I spent my formative years in records stores that took pride in shelving their stock and organizing records into any number of subgenres. I took that practice as gospel and have been mentally filing away albums ever since. Of course, most bands don’t always slot so easily, but it’s often simple enough to make an argument as to why a band might belong in New Wave instead of Power Pop or ’80s. Nashville’s Teddy and The Rough Riders is a band that frustrates attempts at classification, a reminder that the best music doesn’t concern itself with record bin dividers.
The Teddies might call themselves a country rock band, but their releases– a self-titled EP (2017), the “I Found Somethin’/ “Neon Cowboy” 7” (2019), and their debut full-length, The Congress of Teddy and The Rough Riders (2019)– sound like you’ve loaded up your favorite dive’s jukebox with a day’s pay in quarters. Each record plays like a retrospective of singles-going-steady perfection, songs that sound like they’ve been your go-to’s since you started keeping score. The band cites Dave Edmunds and The Flying Burrito Brothers as influences, and one can hear Stiff Records in “Hurricane Teddy”, their de facto theme song, and the cosmic in “Bunny’s Swirl.” But there is much more here, like the garage muscle of “Vampire” and “Bite Me”, whose languid melody recalls the best songs of late Athens legends, The Glands.
The Teddies latest release, Teddy and The Rough Riders, arrives July 1st via Appalachia Record Co. Produced by Margo Price, the album represents the band’s first time in a real recording studio. Lead singles “Living in the Woods” and “Hey Richard”, a nod to rock n’ roll hellfire Little Richard, foretell a record best suited for summer porch sitting and your preferred cold drink.
In “Just a Song”, the band sings, “Music makes me feel like a child.” That line– an encapsulation of what keeps us giving ourselves to music– is all we need to know about The Teddies.
In anticipation of the band’s must-see show with the also vital Pink Stones at Grant’s Lounge on Friday, June 10th, I spoke with Teddies frontman Ryan Jennings about their new record, Nashville’s Grimey’s record store, and an entry point for Grateful Dead fandom.
CF- What catches my ear is how you guys defy genres. Is that a conscious decision or simply the natural order of things, inevitable when you guys get together?
RJ- I think the goal is we wanted to make weird country rock, which as a genre is pretty open to interpretation, same as Americana is of a whole bunch of stuff. I think whatever we touch turns out in a bunch of different influences, but definitely aiming at country rock, which is the broadest genre, you could say.
I have to ask: Are you guys big record collectors?
Yeah, big time! That’s how we got into music in Nashville. Growing up, we would go to Grimey’s and other local record stores, and they would hook us up with weird ’60s rock. Yeah, we take pride in our record collection.
Grimey’s is a rad place. It’s a destination spot whenever I visit Nashville.
Me and Jack [Quiggins] grew up together in Nashville and nearby Grimey’s, so we were able to walk there and have to hang around there too much and stuff.
You say you’re country rock, but I think your songs transcend that label. Were you ever concerned that being too hard to pin down style-wise would work against your favor? The industry likes boxes…
Yeah, it’s been a little tough. I think our goal is to be able to fit into both. The indie rock scene is pretty opposed to a country scene. People go to one or the other, but the goal is to fit both, which I think the Orville Peck crowd is the best of both worlds– people that are interested in country music but have only really been to rock shows.
Was country rock your background when you were growing up?
I was in a psych rock band. We loved late ’60s psych rock, like British bands and the Grateful Dead.
What precipitated that turn towards country rock?
It was leaving town and going to college and then listening to more county. A buddy of ours started a local country band called the Ice Cold Pickers and played at Santa’s Pub– a triple-wide trailer– at a country night. It inspired us because we were all into country music, but the decision to make it and record it was a conscious move we had to do.
Obviously, Nashville has a lot going on with its music scene. How do you distinguish yourself from the other acts so that you’re not lost in the shuffle? Is there a scene you fit into?
With Teddy, we’re friends with people who are owners of DIY venues, like DRKMTTR. We’ve played with metal bands, played on big homegrown festivals with rap, metal, and everything. We can fit into anything. The best compliment we get is, “I didn’t think I liked country!” (Laughs)
What’s been your favorite description that someone’s laid on you when trying to explain your sound?
