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May 2021

Future Teens: "The world is experiencing collective trauma"

Exploring some of the darkest corners of mental health (consider yourself warned), Future Teens’ new EP ‘Deliberately Alive’ is another poignant effort from a truly special band.
Published: 10:43 am, March 26, 2021Words: Rob Mair. Photos: Adam Parshall.
Future Teens: "The world is experiencing collective trauma"

“A couple of people have already messaged us asking for Amy’s handwriting of the words ‘Deliberately Alive’ to get tattoos… it’s pretty cool,” says co-songwriter and vocalist Daniel Radin.

Music is an art form built on connection; how one person’s lyrical honesty can imprint a thought or feeling on the listener. Boston’s Future Teens are experts at the craft – able to bottle lightning with a swift and smart turn of phrase, creating relatable music that is inspiring in its beauty and profound in its message.

This was especially true on second full-length ‘Breakup Season’, a collection of songs about the challenges of dating, heartbreak, and resilience. Songs like ‘Happy New Year’ and ‘Frequent Crier’ are the sort that get taken to heart for their lyrical pull, where the stories of crying at a restaurant or losing a beloved pet tug longingly at the heartstrings.

On ‘Guest Room’, the lead single for new EP ‘Deliberately Alive’, the stakes are raised, with co-vocalist Amy Hoffman addressing some serious mental health struggles. At the time of writing, the single has barely been out a fortnight, but considering the success of ‘Breakup Season’, it’s no surprise that this message has also been taken to heart.

Indeed, removed from the poppy, celebratory sheen, there’s unquestionably a serious message to Future Teens’ lyrics, and ‘Guest Room’, which culminates in the call “I’m not sure which one I fear worst (going young or getting old)” feels especially poignant. Even the title of the EP, ‘Deliberately Alive’ alludes to this battle to live and to thrive, as Amy explains.

“I think it’s a phrase that speaks to a lot of different people in a lot of different ways,” they consider. “For me, it’s about when the harder choice is to stay here – like when you really don’t want to keep on living, but for whatever reason, you decide to anyway. I’m someone that has had a long-term struggle with that choice and not wanting to make it a lot of the time.

“But the pandemic has been a time when I’ve taken a lot more responsibility for my mental health. I’ve faced up to a lot of stuff, and I’ve learned a lot about what’s going on in my brain and what that choice means for me when I don’t want to be here.

“And I am a person that has battles with that choice often. I’m never going to be thankful that there was a pandemic because this is horrific and traumatic, but there are a lot of things that wouldn’t have happened for me without it. If there hadn’t been a pandemic, I wouldn’t have lost my job. If I wouldn’t have lost my job, I don’t think that I would be sober. If I hadn’t made that choice to get sober, I don’t think I would have pursued more higher-level mental health care. If I hadn’t done that and gotten the medication that I needed, I might not be here.”

Such testimony means ‘Guest Room’ – a typically preppy slice of Future Teens indie-rock – becomes an anthem of survival and tribute to the strength of the human spirit. While there’s always been an element of this in Future Teens’ songs, it radiates throughout ‘Deliberately Alive’, making it a perfect example of how the quartet – completed by Colby Blauvelt and Maya Mortman – can make ‘bummer pop’ that is also celebratory.

Indeed, it’s an incredibly pure thing to witness the bond between the group, and with all four members on the interview, they rally around their bandmate during the discussion. Amy says that Future Teens talk a lot about empathy and compassion, and it’s clear from how they interact and the fondness they have for each other that these are not just buzzwords but the tenet by which the group functions.

Similarly, they’re open to discussing the idea of reinterpreting song meanings. For example, Daniel has reevaluated the meaning behind ‘Guest Room’ in light of his bandmate’s disclosure, highlighting that yes, it may be downbeat lyrically, but it also speaks of hope and resilience.

“That lyric, even though it’s about Amy’s journey, I feel like it’s just as true now as it was when they wrote it. But, if anything, it now has a more positive spin on it, which is kind of cool. Like, when I listened to that song the other day, the connotations had changed from when I first heard it, in an interesting way.”

Equally, Amy can pinpoint the guidance and support of drummer Colby and his mantra that “our trauma is not our fault, but it is our responsibility”, which they say is something they fall back on. “The choices that I made during the pandemic to take responsibility for myself and my own struggle with substance has had a lot to do with Colby’s words ringing in my head.”

While Future Teens can in some way credit the pandemic for leading to the steps towards self-care, the flipside is that the band’s regular activities – like thousands of others – has ground to a halt. Traditionally hard touring, the pandemic brought a premature end to a short East Coast tour with Proper. and Pronoun. Simultaneously, an extensive spring run with Spanish Love Songs – arguably the biggest band to break out of the DIY/punk scene over the last two years – was shelved.

The possibility of a debut UK tour – now looking more likely after signing with a UK booking agent – was also halted. Daniel describes the opportunities as “a dream”, with Amy calling the cancellations a “colossal kick in the pants”. However, they’re philosophical about the need to put on the handbrake.

“The thing that has been helpful for me is knowing that this year didn’t happen because of our own failure,” says Amy. “It’s something that’s happened to everyone, and we have to do something different because the world is experiencing collective trauma. The band’s not the most important thing right now.”

Fortunately, ‘Deliberately Alive’ will ensure Future Teens don’t fall off any radars any time soon. Recorded in a solid eight-hour session, it captures the verve and energy of one of America’s finest up-and-coming indie-rock acts, even if the actual chemistry of playing together was literally a snatched day and a half in a barn in New Hampshire.

“The most collaboration we had was when we all met in that barn in August,” laughs Maya. “It was like this super-condensed version of what we usually do, where we played for eight hours solid.

“But it felt so good to get to do that, and it felt like it normally felt after so many months of not playing together – like, it was comfortable and normal, and I still knew how to collaborate with my bandmates. I’m so proud of what we did with the resources that we had.”

This sense of pride is hard-won but richly deserved. ‘Deliberately Alive’ is a deep EP of four originals and a tender take on Cher’s ‘Believe’ – yet another striking cover after the equally brilliant ‘Call Me Maybe’ and ‘All Star’. But it’s an EP that has clearly pulled the group closer together, despite the physical distance currently between them.

It feels somewhat trite to call a band ‘special’, but having witnessed Future Teens live, nothing can prepare you for the delight of seeing dozens of grinning faces screaming ‘BOSTON SUCKS!’ during ‘In Love Or Whatever’.

Indeed, such joy shows the power of these human connections, and Future Teens’ ability to draw people into their world. It’s a magic formula, making the intangible into something real and electric.

Yet, for all the adulation that may one day come their way, it’s equally powerful to see that Future Teens care just as much for each other as they do about the possibility of breakout success.

“These are the three people I love most in the world. And this is the thing I love doing most in the world,” says Amy. For a band that understands the power of connections, it’s a more than fitting endnote.

Taken from the April issue of Upset. Future Teens’ EP ‘Deliberately Alive’ is out now.

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