Serious Slackers: Pro Teens Is A Goofball Band Making Somber Pop
(Photo Credit: Ash Ponders)
Despite being a band of self-proclaimed “slackers by nature,” Pro Teens is possibly one of the most serious groups in the genre today.
Comprised of Andy Phipps, Zack Parker, Matthew Tanner, Eamon Ford, and John Josiah Hernandez, Pro Teens is dreamy slacker pop group hailing from Phoenix, Arizona. The group have put out three albums since beginning in 2015, and are already working on the next 20 songs, roughly half of which will make it on the next album. Front man Andy Phipps proudly also says the band practices twice a week.
“We try to be pretty prolific, we like to do an album per year, which we have so far … we’re just going to get harder and harder working until we die, or just implode.”
Phipps explains his dedication while giving this interview over video chat with a constant rotation of ridiculous filter effects obscuring his deadpan expression. At one point he is describing a recent near-death experience with a shower of glitter and sparkles raining down on his face.
“It’s very hard being nihilistic and trying to give a straight interview,” Phipps explains.
Really, that seems the perfect illustration of the band’s duality.
The bright retro-pop exterior can at first obscure the gravity of Pro Teens; deep down they are devoted musicians writing nihilistic songs about death, identity, anxieties and existential crises. It’s sort of like imagining The Beach Boys, one of their biggest influences, writing lyrics like Elliot Smith. But more fun than that sounds.
Their most recent release, Philistines, is equal parts gleeful and glum. At its dreamiest, the EP feels groggy and languid, most notably in the song Tulsa. At its most-pop moments, songs like Bloomin’ and She’s Gonna Be So Great, it’s decadent, almost so over-indulgent at times that it borders on chaos. The album is perfectly cut in half by the sharp, angular riff on Signals Cross. Followed by the sweeping, ethereal intro of Crocs that descends into punk-y, cluttered catharsis by the end. And You Won’t rounds it out with a healthy balance of it all: jangling guitars, hazy textural layers and a punchy drumbeat. It’s a perfect bit of bittersweet irony when the album ends with the lyrics “and I’m thinking of jumping off/ You don’t know when to quit.”
It is not all doom and gloom, but Phipps explains that a lot of the material for songs comes from his anxieties about death: “I’m really fixated on death, but not in a dark, goth-y way though. I think the last album reflected that. Last year I got an infection in my gums that almost got to my heart and I was really close to death.”
But that fixation is not totally new, and it’s evident in previous albums too. The cover of their second album, Accidentally, features the drowned body of a small deer. Phipps explains that he knows that might have been off-putting, but that is partially point.
“It’s morbid, I know it will be taken as morbid, but it’s also kind of like c’est la vie. Everybody dies.”
This juxtaposition of bleak lyrics with catchy pop melodies hints at a sort of absurdist positivity and humor in his philosophy. They are almost always half joking.
“Crocs is really easily about social anxiety if you look at the lyrics. But it’s also about Crocs too … we’re trying to get sponsored by Crocs for it.”
The band already has much of 2018 planned out by now. Next spring they plan to kick off a cross-country tour, followed by the release of their fourth album next summer. The new songs are going to be “riff-ier,” more technical, post-punk influenced, and the lyrics are continually getting more clear says Phipps.
“We’re getting less inward lyrically, there’s more bite to what I’m writing. Rather than just writing about feelings, I’m writing about what upsets me.”
And most importantly, they are planning their big publicity stunt: “we’re trying to get some twitter beef going. And I want to get sued, it’s my lifelong goal to be sued by Metallica.”