Miguel Chen (Teenage Bottlerocket) On The Band’s New Album, ‘Tales From Wyoming’
Posted on March 10, 2015
March 10, 2015 | by Nick Spacek
Laramie, Wyoming, pop-punk band Teenage Bottlerocket have been at the forefront of the genre’s revitalization and return to the scruffier aspects of its roots since the release of their first single in 2002. Since then, the quartet have released a multitude of singles, splits, a live album, and five full-lengths. Their upcoming album, Tales From Wyoming, will be their sixth, and their first on Rise Records, after two on Fat Wreck Chords. Listening to it, it can’t help but feel like a summation of everything Teenage Bottlerocket’s done over the last decade and a half. We spoke with bassist Miguel Chen about the new album and the process behind its creation.
The Runout: How did you guys end up on Rise?
Miguel Chen: The guys at Rise had kind of started approaching us about being interested in doing a record. In more recent years, they’ve been working with a lot of cool punk bands like Face to Face or Bouncing Souls: bands we’re friends with, you know? So, it kind of caught our attention that they wanted to work with us.
We ran it by everyone at Fat Wreck Chords, because they’re still all our friends and stuff, and they were all on board. They realized it was a big opportunity for us to maybe reach some different kids and maybe expand our audience a little. So, with Fat Wreck’s blessing, we decided to jump on board and try something new.
Listening to the record, it sounds like a compilation of everything that’s come before – bits and pieces of your previous records, but also something entirely new.
Awesome, man. Yeah, over time, you kind of look back and think about the records, and realize that each one of them kind of had its own personality and its own thing. It’s not something we really thought about when we were writing them, and I think that this record, Tales From Wyoming, is inevitably going to be made up of pieces of everything we’ve done up to this point.
But, again: I don’t think that it’s something that we consciously did. I think we were just trying to make the best record that we could, which has sort of also been the formula.
This record features your first acoustic song, “First Time.” How’d that come about?
We’ll kind of start writing songs and things. Ray [Carlisle, guitars and vocals] came and showed us that song he’s been working on, and we kind of toyed around with the idea of making it a full band song. The more we worked at it, the more we were like, “You know, I don’t think this song is that. I think this song is an acoustic song,” and so, that’s what it ended up staying as.
What else was different about recording Tales From Wyoming?
It was different this time, because we were working with Bill Stephenson as a producer, so rather than being a really tight clock, like, “Let’s go in and bust this record out,” we showed up and we had a couple of days where we ran through songs together with Bill siting in.
We would then sit around with Bill, and talk ideas. He actually ended up giving us some feedback that ended up changing the structure of a couple of songs a little bit. Bringing in another person – especially someone with Bill’s background – brings a whole new perspective into the process. He had a lot of ideas that I know we wouldn’t have thought of on our own, so it was definitely cool to have that.
Can you give me an example of one of the songs, and how it changed?
For example: “I Found the One.” There’s this sort of key change at the end, where it goes into this new chorus. We’d been playing around with it, like, “What’s this song going to do here?” and all of a sudden, Bill comes in, and he’s like, “You hit this key change.” Boom. It all came together so perfectly. We were all like, “Wow! Why hadn’t we thought of this yet?”
It was really easy and natural, working with Bill, especially since we’ve been pretty good buddies with him for a long while at this point.
Given that you come to the studio with the songs nearly fully-formed, having been playing them live for a while: is it beneficial just to have another pair of ears on them, period?
Oh, absolutely. Like I said: this is the first time we’ve ever actually worked with a producer. Bill obviously worked on a lot of our favorite records, with a lot of our favorite bands, so we really had a lot of trust in him and his ability, and I think that having him, specifically – someone that we know and trust and who’s on the same page, as far as music that we really love – having that come in with fresh ears was just awesome.
Is there anything on the record you’re particularly proud of, in terms of your contributions?
Yeah! When we were sitting down, talking about what we wanted out of this record, Bill Stephenson and I got to talking about who I liked as a bass player. And, of course, my first answer was Dee Dee Ramone. So, between him, me, and Andrew Berlin [engineer, Blasting Room], we spent a lot of time working on the bass tone of this record. One thing in particular: we were listening to the old Ramones records, and Dee Dee goes up really high on his fourth string, twelfth fret, and he doesn’t lose any fullness. It’s just this thick, powerful thing.
That was the main focus: we just wanted this bass to be fucking badass, and I think working with those guys … I don’t wanna toot my own horn or anything, but I think we got a pretty killer bass sound on the whole record, and I’m pretty proud of it.
I know Teenage Bottlerocket gets tagged with the “Ramones-core” thing on a pretty regular basis, but Tales From Wyoming does sound like a Ramones record: it’s fast and it’s punk rock, but it’s super-clean. There’s no fuzzy ends on it.
Well, yeah: we’ve got Bill Stephenson producing, we’ve got more time than we usually get to do a record, and we’ve got Andrew Berlin, Jason Livermore, and essentially the entire Blasting Room crew working on this record, so – huge opportunity. We were like, “Let’s pour everything we’ve got into this and try and make the best record we can.” Hopefully, that comes across a little bit.
Teenage Bottlerocket’s new album, Tales From Wyoming, is due out March 31 on Rise Records.
You can listen to a podcast Nick Spacek did with Miguel Chen playing guest DJ and talking songs which influenced him here.