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Imperial Teen sound like ABBA might if a nuclear accident had converted them to surf punk and same-sex love. The band’s third album, On, is a perfect late-summer record, a mod fuck explosion of handclaps, cooed choruses and wiry guitars. Lyrically, they’re having fun ’til daddy takes the keyboards away: a bratty homage to tabloid It girls (“Ivanka”) percolates against a transvestite episode of American Bandstand (“Our Time”) and a kiss-off to dead-and-married friends you never really liked anyway (“Mr. and Mrs.”).

Formed in San Francisco in 1994, the band consists of (from left to right in picture above) Lynn Perko (drums), Roddy Bottum (keyboards), Jone Stebbings (bass), and Will Schwartz (guitar). They’ve spent the last six months opening for the White Stripes, the Breeders and Pink: a sound encapsulation if ever there was one. They are “interesting” — or have been perceived as “interesting” in the past — because their genders are neatly distributed but their sexualities are not, because their sound is squeaky-clean but the lyrics are dirty-clever. “It’s like a two-car garage in a one-horse town,” goes one such stanza, and in this stagnant summer when even the best new bands are intent on proving how miserable they are, the same might be said for Imperial Teen itself.

Nerve: I read an article where Lynn described you as a “fuck band.” What does this mean?
Lynn: A fun band. Like not serious.
Jone: Lynn and I grew up together in Reno. We had our regular band and a couple bands where we just got together for fun and whatever. They’re called fuck bands. I don’t know where that term came from. Weird old Reno thing.
Lynn: I thought it was universal.
Roddy: Nerve is heavily into sex, you see.
Jone: Oh, good.

Who’s been going to a psychic?
Jone: I went in January. He said we’re going to be successful in the East. And that I had to give one of our CDs to Ann Wilson of Heart.
Lynn: Yeah, what happened with that?
Jone: We got her a CD, as far as I know. I gave it to her people.
Roddy: He thought Ann was key to our career.

Any word?
Jone: [crestfallen] No, no.


You have a reputation as this boundary-blurring outfit: boy/girl, straight/gay. How much does that really interest you?
Will: I think we just do what we do. It’s not like we’re consciously like, we’re going to be mixed gender, and we’re going to be ­
Roddy: Blurring some boundaries!
Jone: Yeah, we’re not really calculated that way. We started in San Francisco, and there, sexual roles aren’t clearly defined or even necessarily important to have. We just have fun.
Lynn: We’re very blurry.
Jone: Stuff just happens.
Will: We’re like that Woody Allen movie where Robin Williams gets blurry. What was that?
Lynn: Jumanji?
Will: No, it’s a Woody Allen movie.
Jone: No one could ever shoot his face. Will; Yeah, we’re kinda like that.
Roddy: Robin Williams was like that?
Lynn: I don’t think it was Robin Williams.
Will: Yeah, it was.

So does your gender and sexuality affect the band dynamic?
Roddy: We’re all really comfortable with each other: each time we stop at a city, we stay in the same hotel room and we sleep together, and there’s not any sort of weirdness.
Lynn: That’s just because we can only afford one room. And I’m not sleeping in the van.

Would the band work as well if the guys were 100% straight, or would it turn into Fleetwood Mac?
Lynn: Who knows.
Roddy: It’d be a lot of fun if it was.

How much did what’s going on with Teen Pop Today encourage or dissuade you to make your dance-party music?
Lynn: I love ‘NSync. I think they’re great dancers. I like some of their songs, but I never know if they’re ‘NSync or one of those other bands.
Jone: What are some of those bands, the Backstreet Boys?
Lynn: I don’t really care about them.
Roddy: We don’t have a similar audience, I’m sure.
Lynn: When it comes down to writing our songs, we’re just doing it. We’re not thinking of “Let’s come up with a song that kind of sounds like O-Town!”
Jone: But sometimes we’re really desperate, and we just latch on to whatever works.

Million $ Man is about a perfect catch who can’t get laid. . .
Will: I wrote that. It’s kind of autobiographical.

