San Francisco’s pop-grunge group Imperial Teen mixes elements of punk, grunge, and “bubble gum” pop to create an engaging, individual, post-punk sound. CMJ said that the band’s sound was “fueled by equal measurements of post-punk rattle and bubblegum hum accented by sexually provocative lyrics—traces of Sonic Youth, T-Rex, and even a little Blondie mingle within.” A Rolling Stone review described the band as, “grown-up-and-proud Blondie fans,” and Entertainment Weekly’s said “there’s something fundamentally warm and fuzzy about the mixed-gender quartet’s seductive mix of indie-rock cliches (distorted guitar, diffident vocals) and hook-and-harmony informed popcraft.” Imperial Teen’s upbeat sound is supported by strong female backing vocals.
Imperial Teen was founded by Roddy Bottum in 1994, and was the second band he had played in. He continued to play keyboards for Faith No More after founding Imperial Teen, and viewed his new group as distinctly separate, not merely a “side project.” Bottum founded the band in response to a particularly difficult time in his life; his father had terminal cancer, two of his friends had died, and he was addicted to heroin. Bottum took over guitar and vocal duties, and enlisted close friends Lynn Perko (drummer, formerly with The Wrecks and Sister Double Happiness), Jone Stebbins (bassist, also formerly of The Wrecks), and Will Schwartz (guitarist and vocalist). Imperial Teen’s much-heralded debut album in 1996, Seasick, was produced by Steve McDonald of Red Kross. Seasick addressed the death of Bottum’s friend Kurt Cobain of Nirvana with “Butch,” Bottum’s father with “Luxury,” and Courtney Love with “Copafeelia.” The angst and despair associated with so much loss at this time in Bottum’s life was hidden beneath a veneer of cheery rock and pop riffs often dubbed “bubblegrunge,” but Seasick was nevertheless a cathartic experience for Bottum.
Stebbins is originally from Reno, Nevada, and brought a healthy appreciation for mambo and lounge music to Imperial Teen. She played in an all-girl punk band with Perko called The Wrecks. Schwartz was born in New York City; he moved to Los Angeles where he met Bottum, and they decided to play together. Imperial Teen was his first experience playing in a band, though he knew from an early age that he wanted to be a performer. For Schwartz, the difficult part of choosing a career path was determining the medium in which to perform. When he started playing guitar and singing, he knew he had found his calling. Perko is a versatile musician who began playing in bands at the age of 16. Also a former member of The Wrecks, Perko plays drums, guitar, bass, and sings as well. She had originally wanted to be a teacher and live in Oregon, but moved to San Francisco
Members include Roddy Bottum , guitar, drums, vocals; Lynn Perko , drums, guitar, bass, vocals; Will Schwartz (born in New York, NY), guitar, vocals; Jone Stebbins , bass guitar, vocals.
Band founded by Roddy Bottum in 1994 while still with Faith No More; enlisted friends Perko (formerly with The Wrecks and Sister Double Happiness), Stebbins (formerly of The Wrecks), and Schwartz; released debut album Seasick, Slash, 1996; released What Is Not To Love, Slash, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —Slash Records, 7381 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90067; (323) 937-4660.
instead and joined the band The Dicks. The Dicks, originally from Texas, were a noted punk band who reestablished themselves in San Francisco. Perko toured extensively with The Dicks and honed her drumming skills to the point where she was quick, mean, and made drumming seem effortless. She then became the drum-mer for Sister Double Happiness before joining Imperial Teen. Her approach to drumming and personal style in Imperial Teen is more subtle than in previous bands, but no less artful.
Imperial Teen waited two years after forming before releasing their debut album Seasick on Slash Record, which contained eleven singles and included a Blondie cover delivered with passion and attitude. The album was recorded in approximately one week. Bottum has always maintained that playing with three of his best friends can be both comfortable and uncomfortable. The fact that it is not always comfortable gives the band an edge. Stebbins also enjoys the fact that band members maintain close friendships with one another, and feels the point of creating music is to have fun and to grow together musically. Schwartz views the band members as four distinctly different people who must find their common ground and explore it. All agree that the band is a positive force in their lives and a source of happiness.
Imperial Teen released What Is Not To Lovein 1999. Wall of Sound’s Spence Abbott said that the group’s second album “was definitely worth the wait…. What Is Not To Love improves upon their theory of incorporating gentle, lilting pop melodies with tinges of forgotten youth, melancholy, aggressive guitar playing, propulsive drumming, and just the right amount of fuzz-enhanced psychedelic retro rush.” What Is Not To Love offers eleven singles which mesh brooding, sonic undertones with catchy melodies and upbeat vocal injections. The first track, “Open Season,” demonstrates this duality most aptly. “Yoo Hoo” demonstrates the band’s guitar prowess, while “Lipstick” is reminiscent of the Violent Femmes in the early 1980s. A perfect example of the band’s bubblegrunge lyric style can be found on “Lipstick” with, “Why do you have to be so proud? I’m the one with lipstick on.” “Alone in the Grass” runs seven minutes, fifteen seconds—the longest track on the album, due in part to droning, extended guitar licks. The introspective “The Crucible” presents a stripped-down and rarely-seen side of the band, and “The Beginning” is a flat-out dance groove.
Abbott wrote, “Throughout the duration of the ’90s, the term ’pop’ has often been stigmatized; roughly equated with being vapid and unfulfilling…. Imperial Teen proves that pop can be engaging, intelligent, and well-crafted—knowing the lyrics, bobbing your head, and singing along is not only fun, but mandatory.” ImperialTeen’scontributionstothe pop-rock-grunge-punk realm have been numerous; they combine the best aspects of numerous musical styles, create thoughtful, whimsical lyrics, and take their presentation into creative new territory. Band members explained at the imusic web site, “We’re four people from varied backgrounds, influences and experiences. Imperial Teen is the pretty little baby rose that’s growing like a bramble from our collective neurosis.”
Seasick, Slash, 1996.
What Is Not To Love, Slash, 1999.
CMJ, February 1, 1999.
Entertainment Weekly, March 12, 1999.
Rolling Stone, March 4, 1999.
“Imperial Teen,” iMusic Modern Showcase, http://www.imusic.interserv.com/showcase/modern/imperialteen.html (March 1999).
“Imperial Teen Biography,” Imperial Teen Website, http://www.imperialteen.com (March 12, 1999)
“What Is Not to Love,” Wall of Sound Review, http://wallofsound.com (March 12, 1999).
—B. Kimberly Taylor