Teen Hearts is the deliciously upbeat power-pop electro project by Hollywood-based graphic designer and musician Kelly Orr. Teen Hearts is out now with their new ‘Maybe Someday EP,’ as well as a new music video and fun new myRMX app to coincide. I had the chance to chat with Kelly on the phone a few weeks ago about his new music and projects, and you can check out below what he had to say about making the transition from hardcore to pop, the importance of having total creative control over his image and music, and feelin’ like the Beatles in Japan!
E: Hi, this is Erica with Electrocutie Music Blog.
K: Hey! How’s it going?
E: Well, it’s kinda cold! [Laughs.] You?
K: I’m good!
E: Awesome! Okay, so let’s jump right into this! I guess the best place to start is, for those who aren’t familiar with your music, how would you describe yourself and your sound, and how the band got started?
K: Of course, for sure. Let me give you some background. Well, we started about two years ago. I was previously in a hardcore band. And a lot of people, when I made the transition from that band to this one, were like, “Sell out! He’s just trying to make money!” But in actuality the hardcore band was kind of my sell out. My friend had just said, “I know you’re not into hardcore, but do you wanna play bass in the band?” And I said sure! I mean, I grew up listening to Less Than Jake, New Found Glory, Goldfinger, and all those poppy ska bands. And you know, when I started this one, I just talked to my friend Forrest who was in the band Hellogoodbye. And, yeah, I would say we sound somewhere along the lines of Hellogoodbye or Metrostation or Forever the Sickest kids type stuff. So anyway, I just went up to him and said I had this idea to start recording some songs. And he was down to help me, so we went in and recorded, like, a few tracks and thought, “Hey! This could actually work!” That’s how the band really got started. It was just me messing around, writing some pop jams, and it all kinda worked out.
E: Now, who does what in the band?
K: Well, when it comes to recording, I do everything. I sing, I play all the instruments… And when we play live, I just sing. Charity plays keyboards, and Matt plays guitar and sings backup. And also our drummer, at the time, was Max.
E: Oh! Okay, so you do all of the recording on your own then? And use a band for live performances?
K: Yeah! But not totally on my own. I’ll work with some producers and stuff. But when it comes to actually writing a new song and recording, I do everything. Like, the drums are all fake which you can kinda hear, but I program all the drums myself, and play the keyboard and all the guitars and the bass and, of course, sing. No one is really even around for that whole process. You could say I am the sole writer - no one else writes for the band.
E: Oh, that’s awesome. You must put a lot of yourself into the music then because I know you also design your own merchandise, graphics, album covers, etc. So as an artist, what does that mean to you to be able to have that 100% creative control over what you’re putting out there?
K: It’s great! I mean, just a little background on myself, I’ve worked for the record label Drive-Thru Records and I did graphic design for them for like four years as their main graphic designer. I’ve always been working around bands, so I knew that when creating the merchandise for Teen Hearts, I had a vision to create for… not really a band, but more like a lifestyle. You know, for the kids who lean towards our music and have really taken the band to another place! The designs are so cute and fun and colorful that when you wear a Teen Hearts shirt, no one ever really has to know it’s a band. It’s a lifestyle. So it’s been good to have creative control because a lot of producers and people who have done our videos have said, “Man, it’s so nice to not have to deal with a record label or someone in our ear telling us what we can and can’t do!” We just do what we wanna do. So to answer your question, having all of the creative control is the only way I would want it.
E: I agree. I think artists who have that control over the image are generally more happy. And speaking of happy, a lot of your lyrics and visuals are so happy and upbeat. Would you say your music and general branding is based on positivity?
K: Absolutely! It honestly maddens me that there are so many bands out there that we’ve been thrown into the mix of who… Well, not to talk shit on them, because I really love them as people, but bands like Brokencyde or the Millionaires. I love their music and respect them as people because they too have created a lifestyle and a feeling around their music. But it’s kinda sad to me that these bands are singing about getting drunk, having sex, and all these things when the majority of their fan base is under 21. There’s no question about it. And to promote all that shit to young children who are so impressionable just… Well, it really sucks to me.
