Interview: Scarlett McKahey of Teen Jesus and The Jean Teasers Talks Debut Album ‘I Love You’ and the Journey into Your 20s

Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers © Michelle Pitiris
Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers © Michelle Pitiris
Atwood Magazine catches up with Scarlett McKahey from Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers following the release of their debut album, ‘I Love You,’ which is full to the brim with wit, charm, and bright-eyed ferocity. The punk rockers making Australia proud are unapologetic and imbue robust honesty into their collection of songs, high-spirited odes to growing up and navigating young adulthood. 
“I Used To Be Fun” – Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers

Teen Jesus And the Jean Teasers are on a hot streak right now.

The Australian punk rockers released their debut album, I Love You, in October 2023 to widespread acclaim after completing their own headline tour in October and November across their home country. They’ve performed at several prominent Australian music festivals and, a little over a month ago, opened for the Foo Fighters in Melbourne. They are currently on tour across the United Kingdom in support of The Vaccines.

Throughout I Love You, the quartet of Anna Ryan (vocals), Scarlett McKahey (guitar/vocals), Jaida Stephenson (bass) and Neve van Boxsel (drums) confront the chaos of being in your 20s, and the whirlwind of navigating life in the public eye as professional musicians. They address adolescence with wit and mix smart writing into the wide spectrum of experiences that pervade their songs. Across the album’s 13 tracks, we encounter arrogant assholes, we suffer unforeseen deceits and the woes of long-distance relationships, we start owning our sexuality, we tend to our old wounds, and we thrive in spite of negativity.

I Love You - Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers
I Love You – Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers
It’s not my fault it’s just how I came to be
And now I’m old it’s all crashing down on me
I’m tired, expired with all that I’ve become
Can you leave the lights on?
How can you love me when you never get to see me?
You might know me now but I used to, I used to
I used to be fun
Until they took my car away
I used to be fun
Now all my friends live far away
I used to be fun, I used to be fun
I used to be
Up for almost anything, now everything’s too much
Got one foot out the door I guess this is growing up
No excuses or reasons for why I couldn’t come
Should I leave the lights on?
– “I Used To Be Fun,” Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers

Atwood Magazine had the opportunity to chat with guitarist Scarlett McKahey about Teen Jesus’ debut album; the band’s pace of life since it’s been out in the world; the joys of being uninhibited in your creative possess; collaboration and community; the band’s viral Billie Eilish cover; making your passion your job; and crafting your own individual sound.

“I think that the best thing about the album was that it really gave us the chance to explore more than just a single,” McKahey tells Atwood. “You can’t really release a slow, soft song as a rock band as a single when you’re new-ish, and then expect it to go well. Being able to do that was really cool because we’ve never had the opportunity before to show that side of us.”

Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers © Michelle Pitiris
Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers © Michelle Pitiris

Through incorporating several different but converging styles across I Love You and their 2022 debut EP Pretty Good For A Girl Band, Teen Jesus showcase their multifaceted talent and individualize themselves from many of their contemporaries. Whether it’s keeping album interludes alive (as on the frenzied firecracker “Cayenne Pepper”) or making a whole song out of a quirky word game (the surprisingly wistful “Toe Bone”), I Love You refreshingly stands out among the work of many young rock bands currently on the scene.

This sense of freedom wasn’t achieved without first mitigating the anxiety and doubts that permeate the mind of a creative person.

“I think I’m way too critical with my songwriting a lot of the time,” McKahey says. “I just keep on trying to fine-tune it until I hate it and it’s destroyed and I have to throw it all away. So trying to let go of that little voice [in my head] has been really good for me.”

But whether getting inspired by classic alt rock staples (“My favorite bands in the world are Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes. I’ve been obsessed with them since I was a kid, I just love them so much!”) or revitalized by the efforts of a new generation of musicians, McKahey finds bright spots in life and gleans even more from them. “I’ve been managing my little brother’s band, and being around that first tour energy, I had forgotten how good it feels. Watching it all happen through someone else’s experience was really awesome. And seeing the local scene [in Canberra] doing really well, that’s sick. That’s what it’s all about.”

Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers are unconcerned with outside perceptions, and are unapologetic about this.

They make the music that they want, and there are no ulterior motives or messages hidden within. Their debut is brash, fun, punchy, sincere, free-spirited. They relish the freedom, and often, magic, of getting to record and perform their own music, collaborate with great minds, and travel the world while doing so.

