Interview with co-vocalists/guitarists Ray Carlisle and Kody Templeman | By Derek Nielsen
“It’s hard to pick out my favorite song on this record, and it’s hard to pick out my least favorite song on this record, so that’s a pretty good sign that they all fucking rule!” Teenage Bottlerocket’s Ray Carlisle exclaims.
The animated co-vocalist and guitarist with the shark-tooth grin is stoked for people to hear his band’s new album, Stay Rad—out March 15 via Fat Wreck Chords—for a lot of reasons. With song titles like “Death Kart,” “Night of the Knuckleheads,” and “Creature From the Black Metal Lagoon,” even a cursory glance at the tracklist should be enough to get fans psyched.
“One kid wrote, ‘If these songs are half as good as the song titles, this record’s gonna be a banger.’ I thought that was pretty fucking funny,” Carlisle laughs. “And there’s only one song on this record about girls! We usually try to shoot for 50/50, and [of the] 50 percent of the songs that are about girls, we try to make half of those positive girl songs, and the other half are negative girl songs, which seem to be the easiest songs to write. That’s not the case with this record! The one song about a girl on this record, [bassist] Miguel [Chen] wrote it! So, I guess that’s where me and [co-vocalist and guitarist] Kody [Templeman]’s heads are at right now. We’re cool with girls!”
Lyrical content aside, Stay Rad is a new chapter for Teenage Bottlerocket in another way as well. The Wyoming punks released the covers record Stealing the Covers in 2017, but Stay Rad is their first proper release following the passing of Carlisle’s twin brother and the band’s drummer Brandon Carlisle in late 2015. Following his death, the band had to make a decision regarding the future of Teenage Bottlerocket.
“Right away, I wanted to keep the band going, but I think it took a while longer for everybody else to come to that conclusion, ya know?” Carlisle says. “I told everyone, ‘Hey, I lost my brother. I don’t wanna lose my band too,’ and I think that really struck a chord with everybody. This is what Brandon would have wanted.”
After making the decision keep the band going, Carlisle chose Canadian drummer Darren Chewka of Old Wives to sit in behind the kit, but the transition was a difficult one. Most noticeably absent from the new record is Brandon’s snotty, Ramones-esque “1, 2, 3, 4!” count off.
“We had it great with Brandon, and right from the get-go with Chewka—it wasn’t great,” Carlisle reflects on this period. “Chewka had big fucking shoes to fill; Brandon was one of a kind as far as technique goes. It took the entirety of Warped Tour 2016 for us to jell as a band with him. But that’s sort of expected, ya know? We’ve played ‘Skate or Die’ two-thousand times with Brandon, then we play it for the two-thousand-and-first time with Chewka—and we all look at each other like, ‘This is fucking weird.’ It took a while for it not to be weird.”
Stay Rad was recorded at The Blasting Room Studios in Fort Collins, Colorado, and the dynamic in the studio was obviously different this time around.
“There was no way I could say, ‘Hey, Brandon, you should play this on the drums instead.’ I’d catch a fucking drumstick to the eye,” Carlisle recalls. “There was one time recording with Brandon, I told him he needed to space out the kick drum hits between the snare drum hits more, and he was like, ‘You stupid motherfucker!’ and freaked the fuck out on me, and I’m like, ‘Ahhh!’ I came back 10 minutes later, and he was playing it the way I suggested.”
Working to assimilate Chewka into Teenage Bottlerocket was difficult, but doing their covers record helped the band get on the same page before recording Stay Rad.
“We definitely had him under the microscope when he was tracking these drums,” Carlisle explains. “If he did something I didn’t like, I said, ‘Nope! That ain’t working!’ If he did something we were stoked on, we’d just shut the fuck up. So, I think, at the end, Chewka thought, ‘They only opened their mouths whenever I sucked. Is any of this stuff good? Fuck, did I suck?’ Then, we sent him the record, and he was like, ‘Awww, I didn’t suck!’”
Having a new drummer has allowed the band to explore new musical terrain. The song “Everything to Me,” written by Carlisle about his teenage son Milo, utilizes a standard punk drum pattern that, until now, has been absent from Teenage Bottlerocket’s sound.
“The drumbeat goes ‘kick-kick snare! Kick-kick-kick snare!’ The whole two kick hits and then three kick hits between the snare: Shellac does it all the time, Fugazi does it all the time, Alkaline Trio does it all the time. We’re like, ‘Why the fuck haven’t we ever done this?’” Carlisle laughs. “[Chewka] couldn’t do what Brandon would have done on this record, and Brandon couldn’t do what Chewka did on this record. Chewka has a little bit more finesse in his playing. There are some drum fills on the song ‘Death Kart’ that, if Brandon would have done it, they would have been overly aggressive and taken over the chorus. Chewka manages to fit them in a real smooth way where they’re badass and don’t take over the song. It’s just pros and cons to both the drummers, man.”
Templeman notes that Brandon’s legacy with Teenage Bottlerocket extends into the live realm as well. “After he passed, I realized Brandon was one of the main guys in the band who was always hanging out with people who came to see us,” he expresses. “He was really good at remembering people’s names and being cool to people. I always have that in mind now. There are a lot of people who like our band because he was cool to people. I try to remember to go out of my way to be cool and keep that spirit alive.”
“Earlier, I was talking about Brandon yelling at me for suggesting a drum part, but the thing is, that’s a positive memory too,” Carlisle reflects. “If Brandon was still alive, he would have just played drums on the best Teenage Bottlerocket record, ya know? That’s the vibe at this point. Maybe I’ll go play the record at his grave, but it’s not the easiest place for me to chill. I love my brother, so there ya go.”
Carlisle wrote and sang “Little Kid,” the penultimate track on Stay Rad, as an ode to his twin brother. While the lyrics in the verse explore memories of their childhood, the only words in the chorus are: “Whoa oh oh oh oh oh oh oh!” It’s a catchy refrain fans have heard Teenage Bottlerocket sing before, but within the context of a song meant to encapsulate 15 years of being in the band and over twice that long being twins, it resonates with intense sincerity and poignancy.
“It hasn’t been that long since he passed, and anybody who’s been through a loss like this can explain, or not explain, that it doesn’t get easier,” Carlisle pauses for a moment before going on, “but one thing I’ll do is I’ll remember something totally funny that me and Brandon did—and I’ll tell Milo the story. I’ll be like, ‘Once upon a time, me and Brandon got beat up by a kid in front of Western Memorial Elementary School in West Texas because we made fun of his scooter.’ And Milo is like, ‘Wait. What?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, he kicked our ass!’ And we’ll laugh about it or whatever, ya know? Just keep the rad alive.”