Interview with Teenage Kicks’ Peter Van Helvoort

teenage kicks By: Sheena Lyonnais
October 31, 2011

Toronto Music Scene had the chance to chat with Teenage Kicks‘ frontman Peter Van Helvoort in anticipation of their upcoming performance this Friday (Nov 4) at the Horseshoe. The band has generated buzz since the release of their acclaimed debut EP Rational Anthems, a home-hitting fusion of solid garage rock swirled around undeniable classic rock influences.  Peter reflects on lessons learned through his previous roles in The Most Serene Republic and Cain & Abel, the (re)addition of fifth player and key shredder Christian Turner, and what we can expect from the band now that they’re headed to the studio to record their follow-up, currently pegged as Rational Anthems 2.0. There’s even some hometown nostalgia thrown in for good measure. Here’s what he had to say:

How are you and what are you up to right now?

Hello, I am a little tired, but overall doing fairly well. I’m watching my Dad’s two dachshunds who are currently sitting beside me on the couch while I answer these questions. I’m also eating oatmeal and making my way through The Who’s Tommy.

Everyone is telling us we must check out your show at the Horseshoe on Friday, why should we and what can we expect?

Well firstly, to whomever has been telling you to check out the show – your cheque is in the mail. The best reason I can think of is that most people haven’t seen us as a five-piece yet, and hopefully that fact alone is alluring enough to make you check it out. On the other hand, I’d like to think Goddamn Robots, Greys and Fast Romantics are a pretty good selling point on their own accord. If that doesn’t sell you then come under the assumption that Jeff will be shaving his back for Movember during our set.

Tell us about the making of your debut EP, Rational Anthems. What was the experience like for you?

It was a trying experience. It took way longer than it should have and I was balancing mixing/recording in the evenings with working a full-time job as a warehouse manager during my days. I certainly learned a lot from it, but it was a difficult time for the band and I don’t think any of us are overly happy with the end result.

This old school tribute you guys bleed through your music is both progressive and nostalgic. What do you think is significant about your sound and dynamic?

Well, we’ve always tried to stay away from being a classic rock cover band. I’d like to think we sound current, but we clearly take a lot of influence from the 60s and early to mid 70s. With the literal exception of a ‘dance back beat’ I’d like to think we’re pretty open to just about any kind of influence in the songs. Nothing against dance music, I just promised myself when I was 18 or 19 that I would never use that confounded drum beat.

Peter, you are no newbie to the music scene – boasting roots in bands such as The Most Serene Republic and Cain & Abel. How is this project different for you? What did you learn from your previous experiences that you’ve taken into consideration with Teenage Kicks?

After TMSR, I definitely learned that I had to be in control. I’m not too much of a control freak these days, but I still end up with the final say when a decision has to be made. I got burned in both groups, and I’ve recently come to the conclusion that more often than not I was just as guilty as the people who wronged me. I’ll never get away from taking things too personally, but I’ve certainly fallen more inside as a result of being fired or people quitting over the years. I’ve also finally lost my automatic ‘quit’ reflex. I’ve been doing music at a DIY grass roots level for a long time and I think I’ve realized I wouldn’t be able to function without music being the focal point of my daily life, at whatever level of success I’m at.

Do you by chance have a connection to the Georgetown music scene circa 2000-2004? 

Yes I do. I was putting shows on at The Optimist Club when I was in grade 11… 2001 I think? I continued to put on my own shows in Georgetown/Acton until I moved to Toronto last year. We had a good little scene back then, everything was DIY. (editors note: it’s true, those were actually killer times!)

Christian Turner has (re)joined the band. What are you going to do to make this not sound like Cain and Abel part II? Also, say hi to Christian for me! We went to high school together and he was a killer shredder even then.

Yes, yes, Shredmaster CT has returned, haha. We’ve only written a few new songs since he joined the band but I don’t think rehashing the past will be an issue. The biggest difference between Cain & Abel and Teenage Kicks is the change in my voice, and by default I think the songs changed around that. It is definitely nice to have him back though, he is a musical Rolodex.

In your bio you say Teenage Kicks is “a soundtrack for young hearts finding true love and sharing moments that will stay with them forever. In a nutshell, it’s rock n’ roll.” Can you elaborate on this sentiment?

Well, our good friend Shehzaad wrote the bio for us, but I can take a stab at what the meaning is supposed to be. I think he wrote that because people have said our songs really stick with them, we’re not jumping onto a current trend and our focus is and will always be writing the best songs we can possibly write no matter what might be popular at the time. In a nutshell, I wouldn’t write something to make a quick buck when I could write something that might take a bit longer to hit, but when it does it means that I have a chance to play music for a really long time and potentially write an entire catalog of great and honest songs that you’ll go back and listen to ten or twenty years later. That’s my ultimate goal.

We gotta ask about the name. Is this an obvious ode to the Undertones or something greater?

I disappointed Sloan with this answer a few weeks ago. It’s actually from a Kerouac book (I don’t exactly remember if it was Dharma Bums or On The Road), and I have a habit of jotting down words while I read books because it sparks lyrics and I jotted Teenage Kicks down in my book. I actually heard the song later that week on Little Steven’s Underground Garage and remembered where else I had heard those two words together. It sat in the book until Christian quit Ulysses and the Siren and we decided to start a new band with a different guitarist. Teenage Kicks was the first name we picked. After we announced the new band I got an email from a friend of ours who is in the punk scene and he warned me that we’d probably get quite a bit of flack for the choice. So far, not too much flack.

You start recording next week. Can you tell us a little more? Where are you recording? Is this a full-length? Do you have a producer?

The rumours are indeed true. We’re recording drums on Monday and will hopefully be done the remainder of the tracking two weeks later. Drums are happening at Phase One in Scarborough, and the rest of the tracking will be at mine and Jeff’s house in Toronto. I’m still producing this one, but we’ve thankfully brought someone on to mix it. And this will be another EP, Rational Anthems 2.0 I think.

What has inspired you in terms of song writing since releasing Rational Anthems?

Pete Townshend and Mick Jones’ Clash songs.

What’s next for Teenage Kicks?

Touring is high on the priority list, and ideally a full-length for next year at this time. Lord knows we have the songs for it.

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