In Conversation: Teenage Halloween’s Luk Henderiks Talks New Jersey, Twin Peaks, and Their Band’s Excellent Debut Album

Good Lord do I miss going to shows. I miss waiting in line to get into the venue so you can wait in line for the bathroom before waiting in line to get a beer. I miss the $16 Tecates and the $30 Gildan t-shirts and the free ear plugs. I really miss it all. have a poster from a gig that Rozwell Kid played at Brooklyn Bazaar last summer sitting on the wall outside of my bedroom and often think back to that night as I am drifting off to sleep. I went into the show without any familiarity of either opening acts: Thick and Teenage Halloween. Thick are an excellent NYC based all-female punk band who kicked major ass that night. We were so impressed with their performance that my friends were looking to see if they could get tickets to Thick’s next show as Teenage Halloween was getting ready to perform. Teenage Halloween took the stage as unassumingly as six people could. Each bandmate plugged in their equipment and quietly nodded support and encouragement to everyone else in the band. They seemed a little nervous but were immediately charming, even in their silence their comradery was more than apparent. In that moment Teenage Halloween felt like if Hannah-Barbera was tasked with putting together a modern reboot of the E Street Band, they seemed like a fun group of characters as much as they did bandmates. Lead singer Luk Henderiks introduced the band cheerfully saying, “Hey! We’re Teenage Halloween! We’re from New Jersey and we’re gonna play some songs for you,” before counting down from three and exploding into their set. They melded 90s melodic punk with a number of different styles, thanks in great part to their keyboard and saxophone, all with a strong anti-establishment streak and they felt like the group I didn’t know I had been looking for my whole life. Immediately after the show ended I meandered to the merch table and bought a Teenage Halloween t shirt with Hagrid on the front and bugged Luk for his email so I could stay in the loop on whatever they had in store next.  

What Teenage Halloween had in store next was a killer self-titled debut LP. On this new album, which the band dropped last Friday, the collection of friends continues to sing about difficult topics as joyfully as they can. This album contains multitudes of genres and subject matters, though all tracks have a punk undercurrent in both respects. These are radically political songs with a ton of heart that you can both dance and scream to. Teenage Halloween is majority queer and they sing about and for people struggling to come to terms with who they are in the face of a world that is constantly asking you to conform to what it wants you to be. These are tracks that are meant to be shouted at the top of your lungs with a hundred people who feel the same pain you do, as you all feel a little better about the world thanks to one another’s company. I talked with lead singer Luk Henderkis last week about the history of the band, how excellent the New Jersey music scene is right now, and their excellent new album.

GSC: What is your name and how do you identify?

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: My name is Luk Henderiks and I identify with they/them pronouns or any other pronouns but preferably they/them.

GSC: Can you talk about how Teenage Halloween came together? Eternal Roast was 2017 were you guys working together before that?

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: Teenage Halloween came together in 2014 as a solo project when I was 16 years old after I left my first band ever. I was really confused on how to do music so I decided to just play acoustic at first cuz I was really into bands like Against Me, The Kinks, and Elliot Smith. I decided it’s just time to be a solo artist. Then I started meeting some friends at shows. I met my friend Alex at a Masked Intruders show and he joined the band. The drummer of my old band played with us too and so did [Brandon] Hakim who is still in the band on saxophone. We started writing songs with sax in it and it was a four-piece band for like two years. We would add people and keep playing and would have auxiliary people who’d jump on, like our friend Joe would jump on trumpet and stuff. Then we recorded our first EP, it was weird but it worked. We put that out in 2015 and then after that we toured a bunch had a ton of different line-up changes. Eventually we had a set group for a while and went on our first proper punk tour with David Bellow our friend who sings in The World is a Beautiful Place. Then we recorded Eternal Roast in the West in New Brunswick and put that out in 2017. The last three years we’ve been playing a little less frequently than we used to but still a lot, and we’ve been writing this new record. Some songs were being written during Eternal Roast after Eli [Frank] joined the band in 2016. Me, Eli, and Hakim have always been the songwriting core of the band. We’ve been writing these songs for a while cuz I had mega writers block. I moved back home after living in Philly and New Brunswick for a little bit and I really didn’t feel like I had a lot to sing about because I was having a pretty boring time. We toured May of 2019 and grinded four new songs before that tour and we felt like it was time to record because the songs fit really well together. So we went to record with our friend Evan who runs Big Momma’s Studio in Philly, and working with Evan was incredible. I liked Evan’s patience in my previous work with him and Eli knew him too so it was a great mix. Ever since we’ve been getting ready for this record.

GSC: You guys have such an incredible stage presence. Can you talk about the team dynamic with Teenage Halloween and the six of you on stage together?