“Being able to actually have a music career has been a massive privilege. I think that the reason we’ve been able to get so many amazing people to work with us is that we’ve never taken it so seriously that it stops being fun.”

Check out our entire conversation below, and listen to Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers debut album, I Love You, out now via Domestic La La.

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:: stream/purchase I Love You here ::
:: connect with Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers here ::
Stream: ‘I Love You’ – Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers


I Love You - Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers

Atwood Magazine: Congratulations, first of all, on I Love You being out for three months!

Scarlett McKahey: Thank you! It’s been very strange having it out in the world.

Can you tell me a little bit about what life has been like since it came out?

Scarlett McKahey: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s funny because when we were recording it, and when we– you know, obviously you sit on it for a long time before you release it, and it’s funny because this is the first-ever piece of work, anything, that we just didn’t care if people liked it, which is really good because normally we’d put way too much weight in the opinions of everyone else. So having that approach has been really good. And then once it’s been out, the reception has been so good that it has just validated that feeling anyway. I think it’s made us all really trust our instincts musically. And yeah, I’m just really proud of us. It’s been a great reception.

I know, I feel like once you sort of let go of the expectations of stuff and, like, really not caring what people think, that’s when you have your best work come out.

Scarlett McKahey: Definitely, yeah. And it’s taken us years to get to that point. I think it’s been really hard to fully—you know, you can say that you don’t care what other people think, but you always do. But that was really nice. So it’s like, as long as we like it then I’m happy. And we love it, so I’m glad that other people do as well. [laughs]

Could you tell me a little bit about your personal approach to songwriting and if it’s different from your bandmates?

Scarlett McKahey: So my favorite thing about the album is that most of it was really collaborative. We did a bunch of weeks where the four of us would go to a beautiful Airbnb somewhere and write together for the week, and that was great because we’ve never really been able to write together before. We find it quite difficult, so that was really nice breaking through that, but I think that we all have the same approach. It’ll normally start with just a guitar and vocal melody, and then we’ll build it up from there. Then normally we’ll bring it to the band, and everyone will work out their parts. But for [I Love You] and since working on the album, we’ve been writing a lot more production-based. So we’ll be writing with GarageBand rather than just an acoustic guitar, which is really fun because it opens it up for a lot more riffs and different parts rather than just chords and singing. So that’s a fun exercise trying to change [our] approach. But we’ve all been going down that path, I think, trying to wrap our heads around the software a little bit more. Knowledge is power.

Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers © Michelle Pitiris
Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers © Michelle Pitiris

Oh, absolutely. Do you feel like the songs on I Love You are painting a bigger picture of Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers, and what does that picture look like?

Scarlett McKahey: I think that the best thing about the album was that it really gave us the chance to explore more than just a single. Because in the past, you know, we’ll do three singles and then the EP will come out and every song on the EP will have to be fast—maybe radio-friendly is the wrong word—but kind of ear-catching, fast, it draws you in. And then having a whole album to play with was really good because we could show a bit more of the softer side, which we all really love. You can’t really release a slow, soft song as a rock band as a single when you’re new-ish, and then expect it to go well. Being able to do that was really cool because we’ve never had the opportunity before to show that side of us. We all really love slower, sadder songs and we’ve got some heartbreakers in us, deep down below all the distortion. [laughs]

I also wanted to ask about when you collaborate with producers, and what does that process look like for you guys?

Scarlett McKahey: We love it! We’ve all been in the band together since we were 14 and because we grew up together, we all go about things in pretty much the same way. I know how my songwriting brain works, but I know how the rest of my band does, too. So writing with other people is like, when it works, it really really works. For example, with Oscar Dawson [from Holy Holy] who produced the album, we wrote one of the singles, “Lights Out,” with him and it was so fun. We went to his house and as soon as we started trying to come up with something it just worked so well, and I feel like we all learned so much from seeing how he does it. I’ve been trying to write songs lately with my friends who are in local bands, and I think everyone has something valuable to offer. Just in the way that they might go about things very slightly differently to you. And that’s really good for your brain to do that. We love doing collabs and writing sessions. And we’ve been lucky enough to have worked with some amazing producers, too, and everyone we’ve worked with has been so passionate and patient and encouraging. But Oscar absolutely killed it with the album, we love him so much.

Well, speaking of “Lights Out,” that’s actually one of my favorite songs of yours.

Scarlett McKahey: Oh, really? Thank you!

