Future Teens’ latest EP, ‘Deliberately Alive,’ is full of, as guitarist/vocalist Amy Hoffman says, “mental health bangers,” each song helping us feel a little less alone after a long year.
Stream: “Guest Room” – Future Teens
During 2020, Boston, MA emo rockers, Future Teens, found themselves in the same boat as many other bands and artists, with cancelled tours and unforeseen time spent apart. However, the four piece continued safely working on what turned out to be a special collection of songs: an EP entitled Deliberately Alive, a conduit for feeling a little less alone after a long year.
Comprised of lead vocalists Daniel Radin and Amy Hoffman, bassist Maya Mortman, and drummer Colby Blauvelt, Future Teens have been making music and having fun together since 2017. Known for their infectiously catchy breakup songs, especially on 2019’s Breakup Season, the four-piece leaned into adeptly capturing their own feelings on new EP Deliberately Alive, out March 12, 2021 via Take This To Heart Records – and all five songs seem to be made for cathartically singing along to in a packed venue.
From beginning to end, Deliberately Alive is full of nuanced self-introspection, acknowledging life’s difficulties while also celebrating all the reasons we have to enjoy being alive. Recently, Atwood Magazine had the pleasure of talking to the band about the ins and outs of “Deliberately Alive,” their whirlwind recording session in a New Hampshire barn, contributing to cover compilations, their favorite venues, and more. Read about it in our conversation below!
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Stream: ‘Deliberately Alive’ – Future Teens
A CONVERSATION WITH FUTURE TEENS
Atwood Magazine: After 2019’s Breakup Season, Deliberately Alive feels like a new era, one that reflects 2020 quite well, I think. When did this collection of songs start coming together?
AMY HOFFMAN: We had seeds for all of these songs before the pandemic set in, but I think the way we finished writing and arranging them, and how we had to record them, is definitely colored by the necessity to be apart from each other. And all of the tolls the pandemic has taken on us as people.
For sure, I was going to ask about that as well. Deliberately Alive is the third Future Teens record – were there any big differences in making this EP as opposed to the last two albums?
MAYA MORTMAN: I think the spirit of wanting to collaborate is still there. That’s a really important part of our process; we can’t rehearse every week, and we don’t have hours sitting in the van to talk out ideas like we used to do, so what we did [with “Deliberately Alive”] was Amy and Dan usually started the seeds for the songs and would meet every week and work on new songs, and then they’ll send those ideas to the group text.
Normally we would all get together and then work out the arrangements and play the song over and over and bounce ideas back and forth, but we went and stayed in a barn in New Hampshire in August and we spent an eight hour day just working out the arrangements together and that felt really collaborative, hyperspeed condensing our normal process.
One aspect of Future Teens records that stands out to me is the trade-off of lead vocals; it makes for distinct songs within a cohesive album. How do you go about dividing up who sings lead, and does that influence the way you structure the order of songs?
DANIEL RADIN: Basically with some exceptions, if Amy has started the idea then they’ll sing lead, and if I started the idea then I’ll sing lead. Again there are exceptions to that, and sometimes, like I remember when we were working on “What’s My Sign Again?” from our first record I felt like there [could be] another voice here, like the other person that I was singing about, so maybe Amy can represent that voice so it’s more of a duet. And we definitely leaned in heavily to that on the cover on this EP, [Cher’s “Believe,”] where it’s a straight up musical duet *laughs* and sort of tried to make it sound like two different people singing about the same thing. But it definitely affects how we think about the sequence of the album or even the live set. We try to mix it up so you don’t know exactly what’s going to come next.
I really enjoyed the cover; I’m going to ask about that later! But the line from lead single, “Guest Room,” “If I’m going to be somebody deliberately alive, how do I do it right?,” feels like the crux of the EP. What sparked the theme or idea behind the record? And how’d you land on the title?
AMY HOFFMAN: I think that Deliberately Alive became the title because it has kind of been the overarching theme of this one, whether we intended it or not. I think [the EP] came together under that phrase in a fun way, which I think is something really special about the way we collaborate. Once we get going in a direction, the four of us tend to be pretty much on the same page creatively and really bounce off of each other well.
