Featuring a handful of luminaries on the Southern indie rock scene, the Rock*A*Teens (not to be confused with the Rock-a-Teens, the Virginia-based band who scored a hit in 1959 with "Whoo-Hoo") perform a swampy but emphatic blend of indie rock, rockabilly, garage rock, and Dixie-fried punk, all filtered through the vital imagination of vocalist and guitarist Chris Lopez, a former member of Dirt and Opal Foxx Quartet.
The Rock*A*Teens first developed a passionate fan following in Georgia and the Carolinas before striking a deal with Amy Ray's Daemon Records, which issued their first two albums, 1996's self-titled debut and 1997's Cry. The band hit their creative stride after moving to Merge Records and releasing Baby, A Little Rain Must Fall (1998) and Golden Time (1999), the latter a triumph of structured chaos. The Rock*A*Teens broke up in 2002, but after a pair of reunion tours, they returned to duty in 2018 with the more muted but still powerful Sixth House.
Formed in April 1994 in Atlanta, Georgia's Cabbagetown neighborhood, the first lineup of the Rock*A*Teens featured Lopez, Kelly Hogan (of the Jody Grind) on guitar and backing vocals, Justin Davis Hughes (ex-DQE) on guitar, keyboards, and vocals (the Rock*A*Teens had an aversion to bass, preferring to load up on guitars instead), and Chris Verene (another DQE alumni) on drums. Dubbing their sound "reverb-drenched art-billy bummer rock," the Rock*A*Teens soon developed a loyal following in Georgia and the Carolinas, and fared well during trips to New York City. The group struck a deal with Daemon Records, the independent label owned by Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, and released their self-titled debut album in early 1996. The Rock*A*Teens brought out their second full-length, Cry, in February 1997 to enthusiastic reviews, but several months later, Kelly Hogan and Chris Verene left the band. Brandon Smith (guitar) and Jeff Patch (drums) joined the lineup, and the Rock*A*Teens moved to the Chapel Hill-based label Merge Records. In April 1998, the group dropped their first album for Merge, Baby, A Little Rain Must Fall, but Jeff Patch left the band after blowing out the transmission in their tour van, and Chris Verene briefly returned to the lineup before Ballard Lesemann was recruited to hold down the percussion chores for the band.
In March 1999, the Rock*A*Teens issued album number four, Golden Time, and the band set out on an extensive tour in support. When they returned home, Brandon Smith bowed out of the group, and William Joiner took over on guitar. In October 2000, the Rock*A*Teens released the album Sweet Bird of Youth, and an EP for Moodswing Records, Noon Under the Trees, followed in 2001, but the group was growing weary of their busy schedule, and in 2002, the Rock*A*Teens announced their breakup, with Chris Lopez going on to release solo work under the name Tenement Halls. In 2014, the Rock*A*Teens announced they were returning to action for a brief reunion tour, with the line-up featuring Chris Lopez, Justin Davis Hughes, Will Joiner, and drummer Ballard Lesemann, as well as a new member, Michelle Dubois. The reunion coincided with a festival honoring the 25th anniversary of Merge Records, the vinyl reissue of Sweet Bird of Youth, and the release of an archival live album, Major Motion Picture, by Chunklet Records. The band reconvened in 2016 for a few more reunion shows, and in 2018, Lopez, Hughes, Joiner, and Lesemann (minus Dubois) delivered their sixth studio album, Sixth House, once again through Merge Records. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi