Imperial Teen Discuss Their New Album, The Evolution of Queer Artistry & 'Pushing Buttons'

Jonathan Grassi
Imperial Teen

Will Schwartz is fully aware that the title of his band Imperial Teen's new album Now We Are Timeless is inherently absurd. "The idea that now, at this point, we are timeless is a little ridiculous," he says, with a chuckle. "It seemed like something serious that was also a joke... it's just a juxtaposition of the sense of the ridiculous, and also an earnestness."

Perhaps that description best fits the band's credo -- since 1996's Seasick, Imperial Teen have made a name out of using tongue-in-cheek humor and extremely catchy melodies to sing about authenticity and truth. Now, with their new album, they are continuing that trend while imbuing it with a smoother, more produced sound. 

Even the album's art speaks to the group's collective sense of irony -- the words Now We Are Timeless are simply placed over a photograph of a melting icecap, driving home the idea that "timelessness" is nothing but a fixture in our collective imagination. "It's cool that that line just started as a small kernel of thought, and went on to encapsulate the whole record," says frontman Roddy Bottum. 

What makes Timeless all the more interesting lies in its relationship with time itself -- Imperial Teen has been performing together since 1996 with their punk-meets-dream-pop sound. But in 2019, genre-bending is not simply reserved for indie bands looking to experiment with sound, but rather a fixture of both alternative and mainstream pop music. "Underground music is sort of an antiquated notion now," Schwartz says.

Even so, the band still finds ways to subvert expectations. Take, for example, their new video for "Don't Wanna Let You Go" (premiering below). The video largely takes place in the East Village apartment of New York artist and drag queen Tabboo!, who dances around his home and the streets of the city to the beat of the track.

Bottum says that working with Tabboo! was important to him, not only for his inventive visual style, but also to expose his art to an audience who may not know him. "For me, living in New York ... he is such a trademark of local New York," he says. "I see him as a sort of unsung hero, and it just felt right to have him represent one of our songs."

Unlike the '80s and '90s, when artists like Tabboo! and Imperial Teen were making waves with their art, 2019 sees queerness represented throughout the music industry in a way that many may not have been able to fathom back then. Schwartz recalls feeling pressure to stay in the closet during the band's early years for fear of jeopardizing his career. "If you came out as gay, it kind of might have affected your career... or so we were told," he says. "So I was kind of vague about it."

Bottum adds that he is excited to see queer artists being accepted in the mainstream, while also cheekily adding that he hopes the spirit of resistance that came with being openly gay back when he began performing stays alive. "I've always liked pushing buttons," he says. "To be in people's face about it was kind of such a special place to be. To be queer, and to just sort of challenge people, was this super-special, generational space for us."

Check out Imperial Teen's new album Now We Are Timeless below: