There’s no more quintessential musical expression of the decade of excess that was the 1980s than the ozone-depleting glut known as hair metal. Ignoring the artistic merit (or lack thereof) of the genre, one of the genre’s biggest intrigues lies in its inherent aesthetic contradictions. Hair bands stole the gender-bending look of the definitively nonbinary sexual experimentation of ’70s glam, pitched singers up into near soprano vocal ranges, softened the mid-scooped blazing guitar of Randy Rhoads and Ritchie Blackmore, and began employing a banal David Foster-esque, Grammy-fodder songwriting style that culminated in a host of earworm power ballads and grotesque singalong odes to sexualizing underage girls that we all still grudgingly know every word to. In essence, it was a concentrated toxic machismo dressed in drag.
Somehow, Alex Atchley and Jack Harris, collectively known as the power pop duo Teal Stripe, are perhaps an exact photographic negative of those ’80s tragedies. Instead of the distillation of pure lizard-brain id disguised by eye shadow, Teal Stripe employs a tough hard-rock sound and uses it as a vehicle for introspective songs about heartache. Their debut album, ironically called Heavy Metal, came out last week. A video for the single “Anyway” preceded the release.
The hammer-tight riffs are resplendent in metal-esque harmonized guitar lines.
“If you have two guitars in a band, why would you not do that?” Atchley said of the use of “dualies.” “It’s so cool. It always sounds good, no matter the context.”
Teal Stripe boasts plenty of sonics to pique the interest of even the most mulleted listener. Even the duo’s name is a reference to the signature blue-green band that marked Peavey amplifiers in the 1980s. Yet, with tracks like “Drag Me” and “Immolate My Heart,” vocalist Atchley’s lyrics perhaps belong in the same sad boy oeuvre of Neutral Milk Hotel rather than the realm of “Unskinny Bop.”
The Fort Worth songwriter is aware of the irony of the band’s cocky sound versus their heartbroken words, and the duo leans heavily into it.
“It’s very funny to us because whenever we play live or have a picture taken of us or something, the thing is to try and look as cool and/or tough as possible,” he said of the band’s contradictory aesthetic, “but, really, we’re just a couple of fucking nerds.”
Atchley is long-haired and bespectacled, resembling a sort of hesher Mark Mothersbaugh. Vocally, he is also reminiscent of the former Devo frontman. Teal Stripe’s sound may have you wanting to pound your fists, but if you pay attention, Atchley’s words can have you wanting to cry.
There are times, he said, when “I’m maybe writing about something that I’m angry about, but mostly it’s just whatever’s around me, which usually ends up being a bunch of melancholy shit.”
Despite being just a two-piece, with Atchley and Harris both playing guitar to backing tracks, Teal Stripe delivers all the energy contained on Heavy Metal to a live crowd, too.
“I would say we’re both really strong performers,” he said. “Running around and throwing our instruments and busting our knees, so missing the feel of a quote-unquote ‘real band’ just kind of goes away because of how we perform.”
As an aside, he added, “I actually really messed up my knee at [our last] show. It took weeks for the bruising under the scabbing to go away. It was very gross. Don’t land on your knees, kids.”
Atchley said it’s purely for efficiency that the group remains just the two of them.
“We had some other people join [at one time], but basically scheduling wasn’t working out, so we cut them loose, and it’s just been us two since,” he said. “Since we’re not having to schedule with two other people, we were able to fast track finishing the album and getting shows booked and all that.”
The general concept of what became Teal Stripe was a musical itch Atchley had been wanting to scratch for years. A prolific songwriter with interests in many different genres, Atchley seems to begin new bands and musical projects with the same frequency other artists release albums from the same band. In just the last few years, he’s had Teal Stripe, angular punk outfit Born Snapped, and electronic groups Mirage Music Club and Service Model, to name a few. His next venture is a planned country album that should keep him occupied while Harris joins his industrial band Chant on tour supporting the legendary KMFDM.
Atchley hopes Teal Stripe will be a focus for a good long while, however. Once Harris returns from tour, the plan is for the duo to continue the momentum they’ve been recently building.
“We are definitely a band who is not content to just sit around,” Atchley said, “which is why we went down to a two-piece. Once [Harris] is more free, we will be playing a lot more. We definitely want to hit the road next year and hopefully go overseas sometime in 2024.”