E: Right, right.
K: So our band is so positive and it comes from a really genuine place. Not like, “Oh hey! I’m gonna write about girls and flowers and shit!” But I am a really happy, really positive person and people who listen to our music are sometimes just like, “Oh my god, what are these idiot trying to pull? This isn’t who they are.” When actually it is. And I just want to portray that in our music. There’s no reason you can’t put a Teen Hearts CD on in the car with your parents and have any reason to turn it down when I say, “Fuck this or fuck that.” I mean, I curse. Yeah, I definitely use profanity, but there’s no reason to market our music that way.
Read the rest of our interview after the jump, below!
E: I also think it reflects in the name of the band. Like, to me, Teen Hearts is that raw, emotional, optimistic time in your teenage years. A teenage heart is open and very much like that. Would you say that’s where the name comes from?
K: It’s exactly that. A lot of these songs have come from past experiences when I was a teenager. I’m not a teen now - I’m 23 - so it’s not a current thing, but I want people to hear what I went through when I was a kid. Not all of our songs are happy. Some reference bad times that really, really sucked. You know, girls cheating on you and the way your feeling. But there’s really exciting, happy things too. It’s just life, that’s where it comes from. The name is from when I was a teen and had a teen heart.
E: I love that. On the same line, what kind of themes and emotions do you find yourself exploring in your lyrics?
K: Well, I talk about everything, like past experiences and… You know, no one is gonna want to know exactly word for word what happened ‘cause some of it is kinda boring, so you have to create a world for the kids to go into and you know what? A lot of bands say this, but I mean this more than anyone else: When kids come up to me and say, “You know, my parents just went through a divorce and the only thing that has gotten me through this is your music. It puts a smile on my face and has made me realize life’s not so bad and things are going to be okay.” And more often than not these kids just enjoy the positivity and happiness in the music, and that’s the biggest compliment I could ever get.
E: I think that’s so incredible and must be so fulfilling as an artist. Now, a little off topic: I love your style, so I wanted to ask you where your sense of fashion comes from?
K: [Laughs.] Honestly, I’ve never been a real follower I guess. I know that sounds so stupid, but I just kinda do what I want. If it works, it works! I mean, I love the Japanese culture where they just wear stripes with polka dots and bright colors all wrapped into one! There’s never a time where I’ll put something on and be like, “That doesn’t match,” and put a new shirt on. I’m like, “Yeah! That doesn’t match! Hell yeah!” [Laughs.] I’m pumped on being as extremely colorful and fun as possible as you can see from my hair and glasses - which are real, by the way. Everyone always ask me about them. I’m extremely blind and without them I can’t see!
E: Well, they’re so cute! And thanks for clearing that up. Maybe people will stop pestering you now. [Laughs.]
K: Maybe! [Laughs.]
E: Speaking of Japan, I heard you guys toured over there?
K: We have! We felt like we were the fuckin’ Beatles.
E: And did you find the Japanese kids were receptive to you despite the language barrier?
K: They were extremely, extremely excited. They knew the lyrics - whether or not they understood them - and they were singing every single word. I mean, we’ve experienced it here with local shows and some out of state like in Utah and Colorado, but they just got it to another level. When we showed up they had shit printed out from our personal MySpace pages and old photos. I was like, “Where did you get this photo from!?”
E: That’s so amazing and exciting. Now, I’ve been listening to your new song, “Maybe Someday,” nonstop since it was sent to me. I feel this one is really polished and I can definitely hear it become a radio hit. How is your new material different than what you have previously released? Tell me a little bit about that.
