Duality has always been a go-to for pop culture; baddies cloaked in darkness, goodies in light. While the same applies to American Teeth brainchild Elijah Noll, the reality is a bit less dramatic.
"I really like horror films and TV shows," the burgeoning anti-pop star smiles. "I like the aesthetic of horror in general, but I'm not this super dark person on the inside. I'm actually more of a soft, light person," he says, leaning back with a laugh in his home in LA, looking every part the modern alt icon with dyed flaming orange hair.
Certainly, it's these two elements that are colliding in American Teeth's sound. Digging its knuckles into whatever it fancies: emo, pop-punk, straight-up pop, it's all poking out of the swirling yin-yang. "When I've looked back, even into my solo stuff I was doing, a lot of the imagery was very dark," he continues. "But now I've started to embrace more of the light side and create this hybrid of it."
Yet, before becoming American Teeth, Elijah had a formation to undertake. Originally from Portland, Maine, his mum taught him classical violin at a young age (more on that later). It was in school he began cutting his teeth by recording his own CDs of "really shitty acoustic" and passing them out, or as he puts it: "My first original hustle, as far as like, 'Listen, I make music and I'm going to be big someday.'"
However, contrary to that dark aesthetic, his first musical ambitions were fuelled by none other than those princes of darkness, the Backstreet Boys. "I would use my parents VHS and get other kids in the neighbourhood to join me and my perfectly choreographed dances that I would put together," he says, stifling laughter at the memory. "Then I would make all these little video clips to karaoke-style popular songs at the time.
"That's when I was like, 'Alright, I'm the lead singer. This is what you're going to do… we're going to jump over the porch and climb up here at this time, at this part of the song'. That was my early idea of like, 'I'm gonna make a music video!'"
Briefly relocating from Portland to Chicago, where he gave band life a go with various friends, the majority of Elijah's tale is a solo endeavour. Until finally, setting out in search of his ambitious reality, he flew to the sunny skies of Los Angeles. It was here he met producer and now collaborator Colin Brittain, and American Teeth made its way into the world. Deciding to step away from Elijah Noll, he adopted his moniker as a way of being able to "not have the weight of whatever happens with that be on me so much; I see it as this kind of elevated self in a way."
With Colin helming the production side, and Elijah fully immersing himself in that aesthetic hybrid light-dark world, the sounds they make are what ties it all together. "The music I make for American Teeth feels very nostalgic in a way that doesn't feel old to me," he says, chewing on his perception of the sound. "It reminds me of the feelings that I felt when I was living in my hometown, and feeling stuck there and very angsty in, honestly, some of the darker times of my life."
Within this time, Elijah both lost his dad to cancer and had heart surgery himself; he now totes a bionic heart valve, making him his own hybrid of organic and mechanic. "I have this nostalgia for that time of my life," he continues. "I feel like with this project, I'm continuously tapping into that. There's something true to myself about it that feels authentic about being able to dig into that well. There's something kind of magical about that.
It's Colin who makes this nostalgia come to life, by, as Elijah puts it, taking this feeling and twisting and turning it, avoiding "making the same song over and over again." Reckoning it to taking "a lot of risks", the fearlessness is what bleeds through American Teeth's Frankenstein sound.
"We're not afraid to just say, 'Okay, we're going to do a pop-punk sound, or we're just going to only do rock'," he grins. "I've always said from the beginning of the project that I want it to be genre-fluid, where one song might sound like horny Mumford and Sons, another like blink-182, and another like Lil Peep… and we've hit all of those vibes, by the way!" He says, laughing at his mad ingenuity.
Alas, that's not to say that the powers that be haven't attempted to harness Elijah's wide scope. Before entering this undaunted world of American Teeth, that fickle beast known as the music industry tried telling him, "to pick a sound, pick a lane, and that always felt so forced to me," he says. "It's so against my nature. I used to get really frustrated with that and used to attribute that to being the reason that my stuff was not working on a bigger level, or people weren't connecting with something."
That's what it's all about for Elijah, making something that can serve a higher purpose, even, say, a clothing label. On his vision for American Teeth, he says, "I see it becoming more of a fashion culture thing, and to do more things that are outside of music. Have it be something bigger than just the music; in the long run, I want to have the merch become a brand around it."
It's not just that. Apparently, he's also got big plans for his live shows. Not content with simply incorporating that high energy pop-punk attitude he exudes, with an epic "rush of serotonin" the cherry on the cake, but in the future - potential boy band choreography aside - he wants to put those early years violin lessons to good use.
"I think it would be cool to run an electric violin through a bunch of guitar pedals and create some cool tones out of that," his eye's shining wide at the possibility. "Then I imagine myself looping string parts on top of each other, so you get this kind of orchestral thing and then just doing some like loud, weird shit with it."
It's all very big ideas. For now, focusing on the immediate, his latest track 'Sick' featuring Phem and De'Wayne (with Colin recently helping produce some of his debut), is a testament to the talents and mystical forces watching over Elijah. Co-written with Phem, he mentions that he's been developing a rather productive habit. "I seem to have good luck with people on my first song date," he purrs. "It's funny, because for some reason, often when I write with somebody for the first time, if it's a good mix then the song tends to be one of the better songs I write with them."
Elijah is certainly a unique artist in a world filled with unique artists. His light-dark hybrid, fuelled by his love for horror ("one of my goals in life is to also act in a horror movie; a demonic or like a paranormal type of villain"), emo, and pop music colliding with the brain of a classically trained violinist from a small town with big dreams, can only mean no one's going to be doing it quite like American Teeth.
Taken from the September issue of Upset.
Featuring Trash Boat, Turnstile, Meet Me @ The Altar, iDKHOW and more.