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: We’re all just best friends. The current version of the band is me, Eli, Hakim… we’re like the longest running people. Then Peter [Gargano] is our drummer and he has literally changed the band with how sick he plays, this record would not be the same without him. Tricia [Marshall] plays bass and sings backing and is gonna start singing lead on some songs on the next record. And Jane [Lai] plays keyboard and does a lot of the help writing the melodies. We got this version of the band like two years ago and it’s been the best ever. We’re all literally best friends so it’s the easiest dynamic we’re all just having a blast up there, it’s great.

GSC: It seems like you’re having a blast up there, its joyous, it’s so cool.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: We’re trying to make writing really fucking sad music as tolerable as possible so we try to enjoy ourselves. We’ve talked a lot about how friendship is a big key to our art and the way that it works because we really want our strong political undertones and our emotional lyrics to be given to you in a palatable way. We like to take complex and rough subjects and make them things we can communally celebrate in our grief. I want it to be a positive community experience, where we can all share what we’re feeling.

GSC: You touched on this a little bit but how have you and the group changed since Eternal Roast?

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: I think the biggest change is the songwriting has become a ton more collaborative than it was, it’s been more of a democratic effort. We’ll talk about what makes sense and what doesn’t rather than like just me showing the band songs. That’s made this record way better, the fact that all of us had our say. Other members have written songs and its more of a group thing, we get together and write songs together.

GSC: I love “Sweat”. It’s like you love someone so much that you want the world to catch up with how incredible they are.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: Yea, I wanted to write a weird love song, a little different than a standard love song. Just something really valuing a person and looking at how the world doesn’t show the level of respect that person deserves. I don’t think this world we’re in respects anyone and when you really love someone you want them to be in good hands.

GSC: It was such an interesting way of looking at it. Like you see the purity in this person and the impurity in the world.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: I think that was definitely the goal. We’re hoping that song inspires, with our friends and stuff, we hope it inspires more nontraditional love songs. I think for the next record we’re doing I’ve written one love song so far and I think we’re gonna have one or two. It’s a really good means of expression because it opens up a person to be so vulnerable. I had never written like that, like in terms of love and about love and it’s such a good topic to touch on in these times.

GSC: In some ways it’s all we have.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: It is! I think the most important thing about it is if we’re willing to state our love for one another we become willing to love ourselves more.

GSC: Yes! I love that. You give love and receive it back.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: “Sweat” feels really good, it’s one of my favorites that we’ve written. Hopefully it gets the point across that we’re not just singing about anarchist things we’re singing about… I mean emotional freedom is anarchist in its own sense but I feel like I want to be singing more about things that are true to ourselves. I feel like this record gets at a lot of what’s inside us right now.

GSC: I loved “Holes”, it’s got such energy that it caught me off guard.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: Oh I am glad you liked it because the record we’re working on next is a lot more “Holes” like. I am really into the Marked Men right now and that band has influenced a ton of this next record. The Marked Men and Lawrence Arms inspired that song.

GSC: Was it inspired by the Shia LaBuff movie at all?
TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: No, we’ve made jokes about it. I wrote that song right before we went into the studio. It was the second to last one we wrote, and it was simple and it felt really good to have a simple song. The lyrics are inspired by Daniel Johnson’s style of stating things how they are, you don’t need a lot of metaphors. It’s about digging yourself into a hole of shit internalizing all your problems and then digging yourself out of it.

GSC: You have some of the best merch, and not just the Care Bears shirt. Talk about the hot sauce and the soap you’ve made.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: Our friend Tank he makes soap with his partner Amy in New Jersey right where I live in Asbury Park with their company Big Spoon Little Spoon Naturals. We’re just friends with them and were like “Oh we should do a weird merch item”. The hot sauce isn’t a Teenage Halloween thing, it’s more of my thing. I have always worked with peppers and stuff so I’ve always wanted to do it and just started Complete Goner. I have a bunch of bottles in my fridge that are blueberry maple habanero. And that is my own thing, but the soap we love that. We only have thirty but it’s been cool.

GSC: I remember Tank did an episode of the E Word podcast and he was running around and threw the phone to you and that was the first time I heard of his soap company.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: Oh yea wait that was the one where I was like “The fucks up” or something.

GSC: Yea I think you shouted into the mic and he took the phone back or something.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: Yea I think I was really really trashed. (both laugh) We were at practice and I think he forgot he had the pod or something and did it during the practice so naturally I was screaming at him.