That phrase comes from something that I was thinking about in terms of mostly my mental health; to be deliberately alive is to choose to be here, even when being here is a harder choice to make than the alternative. And writing that song was largely about my struggle with that and my personal battle to choose to be here, and the ways that more often than not, other people are my reason to stay. The people I love are my reason to stay because I don’t always think very highly of myself. And wanting to convey, “if I have to do this, I’m gonna try my best, even though I hate it most of the time.”
Yeah, it's definitely a choice. I love the word deliberate and its meaning, and I think about that a lot when writing. So from the get go, I loved the title of the EP. I was also really struck by the opening track, “Separated Anxiety.” It feels like a relatable stream of inner dialogue, or a cathartic diary entry. Tell me a little about how that song came to life.
DANIEL RADIN: In terms of the lyrics, I started writing them when we were on tour while we were staying at our friend August’s studio where there was a ton of room to spread out. I think I do pretty okay in terms of sitting with a feeling and sort of parsing it out and dissecting it to see where it’s coming from, but once in a while I just sort of succumb to self pity. And that song definitely came out of a moment where I had the literal thought, “I can’t tell if I hate myself right now or if I’m just really tired and on tour.” There’s a fine line between the two, and I was feeling and thinking that. And it sounds cheesy but I was like, I just need to play a guitar. There’s all these guitars everywhere and I have a room to myself, and you don’t get that opportunity on tour very often to just work on a song, which sounds crazy, but it’s true. So I just had this room and I started writing it. And I think Colby walked by and was like, “What are you doing, what are you working on?”
COLBY BLAUVELT: I was going to say that I woke up at like 2am to go to the bathroom and Daniel is just sitting in this room saying, “I have to work on this song!” I remember you (Daniel) were going through some sort of turmoil and couldn’t go to sleep until you wrote it. I’ll always remember that *laughs.*
DANIEL RADIN: Yeah, I would say I try not to dwell on my feelings and write from that place as much anymore, because it can be very taxing emotionally. A lot of times when Amy and I are working on lyrics, there’s a little more distance to it, or we’re helping each other figure out what we’re feeling, which is therapeutic in its own way, but less of just being marinated in the feeling.
Totally. Like I said before, I think “Believe” by Cher is truly one of the greatest songs of all time, and I really enjoyed your version. What made you decide to include this song on the EP?
AMY HOFFMAN: We had these eight hours together [in New Hampshire], and that was the only time we had. So we were looking back at songs we all know and love, things that would be fun for us [to play.] We realized we did this Kidz Bop set for Halloween a few years ago, with this eight or nine song set of all songs from Kidz Bop, and “Believe” was one of them. And for that Halloween set, it was like a party rock song, like “Believe,” but in the style of “All the Small Things.” We’d pretty much just copy and pasted Cher into a Blink 182 song, and thought about how we could do this a little more thoughtfully, and give “Believe” more of an actual Future Teens storytelling spin.
MAYA MORTMAN: Something I really like about that cover is, something that happens a lot when Future Teens covers a song is that we invert the mood of the song. We make something happy, sad or maybe you didn’t realize the song was sad, but actually it is, and now you can tell. So I like that [our version of “Believe”] plays with the mood of the original one.
I really liked that too! Are there any other songs on your bucket list to cover and record?
AMY HOFFMAN: *laughs* Oh I have a bucket list of songs that I’m constantly [hoping for.] And sometimes I’m like, “come on, you know it’d be good.” But I’m met with, “Oh yeah…sometime.” *laughs*
DANIEL RADIN: We get asked to be on a lot of cover compilations, and so often the covers we do are like, “Hey, do you want to be in this comp? It’s Tony Hawk themed.” And we’re like, “cool, we’ll pick a song from this.” That’s a real one we were on, which is really cool. We have like 12 covers on our Bandcamp out of the 13 or 14 we’ve done now. But there have only been two opportunities we’ve had [to record covers on our own projects,] because we’re always learning other covers for compilations, so it’s hard to pick when you have the chance to put it on an actual record and it’s got to be really good. Sometimes we play around even more on the ones that are on a compilation; I think I started that Tony Hawk one with a quote from Star Trek from Dr. Spock!
That’s cool to have a ton of creative freedom on those! I’m curious about the album art for Deliberately Alive – is there a meaning behind the vintage-looking vacuum?
AMY HOFFMAN: We really wanted to like touch on what that phrase (Deliberately Alive) means. And [part of it is] the really small things that we do to feel like we’re not a waste. I thought about the first verse of “Guest Room,” like needing to keep the promise to my roommates to vacuum the house. And ultimately the vacuum was our manager’s idea. He came back to us and was like, “I found this thing on Craigslist, what do you think? Do you like it?” And we all did.
