Teenage Joans Resist Sweetness on Bristling Pop-Punk Debut Taste of Me

Joan of Arc? Joan As Police Woman? Joan Jett? Any of these Joans, and all of them, have the unrepentant, independent spirit that sustains the indie-punk vibe of Teenage Joans. Adelaide duo Tahlia Borg, 18, and Cahli Blakers, 20, have been making ‘90s-style garage punk-pop under the moniker since 2018. Their sound recalls the pioneering musical style of The Pixies, with enough sass and bravura to conjure Kathleen Hanna and Bikini Kill. When this is suggested to them, they’re thrilled but honest.

“We’re influenced by Bikini Kill and The Pixies but they’re not core influences,” says Blakers. “One of our biggest shared influences is 5 Seconds of Summer [Australian pop band now named 5SOS]. We used to be a bit embarrassed, but now we own it. We grew up listening to them, and bringing guitars back to pop music is something we enjoy doing. Another one we share is [Melbourne band] Camp Cope – [they’re] girl bosses, we agree with everything they stand for, [and] we really look up to them. For me, I really love Yungblud’s individuality and style, The 1975, and Catfish and the Bottlemen.”

Since winning Triple J’s “Unearthed High” competition (a nation-wide hunt for the best high school act, which in previous years has championed Gretta Ray and Japanese Wallpaper) in 2020 with their track “Three Leaf Clover,” they’ve released singles “Ice Cream,” “Something About Being Sixteen,” and their latest, “Wine.” They’ve also performed at festivals (Yours and Owls, Summer Sounds and Mountain Goat Valley Crawl), as well as co-headlining shows with fellow Adelaide duo TOWNS and supporting The Chats.

Their debut 5-track EP Taste Of Me, released May 28, bristles with oodles of unbridled teen energy; it’s a riot. Along with their previously released singles, killer songs like “Therapist” and “Apple Pie” round out the tracklist, all sufficiently drizzled with fuzzy, grizzled guitar and sardonic humour. Like a sailor-mouthed Dr. Seuss, the duo are hilarious on top of being impressive musicians.

“Apple Pie” opens with the line “Give it up, you’ve got a bucket list that makes you scream fuck;” to paraphrase the lyrics, they can be sweet, but they’re not just dessert – and anyway, they “don’t wanna be the apple of your eye.” Blakers admits they don’t play that song much live. “It’s our weirdest song. It’s about someone wanting to be in a relationship with you, or be around you, romanticising the idea of you because they don’t see the less fun, less energetic side of you,” she explains. “It’s about navigating human connection when two people aren’t actually the right people for each other.”

Navigating human connection, especially in the midst of a global pandemic, are topics close to the bone for both Blakers and Borg. While Blakers finished school in 2018 and chose to work in a café while pursuing music (“the band took off a little bit”), Borg’s initial plans to focus on music and touring took a pummeling at the onset of the pandemic, so she opted to begin university studies last year.

“I said to myself that I was going to take a year off, just to see what happens with the band, but then when COVID began, I started Behavioural Science at university and I work in a music store,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, but I pace myself and I can do the course over a few years. When we’re on tour, I bring my laptop with me and do work on the plane. I’m balancing everything; it’s working so far.” 

Taste Of Me was recorded with audio engineer Jarred Nettle at House Of Sap recording studio in South Australia over two weeks. “We love Jared!” they both enthuse at once.

“We call him J-Nett,” says Blakers. “He’s the best. He took every idea we had on board – nothing was too stupid, too out of the box. At least if something didn’t work, we tried. He took our stories and took good care of them.”

Perhaps he recognised, as their many new fans do, that the duo were born to make music. Blakers’ initial foray into violin from the age of 5 lasted until 10, when her passion for rock music and her pleas with her father for a guitar were answered.

Borg’s story is similar. “I actually started ballet when I was 6 and thought it was so boring, so I quit ballet and started drums when I was 7,” she recalls. “I used to go and watch my cousin play with his band; he’s a drummer too. I wanted to be like my cousin, who’s really cool, and while I did give it up for a few years like kids tend to do, I picked it up again and I love it. It’s a fun instrument.”

Her major influence embraces – as does Borg – controlled chaos when it comes to drumming with a band. “My biggest influence, drum wise, is emo band Mom Jeans because they do stuff that’s out of the box. They use wacky time signatures, they don’t always follow the guitar riffs. They do, but they kind of don’t.”

For Australians who want to see Teenage Joans bring raw guitar pop punk to the stage, their national headline tour is intended to begin at the start of June. With Melbourne under a lockdown at the time of interview, there is speculation about whether all states will be open for performances. “If COVID stays chill, then the tour will be going ahead which is very exciting,” Blakers says.

She’s just turned 20, but still feels like she’s not “100% an adult just yet,” and hasn’t abandoned the spirit behind the tracks she and Borg wrote as teenagers. “I feel like there’s a lot of youth in just being a human,” she says. “There’s a lot of things that excite us as if we were children, so I feel I can still relate to [the songs].”

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