I love it. That, and “I Don’t Want It,” they’re two of my favorites on the album. They’re really fun, just super fun songs.

Scarlett McKahey: That’s so nice! I wrote “I Don’t Want It” years ago and I’m so glad that it made it on there. I wasn’t expecting it to make it onto the album. I just think it’s so fun though. I wrote it when I was crushing on someone so hard and being, like, wow! [laughs]. Yeah, I’m glad you like it. Thank you.

So I’ll flip it back to you. What are some of your favorites?

Scarlett McKahey: Ooh, well it feels wrong to say because I just said that I wrote it, but I do love “I Don’t Want It,” it suits us heaps and I’m really happy with everyone’s parts. They all did so well. And “Cayenne Pepper” is a favorite, as well. With that one, at one of the writing weeks, Neve [van Boxsel] and Jaida [Stephenson] went to the supermarket and Anna [Ryan] and I wanted to write a song for them for when they got home. And Anna had just made avocado toast and put way too much cayenne pepper on top [laughs], and they were just like “Cayenne pepper hot!” and it was so funny. I wasn’t expecting it to make it on there, but thank God [it did.]

And Neve’s song “Never Saw It Coming,” I actually can’t listen to it because I’ll cry every single time, so that’s probably the one I’ve listened to the least because it hurts too much. But it’s just so beautiful. I will never understand that kind of courage, she’s just amazing. So that one for sure. But I think they’ve all got a cute, unique little story behind them, and we worked so hard on all of them. There’s also “Backseat Driver” which was one of my high school music assignments. All of [the album] is, you know, some new and some old, and they all have a different little bit of us in it.

What has been challenging across recording and beginning to tour for this album?

Scarlett McKahey: Personally, I haven’t really been touring at all, which has been very frustrating. The FOMO is huge, but that’s okay. I think for the rest of the band, it’s definitely the busiest we’ve ever been in like 10 years. We’ve been touring for the past six, seven years pretty relentlessly, but this past run since the album came out, touring just looks very different. It’s up to that extra level where now you can’t come home in between, or you’ll be gone and won’t see your family or friends for months at a time. It’s really challenging, and that lining up with me not being able to do it has been really hard for everyone, but just having new songs to play, I don’t know it’s—in Australia, I don’t really know about the rest of the world, but in Australia the reception has been great and it really feels like we’ve been taken up a big step by it, so that’s been really cool, having new crowds and much more fans, which is crazy. Like, we have Instagram fan accounts now. It’s wild! Like One Direction.

Right? That’s when you know you’ve really made it.

Scarlett McKahey: There’s also realizing that our fun little hobby from school is really a full-time job now. Which has been, obviously amazing and that’s the dream, but personally I think it’s one of the most unsustainable lifestyles that there is. Touring is so hard, and so tiring and taxing on your body, which is why I can’t do it. It’s hectic. It’s obviously all worth it and really fun and exciting, but I feel like musicians never talk about how hard it actually is, how exhausting touring is, and how there’s like an hour of the best fun you’ve ever had when you’re playing, and the rest of it is just—[laughs] It’s so hard. And there’s those fun little moments where you see your friends and you tour with other bands that you love, but it’s just really difficult and I feel like that should be normalized a little bit.

I feel like there's a huge expectation, because of the nature of the profession, to always act like “This is awesome, touring is great!” and only show the positive side.

Scarlett McKahey: Exactly, yeah. Which is fine, and I do understand how complaining about traveling all the time and drinking for free sounds ridiculous, but I know what you mean. There is this expectation to be super grateful, and you can be, but it can still be really hard.

Especially with combining your passion into your job.

Scarlett McKahey: Completely. I’ve actually noticed that so much. This is kind of off topic, but I do tattoos for a living, apart from the band, which is so fun, but then last year when I had my big health stuff happen, and I couldn’t tattoo or be in the band, and recently since I haven’t been tattooing, I’ve realized I don’t hate doing art anymore. I wanna start doing it again, and it’s such a good catch-22 because if you’re doing something like music or art or even writing, when you make it your job it almost takes away the fun of it. And then it’s so hard to create without thinking about finances. I couldn’t write a song without thinking ‘Oh my God, is the radio gonna like this?’ or I couldn’t do a drawing without thinking I should sell it as flash designs, so having that gone is really good. And though I’m not touring now, I’ve written the first songs I’ve written since before the album, so I feel like separating [your passion and your job] sometimes is really important.

So going back I Love You, what are the big takeaways that you would want listeners to leave with?

