How Teenage Wrist “grew the f*ck up” and learned to celebrate life
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day and Marshall Gallagher is feeling good. Yesterday, the United States drew a line under four years of Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric and divisionary reign, swearing in its 46th President, Joe Biden. Today, Teenage Wrist’s singer and guitarist has woken up with a bounce in his boots, filling his lungs with the fresh air of optimism as he heads out for a wander around the sun-dappled streets of Koreatown, Los Angeles. The grim, sobering reality of the bigger picture still looms large over everything, but this isn’t a moment for dwelling on the negatives. Today is for celebration, for renewal, for life and for living.
“The sun is out, it’s a beautiful day and I get to go outside, which might not sound like much, but that’s pretty rad,” the frontman beams. “It’s about trying to stay positive. I’m so happy that Trump has gone. Well, from office at least – he’s not going anywhere until he goes to fucking jail. It’s all about squeezing the silver lining out of everything.”
Mixed metaphors aside, Marshall makes a valid point, irrespective of politics. For reasons that hardly need explaining, optimism can be in short supply right now, but it’s important to cling onto the little things that get you through the day – to recognise the glimmers of hope for a brighter tomorrow. He speaks from the perspective of contrasting prior experience, having been someone prone to pessimism in the past. But that’s the old Marshall. The person talking to Kerrang! today is a man who has taken a long, hard look at himself and made changes to become someone better, more positive – someone to believe in. It makes his band’s new album Earth Is A Black Hole a comforting soundtrack for these strange, dark times we’re all experiencing, positioning Teenage Wrist as not only one of rock’s best new bands, but also, maybe, an important one.
“If you’re looking for any sort of meaningful change in the world, it seems like you have to start with yourself before you can work on anybody else,” Marshall begins, before breaking into a self-aware cackle. “It’s like John Lennon said, man, ‘You gotta free your mind instead!’”
This behavioural audit and newfound optimism didn’t start out as a laughing matter, though. A little over two years ago, Teenage Wrist made waves in alternative music circles with their debut Epitaph Records full-length, Chrome Neon Jesus – a melodic, modern take on grungy, shoegaze-soaked ennui. As Marshall and drummer Anthony Salazar began work on Earth Is A Black Hole in 2019, however, much had changed. Having said goodbye to two band members, each faced up to some uncomfortable truths about themselves – the natural culmination of “a number of things” according to the singer.
“Both of us had started this super-necessary journey of self-improvement in our personal lives,” he explains. “We made a departure from negative energy, pessimism, ignorance and all the stuff that had bogged us both down. We were stuck in old cycles. We needed to start the process of growing the fuck up, and not being such bummers all the time. Oblivion and apathy took a toll on me, and it took a toll on some other people as well.”
In tandem, musically the band were edging away from their heads-down, naval-gazing origins, opting for more of a radio-friendly pop style of songwriting akin to Jimmy Eat World or Third Eye Blind, making “a concerted effort to write faster tempos” and working with co-writers to bring in outside perspectives. At the root of all this renewal was honest self-assessment, throwing out that which they had outgrown and attempting to become the band and the people they wanted to be.
“I’m not an asshole, but I definitely recognise my tendency to just kind of shut down,” says Marshall, reflecting on the beating he gave himself as part of this process. “I used to accept the way that things were with an overwhelming sense of nihilism. For the first time, probably ever, I recognised that as a negative thing in my life. Then we wrote the bulk of the record and well… everything happened.”
Had things gone according to plan, everyone would have heard these songs way before now, singing along with the duo in shared sweat-drenched spaces, as the band spread their carpe diem message and buoyant spirit around the world. Alas, that was not to be, despite the record having been wrapped in springtime last year. When producer Colin Brittain’s computer got hacked in the middle of it all, jeopardising the security of the recordings, they’d have been forgiven for assuming they were cursed, and the universe wasn’t exactly backing this bold new upbeat direction. But they’ve stayed resolute and doubled down on their determination to be the best versions of themselves. Marshall has started exercising and meditating and he’s been busy with new music, writing songs for pop artists, and recording and producing an album with his dad and working with ex-Teenage Wrist bandmate Kamtin Mohager on his new Heavenward project. The devil makes work for idle hands, evidently.
“Staying positive is always a battle,” Marshall admits, being frank about how hard it can be undoing the habits of a lifetime. “As a human who has settled into behaviours and learned something over and over again from childhood to now, to break those cycles is tough. So obviously you fall back into the destructive things that hold you down sometimes. This record is about releasing that.
“[The song] Wear You Down is relentlessly negative,” he offers by way of example, “I’m feeling so apathetic in it, I can’t seem to find that spark within myself, but at the end of the song I’m pleading, like, ‘Please, somebody help me. I need to get out of this.’ I feel that way about the title track and Stella too. All these things on the surface appear to be pretty melancholy.”
Shy not from that which tests us, appears to be the underlying message, however. Only through challenging ourselves will we discover what we’re capable of and who we really are.
“I hope people read between the lines and catch the irony or the sarcasm in my lyrics,” the frontman asserts. “I hope they take the sadness that’s being evoked and appreciate it as an important thing. We need to take events in our lives that are difficult and recognise them as the formative experiences that they are. I mean, obviously sometimes shit still happens and it just sucks, but you have to try.”
If all goes well – and taking a leaf out of Teenage Wrist’s book, let’s hope they will – across the course of 2021, life might return to something approaching normal again and the band could yet play this record in rooms surrounded by friends and fans. But what will those who haven’t seen Marshall in over a year make of his new attitude and demeanour? Does he worry they might think, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’
“I hope they do,” he nods. “I kind of hope to see that in a few of my friends as well. I hope to affect some positive change: in my own circle, my family and my little unit. I still maintain a sense of pragmatism and cautious optimism. I’m not about to become a motivational speaker, but maybe I’m somewhere in the middle, for the sake of myself and the people around me (laughs).”
What that means for you is… up to you. Whether you’re free to walk down your street today, regardless of how optimistic you are about those in power, or whether the sun is shining or not, try to find something positive to put your faith in and build from there. The sun might shine tomorrow, after all.
“It’s fucking difficult, man,” Marshall accepts of the challenge holding onto hope can be during all of this. “It’s really hard, but it’s not that hard. I feel like it’s okay to release some of the negativity and to talk about the things that are bringing you down on the journey of getting to a place of acceptance. You’ve got to acknowledge your problems to fix them. That’s what this record is all about.”
This too shall pass, then. Until it does, though, let Teenage Wrist guide you through the worst of it.
Earth Is A Black Hole is out now via Epitaph, and is available to order/download/stream here.
Read this next:
Teenage Wrist return with the fuzz toned down and a (slightly) brighter outlook on Earth Is A Black Hole…
Architects are releasing their 2020 Royal Albert Hall livestream show on vinyl and video-on-demand.