Interview: Teen Girl Scientist Monthly
In the summer of 2015, I met with Teen Girl Scientist Monthly (TGSM) founders Matt “Bergs” Berger (Vocals/Guitar), Morgan Lynch (Vocals), and Melissa Lusk (Keyboard) to discuss their new album, Hyper Trophy. It was Berger’s suggestion that brought us to the Manhattan bar 2 Bits, which was located near their rehearsal site. Filled with old coin-operated video games and pinball machines, it would prove thematically appropriate to the conversation at hand.
The trio first met in the second half of the 00s while they were undergrads at NYU. After being joined by the three additional members—Eryck Tait on bass, Daniel Muhlenberg on drums (“If you want to start a band,” advised Berger as he summarized TGSM’s history, “get a former metal drummer.”), and Pete Scalzitti on keytar—the band officially formed in 2010 and released their first LP, Pioneer Ghost, in December of that year. Their first full album, Modern Dances, was released in 2013. It was in the summer of that year that I first encountered the band, watching the hextet play a live show at the Cake Shop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The dynamic twenty-somethings exuded a boundless youth, enthusiasm, and energy. It was, initially, quite terrifying. I had just experienced a birthday, after all, and was feeling quite old.
As many Americans can attest, the vitality and psychology driving each new generation of music can be a terrifying reminder of one’s mortality and—even worse—cultural irrelevance. Perhaps this is why the elders rage against it so. Fans of Big Band were appalled by Elvis’ sexuality while celebrating Sinatra’s conquests. The King himself suspected the The Beatles of being communists. Axl Rose had few kind things to say about Kurt Cobain, and Cobain’s disciples of generation X were dismayed by the commercialized genres of pop-punk and rap-metal that ended the 90s. Everyone is terrified of hip-hop, always. Today, the pulsing lights and arrhythmic reverb of EDM may be the anthem of the young, but it is nothing less than a funeral dirge with a bass drop for anyone over 33. Nothing left to do but go home and watch Antiques Roadshow.*
Luckily, the TGSM show was infectiously fun! Spearheaded by their single, Summer Skin, their music was a groundswell celebration of youth, freedom, and that sweet spot of a Brooklyn July when the beaches are open, the sidewalks are packed with 3 am revelers, and the city is not yet choking on the miasma of “Hot Garbage August.” Most remarkably, theirs was a style that managed to be both simultaneously cool and inclusive. TGSM doesn’t make you feel your age; it makes you forget it.
Which is one of the reasons that it was so interesting to find the band in a more contemplative place when I met them two years later. Releasing three albums in three years is a challenge for any group of artists, and it seemed that they were taking stock of where they stood collectively and individually. Now mostly in their late 20s, its members were engaging in other musical projects, Berger and Lusk were about to have their first child, and Lynch was working on a film. Just as their third album has been released, circumstances have brought TGSM to a hiatus.
Lynch keenly observed that, “New York provides an arrested development [for artists],” but time can only allow for so much elasticity. And yet, rather than deny the reality of time’s passage, the band examines and embraces this forward motion in Hyper Trophy. To hear Berger and Lusk tell it, it’s an album that’s intended to celebrate new phases in life, rather than drown in the nostalgia of days gone by. And while it would be false to suggest that TGSM has traded in its old sound for something melancholy or profoundly introspective, several of its songs (including the single, Dark Rip) examine themes of abandonment, fear of commitment, and anxiety that are mostly absent in their earlier works. The choice to express this with such a kinetic energy, rather than the dreary self-seriousness that often accompanies such ideas in art, is what makes the album so notable.
Shortly after this interview, I saw them play at the East Village venue Arlene’s Grocery, in what was to be their final show of 2015. Now more experienced, and playing to a crowd that was significantly larger than the one at the Cake Shop, TGSM tore into their numbers with the passion and fury of those who did not know when—or, one vaguely suspected, if—they would be playing together again. It was the perfect, bittersweet capstone to summer’s end.
The album, the interview, and the show provided me with an important reminder that although we may age, there is still fun be had, possibilities to be considered, and the option to look forward instead of backward. Maybe the young can still teach us a thing or two, after all.
*This is pure hyperbole. Antiques Roadshow is a quality production for all ages.