Scarlett McKahey: Oh, God, I don’t know. It’s hard because there’s not really a deeper message, you know? I just want people to enjoy it and for it to be something fun, and maybe relatable and maybe not. There’s not so much something universal that I feel like people can take from it, it’s more that they’re just fun little ditties. And it’s nice being able to share that more vulnerable side with everybody, too. I feel like [I Love You] is a good example of not feeling like you have to be pigeonholed or anything. We’ve been releasing straight rock for years, and then having something that is not necessarily all that, it’s a nice little reminder to not box yourself in too much.

Yeah, I like that. How do you feel like you’ve changed and grown as a musician from the beginning of the band to now?

Scarlett McKahey: When we started the band, we were literal children. It’s funny because—you know, I don’t just want Teen Jesus to be a Nirvana cover band anymore, which is probably a good thing. But the reason it’s gone so well is because we’re still only doing it because it’s fun. Originally, I never wanted to be in a band, none of us ever wanted to be musicians particularly, we just thought it would be cool to try. And now, I can find my album in any record store. I feel so lucky to have had this path weirdly given to me. But we’ve all grown a lot. Jaida and I learned how to play bass and guitar at our first rehearsal. We’d never, ever played before. Even though now we’re professional musicians, I still feel like ‘Oh is that true?’ but it’s been a lot of hard work over a long time. This is the reason we’ve been able to work with so many amazing people, it’s that we’ve never taken it so seriously that it stops being fun. And it was always meant to be ‘I just wanna play Strokes covers after school with my best friends.’ Being able to actually have a music career and not lose that [sense of fun] has been a massive privilege. Apart from that, I can play “Sweet Home Alabama” now. So that’s how I’ve grown. [laughs]

Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers © Michelle Pitiris
Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers © Michelle Pitiris

Can you tell me about some of your influences and why or how they’ve influenced you?

Scarlett McKahey: Oh, absolutely. To give you a big one, we’ve got the first Arctic Monkeys album on the wall here [turns camera to a poster of Arctic Monkeys’ Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not]. My favorite bands in the world are Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes. I’ve been obsessed with them since I was a kid, I just love them so much! The Strokes’ first album came out the year I was born, which is crazy. And because I play guitar, I feel like all the guitar parts from those two bands are just amazing, so sick. And I’ve only ever learned Arctic Monkeys and Strokes songs on guitar because I just want to be able to play all of them, so they’ve always been a massive influence for us.

I love The Strokes’ Room On Fire, it’s one of my favorite albums of all time.

Scarlett McKahey: It’s so good, I have that on vinyl. My high school boyfriend bought that for me for my 16th birthday. Still got it.

Yeah, it’s a classic for sure.

Scarlett McKahey: It’s funny because we all had slightly different influences in the same genre. Like Neve, all of her drumming is really inspired by Bloc Party and Taylor Hawkins [of Foo Fighters]. We all started with the same kind of 2014-Tumblr-grunge thing. It’s honestly sick being inspired by people that you meet and watch play. We’ve got so many amazing friends who are so talented that we just take inspiration from everyone, and then it feels so much more special because you know them. But in an actual list of bands, definitely Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, that kind of early-2000s Britpop thing is amazing. And then the Riot Grrrl movement, like L7 and Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, they’re just unmatched. We constantly get asked about Riot Grrrl, which is annoying because we don’t sound like that at all really, but people just see non-males on stage and they’re like ‘Y’all know Kathleen Hanna?’ Like, yes! But there are so many f****** good bands, like Wolf Alice are amazing. And more local bands like Violent Soho and Tideline and WAAX, there’s just too many, I love everyone. Everyone’s the best!

What kinds of things, musical and non-musical, have been inspiring you lately?

Scarlett McKahey: I’ve been managing my little brother’s band [Sonic Reducer] which has been restoring my faith in humanity, seeing my brother succeeding so much. They’re amazing, they’re doing really well. And they did their first-ever tour a few days ago, so going to that, being around that first tour energy, I had forgotten how good it feels. Watching it all happen through someone else’s experience was really awesome. Apart from that, though—for some context, I think I’m way too critical with my songwriting a lot of the time, and I keep trying to fine-tune it until I hate it and it’s destroyed and I have to throw it all away. So I’ve been picking a band or an artist and trying to use their songs more like exercises: taking the tempo and the drums or something and saying ‘Okay, I’m gonna write that song, but not that song. What would they do?’ and then try and do that. That’s been super fun, trying to get out of my classic pop-girly chords combined with the really fast down-strumming. And because I live back in our hometown now, just going to local gigs again and seeing the local scene doing really well, that’s sick, that’s what it’s all about.

