Although their new album, Teen Bop Dream, officially debuted last month, the Soda Pop Kids have been crisscrossing the country in support of it since early September, when they kicked off the tour with a roller-disco pre-release party at Mount Tabor Legacy. Then they lit out with fervor befitting a jihad, intent on bringing good ol' party rock 'n' roll to unsuspecting towns across America. En route they cracked the icy veneer of Los Angeles' hipsters with a rope-climbing contest, and were nearly chased out of town by jarheads when lead screamer Jonny P. Jewels drunkenly dropped an American Flag in Maryland. They also encountered something called strawberry coke. It was not soda.
The Kids aren't a party band; the Kids are a party. Their fabulously raucous first effort, Write Home, garnered fans around the world with its addictive mix of glam, pop, and punk. Teen Bop Dream is a welcome second helping of Write Home, but with added finesse. It's Chuck Berry on (more) amphetamines, yet has enough beefy bottom end to anchor your ass to the dancefloor. The 10 new shots of fizzy pop-rocks include insta-classics "Fell in Love at the Arcade" and "Bloodshot Eyes." The latter features some fancy songwriting—plus a saxophone rave-up—that could be nicely reinterpreted by a younger, wilder Billy Joel. There's even a protest song: "The Soda Pop Sting," which recounts young Jewels' fight with Arnold Schwarzenegger over the right to have soda pop in schools. [True story.]
The Kids attribute much of the new album's gloss to studio whiz Pat Kearns, whom they lovingly refer to as their "sixth member." They spent an entire month in the studio with him, and say they came out a much better band. "It's scary going into a studio with a producer; you think, 'This guy's gonna fuck up our songs.' But Pat does it so nicely you don't get offended. He really believes in the music. Pat Kearns would make a great tee-ball coach," says Jewels.
For a punk band to spend a month recording is the equivalent of Fleetwood Mac recording Tusk, and though the Kids admit to suffering their share of nervous breakdowns during the process, the stint in the studio allowed their lineup to coalesce while exploring uncharted territory, like the Phil Spector-ish echo chamber that Kearns has in his basement. Kearns—a local legend who's best known for his work on the Exploding Hearts' (RIP) fantastic Guitar Romantic—is a workhorse who punches the clock at OHSU before heading home to help birth rock 'n' roll on nights and weekends. The Kids've got their noses to the grindstone, too: In addition to constant touring, day jobs, and girlfriends, bass player Tony Mengis just opened his own bar, the East End, which employs at least 80 percent of the band. (Never in the course of human history was there a cadre of such dandified busboys.)
But the proof is in the pudding. After two years of personnel changes and thousands of miles in the van, Teen Bop Dream finds the Soda Pop Kids in top fighting form, promulgating pop-punk with all its snarl and hairspray, fighting for your right to party and fall in love at the arcade. Try it—it's at least twice as much fun as strawberry coke, and you'll feel a helluva lot better in the morning.