With 2020 lacking in live shows, what has the last year in Boston looked like for you guys as a band?
COLBY BLAUVELT: Some of the most famous, smaller mid level clubs that have been in the city forever have closed. And it was weird because we started 2020 on such a high note as a band. So when I think of 2020 I still remember we played the Boston Music Awards [in December 2019], and we played the House of Blues. There was really cool stuff happening, so I think of the beginning of that of last year as a really good year. And now it’s just seems like a different lifetime. I haven’t even been in a music venue in a year, and in a city like Boston where you could literally pick any weekend and there would be an amazing show every weekend to go to, it’s surreal.
Totally. On that note, where’s the first place you hope to play once it’s safe again, and what other bands/artists would you want to share the bill with?
DANIEL RADIN: As much as playing bigger venues last year was really incredible and exhausting because there’s so much stage to run around on and I got really tired and I was really out of shape *laughs.* …I know people are saying they can’t imagine being in a packed room with people again, but I can definitely imagine it and I really want to do that. One reason I like being in the scene that we’re in is the crowd and our fans give back so much energy and make it so much fun to play a show and when you’re playing in a small, packed room to people who are singing along to your music and bopping around. It’s just the best when it feels like you’re just one energy unit. So I’m definitely looking forward to that. I’ll play with anyone! I just want to play a show.
I was really bummed the tour we had booked with Spanish Love Songs got cancelled, because I’ve only gotten to see that band once and I really liked their last record. They’re really sweet people and I was looking forward to that. That sort of energy is just non-existent in my life at this point, and that’s something I wasn’t expecting to miss as much as I do. This is the longest I’ve gone without playing a show in my life, since I was 16 or so.
MAYA MORTMAN: To piggyback off of that, like, I feel like rock music is one of the only places it’s appropriate for adults to throw temper tantrums in public. When you’re a kid, you can throw tantrums, but now we need the stage to do that, and there’s just nothing that replaces that feeling. And I feel similarly to Dan, I didn’t realize how much there’s really nothing else that’s like playing a live show. Whenever I picture the first show that we play after the pandemic– I’ll be thankful for anything because I miss it so much– but what I usually picture is a packed, hometown Boston show with lots of people we know, just having a blast with everyone together.
AMY HOFFMAN: I like to daydream about having Great Scott back. Even though there have been so many devastating closings, I think Great Scott is the one that hurt me the most. I absolutely cried when I thought about not having that venue that has been like this band’s personal Madison Square Garden for so long, and getting so close to playing it with our friends, Proper and Pronoun, the weekend everything really set in. I think about that show a lot when I think about what would be the best thing that could possibly happen today.
Man, now I’m thinking about all the venues I miss! I can’t wait for the day we get to go to shows again.
AMY HOFFMAN: We’re all going to be really anxious and really sweaty and really happy.
DANIEL RADIN: I’m going to play terribly, I’m sure of it *laughs.*
Lastly, once it’s released, what do you hope listeners might feel or experience when they hear Deliberately Alive as a whole?
DANIEL RADIN: I’ll say just briefly, I think when we were arranging the songs and figuring out how we wanted this to sound and how it should feel, we definitely tried to push ourselves from the past two records. To sort of push things in a direction that was maybe a little more experimental for us, and a little less safe.
And also, I think a challenge for Amy and I was to not sing about breakups, because we did that a lot on the last record, and that was definitely a challenge for me. It’s like, okay, that’s not all I feel. There are other things I think about and feel, and there are other things other people think about and feel, so we tried to broaden our lyrical content [as well.] When we were writing Breakup Season, it wasn’t like, “let’s write about breakups!” We just happened to be going through these two different major breakups in each of our lives, so it just kind of happened.
AMY HOFFMAN: To be fair, we do still sing a little about breakups *laughs.* A different perspective on the memory of Breakup Season, I think we did a lot of forced perspective and introspection on Breakup Season, but “Deliberately Alive” is less focused on the breakups themselves and more focused on our own thought processes and behaviors. I would call it an EP of mental health bangers! I think this has been such a painful, lonely, year and working on these songs made me feel a little bit less alone in my anguish, so I’m hopeful that people will hear them and be able to rock out a little bit but also feel seen and a little less alone too.
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