“We want to be known as a band, not a girl band.”

Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers formed in their hometown of Canberra towards the end of 2015. The members were just 15 years old at the time, but their individual friendships went back several years. Anna Ryan (vocals) and Neve van Boxsel (drums) met when they were in kindergarten. Scarlett McKahey (guitar) and Jaida Stephenson (bass) met when they were both eight. All four attended the same school, but their friendship groups didn’t merge until the eighth grade. 

The members of Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers are now 21 years old and living between Wollongong and Melbourne. They’re fresh off their biggest headline show to date in front of more than 500 people at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel. The band will be back in Melbourne on Sunday April 10th, joining Dune Rats and Beddy Rays on the lineup for The Push: Live at the Bowl all-ages event.

Teen Jesus had a productive 2021. After a pandemic-enforced fallow year in 2020, the band released the dizzying pop punk single ‘AHHHH!’ in mid-2021. The track was added to high rotation on triple j and landed at #117 in the station’s Hottest 200 of 2021.  

‘AHHHH!’ was Teen Jesus’ first release through indie label, Domestic La La, run by Violent Soho’s James Tidswell. Tidswell produced ‘AHHHH!’ along with Teen Jesus’ follow up single, ‘Miss Your Birthday’, which shares co-writing credits with Alex Lahey.

Learn more about Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers’ upcoming all-ages gig for Arts Centre Melbourne and The Push

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Tone Deaf spoke to bass player and backing vocalist Jaida Stephenson about Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers’ prevailing success, riot grrrl ethos and the upcoming Melbourne all ages gig.

Tone Deaf: You formed Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers when you were all 15. What sort of role did music play in your lives before you formed the band?

Jaida Stephenson: Neve’s been playing drums her whole life, or since she was 10. Scarlett was actually in the youth orchestra for playing cello but she just picked up a guitar and was like, “Oh it’s just the same thing.” Anna’s been singing her whole life and I dabbled in recorder and trombone, but I just started playing bass because I had big hands, pretty much. 

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TD: You got the attention of triple j through the Unearthed High competition in 2017. Has triple j been supporting you ever since?

JS: We got a little bit of light in 2017, which was really awesome, but then we didn’t really get properly picked up by them until last year when we released ‘AHHHH!’. I think ‘AHHHH!’ was our first song on rotation, which was so exciting – we were over the moon. And they picked up ‘Miss Your Birthday’ as well, which was so, so awesome. 

TD: ‘AHHHH!’ made it to #117 in the Hottest 200 of 2021, which isn’t bad for your first song on rotation. 

JS: I don’t think we ever thought we would get that high up in the Hottest 200. It’s really amazing growing up with a radio station like that and then getting older and hearing yourself on that radio station.

TD: ‘AHHHH!’ was also your first release through Domestic La La. 

JS: Yeah. We actually recorded that song with Mr. James Tidswell at the end of 2020. So, it’s been in the books for a while. 

TD: Signing with Domestic La La, working with James, seeing both ‘AHHHH!’ and ‘Miss Your Birthday’ get playlisted, selling out headline shows – does it feel like Teen Jesus has entered a new chapter?

JS: Definitely. We started to make a bit of a name for ourselves in 2019 and then obviously Covid happened so we weren’t really sure if we were going to keep on going up and keep on pushing or what was going to happen. But then, when we signed to Domestic La La, it was like, “All right, we can do this. Let’s push it.”

I think ‘AHHHH!’ and ‘Miss Your Birthday’ are songs that we were really, really proud of and the music that we wanted to make when we first started playing music. 

TD: Compared to early singles like ‘We’re All Henry’, the two latest singles sound like a different band. It’s a punchier sound, heavier guitars. Melodically, it’s quite sophisticated songwriting. So, that’s the direction you see yourselves moving in?

JS: Definitely. We like teetering on that line of like punky, grungy, but also having that pop element to it as well.

TD: Alex Lahey has a co-writing credit on ‘Miss Your Birthday’. Did you actually sit down and write the song with her?

JS: Yeah, so, Scarlett, the guitarist, went round to Alex’s house in Melbourne and co-wrote that song with Ms. Lahey, which was awesome. 

TD: In your bio it says you’re “channelling riot grrrl energy.” Riot grrrl’s not just a style of music, but a combination of feminist politics and advocacy with punk rock. Do you think that applies to Teen Jesus?

JS: Yeah, definitely. We’ve always had a stand, like we want to be known as a band, not a girl band. It’s so frustrating people coming up and being like, “You guys are pretty good for a girl band.” We’re just a band. 

But a lot of our older songs are about love and high school drama, and we do have a song coming out soon that is more focused on angry riot grrrl stuff. 

TD: You’re playing Sidney Myer Music Bowl with Dune Rats and Beddy Rays. It’s an all ages show. Is that meaningful to you, to get to play for kids and teenagers at such a big venue?

 JS: Yeah, especially considering we started the band when we were teenagers and grew up in a town like Canberra where there wasn’t really any opportunities to go to shows. We were lucky because we got to go to them because we were playing them, but our whole high school lives we were pretty much just trying to sneak into venues to go see shows. 

We’ve always had a big standpoint of trying to get young people into music, especially young girls. It’s going to be awesome to see everyone of all ages coming down.

Learn more about Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers’ upcoming all-ages gig for Arts Centre Melbourne and The Push

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