GSC: He seems like a fun dude, he must be a fun guy to be in a band with.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: He and I are really similar, we’re both emotional as fuck. So the two of us together is great definitely. We just finished recording our first EP as Magic Ghrelin, we want to put that out soon but we’re still figuring out what the fuck we want to do with that record. But that’s done and we’re recording our second record now.

GSC: Jersey always has a good music scene but right now especially there are so many good bands coming out of New Jersey, every band I hear I end up liking. So who are some contemporaries of yours that are pushing you to make better music in the Garden State?

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: I would say Still Hungry from Asbury Park, Little Hag from Asbury Park, Skylar Pocket from North Jersey, Steve from New Brunswick, also Penny Sweet from New Brunswick, Squat from Asbury, Stag Party from Asbury.

GSC: Asbury is bussin right now Good Lord.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: Yea its awesome. There’s been so much good music coming out and I am really excited about it. I also really like Ogbert the Nerd.

GSC: I went to high school with John Cozz and one of members of Ogbert did the artwork for his new coffee company!

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: Yea John’ Cozz’s coffee is fantastic I got that in the pantry.

GSC: I am a tea guy I gotta get on my Cozz Coffee game.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: Get the Rwandan blend with the orange and the tobacco flavoring Its fuckin awesome.

GSC: Growing up who were you inspired by to want to make music?

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: For DIY I saw Forever Losing Sleep a lot when I was young. I saw the Waffle Stompers a whole lot. They were a ska band, I was really into ska growing up.

GSC: I feel like ska is coming back a little bit right now.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: I don’t know but I liked it a lot. I saw Alyssa Kai play a couple times, I saw a lot of weird music. I was really influenced by classic rock when I was young and then moved into like Elliot Smith and Built to Spill and things like that.

GSC: You went from classic rock to umm…

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: Newer classic rock. (both laugh)

GSC: You have been critical of the DIY scene for good reasons, especially people not having the right perspective on it. What are some changes you’d like to see in DIY when shows eventually return?

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: The only thing I would say is to welcome new people to shows. Be mindful that someone is probably anxious if it’s one of their first shows. Also I hope that people are grateful of new bands and people that they’ve never seen popping up, that they won’t be outside smoking a cigarette for their sets.

GSC: Very true if I was smoking a cig outside that Rozwell Kid show we wouldn’t be talking right now! To close what have you been watching, reading, gaming during quarantine? What has been keeping your mind at ease?

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: I have been really into Keith Haring’s art. Really into Basquiat’s art. I am really into Mort Trucker who does Mad Magazine’s art. I’ve been reading In Cold Blood for a while. It’s a tough ass book but it’s really good. I’ve watched a whole lot of movies. Inmar Bergman, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Lynch. I just saw the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and loved that movie. I’ve been watching a ton of film. I’ve completely gained film culture over quarantine, I had never watched movies like I have the past few months.

GSC: Do you have a method for going after em? Like going director by director?

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: Yea, I just exited a big Hitchcock phase. I really like his movies, pretty bad guy but amazing director. I just watched Rogue, Notorious, Vertigo, Rear Window, The Birds, Psycho, Dialect, Dial M for Murder, Strangers on the Train, and Shadow of a Doubt. All of them are so good. I just finished a David Lynch phase, watched a few Staney Kubrick movies. The Shining, Spartacus, Barry Lindon, Clockwork Orange.

GSC: What’re your Lynch favorites? I watched all of Twin Peaks during quarantine.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: I watched all of Twin Peaks during quarantine too! Did you like season three?

GSC: I don’t know. I wanted to like it.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: Its my favorite one! I love how it shit’s on the other ones, I love how it fucks your mind raw.

GSC: I just couldn’t understand Dougie. I couldn’t wrap my mind around that character.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: Dougie was tough, he was really stressful it was like watching Uncut Gems or something. With season three though once the 50’s part comes where it’s like Laura’s Mom with the bug coming out of her mouth, post that episode it kicks into overdrive.

GSC: Yea, it really just made me want a season four.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: I saw Blue Velvet too, that’s probably in my top three movies ever.

GSC: Laura Dern is flawless, never seen a bad performance from her. Did you watch Fire Walk with Me by the way? That completely changed my perspective on the series.

TEENAGE HALLOWEEN: It’s sickening, but it’s really good. Harry Dean Stanton when he’s the Fat Trout Trailer Park guy. I saw Fire Walk with Me and then I saw season three and I forgot The Fat Trout was in Fire Walk with Me and I rewatched it and like I was like oh fuck, that movie is really where it all went down in Twin Peaks.

Give Teenage Halloween a follow on twitter and insta. Go buy their record and soap on BandCamp and stream their album on Spotify and Apple Music! Thanks to Sonya Alfano for the fantastic photos.

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