I Love You - Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers
I Love You – Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers

I really like what you’re saying about doing that exercise for writing, because I feel like something all writers and creative people struggle with is being too self-critical. Having that writer’s block can be so hard.

Scarlett McKahey: Definitely. I’ve been really trying to push myself to be okay with it sounding bad. And then it never does because you’re not stressing about it, even if it’s cringe. So trying to let go of that little voice has been really good for me.

Do you remember a moment at the very, very beginning where it sort of clicked for all of you guys? Like, ‘Wow, the band really works, this is something that could really take off’?

Scarlett McKahey: I really can’t think of one, because like I was saying before, we were just so happy every time we’d get a show. And I don’t think there was ever a point that we were like ‘Oh, now it’s real’ because the whole time we’ve just had that excited buzz. But definitely when we got offered the Foo Fighters show, that was insane, I remember our managers called us and said ‘Guess who’s opening for the Foo Fighters?’ and we said ‘Who? No, actually, who is it? What do you mean? That’s ridiculous!’ And maybe low expectations is the wrong word, but we’ve been purposely just having fun with it. Definitely as we’ve gone on, if I see someone out in our shirt or something, even still I’m like ‘Oh my God, wow, this is actually a thing.’ With little moments like that, it kind of sets in but never fully, which I like. I guess for us really—and this may be easy for me to say because I’m not the one about to do a seven-week tour in Europe right now—it still does feel like it did at the beginning, it’s just really fun being able to record and write with your friends.

I wanted to ask about the triple j “Like A Version” cover that you guys did recently – “Happier Than Ever” by Billie Eilish – and how you decided on doing that song?

Scarlett McKahey: We decided on the song because, you know, Billie’s the queen and we all love that song. And I remember listening to Billie’s album Happier Than Ever and when it got to that song, I really, really loved it. But when the end started, I was like ‘Holy s***, this is so good’ and I wished that the whole song was as big as that. So I thought that would be cool if we did it and made the whole song as big as the end bit. But then Neve, the genius drummer that she is, was listening to “All I Wanted” by Paramore in the car one day, and she thought ‘Holy s*** is that the same chords?’ and then made this demo mashup of the two. It’s funny because they don’t normally like doing mashups [on Like A Version] but they made an exception for the Hayley-Billie crossover. I’m so happy with it, it was such a fun day. We had the best time. We weren’t that rehearsed going into it, but doing Like A Version has been our dream since we were 10, like since I discovered what it was, I wanted to do it. So to actually be there was surreal. And I feel like those two artists, we kind of sound like a blend of them, so I was super pleased.

I was super surprised to hear your cover. I’m a huge Paramore fan, absolutely huge.

Scarlett McKahey: Thank you! It’s funny because Anna was hyping themselves up for that big note [in “All I Wanted”] towards the end, and they would go to do it and get really nervous, and we told them ‘If there’s anyone who can do this, apart from Miss Williams, it’s you!’ And then they went on and killed it.

Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers © Michelle Pitiris
Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers © Michelle Pitiris

My jaw dropped; I was like ‘Oh my god!’ I thought it was just super clever to blend those two songs. One of the last questions I wanted to ask is what are you most looking forward to this year?

Scarlett McKahey: Oh, I’m really excited for all my pookies to come back from [touring] Europe! I miss them, and I’m really keen to start writing again. I want to write the next album, I want to have like 100,000 demos to pick from. So I’m really thinking about that. Normally, I’d spend most of the year touring and then the rest of the year recovering from touring, so now that I’m taking that away, it’s been a great feeling to have the time to write again and to put heaps of energy into it. I’m just so keen to do more little writing weeks with everyone, it’s been really sad not being able to see the rest of the band all the time now that I’m not on tour. So that’s gonna be great! Apart from that, I’m keen to go to the farmer’s market more and hang out with my greyhound. I wish I had some more deeper responses. [laughs]

No, that’s wonderful! It sounds perfect to me.

Scarlett McKahey: Okay, good, I’m glad!

Well, I want to thank you so much for sitting down with me today.

Scarlett McKahey: Oh, well, thank you so much! It was really nice to meet you, and I’m sure I’ll talk to you again someday.

I hope so, too!


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:: connect with Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers here ::

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