Not many acts can say they’ve sold out a 200-person capacity room before even releasing their debut single – but Teenage Joans can. The Adelaide duo of guitarist Cahli Blakers and drummer Tahlia Borg (who both sing) speak about the experience with a sense of awe, yes, but also in a way that humbly says: we went through hours of hard work and failed side projects that led up to this point.
“We both had played in bands before in school with people who just weren’t as passionate,” Blakers tells NME. It’s a Thursday morning and the pair are sitting on Zoom, from the comfort of their bedrooms. Blakers is rocking a WAAX tee, a gritty Brisbane punk band they recently shared a bill with. “I don’t think it’s skill level,” she adds. “If someone’s got a lower skill level but a lot of passion, it can always work. Whereas [when] we were jamming with people who had high skill levels or whatever, but weren’t as passionate as us, it just always fell apart.”
The two then-high school students teamed up in 2018 following Blakers’ short stint as a solo artist. Borg hosted the inaugural jam session at her house. A two hour-session turned into Blakers staying for dinner, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Their personable lyrics, dynamic stage presence and joint willingness to share the good, bad and confusing parts of life right there on stage made for a kickass live show. Teenage Joans soon advanced to bigger venues, supporting the likes of Ruby Fields and The Hard Aches. The pair focused on “mastering their craft” on-stage before ever releasing a taste of music, so by the time the launch for their first single came around – a not-so-intimate party for ‘By The Way’ at Adelaide’s Crown and Anchor – they already had a small army of fans.
“The song came out a few days before and everyone knew all the words by the time the gig came up,” Blakers explained. “Having this song that everyone just knows every single word to because they’ve chosen to listen to it enough to learn the words was just like, the craziest feeling ever.”
Flash forward to 2020 and Teenage Joans caught the attention of music lovers and industry members alike when they entered triple j’s beloved Unearthed High competition – which they went on to win, as announced on the day of Borg’s year 12 psychology exam. Their sophomore track ‘Three Leaf Clover’, which is about embracing self-love even as you feel like you don’t fit in, immediately won hearts across the nation. It was subsequently voted #87 in triple j’s Hottest 100 countdown, beating songs by Benee, Billie Eilish and Stormzy.
“We just want people to know that we’re just trying to make a space for everyone”
Teenage Joans have dubbed their music “juice-box punk-pop”, nodding towards the cathartic nature of pop punk as a genre and how powerful it can be as a vessel for understanding the world around you. As for the “juice box” bit, Blakers says it “kind of means lyrics that feel nostalgic and feel like you could consume as a young person, but also have a heavier kind of meaning that people can relate to. So we try to keep our lyrics pretty quirky and fun and relatable, but also try and spread a message through that.” She notes the “juxtaposition is really cool.”
Still in their teens, both Blakers and Borg have a lifetime of learning to do. The pair openly admit this as they speak of their latest single ‘Something About Being Sixteen’. “This song of all of our songs is the most nostalgic. We wrote it about feeling things that you feel when you are 16 and old enough to have figured out enough of the world so far to kind of know what’s going on, but not old enough to have experienced, like, a first heartbreak or… Just a lot of big monumental things like first career, big move or whatever,” Blakers explains.
The peppy cut soundtracks a slow-burning yet necessary breakup: “This is overdue, I’m getting over you,” they wail over and over. Borg thinks of it as an “emotional outlet” that’s helped her make sense of the situation. Here Teenage Joans contrast blunt lyrics with a pastel-tinged music video in a way that feels fresh but also borrows from some of their biggest musical influences: namely the aforementioned WAAX and Tired Lion’s Sophie Hopes (who mentored the pair after their Unearthed High win).
“I love Camp Cope; they’re one of my favourite bands,” Blakers excitedly adds. “They were one of the first bands that [made me realise] I could pursue music… just watching them play and hearing the message they speak through their music. I was like, that’s so cool! I don’t have to limit myself to just playing by myself.”
Similarities between the two bands are clear: both Camp Cope and Teenage Joans offer unapologetic and raw songwriting, crafting sing-along choruses that stay with you long after the music has stopped. No life experience is off the cards and nothing felt is too shameful to share.
“We just want people to know that we’re just trying to make a space for everyone,” Blakers concluded. “We just want to make everyone feel happy and have fun.”
‘Something About Being Sixteen’ is out now