Typically, the frontman controls a band’s narrative. But drummer Grant McCord got the chance to flip the script with a new film called Teenage Badass. McCord co-wrote the script with Matthew Dho, informed in part by his own experience as a session player for several bands.
He developed the project with Chuckie Duff, a former Dear and the Headlights bass player turned developer who served as executive producer.
“When you’re not the frontman, you’re at the mercy of the band’s driving force,” Duff says. “You’ve got to be careful who you hitch your wagon to.”
It’s one of many themes that runs throughout the film, which had its digital release through Freestyle Digital Media on Friday, September 18. Teenage Badass centers around a fictional indie rock band called Stylo and the Murder Dogs, but the plot will resonate with real-world musicians.
Scene from the new music movie Teenage Badass.
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Basically, it’s a tale of the missteps earnest musicians make when they cede too much power to other people, and focus solely on their craft without leveling up on the business side. “I think in some ways it’s a cautionary tale,” explains Duff. “We’ve all had that experience of not getting it in writing.”
The movie has several Phoenix connections. Some scenes were shot at local music venues, such as Crescent Ballroom, Rebel Lounge, and the Van Buren. Others were filmed at Acme Prints, Gallo Blanco, and Gracie’s Tax Bar. Jimmy Adkins, lead vocalist and guitarist for the band Jimmy Eat World, has a cameo. So does Pat Kirch, drummer for The Maine.
“This is a music movie made by musicians,” says McCord, who also directed the picture. “It’s a bit of a spite film made by a bunch of accompanying musicians.”
Teenage Badass captures what Duff calls “the grind” of band life.
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Duff says they talked about doing a band movie for a while, but wanted to make sure the musicians in the film sounded like a real band. “Like a lot of people, we think of ourselves as music critics, and we’re a little snobbish,” he says.
Enter Evan Ultra, a little-known musician who went on to write the 12-title soundtrack and star in the film. “At some point we looked at each other and said ‘This is the guy,’” recalls Duff. McCord spent about six months writing the script while they worked on finding other actors.
The film was set to premiere during South by Southwest in Austin, but the mid-March event was canceled due to COVID-19. Now, as the film is newly-released online, Duff is looking back on all the concerts he attended at Phoenix venues like Stinkweeds and Modified Arts, thinking about the musicians that inspired him and hoping the movie provides a similar spark for others.
“The message of the movie is that anybody can do this,” says Duff. “Just make your music with your friends and get out of your van and play.”