we’re just going with the flow. We’ve always wanted to do this just for fun and just because it’s what we want to do, not for any sort of greater purpose. It’s not about making money or being famous or anything – because obviously, that’s very hard to achieve. So we’re just taking it day by day, and having lots of fun with it. We’re loving it, and I think that’s all that should matter at this point in time.

I wanted to single out a lyric from ‘Something About Being Sixteen’, where you sing, “You put it in a song and hope someone else will be listening from their shitty couch, hoping things work out.” What is the emotional draw you’re trying to elicit with this EP? What do you hope someone gets out of it when they put it on for the first time and really soak it all in?

The funniest thing is that these stories are the only ones that we both wrote as teenagers. I’m 19 and Tahlia is 18 now, but we wrote these songs when we were both 15/16/17. And they’re our stories, but we want them to be as relatable as possible. I guess the human experience is that nothing is too niche. Nothing is so unique that there isn’t at least one other person who will be able to relate to you – which is kind of comforting in a way. I guess we just want people to be able to see themselves in us, because we are just like you – we’re the same as the young queer kids, and the young people struggling with mental illness. We’re all in this together. It is quite comforting to know that everyone has experiences they can relate to with someone else.

Musically speaking, this EP is less than 20 minutes long, but I’d happily argue that it has hours of replay value. I swear I’ve probably listened to it a solid 500 times over the past couple of months, but I’m still finding these cool little bits and pieces that I didn’t notice on earlier listens. Is that something you find really important to achieve with your songwriting?

100 percent! Especially in the studio. When we first went into a proper studio to record – back when we did ‘By The Way’ and ‘Three Leaf Clover’ – we had to sit down together and be like, “Do we want to record bass on these songs, or do we want to keep them true to what the band is?” And I think it’s important to remember that you are allowed to lie a little bit in the recordings – you’re allowed to explore the nature of the studio, and explore beyond the limitations of what you can do live, because that’s what recording is.

There are so many bands who just write studio albums as well; albums that are just meant to be listened to as recordings, that never get played live. So when we were in the studio, I was contemplating, like, “Should I just keep it simple? Should I just do what I do live?” But there’s so much room to explore and so much room for that opportunity to put in those cool little things that you can only pick up on after heaps of listens. It’s like that age-old question, “If you were trapped on a desert island and you could pick one album to have with you, what would you pick?” My mind always goes to those albums with so much content in them that you could listen to them over and over and never get sick of them.

You know what question I’m going to ask now…

Oh my god! Here we go! Look, there’s so many good albums! I love Sounds Good, Feels Good by 5 Seconds Of Summer. I think it’s a very underrated album, people don’t realise just how incredible it is. There’s a few little interludes in there, and they’ve just got so much going on. We take a lot of inspiration from 5SOS because they do that kind of stuff in their recordings – they put lots of little things in there that they wouldn’t be able to replicate live unless they had a backing track. And it’s just so cool because it shows a very different side of the band, and I really like that. I don’t think you always have to sound the exact same as you do on recordings.

I’d always thought of 5 Seconds Of Summer as a single-centric band until I listened to Sounds Good, Feels Good in full for the first time. Then I was just like, “Okay, shit, I think I get it now!”

Right!? I feel like it’s such a point-prover. Because we’re both big 5SOS fans, and we get a bit embarrassed to be like, “Yeah, we’re fans of theirs,” because people are always like, “Oh, that boyband?” But I think that album is just so good – and especially because they were marketing it towards an audience that wouldn’t usually listen to music that complex.

Because there’s so many food-based metaphors on this record, I absolutely have to know: if this EP was a dish, what dish would it be?

That is a great question! I feel like it would have to be, like, an apple pie flavoured ice cream cake. So like, the ice cream is apple pie flavoured, and then you make that into a cake. It’s like Inception. It’s an apple pie, inside an ice cream, inside a cake, and it’s an EP.

Taste of Me is out on Friday, 28th May.