Birthdays are the niftiest invention. It's like having an extra national holiday, except that, instead of honoring a bunch of dead rabble-rousers in short pants and tricornered hats, the fuss is all about me, me, me (and this is different from other days how?). This year, festivities around my special day (May 31) will include a blowout in Ballard, rampant drinking, and, best of all, a visit by one of my all-time favorite bands, pop-punk sensation Imperial Teen.
Alas, my birthday wish for a new Imperial Teen album must go unfulfilled this year, according to member Roddy Bottum. "We're about three-fourths of the way through," he says of the follow-up to the quartet's 1996 debut Seasick and the subsequent What Is Not to Love.
The delay is due, in part, to the band's search for a new label, since its split from London-Sire during the Universal-Polygram megalabel merger ("They said, 'Leave,' and we said, 'Gladly'"). Bottum feels the move was for the best. "A little band such as ourselves doesn't have a place in a huge corporation," he says. "The charm gets all lost."
So for now, the four continue to record new material and sniff around for an outlet run by "people who can relate to us and that we can relate to." But the ex-Faith No More member admits he's getting antsy. "I'm ready to put stuff out, and it's frustrating to be in a position where we can't . . . yet." At the same time, he hopes fans will be patient and understanding. "We don't want to rush into anything."
While the Teen have self-released two singles via their own Custom.45s imprint—including the 1998 non-LP "Ivank" (a concert fave) backed with "Sweet and Touching"—Bottum says the foursome aren't keen on the notion of putting out the third album on their own. That option hasn't been eliminated entirely, "but I don't think any of us wants to run a record label on a day-to-day basis," he says. "It's a big job."
Regardless of the lack of new product to shill, the band will showcase material from the as-yet-untitled album in Seattle. "It's all over the map," says Bottum. "There's no real slow stuff," in contrast to the tempos of What Is Not to Love. "We have a lot more keyboards and a lot more of everybody singing."
"One of our favorite songs that we're doing these days is a disco number called 'Million-Dollar Man.' It's pretty long, but it doesn't jam. 'Alone in the Grass' or 'Hooray' was more of a jam; this one really pumps." Others songs include "a great new wave tune" called "Teacher's Pet," and "Mr. and Mrs.," "about past and present friends in San Francisco," that features vocals by Roddy, keyboards by Will Schwartz, and a drum machine.
"I've never felt more confident about what we do," he adds. "We're writing incredible songs, and our live shows have been really great." Fans who feared the band would fall apart after Roddy and Will relocated to Los Angeles last year, and Jone Stebbins and Lynn Perko remained in San Francisco, have nothing to be concerned about.
"It is a pain in the ass getting back and forth and getting things done," Bottum admits. "It takes a lot to get me and Will all the way to San Francisco, in a room with the girls, with all our instruments. At the same time, when we get together, it's really precious, and we all acknowledge those moments as such. We don't take it for granted so much."
Moving to the City of Angels has allowed Bottum a chance to pursue a new career, too—scoring movies. His current projects include the documentaries Bubbles Aweigh ("about a swim team that goes to the gay Olympics") and Cucumber (the true story of five Ohio women who exact revenge on the man who molested one of their daughters), as well as helping old friend Courtney Love with music for her forthcoming period vehicle Hello Suckers.
The lone Cancer in a band of Scorpios, Bottum admits he likes "the big hoopla" of birthdays, too. But that doesn't mean he's a staunch traditionalist; his last birthday cake was decorated with Welcome Home, Elian. That was at the same bash where, inspired by his young niece, the rocker decided to rent a moonwalk for the backyard. "It was absolutely over the top," he chuckles. "A huge moonwalk in the shape of Tigger, the Winnie the Pooh character. From the front of the house, you could just see his head bobbing back and forth, like he was doing I don't know what down there in the yard. It was a little bit obscene."
Imperial Teen are playing at the Crocodile on Sunday, May 27. Bring balloons.