Jeff van Helvoort of Teenage Kicks considers being in a rock band a selfish endeavour.
“Sometimes I think I could be doing something to help or better the world,” said the 26-year-old bassist, who performs with Teenage Kicks in a long lineup of bands Friday, Nov. 28, at The Vat in Red Deer.
For one thing, the environmentally conscious van Helvoort questions driving 10 hours between cities to sometimes play for as few as 15 people.
He also questions why he and his bandmate brother Peter van Helvoort, 29, didn’t just give up on music after an American producer they hired last year made their group a technically substandard album that later had to be rerecorded.
It was crushing experience that ultimately led half the band — the drummer and lead guitarist — to quit in frustration and disappointment.
But it also eventually led to the release last spring of Teenage Kicks’ first full-length album, The Spoils of Youth on Rezolute Music, a small label that also represents Adam Cohen and Wake Owl.
And the new album of songs about hope and desperation helped van Helvoort and his guitarist/vocalist brother rediscover the reason they do what they do: they love creating music that originates from a true place.
Jeff van Helvoort said he and Peter aim to make something real. “It’s our heart and soul that’s on that record. And it’s music that doesn’t exist a lot out there.”
The Spoils of Youth is made up of mostly melodic rock tunes instead of riff-based ones, and van Helvoort believes this separates Teenage Kicks from most of today’s rock bands. “It’s a kind of style that doesn’t really exist right now — and that’s made it difficult for us” to get radio play, he said.
It might also have something to do with the swear words on the most catchy, melodic song on the album, S–t Eater.
Van Helvoort laughingly admits Peter, the group’s main songwriter, didn’t think of the tune’s radio potential when he wrote it. “It’s a song about a bad experience and certain people in the music industry,” he said, referring to the technically lacking American producer who took their money and left them with a less than professional record.
“It’s about our frustration. We never thought of it as a single. … The song is what it is. Peter’s not changing the lyrics. We’re not that kind of band.”
Teenage Kicks only appears briefly in an on-TV cameo spot in the video for S–t Eater, which focuses on nihilistic adolescents hanging out, lighting firecrackers, and generally doing the dumb things certain teenagers do.
It’s not autobiographical, said van Helvoort, who noted “we leave (the song’s) interpretation up to the people who make the videos.”
The Toronto-based van Helvoort brothers grew up with a dad who sang in cover bands. He introduced them to the music of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Who and the Band. They later melded these older rock styles with their own appreciation of Nirvana, Oasis and Pearl Jam.
The resulting Spoils of Youth album represents “songs of hope, desire, love, and hate” that are infused with a certain desperate edginess. Van Helvoort said the goal was to capture the spark of a live performance while staying true to the feelings behind the songs.
The band, named for a Jack Kerouac reference and a hit song by The Overtones, started in 2010. Following the departure of two band members last year, it’s now reduced to just the two brothers and hired musicians that will round out this tour of western North America.
Van Helvoort hopes to come across the right mix of talents and personalities to bring new band members onboard soon. In the meantime, there’s more driving to do and cities to conquer before and after the group reaches Red Deer.
“We’ll be playing in Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle … I’ve always wanted to do a U.S. road trip, and I guess that’s what this is.”
The concert at The Vat also features The Ataris, Hot Panda, the local band The Deer Kills and others. It starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 from 53rd Street Music, The Soundhouse or the venue.