Rock*A*Teens play Johnny Brenda’s in Philly on Aug. 7, at the Middle East Upstairs in Cambridge on Aug. 8, at Glasslands in Brooklyn on Aug. 9 and at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC on Aug. 10. It’s always unfortunate when a great rock band receives their due respect after they call it quits. Such is the case for the Rock*A*Teens. The pride of Cabbagetown, Georgia, the emphatic and eventually influential indie rock band called it quits more than a decade ago. But thanks to Merge records, the story of the Rock*A*Teens has been reopened with at least one more chapter yet to be written. Following the reissue of “Sweet Bird of Youth” and a slot on Merge’s 25th anniversary festival, the band has reunited to play a handful of east coast dates.
“Mac [McCaughan, head of the band Superchunk and Merge Records] just called me up and said ‘we’re having a 25th anniversary. Do you want to reissue one of your records? And I was wondering if you want to come and play this festival,’” frontman Chris Lopez recalls. “So, instead of doing a one-off we figured we may as well do several shows. We got the right call at the right time.”
From 1996 to 2001, the Rock*A*Teens released five albums and one EP. Defined by the dramatic swooning swagger of Lopez’s lyrics and vocal stylings, the band trudged through tumultuous terrain and soared with an emotive immediacy, eventually becoming known for their electrifying live shows, the last of which (until recently) came on New Years Eve 2002.
“You get older and your life just changes,” says Lopez. “Suddenly that’s not the most important thing in your life. And sometimes you just have to make choices, you know? You can’t put as much time into something; you can’t put in the effort and you can’t hold up your end of the bargain. And just like anything you do for a long time, you want to do something different. You want to change. You make a lot of records, you do a lot of driving around, play a lot of shows but nobody was getting rich and we weren’t making a living at it so you have to make a choice.”
While they may not have made money, they certainly made an impact. Rock*A*Teens are a band’s band, and now more than ever people accredit them as one of the best bands of the ’90s.
“It’s the ultimate compliment. That’s how I take it. At the end of the day, if somebody gets something from a record that we’ve made as much as I’ve gotten through records throughout my life then that’s incredible. If it influences people to make a band, that’s even more exciting.”
In 2005, fans got a brief glimpse of Lopez’s return to music with his brilliant solo album as Tenement Halls, but real life would take over again.
“The band was over and I started writing some songs and I started recording some stuff at home and then I recorded some stuff at a studio and I asked if they [Merge] wanted to release it and they said ‘yes.’ I did a little touring, but then my wife became pregnant and then my whole world changed. That was all the time I could put in to promote that record. Now that he’s older. I mean you wanna be there for your kid and at least get him into school and get him on his feet for godsakes. He’s older now, so I feel better about leaving town for a lot of the summer. So that’s why we’re playing these short little bursts. We can’t go out for weeks at a time, it’s just not possible.
Recently returning to the stage to the delight of all who failed to catch them in the act before, Lopez is enthusiastic about the experience. “Of course I had trepidation,” he says with a laugh. “I thought maybe we should just let dead dogs lie, or sleeping dogs lie. But in hindsight it’s good. I love it. It seems like we’re even better now than we were then. I don’t know, maybe we all grew as musicians, but I don’t remember us being that tight. We were notoriously loosey-goosey. It’s even more fun now than it was then.”
Catch them while you can. And just maybe we’ll hear from them again in the future. “That’s all up in the air right now. We’re just trying to get through our initial obligation and we’ll go from there. We’ll have plenty of time to talk about it in our van ride back to Georgia from New York City.”