Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
Within minutes of listening to any of the music that Philadelphia band The Teeth has produced, you're struck by the unadulterated fever that's going on all over it. You find yourself stricken by it, bending down a few feet away, as if trying to lure a strange puppy dog or feral cat to eat out of your palm. You want to be next to this fever, maybe breathe it in and feel it being swallowed hot down your throat like an herbal tea.
There's a screaming procession of carnivalesque lights flying from one ear to the next as if in that split second of pressing play, you've unknowingly given yourself over to a different power, one that controls light and sound and an entire textbook of feelings. There's exuberance and joyousness and piss and vinegar. There is an unconscious outpouring of affinity for all that's going on and you're momentarily speechless like you've just been dunked into an icy river or been hit from behind.
There are more than enough reasons to canonize this band for its illuminated thoughts about the fairer sex and the variables that draw us to them and they to us, but the most substantive reason is the way that they go about these dried up corpses of ideas, splash water on their faces and bring them back to life with all-new plots and observations. The girls of which they speak on their excellent new record album You're My Lover Now are ignoring our heroes in many instances and gallivanting with dudes completely wrong for them. There are many cases of the birds being blind as bats to the right guy for them.
Molly, the poor sucker protagonist in the new album's first song, is stuck in a relationship with a dickhead and she's warned not to let the "devil get away," but to make him pay severely for all of his sick, sick wrongdoing. She likely won't and that's what's so sad. There are veiled references to casual, animalistic sex sprinkled, sure, but The Teeth think less with their crotches and more with the higher order thinking skills that allow for strikingly passionate lyricism, harmonies that are better for you than the recommended number of daily servings of fruits and vegetables and music that sounds as if it was really sweated for.
Lead singer Peter MoDavis refers to himself and the band this way "Turtle, Monkey, Kitten and I" as if they're cast members on "Entourage," but they're really just the pseudonyms of his twin brother Aaron, pirate-bearded Brian Ashby and drummer Jonas Oesterle, who is known to give packs of cigarettes as gifts. Happily, these four men allow their corrupted or bankrupt dealings with women to seep into these iconic, barreling songs that sprout from the untidiness of spontaneous urgings and wantonness. They can't very well help themselves of these urges and what's secreting from their pores, one gets to thinking. It would be like trying to scoop a flash flood up into your arms for a hug or a scolding or to transport it away so that some basements won't get ruined.
The Teeth could be an alternative energy source should ethanol be a bust. They insist that one of the reasons for their mattering (our terminology, not theirs) is because, as Aaron MoDavis puts it, "What most bands overlook is songwriting and Dr. Dog and The Teeth both put that at the top of their list." And The Teeth's songwriting is inventive enough to create an entirely new subdivision of songs about love and the sorrier parts of life that get us down. It's not pandering or fluffy, treating the subject with floppy, brainless accounts of shitty circumstances that the girl put it in.
The MoDavis brothers write as insiders, but with an outsider's perspective and clarity. Too often, in dealing with relationship woes, the affected party - who also happens to intend upon writing about them -- is so immersed in its thickness that the realities of the situation are deferred or never completely viewed. Not only do the real issues, real attractions, real problems, real balkings and real dilemmas get the air time they deserve in the songs on You're My Lover Now, but they are infused with the delicious immediacy (which moonlights as intimacy here) deserving of them, but MoDavis' hoarse voice gives those bare-chested misgivings and rants a tone that keeps them un-buffed, yet undeniably thought about long and hard.
The Daytrotter interview:
*When was the last time you were at the dentist? What did they find?*
Aaron MoDavis: I haven't been to the dentist for about seven or eight years. The last time I went I think I was okay. My Teeth are very nice though someone recently told me they were all gonna fall out when I'm older because I eat candy and smoke.
Peter MoDavis: A long, long time ago. I had some cavities.
*Peter, what do you keep in your front-loaded fanny pack? Do fanny packs have a bad name?*
PM: I've been asked this question before, but the answer is always really boring: spare change, bottle caps, cigarette butts, basic pocket garbage, keys. I think that fanny packs get a bad name for being the "new accessory for this summer" (according to some fashion magazine that I read) but I can assure you I had been wearing that thing for a while. The real question should have been, "What's with those pants??? They're falling apart." Well, the zipper on those pants didn't shut at all and the button was broken. So they were wide open at all times, and I covered it up with the fanny pack so no one could see my underwear. It was completely obscene, but I got a new pair of pants. If you look closely at some of the pictures of me wearing the fanny pack you might be able to see my pants aren't shut.
*What's the last thing you ate that one of your bandmates had to tell you that you still had some of it caught in your beard?*
AM: I think Brian had a piece of bread caught in his beard once. Jonas had a bicycle messenger in his but that was before he joined the band.
PM: Probably iced cream. I don't really remember. I don't have a beard anymore.
*In what ways are The Teeth and Dr. Dog most similar? You're kind of like soul brothers, no?*
AM: The Teeth and Dr. Dog are similar because they value the same things in music. What most bands overlook is songwriting and Dr. Dog and The Teeth both put that at the top of their list. Also any band that actually uses harmonies these days is branded as being retro so we're both in that category (even though other bands don't do it usually because they're either too stupid or because it's not good for their image). Also, we kind of "got our chops" together to a certain extent. We played a lot in Philly together over the years and became friends and everything. We listen to a lot of the same music.
