By HANNAH STEELE- “‘Cause I’m just a teenage dirtbag, baby. Yeah, I’m just a teenage dirtbag, baby. Listen to Iron Maiden, baby, with me.” For most kids growing up in the 2000s, the classic-alternative lyrics of “Teenage Dirtbag” defined a part of their youth. Almost two decades later, the memorable song is still prevalent to teens alike, and the band responsible for the track continue to create gritty alt-rock music for all.
New York-rooted singer and guitarist Brendan B. Brown formed Wheatus in 1995, alongside his brother, former drummer Peter Brown. The band released the hit single “Teenage Dirtbag” in July of 2000 on Columbia Records. It received critical reception in several countries, and has sold over five million copies worldwide.
Although Brown is the only founding person left in the band, Wheatus has been reborn with new members who are able to keep the original charm alive. These include bassist Matthew Milligan, keyboardist Brandon Ticer, drummer Leo Freire, and backing vocalists Joey Slater, Gabrielle Sterbenz, and Karlie Bruce.
On September 8th, Wheatus travelled from a performance in Philadelphia to play at the Appalachian Folk Festival in Indiana, PA. After the concert, the High Arrow sat down with the band to ask some questions.
How do you like Indiana so far, and have you performed here before?
Mathew: “We haven’t performed here before, but it’s been great. We were in Philadelphia last night and we drove here this morning, so we arrived really late, saw you guys in the green room, and grabbed a bite before we performed.”
Brendan: “We got here and started working, so we didn’t see anything right off the bat, but we will be hanging around for a bit.”
What band influenced the formation of Wheatus?
Brendan: “AC/DC and Rush. AC/DC was just the coolest, he was wearing a school uniform and was a snot-nosed brat playing the guitar, and I could relate to that. Rush influenced me because they could do anything, they were like wizards. They have the worst, but best video clips ever.”
What is your favorite song to perform?
Brendan: “Probably ‘Valentine,’ the title track off of our sixth album. It kind of feels like a cool meditation moment in the set.”
What highschool did you go to, and what classes were you involved in?
Matthew: “I went to a public high school called West Islip in Long Island, New York. I was an absolute nerd, I took all of the most advanced classes and was a total overachiever. I truly devastated a lot of people when I decided to play music and not go to a good school to study science or something. I went to NYU to study music very briefly, and I quit because Brendan offered me the job at Wheatus.”
Brandon: “Fun fact, he left school the same time as….”
Matthew: “I’ve never said this in an interview before. I shared some classes with Lady Gaga, and we dropped out at the same time. Do not think that I know her, but we did have a couple of classes together. She asked me to play bass for her, a long time ago, in a show in New York, and I turned it down. God knows what I was doing, but it was not nearly important enough that I turned her down. The one thing that we bonded over was the fact that everyone was a jazz or classical background, and we both related to rock more. Then she asked me to play bass for her in her show, and I turned it down. At that time she was just some person, and then I never talked to her again. I don’t want to know how stupid the thing was that I was doing.”
Brendan: “I went to a Boy’s Catholic school called Chaminade. It was like an hour away from my house, so when I was thirteen I started commuting on the Long Island Railroad towards New York City to go to high school, and back the same day. It was like I had a job. It was horrible, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I took the same classes as Matthew, but not by choice. It was a college prep school where you could get college credits in high school. I didn’t know why I was going there, it didn’t make any sense to me. I just wanted to play guitar.”
Brandon: “I was the opposite of Matthew. I went to Christian Brother’s All Boy Catholic School in Memphis, Tennessee, and I transferred out of all of the good classes so I could be with my friends. It was awesome, I loved school. I went to college for nine years for music, business, Italian, technology… All Bachelor’s, no Master’s. I didn’t do anything in school because I just wanted to just play and have fun. I didn’t do any extracurriculars except the sound board at my local theatre.”
Joey: “I’m from England, so I went to an all-girls high school where we had to wear fancy blazers and ties. It didn’t look like Harry Potter, but when I describe my school that’s what people imagine. It was alright, I was one of the people where all of my school reports said, ‘Joanne could achieve great things if she just applied herself.’ I was a solid ‘B’ student and didn’t go to college.”
Karlie: “I grew up in Sydney, Australia, and I went to Woolooware high school. It was co-ed, I was the opposite of Brandon. I did all the extracurricular activities. I tried to skip all the assemblies to do my extracurriculars. I liked the school, it was at the beach and had a good environment.”
