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The Rock*A*Teens: An Oral History 

After a 12-year hiatus, the influential Cabbagetown rockers return

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TEEN HUSTLE: Between 1994 and 2002, the Rock*A*Teens released five records and toured the nation, but never found a wider audience. - COURTESY OF THE ROCK*A*TEENS
  • TEEN HUSTLE: Between 1994 and 2002, the Rock*A*Teens released five records and toured the nation, but never found a wider audience.

Chris Lopez: We thought it went swimmingly. Having 40 people there, that was a show. I remember all of us there, putting the stuff back in the house and going, "That was great. That was fun for not knowing what we're doing."

The Rock*A*Teens continued to play local gigs and started to book short weekend tours outside the city. They eventually caught the ear of the Indigo Girls' Amy Ray, one of Hogan's friends, who had started her own independent record label called Daemon Records.

Amy Ray: They didn't have any aspirations. I knew what they had gone through with the tragedy affecting many people in the Atlanta scene. The music was drenched in sorrow, anger, really dramatic love, and passion. I thought, "People need to hear this."

Chris Lopez: I don't even know what year that first record came out. We're not going to say no. ... They weren't the first songs I had ever written, but they were probably the 10th, 11th, and 12th songs. Using the term "written" is a stretch.

Amy Ray: They weren't gung-ho about it. But they needed to do this. I kept at it and got them to do it.

Justin Hughes: We recorded [The Rock*A*Teens] at Bosstown [Recording] Studios — now part of Stankonia. Bobby Brown owned it. We were recording with David Barbe and we wanted to get a big drum sound. It was probably six days total.

Chris Lopez: In a warehouse that's two stories tall, there [was] an office or something that had a lowered roof so it'd be a regular room. We were recording some song. I was like, "I'll go up there." So I had the microphone up there and it was just goofy fun. Alcohol possibly could have been involved.

Kelly Hogan: Lopez would go up there and sing. It was crazy, like a big sort of basketball gym or something.

Chris Lopez: We were just finding our feet, experimenting, doing whatever we wanted to do. We put a goddamn cheerleading chant on our first record.

Amy Ray: The first record did really well. They immediately followed it up with a second record. They also opened for the Indigo Girls a few times.

Chris Lopez: We actually played a show with them at Auburn University in their basketball arena. It was bizarre.

Justin Gage, founder and editor of music blog Aquarium Drunkard: It was great. It was this raw, primal, garage blast. It was not what you were hearing at the time. It wasn't a precious indie rock thing. It wasn't the post-Nirvana alt-rock stuff that was everywhere. It harkened back to the golden age of rock 'n' roll.

Ballard Lesemann, Flagpole music editor 1996-2002, Rock*A*Teens drummer 1998-present: You fall in love with Chris [Lopez's] voice and the way he delivers his lines. He sometimes sounds exasperated, or broken-hearted at times, or totally in love. It's this wild range of mood and emotion. It's believable and genuine.

Dan Bejar, Destroyer frontman and the New Pornographers member: The main thing that drew me in was the mythology of fucking Cabbagetown. I had this insane idea of this place even though I had never been there. The characters had these bohemian melodramas they could hold based purely on Lopez's songs.

Amy Ray: He's like a Marlon Brando in some ways with his presentation and singing. His imagery always reminded me of classic Tennessee Williams moments, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or On the Waterfront.

Will Sheff, Okkervil River frontman: It was like going out and getting drunk with Tennessee Williams as opposed to reading the actual play on the page.

The Rock*A*Teens released their second record, Cry, with the help of Barbe and producer Rob Gal in February 1997.

Chris Lopez: We were a little more confident when we made that record. I was a little more confident.

David Barbe: That's the real beauty of the record. Different room, different vibe. We physically tightened up the drum sound a little bit and gave the guitars more room to ring out.

Ballard Lesemann: Cry was, and probably is, one of the best collections. That was a great record and college radio loved it. It really established the Rock*A*Teens as this really serious songwriting rock band.

Justin Gage: [The live show] was a continuation of hearing them on record. There was a lack of pretense that really struck me. You weren't hearing any of it in mainstream rock 'n' roll or the independent level. It was tapping into this romantic ideal of rock 'n' roll.

Chris Verene: Chris Lopez wanted the audience to be really engaged with our tours. The music is actually very peppy and danceable despite having some real bummer songs like "Rockabilly Ghetto."

Chris Lopez: Playing live is a total visceral experience. It is what it is. You go out there and you play. To me it's very physical.

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