You also wrote the theme song for Jawbreaker. Have you ever incorporated sugary treats into your amorous adventures?
Roddy: We used to do more sugar on the road.
Lynn: In the end of the video for that song, Will pops a big jawbreaker in his mouth and we pass it to each other. That was fun.
Jone: I’d be into it. But it’s not like I travel with a bag of candy or anything.
Roddy: I’ve never incorporated sugar into sex.
Jone: [to Roddy] What about that candy cane?
Roddy: Never.
Jone: I remember that jagged edge protruding from your anus.

What groupies do you attract?
Lynn: Oh, from old, bearded men to young, hot teenyboppers . . .
Roddy: Pretty little secretaries.
Lynn: People who want to experience an erotic same-sex fantasy.
Roddy: Sexual slummers.
Jone: Panty sniffers.
Roddy: It’s a healthy mix.
Jone: I just really like people who are really into me.
Roddy: I like that too. People who are really into Jone.

Courtney Love picked you to do a Hole-Marilyn Manson tour. Do you have any Courtney-goes-crazy stories?
Lynn: Do we ever! Several.
Roddy: She’s pretty much crazy twenty-four-seven.
Lynn: Fascinatingly, brilliantly crazy.
Jone: A good person.
Lynn: The most interesting story, I think, is that she hires a voice teacher to come in, sit at the piano and warm up her vocal cords. But Courtney never says a word.
Roddy: She thinks that just by giving the woman money and having her play the scales that her vocal cords are getting warmed up.
Jone: Meanwhile, she’s taking Polaroids of outfits she’s going to wear onstage.
Lynn: We were privy to that information because our dressing rooms were next door.
Jone: I remember she told the vocal coach, NO MATTER WHAT I DO, KEEP PLAYING! And when they brought the coach by for the first time, Courtney said to her assistant, DOES SHE KNOW THE RULES?
Lynn: Courtney’s great. She’s really into her work. She’s an inspiration.

You opened for the White Stripes in San Francisco a while back. The jig is pretty much up now, but did you gain any advance insight into their relationship?
Will: One night onstage I said, “They are brother and sister, and they’re married also, and I’m fucking both of them!”
Roddy: They were pretty open about it. We never got the impression that it was a secret. With us, they were like, “We used to be married, and we’re not anymore.”
Will: Imperial Teen — secrets of the stars!

What scandals would the Imperial Teen episode of Behind the Music contain?
Jone: Will and I had a hardcore makeout session the first time we went to Paris. That was pretty scandalous for this little group. I told the Breeders this last night, and they were shocked.
Will: One time, Roddy and I had a huge fight in the practice space.
Jone: Oh, that was a blowout.
Will: And I threw the microphone across the room. It was right before we were going on tour, and I said, I’LL SEE YOU FUCKERS ON TOUR!
Jone: It was so electrically charged, but we just had to laugh. Like, what the fuck was that? See you fuckers on tour?
Will: Now we say that all the time.
Jone: Scandalous!
Lynn: Oooh!
Will: Probably the weirdest thing is that we all go to the gym. We all work out. That’s weird for a rock band, right?
Lynn: I paid $25 twice in New York City to work out. That’s pretty weird.
Will: I think we’d make good pop stars, because we like to work out and eat well.
Roddy: Take care of ourselves. Promote a healthy communication.
Will: In this weird indie world.
Jone: Thank God.

What was the deal with your equal-opportunity band kissing booth at South by Southwest this year?
Lynn: No, that was in Montreal.
Roddy: When you go over the Canadian border, it’s really difficult to bring in band T-shirts. The first time we went up there, we left our shirts behind, so we had nothing to peddle. So after the show, we had a kissing booth to raise a little extra cash.
Jone: A dollar a kiss. Canadian, though.
Roddy: I don’t know what that was about.
Lynn: I think we charged more to kiss anyone in the band. My favorite people were the ones who would pay to kiss all of us.
Will: Like, regardless of gender!
Lynn: I love that. There were a couple of guys who were on tour with the other band, and I liked seeing them kiss Roddy and Will, ’cause they were straight. It was fun to see.

How much did you raise?
Lynn: Enough for breakfast.

To view the video for “Ivanka,” visit Imperial Teen’s official website.

On is out now on Merge Records. To buy this album, click here.

Café photograph by Virginia Conesa.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Michael Martin is the editor-in-chief of Nerve.com.
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