Knoxville’s had a lot of emblematic bands over the last 30 years or so, from the Amazing Rhythm Aces and Balboa to Smokin’ Dave and the Premo Dopes, the V-Roys, and Superdrag, all the way up to Royal Bangs. But no group has put a mark on this city’s music scene quite like the one left by Teenage Love. (They ranked 10th in our poll of the best Knoxville bands of all-time a year ago.) Some people, including a few of the players who’ve cycled in and out of the long-running hardcore punk band during its intermittent run, might even call it a stain.
It’s certainly been impossible to wipe away Teenage Love’s impact since they drifted apart in 1991. It’s been just as hard to get rid of the band itself, which reformed in 2004 after a lengthy hiatus for what was supposed to be a one-off reunion show and has kept up a periodic performing and recording schedule ever since. (They’ve changed the name to Teenage Love13 for this latest version.) It’s notable that frontman Rus Harper, renowned for his onstage debauchery during the band’s initial run, was cited for indecent exposure during that reunion show on Market Square.
In its first incarnation, Teenage Love seemed to be perfectly willing to live fast and die young. So the band’s upcoming celebration of its 25th anniversary at Pilot Light this weekend is a milestone in more ways than one.
“I know this is a cliche, but when Teenage Love first started I didn’t expect to live very long, let alone be playing 25 years later,” bassist (and Metro Pulse contributor) John Sewell writes in an e-mail. “We’ve had all the stock problems of any Behind the Music episode, minus the success element. We would’ve gladly sold out, but no one was ever buying. Playing these songs as middle-aged men is certainly antithetical to the mission of the band (aargh) ‘back in the day.’ So here we are, old and ugly, trying to foist off a few new songs nobody wants to hear among the golden oldies. I think when a band gets back together they’d better be able to play their crummy songs more competently than before, which we’re definitely doing. That said, we’re not under the delusion that we’re recreating the fury of when we were young and insane.”
Maybe not, but they captured plenty of fury on No Excuses, the venomous and old-school album they released early last year that includes “Redneck,” a piss-and-vinegar anthem that stands among Teenage Love’s best. They’ve recently exchanged drummer Jay Martin for Rodney Cash (guitarist Jeff Cregger rounds out the lineup). Sewell, who’s currently in graduate school in Atlanta, says they plan to keep going as their grown-up schedules allow.
“We have a lot of fun doing this, and I expect we’ll continue to play occasional shows and record now and then,” he says. “Rus Harper is the most lovely and talented musician in the history of Knoxville rock. I’m the Keith to Rus’ Mick, the only difference being that Rus is much cuter than Mick Jagger ever was.”