Taking an unannounced five-year vacation from work usually results in a pink slip. If you happen to be a band, such a lengthy hiatus generally means the last page of your story has long since been written. But, in the case of garage-pop rockers Imperial Teen, the last five years have merely been an extended state of hibernation.
Imperial Teen drummer Lynn Truell (née Perko) explains that the San Francisco band went stagnant after she moved to Chicago following the release of the band's third album (the very danceable On) in 2002. The geographic distance between Truell and the rest of her bandmates, who remained in California, created too big an obstacle. “It was a short two-year stint in Chicago before I came back out [to California],” Truell says.
Upon returning to the West Coast, however, Truell says the band was still split between opposite ends of the state. Half of the band—bassist Jone Stebbins and guitarist Will Schwartz—lived in San Francisco while the other half—Truell and singer/guitarist Roddy Bottum—were in Los Angeles.
“But San Francisco and L.A. aren't that far apart, and airplanes, you know, they work well,” Truell laughs. “Mostly, Jone and Will would come down here to our practice studio in L.A.”
Truell says a new album began to take shape once the band started meeting regularly. Compared with the uncertainty they felt during the creation of their first two albums, Seasick—lauded by SPIN as the fourth-greatest album of 1996 and one of the top 50 albums of all time—and What is Not to Love (from which the panting and provocative hit single “Yoo Hoo” appeared), Imperial Teen had a new sense of confidence.
“We were having a good time with those first records,” Truell recalls, “but we were just winging it. It was a lot more intimidating back then.
“With this new one,” she adds, “we had three records—35 or 40 songs—under our belt. The process was relatively the same, but how we went about it was a lot different. It wasn't as hold-your-breath-and-hope-it-works-out. It was more like, ‘Let's go through this process again and see if we can create something better out of it.'”
Truell says the band eventually narrowed its selections to 12 songs and shortly thereafter—five years in the making—The Hair the TV the Baby and the Band was released. The album is packed with enthusiastic, hip-swiveling beats and the same bouncy, boy/girl melodies that inspired one critic to label Imperial Teen the “omnisexual offspring of Nirvana and the B-52's.”
As the new album title suggests, Imperial Teen's members kept themselves busy during the band's downtime. Stebbins ran a hairstyling business while Bottum, the former keyboardist for Faith No More, composed music for film and television, including the Parker Posey/Chris Kattan flick Adam & Steve. Truell, the former drummer for hardcore punk band The Dicks and alt-rock band Sister Double Happiness, became a mother, and Schwartz continued to work with his side project, hey willpower.
Truell says being back on stage with her mates feels natural. “We always have a really good time up there,” she says. “I've read reviews that ask what keeps us going, why we keep doing this. The reason is because we sincerely enjoy it! We're not making a million dollars or buying mansions in Beverly Hills. This is just what we do. We have fun.”
Part of that fun involves the band members trading instruments and lead vocals several times before the end of a set, a characteristic that lends a somewhat schizophrenic nature to each performance. In past shows, Truell says it was not uncommon to see her go from guitar to drums to bass and back again, all while singing along or throwing handclaps into the mix.
“The handclaps,” she explains, “are a great way to motivate the audience. There's just something about the handclap that really draws people in.”
Not that Imperial Teen's audiences need motivation. At a Los Angeles show during their tour for On, sweaty throngs of fans packed the inside of West Hollywood's Troubadour, singing, jumping and dancing to every beat.
“A great show for me is when I can see that people are really into it,” she says. “If there are 42 or 452 people, it doesn't matter, just so long as people are enjoying it.”
Truell says she couldn't be happier about the audiences for whom the band's been playing. “We like to see those sexy, cute, dancey dancers,” she laughs, “whether they're 12 years old or 75, we just want to see people having fun.” Imperial Teen plays at 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, with Midnight Movies and Loverlee at The Casbah. 619-232-HELL. www.imperialteen.com.