Imperial Teen’s Roddy Bottum feels the sound

by Bill Biss

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday February 6, 2012

The dynamics of a band with the combination of two women and two men can lead to powerful and long-lasting musical results. Just listen to The Mamas and The Papas, The B-52s or Fleetwood Mac. This is also definitely the case for Imperial Teen.

Formed in 1996, the foursome Lynn Truell, Jone Stebbins, Will Schwartz and Roddy Bottum have generated a consistent following of fans and glowing press. Spin Magazine elected their very first album, "Seasick," as the fourth best album of 1996. With their 2007 release called "The Hair the TV the Baby and the Band," the group landed in the top 40 of best records of that year from Rolling Stone magazine.

With the release of "Feel the Sound" on January 31, their unique combination still feels like an innovative and delightfully enjoyable pop groove of material. Band member Roddy Bottum spoke with EDGE about the new sounds, being openly gay since 1993, and what he's proud of (and sad about) as a member of the LGBT community.

Why ’Feel the Sound’?

EDGE: I wanted to begin with the title chosen "Feel the Sound" for your new album. What is the significance of that title for the four of you?

Roddy Bottum: I think the four of us collectively felt cozy with the title and it kind of sums up, where we were coming from in making the record. We're not at the point in the career of Imperial Teen where we're doing it for any other reason than because it feels good. In a quick snapshot title way, that sums up where we're at with the process. We feel the sound and that's why we do what we do. We're not really working a career here or after making a lot of money or anything. We do it because we love it.

EDGE: The cover art is fun with the used $2 sticker and the retro cover. It's almost like the couple bought this retro painting used or something.

Roddy Bottum: Cool. I like that too. The notion of affordable art is really interesting. Getting something used or secondhand or buying something on the street... something that's affordable to everybody. That works sort of for us.

Things too easy?

EDGE: The third song on "Feel the Sound" is "Last to Know." There are very interesting lyrics on that. What meaning do they have for you?

Roddy Bottum: They were personal for me. I got married and divorced between the last record and this record. It sums up that time for me.

EDGE: It's been almost twenty years since you came out as an openly gay musical artist. What makes you proud of our LGBT community as a whole and what still gets you riled up?

Roddy Bottum: I'm really proud of us when we come together and work towards a common goal. This year, I did the AIDS Lifecycle Ride. It felt really, really good to be surrounded by people who are like me who are after a common and community-driven goal. I love when people get off the internet and work together to make the world a better place.

When I was a kid, it was a difficult growth pattern to grow up as a gay kid and figure it all out. I had to do it in a real tactile way. I had to physically go and research things. So, it makes me a little disgruntled now how easy it is these days to do what they do. I'm really sad that you can't cruise bushes in parks anymore... it's all done on the internet. That sort of saddens me. (Laughter) You know what I mean? How old are you, Bill?

EDGE: 50.

Roddy Bottum: Yeah, that is an era that is gone. Going out and meeting people in person first. That is somewhat gone and it saddens me.

A ’60s vibe

EDGE: A more personal connection had more adventure to it. Now, it's online, meet you in five. Bye Bye.

Roddy Bottum: Right. The smell, the taste... the actual tactile thrill is missing now and that's a little bit crazy to me.

EDGE: Who sings the lead vocals on the track, "All the Same?"

Roddy Bottum: Will [Schwartz] does.

EDGE: His voice and the harmonies from the four of you are really pretty on that. It reminded me of that late 1960s vibe.

Roddy Bottum: Thanks. We're fortunate that we have two girls and two guys. It's what we do and what we've always done. I love the way guys and girls voices sound together. We're lucky to have that in our mix. Thank you... that's nice of you.

EDGE: How would you describe the overall vibe of "Feel the Sound" emotionally?

Roddy Bottum: The tone is a real personal thing. It's where we are together. Right now, it's a pretty good place. It's a struggle to get the four of us together, because our geographics are so separate and apart, but to come together to do what we do is really a rewarding and uplifting place to be. We just do it because we love it. To have that as a goal and see that goal fulfilled is a really empowering place to be. In that way, it's really up. It can only be up... we're certainly not tortured.

EDGE: I have a personal favorite song off this album: "It's You." I love the sentiment of the lyrics. It makes me smile. It's almost like a track off of Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk" album in the structure of the song. What is the back story of this song and how it came together?

Roddy Bottum: I love it that you're comparing it to "Tusk." That's so amazing. I love "Tusk." I really do... I've loved that record since I was a kid. When we were writing songs and compiling ideas, that one was an idea that Lynn [Truell] was fooling around with at her house. Lynn lives in Denver with her three kids and she's really overwhelmed as a mother. I mean, she's really happy but she was overwhelmed by the geographic separateness of the four of us in the band... as we all were.
I think "It's You" is about the four of us coming together and that's coupled with the notion of who she has become as a wife and mother and a strong woman. I think most of our songs are about the four of us and how we deal with each other.

EDGE: You also have written a few film scores and you enjoyed film soundtracks growing up. What are some of your favorites?

Roddy Bottum: A lot of Bernard Herrmann really speaks to me. That's my favorite sort of stuff as far as scores go. I listened to "The Graduate" the other day... that's a fun score just to jump into because I love Simon and Garfunkel.

New soundtracks?

EDGE: I enjoy a lot of 1960s soundtracks. They can just take you back to that coolness in composing.

Roddy Bottum: I like that too. Do you like Henry Mancini?

EDGE: Definitely.

Roddy Bottum: I listened to "Hatari" recently. I love his score for that.

EDGE: Do you have any new soundtrack work that you are doing right now?

Roddy Bottum: Yes, I got involved in this kid's show that is done by Nickelodeon. It started out as this kid on YouTube whose name is Fred. He was really popular with the kids a couple of years ago and Nickelodeon scooped him up and made this movie called "Fred: The Movie." It's kind of like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" - that sort of vibe - and I scored it and then I did a second show for Halloween. Now, I'm working on the score for "Fred: The Show." Writing music for kids is a really nice place to be.

Imperial Teen's new CD "Feel the Sound" is available now online and in stores. For a limited time, a full stream of the album is available at Merge Records.

For more information on the group, visit
visit their website.