It’s witching season in Salem. As the city is flooded with tourist looking for ghost tours, haunted houses, and the everlasting charm of one of America’s creepiest cities, the city’s regular residents remember how lucky they are to live their on-and-off peak season. Well, everybody except for SUPERTEEN. As of a month ago, they moved out of Salem and into Boston proper—a first in the indie rock band’s career.
SUPERTEEN is the best Salem band you’ve probably never heard of. The five-piece indie rock band—comprised of bassist Patrick Dunning, drummer and percussionist Chris Faria, guitarist Jackson Martel, vocalist Sam Robinson, and vocalist Meryl Schultz—verges on post-punk because of how tonally aggressive its songs can get, but the melodies beneath them are too strong to let the genre swerve down that path entirely. Instead, SUPERTEEN churn out a gruff, snarky, guitar-laden sound that’s addicting as hell. If you couldn’t tell, we’re mildly obsessed.
The band’s origin story is as cute as it is modest. Everyone in the band first met one another in seventh grade while attending the same middle school in Salem. They did what most 13-year-olds into music would do: They got together after school to jam in one another’s basements. Eventually, those jam sessions turned into a few half-hearted punk bands and a couple stints performing at local VFW posts. While their music back then was supposedly “really, really bad,” it served as the foundation for what would later become SUPERTEEN, namely the impulse to get the day’s stresses, week’s struggles, and year’s emotions off their chest while surrounded by some of their closest friends.
“It feels like we’ve been friends literally forever,” says Martel. “Nobody could play guitar back then. Patrick sort of knew how to play guitar, but he wasn’t really good. But we kept playing until eventually we started getting better.”
It wasn’t until the five went off to colleges like Vassar College and Suffolk University that the impulse to form a serious band finally occurred. In the early weeks of 2013 while back home over winter break, they began writing new material. Everything began piling up until they realized they should try to create a more serious project. The name SUPERTEEN bounced around and, finally, was chosen, as were a handful of songs that would go on to be on their first official releases, Moon Music EP and Exponential SUPERTEEN.
Fast forward five years and the band is sitting on a massively underrated album, Over Everything. Like a mishmash of catchy ’90s alt-rock, the dirty mania of local bands like Pile and Lady Bones, and general basement rock that feels too good to be stuck in basements, SUPERTEEN and their newest album sound urgent as hell. Each guitar line is crisp while playing into warped tones. Robinson and Schultz’s shouts intertwine and then quickly play into call-and-response form. Songs like “Sodium Pill” and “The Chain Waltz” feel like Parquet Courts at their fastest speed. “Leaks” burns slowly with a drugged out-like vibe. Album closer “First Time Living,” which made it onto our Song of the Summer list this year, slowly tumbles into a serious manic breakdown, the kind of guitar-forward number whose bark is just as bad (read: incredible) as its bite. Over Everything is a serious tour-de-force of an album, and it’s been flying under the radar of nearly every publication since it dropped earlier this February.
“We were trying to return to form with Over Everything because, out of all our records, Isn’t A Person is the one that strayed from what we usually do,” says Martel. “We wanted to get back to the music we wanted to be making the most because the band is an important part for our emotional well-being. A big goal was that this band and this album would help make life more liveable. People were going through tough times more so with this record than other ones. I think that comes through. It’s darker than our other material. There’s a malaise on it that didn’t get onto the other records. So we evoked some feelings on it that we felt we had to get out, and the fact that we could do so while making a good record feels great.”
In fairness, this time was both harder and easier than previous releases. SUPERTEEN’s last three albums—2013’s Exponential SUPERTEEN, 2015’s Stay Creepy, 2016’s Isn’t A Person—came like clockwork. All three were written while the members were in college, where they practiced regularly over the course of summer and then dropped the album before heading back to school in the fall. But then, suddenly, people’s lives got more complicated, the band practiced less, and things began to slow down. While their lives post-college got convoluted, the members of SUPERTEEN were busy inhaling music around them, taking influences from the dark psych of Creative Adult, the guitar work of Built to Spill, the structurally defiant framework of mewithoutYou, and the passion of Self Defense Family. The process of writing music became more arduous because of the surmounting stress, and that comes through in the album’s density. What draws the corners of the album’s lips upwards, though, is the handiwork of Cory Best, who engineered, recorded, and mixed everything.
“We’ve never had the money to give ourselves time in the studio, so we try to cram as much in as possible in those few hours we’re in a studio,” says Martel. “When it was all said and done, though, recording with our good friend and Berklee guy Corey was the right call. He did everything, and he’s brilliant. We’re blind bats when it comes to recording. I don’t know what condenser mic is. I know nothing. So he swooped in and made it sound awesome.”
There are handfuls of details that make Over Everything such an engaging listen. For one, they decided to record instruments in a variety of different basement venues in Boston, hopping from place to place to record bass in one and vocals in another. Best gave them guitar technique ideas that they could try out, brought in new pedals for them to play with, and gave them a 12-string instrument that brought a twangy, almost sitar-sounding feeling to songs like “DBT (Shocked)” and “Would You Like A Second Fortune?” But perhaps Best’s greatest technical suggestion was putting the microphone outside of a basement to record a distant guitar tone inside. When they tried it out, the microphone picked up the sound of a train passing nearby while simultaneously catching the guitar part Martel played inside the basement—an instance of unofficial studio magic.
What all of this technical goodness means for you, loyal DigBoston readers, is that you have some great music to listen to. Not just on record, but live. SUPERTEEN’s long-awaited move to the Boston area means the band will be added to bills more often now, increasing the chances to hear them and the new songs from Over Everything onstage. So if you’re looking for some serious October goosebumps or want to get a thrill from Salem, stick around in the city and keep your eyes peeled for SUPERTEEN’s impending live sets in Boston. They’re certainly glad to be here.
“Instead of walking down the street in Salem and seeing some kid from your algebra class, you can get lost in the flow of the city in Boston,” says Martel. “There was a small local scene for a couple years back when we were getting started, but honestly Salem doesn’t have DIY venues or basement venues right now. There’s only really two places for a band like us to play. So moving to Boston seemed like the smart choice for opportunities, and I know that will pay off soon enough.”
OVER EVERYTHING IS OUT NOW VIA SAD CACTUS RECORDS.