Much more than just a great, family-friendly comedy film with a belting soundtrack, School Of Rock stands up as one of the most influential films of the 2000s, thanks in no short part to the innumerable swarm of Gen Z shredders it empowered to chase their dreams. Case in point: Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers, the trailblazing troupe of Canberran grunge revivalists that formed on a whim after a sleepover screening at frontwoman Anna Ryan’s house. It was 2015, the girls were all in their early-to-mid teens, and half of them couldn’t even play an instrument. But hell hath no fury like their unwavering ambition, and seven years later, they’re ready to take on the world with their sharp, striking and sprightly blend of punk, grunge and power-pop.
The vehicle that Teen Jesus hope will take them there is Pretty Good For A Girl Band, a five-track onslaught of fiercely energetic earworms driven by blistering riffs, thrashing drums, and vocal hooks designed to be chanted from the soul. It has the backing of Australian rock royalty in Violent Soho axeman James Tidswell and Alex Lahey, both of whom put their magic touches on the EP as co-writers and producers.
Pretty Good For A Girl Band is technically Teen Jesus’ second EP – they dropped a record titled Creepshow in 2017, but that’s since been scrubbed out of existence. As lead guitarist Scarlett McKahey tells Australian Guitar, the new record is better suited as the band’s debut: it shows them galvanised by growth, confident in their chemistry and with sights set on what Teen Jesus’ perfect future looks like.
How did you want this record to serve as an introduction to what this band really is, and means, and stands for in the 2020s?
We deleted all the songs from the Creepshow EP, apart from ‘We’re All Henry’, because I was like 15, 16 when we made that – we were very small, we hadn’t found our genre yet, and everything was very up in the air – and I’m so glad we did [that EP], but we definitely didn’t know who we were at the time. Now after all these lockdowns, and all this growing – we’re all 21 now, and I think between 18 and 21, it’s like you grow up the most you ever have – we’ve really found who we are, we know what we want to sound like and what we want to put forward. So [Pretty Good For A Girl Band] is the first thing we’ve put out where it feels like it’s 100 percent, genuinely us.
So once you all found your footing, did the new ideas just pour out of you?
I think so. It definitely took a while. It’s not like it all just came to us at one point – we’ve been working hard for the past, like, six years, just like trying to slowly figure out what we want to sound like. We went through a lot of different genres. It’s not even so much that we chose a genre – I think we’re just more in touch with what we want to sound like, and what we want to portray to people. Once you took away all the business of touring and the pressure of deadlines, it was a lot easier to really knuckle down and create something.
What is it that you want to portray?
I think it’s a bit of a weird mix – especially with this new single, ‘Girl Sports’. All of our past songs were very kind of cute, wholesome bops, but I think now we’re just so sick of copping all the bullshit that you’d expect 21-year-old girls in the music industry to cop. So we’re trying to have a healthy balance between being like, “Oi, take us seriously, stop treating us like with less than our male colleagues,” and, “Please come to the shows and have a nice time, we’re here to welcome everyone!”
I think it’s hard to find that balance. We really don’t want to be super political, because that’s not who we are as people – we obviously have our personal beliefs and stuff, but we’ve never thought that that’s what our music should be about. It’s more about us personally, rather than our opinions. But we’re so sick of copping shit for being girls in the music scene, so now that we’ve got this platform, we’re really going to tell people what we think – it’s time to stop this “girl band” bullshit.
I’ve always loved the chemistry that you and Anna have onstage – it’s like your riffs are in conversation. What’s that dynamic like?
Anna is actually such a trooper. They learnt the guitar in the space of, like, two weeks, because we used to have a keyboard player, and we didn’t want to cancel gigs after she left the band. We were all stubborn teenagers, so we were like, “No! Anna, you have to learn guitar now!” But she was just like, “Okay!” And she just learned how to play power chords in two weeks. Since then, obviously we’ve all gotten much better at out instruments, but Anna is just that strong foundation – always doing the chords, always pumping it out. I think it’s nice, because then I get to do more fun things on top of that. And because I kind of showed her how to play the guitar at the start, we’re so in sync now. I think we do complement each other quite well, especially after playing together for so long. They’re a good musician, that one!
Did you record all of this EP on your classic red Gibson SG?
I wrote most of it on that, yeah. Bruce is his name, for those wondering, and he is my pride and joy. He’s a 1972 model – my dad bought him for me years ago, when we first started the band, and he has a very special place in my heart. It’s also just the perfect sound, it’s so meaty and awesome. I love it. So yeah, most of it was done on Bruce, but we also used a few Teles here and there for the treble-ier bits.
What about in the way of pedals and effects?
I’m not too fancy, but I do have, like, three overdrive-distortion situations happening on the ‘board at all times. I’ve got one of those classic yellow Boss overdrives, and then this really nice ‘70s Tube Screamer that my uncle gave me – that’s so great for any kind of lead part, that’s always the go-to. And then I’ve got a one-control, strawberry red overdrive – it’s like so small, and it fits on the ‘board perfectly, and that’s just feedback city. And then apart from that, I’ve just got a fuzz and a chorus, and a tuner.
You guys did this record with James Tidswell, who is probably the biggest nerd I know when it comes to gear. Did you get to f*** around with much of his collection?
Oh, absolutely. I fell in love with the ZVEX Fuzz Factory on that first day – it’s so good. We recorded half of the EP with Tidsy and then half of it with Alex Lahey, so between those two, my pedalboard got ripped apart and put back together like 100 times – which was great, I wouldn’t change anything [laughs]. I used so many different pedals on those tracks as well, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to track down exactly what they were.
I know you guys did ‘Miss Your Birthday’ with Alex – what’s the split between the Tidsy songs and the Lahey songs?
That’s actually a weird one, because I wrote ‘Miss Your Birthday’ with Alex, but we recorded it with Tidsy. ‘AHHHH!’, ‘Miss Your Birthday’ and ‘Up To Summit’ were all recorded with Tidsy, and then ‘Girl Sports’ and ‘Bull Dragon’ were done with Alex and Bonnie Knight. It was great, but it was strange because we weren’t expecting to record with Alex. I wrote ‘Miss Your Birthday’ with her, and then we recorded it with Tidsy, but then we went back to Alex to produce, and I was like, “…Maybe we should have planned this better” [laughs]. But hey, it worked out well in the end, so it’s fine!