The high school years spawn many a musician’s first band. In fairness, a good deal of those projects could be better described as the concepts of a first band. The would-be rock stars are seldom more than a loose collection of social outcasts, who, if lucky, maybe even own an instrument or two. In truth, the closest they come to doing the things bands actually do is carving a crude logo into the seat of their school’s bleachers while blowing off gym glass. Occasionally, a few might get their act together enough to learn some Nirvana covers to play a house party, but it’s rare that a band would have already written and recorded an album, much less one released by a reputable regional label, before half of the group were old enough to drive.
Amazingly, Fort Worth indie jangle-pop outfit Ting Tang Tina has done just that. The resulting effort has earned the quartet the right to shed the cynical qualifier of: “pretty good for some high school kids.”
“It’s not as bad as some may see it,” singer-guitarist Ruby Lewis said of the band trying to make its way through a scene made up of musicians twice their age. “The only thing that really restricts us from being equal to older bands is having to turn down shows on school nights.”
After meeting as students at School of Rock, a nifty, kid-focused music academy, the foursome originally got together to play a friend’s birthday party and just kept it up from there. A little more than a year later, Lewis, an heiress of local rock royalty (she is the daughter of Toadies frontman Vaden Todd Lewis) along with drummer Aiden Bumgardner, bassist Claire Marcho, and guitarist Dillon Wilkins found themselves wandering into Near South Side’s Cloudland Recording Studio to cut a record with Jen and Robby Rux (The Fibs, Year of the Bear) in November. That session yielded, Love Is Trippy, a seven-song collection of youthful sing-along pop tunes that will be released on cassette (as well as digital formats) via the Ruxes’ label, Dreamy Life Records, later this week.
“Aiden and his parents have been friends with Robby and Jen for forever,” Lewis said. “We were lucky enough to work with them and were in and out of the studio in just a day. They’ve really helped us in becoming the best musicians we can be. Finally hearing our songs on professional recordings is such an enlightening experience.”
Wistful and frolicsome, the songs on Love Is Trippy speak directly to, and for, the inner teenager that’s never quite moved out of the mom’s basement of our hearts. With Lewis’ cherubic lilt and song titles like “BFF,” “Emo Teen Luv,” and “Middle School,” Ting Tang ignites nostalgia for unrequited high school crushes and endearing teen angst – when complicated emotions could be distilled into two chords and a hooky melody.
Far from virtuosic, there’s a bit of that Daniel Johnston-style naiveté that only serves to highlight the tenderness underlying the simple and understated instrumentation. It’s the same whimsical thread that ran through many of the albums coming out of Olympia’s K Records in the late ’80s and early ’90s, with bands like Beat Happening and Tiger Trap – poppy DIY music that showed that “punk rock” didn’t have to be angry screaming over schizophrenic Marshall stacks. You could also make people feel something, make them smile, or, as Lewis says, give them something to dance to.
“Our songs are like little undercover diaries,” Lewis continued. “Music is an outlet. We can get on stage and play our guitars like they just hit our mother, or we can play them like they just gave her a bouquet of flowers. There’s definitely a common theme of a ‘heartbroken Wednesday Addams’ vibe, but we want our shows to be a place where someone can dance their pain away or dance because they’re just happy.”
Music lovers will have a chance to do just that on Saturday. That’s when Ting Tang Tina will celebrate the release of Love Is Trippy with a show at Lola’s Saloon. They’ll be joined by labelmate Steve Gnash as well as Shlomi Bagdadi, the new Brooklyn-based post-noise project by Jordan Richardson (Son of Stan, White Denim) that will be making its Texas debut. There’s little chance Ting Tang Tina will appear out of place among the older, more established musicians. But Lewis shrugs off the significance.
“We’re just teenagers having fun,” she said. “We’re not prodigies. We just have a passion.”
Ting Tang Tina album release show
10pm on Sat w/Shlomi Bagdadi and Steve Gnash at Lola’s Saloon, 2736 W 6th St, FW. $5. 817-59-9100.