PM: I think that Aaron already talked a bit about the music so I try to talk about the people. I feel like we (Dr. Dog and The Teeth) have always been portrayed as being "best buddies." (Actually, Toby and Scott's previous band and The Teeth actually won a City Paper Award for being "best buddies"—ridiculous, but true). But all in all, I don't think we were "best buddies." Although we played a lot of shows together and we hung out at shows, I don't think we ever got the chance to talk to them that much or really know them. But lately, since we've been touring, I have to say that they are completely awesome. They are really funny, smart dudes and I think that we have a lot in common to talk about. I don't really know how to put it, We have a whole shitload of fun together. I really love hanging out with those guys, and when we are touring without them, someone always makes the comment, "I miss Dr. Dog."
*Brag about Philly a little bit. What have you got?*
AM: Philly's a pretty good place to live if you like the Phillies and stuff like that. For me, it's too humid in the summertime and there are too many goddamn trees obstructing the view of any handsome looking thunder clouds that come from that humidity. Besides that, I guess Philly is as good as any other city. I really don't see anything about it that makes it different than any other city its size. Now Kansas is the place to be. That's where it's really happening and I'm not being sarcastic by any means. We went there and I never wanted to leave. It's quiet and pretty and you can feel the weight of the atmosphere on your shoulders.
PM: I think lots of things about Philly but if you want me to brag, I will. Philly has the best music scene (I actually believe that all in all, right now, it does). West Philly has a lot of trees and families and vegans and anarchists. Center City has a lot of rich people and rich dogs. City Hall is the largest load bearing structure in the world. My basement apartment is sweet and chicks really dig the vibe they get when I tell them they can ash on the floor.
*Have you ever had your fortune read? How did it sound?*
AM: I got my fortune read at a little fair at my elementary school when I was about 9. It was pretty good. It was the same one that the kid before me got. I think we were gonna get trucks or something like that.
PM: Just in fortune cookies. It's usually something pretty sweet like, "You will be very prosperous in the future" or "You will meet someone soon who will make you very prosperous," something like that.
*What's the best gift you've received this year?*
AM: The best gift I got this year was a marionette from my girlfriend after she got back from Mexico. It's funny and little and I named him. I did a solo show once opening for some guy and took the marionette with me so I could be the straight guy and he would be the funny man. Kind of a ventriloquist act. The laughs came but I think sometimes they were forced especially during the bit where he wouldn't give me my chair back and I had to wrestle him a little bit.
PM: A pack of cigarettes from Jonas, but my birthday is in three weeks, so we'll see.
*The title of the new record, is that an announcement or a matter of fact?*
AM: The title is an announcement. We wanted to have one of those titles that doubled to claim the person looking at it and also use the cheap double meaning to get them to buy the album. "Try Me" is a good example of a record title that does that, by James Brown. Try this album. Buy me. Also just all the old R&B and jazz albums that always had those huge statements about love like "A Love Supreme" or "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You" by Aretha Franklin. That kind of feel.
*What do you consider the most bad ass thing about you?*
AM: I think the most bad ass thing about me was somehow over Memorial Day weekend I ended up at this shitty bar in See Isle and there was some shitty cover band playing stupid bullshit covers and I got so worked up over how crappy it was . I was gonna light a cigarette, but then a bouncer told me I couldn't smoke so I put the cigarette in my mouth and ate it right in front of him. Actually, I didn't swallow it because the chemicals and stuff made me feel like I was gonna throw it up but I did chew it for a while and then I spit it out in a secluded garbage can. That was my way of rebelling I guess. That was kind of bad ass for me.
PM: I do consider myself to be bad ass, but I think that I am also diluted about that cause I can't think anything too bad ass about me. Sometimes I talk on the phone while I'm on the toilet. And I punch people when I have nightmares.
*What are you reading right now?*
AM: I'm reading The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War Two. It pretty much goes through all the presidents and what they did and what movements and foreign policies were going on and the state of the country in general. I'm on Lyndon Johnson. So far he's doing pretty good in office, but there was some foreshadowing that things kind of go badly for him later on.
PM: What's The Matter With Kansas...It's kind of ironic considering Aaron's answer to the "Brag About Philly" question.
*Of Peter and Aaron, who got the better grades in school?*
AM: We got the exact same grades pretty much. Exact same SAT scores at least I think.
*What are subject matter ideas for songs that you will likely never explore?*
AM: Political stuff.
*What do you want to use this space right here to endorse? I personally love Vitamin Water and Tostitos with a Hint of Lime. There, I've broken the ice...*
AM: I'm a rootin' tootin' cowboy, ridin' hard and fast, gettin' to the candy store, while the JUJYFRUITS still last. Jujyfruits. Eat the flood.
PM: Tortex Pics. Peter MoDavis says: They are the greatest plectrums I have ever used in my entire life. You just can't get that pluck right without a Tortex. Also, I agree with Tostitos, it's my favorite chip.
*How would someone bribe you?*
AM: By giving me money.
PM: I'd do a whole lot for $5.