Leo: “I grew up in Brazil, but I moved to New York City with my parents for work. I went to a public school in Manhattan, Eleanor Roosevelt High School. I was part of their second graduating class. It was a great time to be there. I was a big fan of school. I was similar to Matthew in that I took all the classes that I could. Later on, I decided to continue my education by going to college and graduate school, and I got my Master’s degree in music education and my Bachelor’s degree in economics.”
What is the story and meaning behind your hit, “Teenage Dirtbag”?
Brendan: “First of all, I say it is everyone’s story to make their own. Everyone is always going to have their own life and this song will apply to it in a way that is special and unique. When I was a kid in 1984, I was ten years old walking around with my tape case with Iron Maiden and AC/DC, riding on my skateboard or BMX bike. There were a lot of tough, dangerous kids in town. The short story is that they committed a satanic murder in the woods near my house. It’s the cover story of the November 22nd, 1984 issue of the Rolling Stone. The guy that did the killing was arrested with an AC/DC shirt on, and I had this tape case filled with AC/DC, so all the parents were saying, ‘You’re a dirtbag, Satan kid.’ So identity-wise, and for heavy metal, it was a weird time to be listening to that type of music. That event shaped a lot of things in my life, I had to go to a new school that I hated…There were a lot of drugs in that town, too. So personally, when I say ‘dirtbag’ in that song, it’s the summer of 1984, which was a dangerous, violent, scary time. But, it is a hopeful song with a happy ending, so it’s for each to make their own.”
Was Noel a real person?
Brendan: “Noel was a classmate in my brother’s grade. Neither one of us knew her very well, but the name was interesting to me, so I used it. My brother was the original drummer and played drums for ‘Teenage Dirtbag’.”
How do you feel about bands like Five Seconds of Summer and One Direction covering “Teenage Dirtbag?
Brendan: “Love it! It’s awesome. I’ve had different people say different things about that. I wound up hanging with Louis and Liam [One Direction members], and had a nice conversation with them. They were just kids in England when the song came out, and they had the moment of, ‘This is what I want to do’, when they heard it. They played it in earnest because they genuinely liked the song, it was from the heart. What it is is a musical friendship, and that is important. Also, they showed our song to millions of people.”
Matthew: “It was really rare, they gave us a real gift. They didn’t even realize it, they just wanted to play our song, but they gave us a massive, new generation of people who had no reason to know the song, but do. It is so awesome to see kids still enjoying it and having the song resonate with them.”
Brendan: “We are happy with it, we love it. Five Seconds of Summer did a cover on their YouTube account. I sat next to Calum one time and thanked him for it. He didn’t think the cover was great, but I assured him that it was awesome.”
What advice would you give to young, aspiring musicians?
Brendan: “That’s a really hard question because everyone’s path in a creative world is going to be different. What worked for me might not work for somebody else. I would say try to be very honest when you write something and find your voice. Don’t do something that you feel you shouldn’t do, but again that might not work for you.”
Leo: “If you believe in something, don’t be afraid to go for it and try it. Even if it doesn’t work out at first, keep trying because if you truly persevere, and are that passionate about a cause, it will eventually happen.”
Matthew: “Always feel like you can and must push yourself harder to do better. Never feel complacent, always be striving to get better at what you do. It helps a lot.”
Brendan: “Be adaptable, be like a rubber band and ready to snap back whenever something happens.”
Joey: “I think that it is really important that if women, young women in particular, want to do anything creative, don’t let anyone tell you different, like, ‘Oh, rock music isn’t really very feminine,’ don’t listen to them. This is a really male-dominated industry, these boys are really nice, however, there are a ton of men in rock music who aren’t very nice, and we need less of them. If you want something, go for it.”
[Photos by Kevin Stiffler]
(Cover photo) Guitarist and lead singer Brendan B. Brown laughs as he shreds on his guitar, while keyboardist Brandon Ticer focuses on the song.
(Second photo) Backing vocalist Joey Slater passionately asserts her opinion on the importance of females in music.
(Third photo) Wheatus frontman Brendan B. Brown smiles and listens to a fellow bandmate answer a question about their high school experience.
(Fourth photo) Brendan Brown, Brandon Ticer, and Joey Slater focus in on the interview question.
Hannah is a junior co-editor and has been on the High Arrow staff for three years. In regard to journalism, she enjoys writing the truth and delivering credible news.