For his birthday this year, Gordon Byrd threw a party. He filled his fridge with Hamm's and invited his friends over to watch his band, Teenage Moods, play a show in the basement of his south Minneapolis apartment. With the bright blue walls plastered with flattened-out beer boxes and a banner overhead declaring, "Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay," it was a far cry from your typical concert venue or bar show — a Sunday night of noisy punk songs, stumbled and thrashed through with an improvised set list and obscene levels of phaser pedal.
"I have an appreciation for people who can perfectly execute their plans," says Byrd. "But that's not even a possibility in my world. I just try to have fun no matter what."
Teenage Moods' G-rated songs are chock-full of stories about cats and bunnies and flowers, and revel in power chords and sugary pop hooks. Each of the members plays in other bands as well — Byrd and Drummer Taylor Motari in the Toxic Shrews, and bassist Jillian Schroeder in the Velveteens — but none of them channel quite the same energy as the Moods. (A third band of Byrd's, Regal Treats, also played on his birthday.) "It's been fun being in a band that's not even trying to be badass," Byrd says. Then, as if to correct himself, he adds, "I think it's actually the most badass thing I've been in. There's no front about being tough or pretending like we even want to think about kicking someone's teeth in."
Part of the band's childlike charm and simplicity can be traced back to how they started. The future bandmates worked retail together about five years ago (Motari and Schroeder knew each other from high school in Burnsville), and formed after Schroeder drew a flyer for a fake concert. With Schroeder still learning to play bass when the Moods began writing music, they developed a primal style that suited their lo-fi, low-cost sensibilities. Recording occurred in friends' attics, and Schroeder created the album artwork herself. "I think I was 27 before I bought a guitar that was more than $200," says Byrd with a laugh.
For the Moods' new record, Grow — released on cassette last fall, out on vinyl this week — they booked studio time and created as a live ensemble. "Those [previous records] were us learning how to record," says Motari. "We put more effort into getting this one to sound like a live album. Then we went way overboard, like, 'Let's have vibraslap and tambourine and get really kooky,' and had to take it back a little bit."
With extra guitar and keyboards thrown into the mix on each track, Grow is the band's richest recording to date.Extra layers amplify the still-thin production, but the songwriting is what shows the Moods' growth the most. "You Make Stars" is a love song packed with endearingly silly imagery, while "Rock Man" plays cleverly on the simplicity of the music while also making fun of more typical rock 'n' roll posturing.
For all the Moods' playfulness, Grow also has a new, darker undercurrent. "Black Doom" and "Tear Drops Will Fall" are but a glimpse into the band members' personal issues. "I was going through my own personal depression where it was like, I didn't have a reason to get up in the morning," Motari says. "But I knew I had to go do this album in the studio in Madison, so for me it was a cathartic experience to just go and rock out."
Not surprisingly, the Moods immediately began writing for the next album. "It was good to get the record done because it was like, 'Okay, that period of time is captured,'" says Byrd. "No matter what my mentality will be halfway into the next project ... I'm always most excited about the last three songs I wrote."