K: The only thing I would say has changed a bit, as you said before, is the quality. Before it was all, “Hey, Forrest! Can we record some songs in your garage?” And they were always good, like, “Yeah, we get it,” but as far as it being really professional it wasn’t until recently within the last four months or so that I’ve been working with a really legitimate producer named Lucian Walker. He’s worked with, like, Neon Trees, Alkaline Trio, Korn, and he’s worked with so many artists to the point where he’s so capable of knowing what’s going to work. Thus far I’ve done everything pretty much on my own and as of recently I’ve had some feedback as to what will work so much better. And, yeah, I think it really shows and I think kids will see that it is more polished and more professional-sounding and radio-friendly. And even though our old stuff was radio-friendly before, I think it’s so much more there now. I’m so excited.
E: Me too. So does this mean you are releasing a new album in 2011?
K: Well, for Valentine’s Day we are releasing the ‘Maybe Someday EP’ with “Maybe Somday,” as well as a new song called “These Butterflies,” and a remix of “Maybe Someday,” and an acoustic version of “These Butterflies.” Oh, and an amazingly awesome music video for “Maybe Someday.” I’m like, beside myself with how cool it is. You’re going to love it.
E: I’m so excited! So I guess are you guys going to be going on tour sometime soon then?
K: I mean, yeah, but as far as anything being really planned, it’s not there just yet. Our new manager has just started working with us recently, and thus far we’ve done everything on our own. We’re trying to take it to the next level now, like you said. We’re just playing it by ear, and if anything comes along, yes. It’s weird ‘cause we missed the Warped Tour and Bamboozle cutoff just based on the fact of not having a manager on board just yet. But yes, we’re planning on touring, but nothing is set in stone.
E: What’s your ultimate goal or dream for Teen Hearts for the future?
K: Well, I mean, we’re just planning a ton of things, like a lot of cool things that maybe - I don't wanna get in trouble here - don’t even have to do with the band. Like, a lot of cool things as far as the name Teen Hearts itself goes as far as clothing and a lifestyle brand is concerned, where I think maybe people will be wearing the clothing and not even necessarily knowing that the band exists. Just having the name out there… like a double promotion for the band! And as far as the band goes, I just want to get our music out to as many people as possible. I would be stupid to say I that don’t wanna make money but at this point we are giving away music for free. Right now it’s not about money. We want our music out there and to have kids be like, “I fucking love your band!” I wanna tour, play tons of shows, make music, and make people happy.
E: Well, I have some questions about the new Teen Hearts app you guys are putting out soon. I don’t know much about it, so please fill me in.
K: Yeah, it’s actually with a company called myRMX and basically it’s an application where kids can download it and remix our songs. We gave them, I believe, three songs which would be “Hands in the Air,” “Hollywood Hearts,” and “Maybe Someday.”
E: What can you do with the myRMX app?
K: Well, it has all the drums, bass, guitar, vocals, and keyboards all split up and kids can literally go in and remix their own tracks. It’s pretty cool! They have it online and you can check it out if you have an iPhone or a Nokia. You can just download the app from the web site. It’s really cool. It’s easy and fun.
E: That’s so cool. It really puts you into the music and let’s you play with it. Can users upload their remixes online?
K: Yeah, totally. I’m not sure exactly how their process works but they can upload it and share.
E: And how do they get the app?
K: You can download it from the Apple app store or through your iPhone. Or get it off the website. Like, Selena Gomez has one, and a bunch of other artists. It’s really awesome
E: Thanks so much, Kelly! Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans before we sign off?
K: Yes. Our fans have been amazing. You have no idea. Everyone says this, yeah, but I really, truly do mean it, and I tell them everyday on Twitter: I love you guys. They don’t give a shit about anything else but Teen Hearts and they are so amazing. When I was in school, kids would go out of their way to find new music. You know, the dorky or nerdy kids, or the kids who didn’t care about necessarily being cool, and that’s who our fans are. And that’s who I was. And I love them!
E: That’s so sweet. Good luck with everything and thank you so much!
K: Thank you! Take care.
Thank you so much to Teen Hearts (Kelly Orr), his management, Michael for setting up the interview, and Steven for information on the new Teen Hearts myRMX app that you can check out right here on Facebook or right here online! The new Teen Hearts myRMX app is out now! Please visit Teen Hearts online right here and stay tuned for more information.