We like the Velvet Underground as much as George Jones. There’s usually a little bit of that. Or me and Jack love the Louvin Brothers, so we try to sing close harmonies, so that kind of comparison is about authenticity. I like weird Velvet Underground stuff, The Dead, and New Riders of the Purple Sage.
What’s a good starting point for someone who is looking to get into The Dead? They’re a pretty polarizing band, so I am curious where you’d send folks.
I always say American Beauty or Workingman’s Dead. Those are records that span genres. That’s some good country rock, well-written songs. It’s not like hippie freakouts (laughs)! It’s a weird country hippie mix, like the Willie Nelson ’70s hippie music. But, you know, I never try to force The Dead onto people. A lot of diehard country fans are opposed to The Dead. If you say you like Jerry Garcia steel playing, they’ll get pissy, because they’re mega-pro hardcore country dudes. I never try to force The Dead. It’s an acquired taste. You know, some people like The Allman Brothers and not The Dead.
How is your upcoming record different than The Congress of Teddy and the Rough Riders? Your new record is billed as your first studio record. How was making the record different than what you’ve done in the past?
The Congress, we recorded that one at home, and we recorded the EP in my bedroom. I have a 16-track tape machine that we used to record in my bedroom. We did it ourselves. To be able to get in the studio and have Margo [Price], with real producer vibes, and have it be a real studio record has kind of been the next step for getting out of our bedroom. We also have some good engineer friends that help us.
Did you bring any albums to Margo as reference points for certain sounds or vibes you wanted to emulate?
We talked about The Band a lot. We were listening to Cahoots and other weird Band. We didn’t really talk about specific records, maybe the first couple of Little Feat records we jammed out. Maybe some like Little Richard because there’s a song about Little Richard on there.
What did Margo bring to the table?
She was 7 or 8 months pregnant, so she had a motherly vibe. She wasn’t smoking or drinking. She was definitely in mother mode for it, very sage advice. She definitely wasn’t partying or anything. She would put headphones on her belly. It was cool. And she did a bunch of singing and a lot of singing coaching too, helping us get good takes.
Was that new to you, thinking about getting the best vocal takes and performances?
Yeah, for sure. When we were doing it in my bedroom, we kind of just stacked the tracks. Actually, Margo brought in Neil Young, and we listened to a lot him because that’s some one-take stuff. I think we were trying for that, getting some really good live takes, as live as it could be. She was really good at keeping it fresh and not working it down or spending too much time on one detail.
You’ve been sitting on this record since 2019. What’s that experience been like for y’all?
We were looking forward to it. We had this tour in 2020– we were on the road when everything shut down. We were two days away from Luck Reunion, Willie Nelson’s Festival. We were going to play that, so we were hoping 2020 was going to be our Golden Year. We were pitching the record to a bunch of people and got good opening gigs, the biggest show we’d ever played. We were on top of the world when everything shut down. I knew it was a good record, and it would come out, but it was just like hard to find the correct support for us. It’s just been tough convincing someone to be a full label, but we’ve got some good new friends in Nashville.
How did you maintain momentum during the downtime?
We’re all good friends. We write all the time. I’m constantly writing. We have a bunch of fun ideas, like concept album ideas, so that’s usually what we keep most fresh, just some general writing or directions that we have, weird funny album titles that we can work through. Over quarantine, we even recorded a third record and did two at once with another member of our band.
Are those going to see the light of day, or were they projects to keep you busy?
For sure. We’re going to try to get him out quicker than the others.
Do you find yourself growing confident with each release like, “I’ve got this,” or do you still have that same awe you had when you were first writing and recording?
I think I’m becoming more and more confident and mature. Even the one we just recorded is twice as good, and I’m stoked to keep it going and keep the momentum. At the start of 2020, I was on top of the world like, “This is the best shit that we’ve done.” Now, we’re feeling pretty good. We will see about the hype (laughs)!
When will you be able to say that you’ve made it as a band?
That’s tough because one of our big goals was to play The Ryman, and we got to do that a couple of weeks ago. It was such a big deal. My whole family from East Tennessee came here. But I think it would be surviving, to be able to make money and release continually. I want quantity and quality. I think “making it” would be a solid publishing deal or where I could confidently send someone I trust infinite music and have it be released.