Despite the name, the band Teenage Sexx is mature beyond its years. Founding member and lead guitarist Caleb Lewis is only 19, co-frontman and bassist Kevin Adkins is 23 and newly added drummer Charlie DeBolt is 25.
Teenage Sexx formed in Lewis’ bedroom in 2014 in a trailer park in Kirvin, Texas. Lewis grew up in a town of about 150 people, which was more like a settlement in the middle of nowhere than a real town; the nearest city (and a small one at that) is Corsicana, which is 30 miles away.
Without much in the way of real entertainment, teens were left to their own devices.
“I was the only person I knew who was still a virgin,” Lewis says, explaining how he named the band. “I thought it was funny and kinda making fun of myself. It raises some eyebrows.”
Adkins, who joined in the spring of 2015, adds, “The name is definitely not forgettable, [which] is the best part. It works for itself.”
When Lewis started Teenage Sexx, the band was a garage-punk solo project. From his makeshift bedroom studio, he put out an EP of four tracks, aptly titled Bedroom Recordings, on Bandcamp in 2014.
“I got a CMJ writeup about unsigned Bandcamp dudes and thought, ‘If people are paying attention to this, I should find some bandmates and make this a real thing,’” Lewis remembers.
After graduating high school, he moved to Waco and started running in the same circles with another hot punk outfit, the Loafers (which also relocated to Dallas last year). There he met Adkins.
“I was looking to play in a band,” says Adkins, who was living with Eric Eisenman of the Loafers at the time. “Eric walked into my room one day and said, ‘You’re in a band now. It’s called Teenage Sexx; go look it up.’”
In the two years since Lewis and Adkins linked up, they’ve had a solid run. They released a self-titled, full-length album in 2015, followed by another EP in late 2015 called Flavour Country. They did a split EP with the Loafers – whom they refer to as their “big brother band” – in 2016 and launched a tour last January to promote it.
Now Teenage Sexx is releasing another EP, Jesus Christ, this Thursday, with a record release party at Armoury DE starting at 9 p.m.
Part of the magic of Teenage Sexx is that it's the perfect punk band for nonpunk fans. It’s partly the look – the members give off an approachable vibe, especially Lewis with his baby face. It’s also their sound – they’re more melodic than a lot of punk out there, and their songs have hooks that are easy to sing along to.
Despite its mainstream leanings, the band doesn't lose the authentic punk thread on tracks like “Calling Out” from Flavour Country. Although it starts with a delightfully pop-esque guitar intro, it has lyrics that go: “I’ve got no place to go – no friends/ Yeah, I am all alone – shut up/ I don’t like your tone – no help/ You’re putting me through hell. ... I’m calling out for help.”
“Our songs may sound angry and sad, but I think we’re basically writing pop songs,” Lewis says.
“We’re like a pop-punk band. We’re a middle [ground]. We have a nostalgic sound – like a '90s band that’s still trying to make it,” he explains.
“If it was 2003, we’d be huge,” Lewis adds with a laugh.
The guys’ aesthetic evolved when they moved to Dallas in early 2016, following in the Loafers' footsteps. They started drawing inspiration from local punk outfits like Party Static and Sealion.
“When I started Teenage Sexx, I was wearing cutoff jean shorts and listening to a lot of L.A. shit and garage rock and writing these jangly, fast songs,” Lewis says. “I’ve thickened up my guitar tone, and we write a lot more mid-tempo. We’re focusing on making the instruments heavier and singing a lot more. I’m trying to get away from yelling as much.”
The group's newest release, Jesus Christ, is perhaps its darkest project. It’s an emotional album filled with the existential angst the guys are working through in their personal lives. Lewis and Adkins share the songwriting credits, and whoever writes the track also sings lead vocals on it.
“It’s the saddest album we’ve put out. It deals with loneliness, depression and feelings of inadequacy,” Lewis says. “It’s a huge bummer,” he adds wryly.
“I’ve had depression and anxiety, the one-two punch combo," he explains. "I don’t have health insurance, and I can’t afford a therapist, so I might as well write about it. [The track] ‘Going Home Again’ was especially difficult for me. I started crying in the studio, which was a little embarrassing.”
“It makes for a really good take though,” Adkins says. “If you listen to [it], he starts to tear up.”
The guys use a lot of first takes in their recordings, preferring the authenticity of mistakes over perfection. That’s how they were able to record Jesus Christ in only two days at Cloudland Studios with Dreamy Life Records. According to the guys, the label brought them in to record after seeing their video for “Bite,” off their self-titled album in 2015.
Their pop leanings belie the fact that they live a very punk lifestyle: They work day jobs, Lewis as a dishwasher and Adkins at a printmaking shop, yet the guys sleep in the living room of a two-bedroom apartment that houses five people. They deal with anxiety and depression, and both are self-taught musicians.
“I locked myself in my room with a Misfits record and would listen to it over and over again until I found where the notes were. That’s when I was 12,” says Lewis, who taught himself bass first, then guitar and drums. He joined his first band at 13, on drums. Then he joined the school band, where he learned the tuba, which he played for seven years.
“My grandma says I’m related to Gene Autry, which she told me when I started playing guitar,” Lewis says. “My family thinks it's funny because I’ve always been into punk and rock 'n' roll.”
Adkins learned guitar in much the same way, starting on bass and working up from there.
“I picked up an instrument every day and taught myself my own songs," Adkins says.
DeBolt, who became the drummer for Teenage Sexx in December 2016, plays guitar in his other project, Springtime and the Changes.
“Our drummer is a better musician than either of us,” Lewis says with a laugh.
The guys are hoping this EP pushes them into more Dallas recognition and gets them some nods outside Dallas.
“I’m hoping more people hear us. Ever since moving to Dallas [in 2016], we’ve been getting more exposure. People know who we are even if they haven’t heard us,” Lewis explains. “I hope people like [the EP]. I want them to care about it. I want it to resonate with people.”
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They’re also hoping to go on tour soon. This EP release show Thursday was supposed to be the kickoff party for one, but the tour was postponed.
“Even if we’re a small name in every festival, who cares? At least we’re playing festivals,” Adkins says.
“Gimme that noon slot,” Lewis says, and both laugh.
Teenage Sexx Album Release, 9 p.m. Thursday, Armoury D.E., 2714 Elm St., free, see Facebook.