Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers: Canberra grunge revivalists making heartfelt, heavy-hitting punk anthems

Each week in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’d have no doubt seen opening the bill for your favourite artist. Having just signed to the label backed by Violent Soho guitarist James Tidswell, Canberra’s Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers are determined to spread messages of empowerment via wall-shaking riffs

Teen Jesus And the Jean Teasers would not exist without School Of Rock. The Canberra four-piece decided to become a band while watching Richard Linklater’s 2003 classic midway through a sleepover at vocalist Anna Ryan’s house circa 2015. As she tells NME, “We were like, ‘Hell yeah, we could start a band! It doesn’t look that hard!’”

Teen Jesus – who were then in year 10 – even decided who’d play and do what there and then. Raised a singer by a mother who’d played in bands and sung to her all through childhood, Ryan was the obvious choice for frontwoman. “We decided that Jaida [Stephenson] was going to play bass because she had big hands,” she chuckles, “and Scarlett [McKahey] played cello so we were like, ‘Ah, you can play guitar, it’s not that different!’ And then Neve [van Boxsel] had been playing drums since she was really little, so it all just kind of came together.”

“It makes me so happy to see how many female-fronted bands are coming out at the moment”

Six years on from that fateful night, the quartet are growing a formidable arsenal of polychromatic punk tunes that channel biting Riot Grrrl fury and the loose and luminous joviality that characterises ’90s grunge revivalism. Ryan’s always had an unwavering love for such boldness; she recalls being a sugar-fuelled ragamuffin who was hopelessly enamoured by the 4 Non Blondes hit ‘What’s Up’. “I used to sing it all the time,” she says, her cheeks blushing cherry-red with embarrassment. “I would be running around in my pyjamas, screaming it at the top of my lungs and getting really angry and stuff…”

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When asked to name her influences, Ryan cites a suite of bands Teen Jesus have bumped shoulders with in years past: Cherry Glazerr, Dream Wife, VOIID, and in particular, the Brisbane-based trailblazers in WAAX. Their leader, Marie ‘Maz’ DeVita, “is just incredible”, Ryan gushes. “Like, one of the best frontwomen I’ve ever seen. She just knows how to move around and yell, and have lots of energy! I think I’ve always been fascinated and inspired by women that yell. It makes me so happy to see how many female-fronted bands are coming out at the moment.”

Back when gigs were still possible, Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers put on a tight and turbulent show. Seeing them live, it’s crystal clear how much raw, visceral passion drives the band, not to mention an incandescent chemistry that simply cannot be faked. They don’t even try to hide their smiles, laughing at each other’s hiccups and cracking in-jokes between songs. “Before anything else, we’re all just best friends,” Ryan stresses. “If we’re jamming and something isn’t working, we’re not like, ‘Ah, will they be offended if I say I don’t like this?’ We just work together really well, and I think that translates really nicely to our stage presence. It’s just kind of like we’re hanging out, y’know?”

Admittedly, before they’d developed the ironclad dynamic they have now, Teen Jesus were a band without direction. “I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to write about,” Ryan concedes. “We all just knew that we wanted to play music in some form.” But in their current, refined form – backed by new management at UNIFIED and a record deal with Domestic La La, the label spearheaded by Violent Soho guitarist James Tidswell – Ryan and the band are contemplating self-empowerment, feminism and rebellion. (Full disclosure: I write for UNFD: The Official Podcast, which is run by the label UNFD under the same company as UNIFIED.)

“I want to get more important messages out there,” Ryan, the band’s chief but not only songwriter, declares. “Like the other day, I was working on a song about catcalling. We’re writing about all this real stuff, which happens to real people – women especially – and I just want to create music that is relatable and meaningful.”

Which brings us to their latest single ‘AHHHH!’, a fierce and fiery belter lacquered in red-hot riffs. It’s a good primer for the direction Teen Jesus are heading down, Ryan says. “I think it’s a fun one because you can yell to it, you can dance to it, it’s quick, you won’t get bored… Obviously [future releases] won’t all be this exact same vibe, but I think it’s a nice introduction to, like, the ‘new era’ of Teen Jesus.”

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The track was minted with Tidswell behind the decks, injecting some of the venomous, headstrong snarl Violent Soho cut their teeth on. Teen Jesus roped him in for exactly that reason, but after they all got down to work, they realised Tidswell had much more to offer than just his artistry. Having signed Teen Jesus to his burgeoning label, Tidswell now serves as something of a mentor to the group. On working with the Soho shredder, Ryan muses: “It didn’t feel like we were in a serious, like, ‘work’ environment. He made it a very comfortable space for us – he was more worried about how we were feeling about our parts, and how we were feeling in general, than just making us sound good.”

As for Teen Jesus’ future, the sky really is the limit. When asked if the band have a longer release on the cards, Ryan giggles and quips – her voice breaking from the feigned sarcasm – “I don’t know! We’ll just have to see!” Teen Jesus started as a way for the girls to hang out and mess around, she points out. “I don’t necessarily like to set goals for the band. We’re all having a good time just ticking along and doing what we can, playing all the shows we can, and getting whatever music out that we can. It’s not like we’re out here trying to be the next Nirvana, y’know?”

Teen Jesus may be reluctant to profess lofty ambitions, but the band do have greatness in their future, scoring spots on tours with the likes of Dear Seattle, Spacey Jane and Raave Tapes. They’ve got all the skill, swagger and scorching tunes to be the next-gen Riot Grrrl royalty that rock in the 2020s needs – if ‘AHHHH!’ tells us anything about their forthcoming material, it’s that fans are in for one hell of a ride.

Teen Jesus And The Jean Teasers’ new single ‘AHHHH!’ is out now

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