SXSW 2023 Interview: Musicians Tahlia Borg and Cahli Blakers Talk Playing as Teenage Joans (Exclusive)

Providing a fresh take on the typical pop-punk genre by infusing quirky and relatable lyrics into their songs is the gripping signature nature of the up-and-coming musical duo, Teenage Joans. Comprised of vocalist and drummer Tahlia Borg and vocalist and guitarist Cahli Blakers, the Adelaide, Australia-based indie rock band is powerfully bringing back the nostalgia of being young and learning about the world. Their tracks brilliantly focus on figuring out the human experience and the complexity of emotions.

Since forming in 2018, Teenage Joans released its debut EP, ‘Taste of Me,’ in May 2021. The musicians have also released six singles, including their 2019 debut single, ‘By the Way.’

Teenage Joans have also been the recipients of multiple awards, including South Australian Live Act of the Year at the 2019 National Live Music Awards. They also won six awards at the 2021 South Australian Music Awards, including Best Group, Best New Artist, Best Punk Artist, Best Release for ‘Taste of Me,’ Best Cover Art and Best Song for their 2021 single, ‘Something About Being Sixteen.’

Borg and Blakers spent last year on tour with Ball Park Music, Violent Soho The Chats, Bugs and Sly Withers. Teenage Joans also played arenas around Australia supporting Amy Shark before heading on their debut sold out national tour. They were also invited to perform at festivals such as Spin Off, Full Tilt, Summer Sounds, Yours & Owls, NYE On the Hill, Unify and Land of Plenty.

Teenage Joans recently shared their relatable messages and themes when they performed at Lucille Patio Lounge and Valhalla in Austin during last month’s SXSW. The group generously took the time to sit down for an exclusive interview at Lucille on Austin’s historic Rainey Street before they played their first show at the festival on March 15 to talk about writing, performing and recording their music together.

Film Factual (FF): How did you both become involved in playing music, and why were you inspired to become musicians as your careers?

Cahli Blakers (CB): As for how I started in music, my dad also plays music; he plays guitar in a band back home in Australia. So when I was a kid, he really encouraged me to play music and try playing a few different instruments.

My first instrument was actually violin, and I started when I was five. But by age 10, I was like, this is not for cool kids, even though it is cool now. But back then, it wasn’t very cool. So I switched to guitar, and have been playing it ever since.

Tahlia Borg (TB): My parents weren’t musicians, but I always grew up around music. My parents and grand parents love music. My cousin is in a band and used to play shows all the time, so my parents used to bring me to the shows.

I thought the drums were so cool, but I was doing ballet at the time. So I said, “Mom, can I do the drums instead of ballet,” and she said, “Okay, cool.” I’ve been playing the drums ever since.

FF: How did you start playing together, and what was the process like of forming Teenage Joans?

CB: Back home in South Australia, there’s a music community center called Northern Sound System. They basically run music workshops for young people. We both were doing different things there; I was doing work experience there, and you were doing…

TB: …I was doing music lessons and workshops there.

CB: The guy who runs the place, Nick (O’Connor), thought we’d be a really good match. He said, “You guys should jam.” He told me about Tahlia a lot of times, but I was a bit nervous back then. I didn’t really go out of my way to meet new people, as I was a bit nervous and young.

I then released a song under my name and then got asked to do a show. I thought, I should probably put a band together, so I hit up Nick. I asked, “Who’s that Tahlia girl you told me about?” He gave me her Instagram and I DM’d her and asked, “Do you want to play drums for me?”

TB: Then the first time we met was at my house, and we’re still playing together!

FF: Once you started playing together, how did you approach writing songs as a duo?

CB: When we first met, we realized that one of our favorite bands for both of us is 5 Seconds of Summer, so we clicked over their music. We both love their songwriting.

I think the first song we ever wrote together, I wrote a little chorus and brought it to Tahlia. I said, “Do you want to help me finish this song?” Then we wrote it and loved it. It then turned out to become our debut single, ‘By the Way.’ That’s the moment where we thought, this should be a proper thing, as we really want to be in a band together.

TB: Cahli will always bring a chorus to me, and then we’ll sit in my bedroom and figure out the lyrics.

CB: Yes, it’s super low-key; we don’t go to a studio – we just sit on the floor in her bedroom and write random words on a piece of paper. Then we just go from there.

FF: Speaking of your singles, what was the process like of deciding which songs to include on your debut EP, ‘Taste of Me,’ and which tracks to release as singles?

CB: That’s a good question. I think the first year of us being a band, in 2019, we played every show we could. We weren’t thinking a lot about writing or releasing songs. But we ended up playing about 60 shows that year.

By the end of the year, we had written a bunch of songs randomly, and we had our favorites. When the time came, we said, “Let’s record these five songs.” Then we just knew that ‘Something About Being Sixteen’ would be the first single, ‘Ice Cream’ was going to be the second single and ‘Wine’ was going to be the third single from ‘Taste of Me.’ ‘Wine’ ended up doing really well, which is cool.

We feed off of the audience, as well, especially what they relate to the most when we’re performing live. We always get feedback after shows; people are like, “We like that one,” and we put together the record off of that feedback.

FF: Speaking about the audience’s feedback when you perform at shows, what’s you overall experience interacting with fans?

TB: I think one of our favorite parts about playing in a band is playing the live performances because that’s how we started. We made a lot of our fan base back in South Australia by playing live shows.

We just go with the flow most of the times; we don’t have a set. Some bands have a set thing that they do…

CB: …But we just mainly figure it out as we go. Also, we never write songs to record; we write them for the live shows, and we figure out how to record them later. So whenever we write songs, we’re like, “This will be really catchy to perform live. Let’s repeat this line.” We try to make every song have a show moment so that we can get audience engagement.

FF: What’s the experience like of continuing your interactions with your fans after your shows on social media?

TB: Social media was a big thing when we first started, as a lot of our fan interactions were online. When we play live shows, we also like to go to the merch table so that we can talk to people.

CB: Yes, unless we’re super tired, because we always put our health first, we’ll make the effort to go out after our shows to say hi to our fans and sign stuff and hang out. Everyone has a story and our music effects everyone in different ways. So it’s cool to hear everyone’s experiences with our music.

FF: Do the fans’ experiences that they share with you also inspire your songwriting?

CB: Yes, they do inspire us. It’s amazing to hear the stories people tell us about how our songs got them through their own experiences, like a really tough breakup.

I remember talking to one guy who said, “I was at a really low points in my life, and I found one of your songs on Spotify.” He also said that we started listening to our songs regularly after that. Now, our music reminds him of being happy in his lowest moments.

That’s so inspiring and so nice to hear because we have stories about our favorite musicians who helped us get through our rough times. So it’s cool to hear that we can do the same.

The most important thing to us is that we can make an impact on our fans. We’re not here for money or fame; we just want to help people in any way that we can. If our music does that, that’s awesome.

FF: You (had) three performances scheduled at SXSW. What does it mean to you both that you were invited to perform during the festival’s music section?

TB: It’s been really cool. When we first started, we thought, we’ll play a show together and never see each other again. But coming this far has been so surreal.

CB: Yes, we never dreamed of making it outside of Adelaide, which is our hometown, let alone in America. It’s amazing – this is our first time we’ve left Australia to play a show. We’re constantly being impressed by what’s happening.

FF: What’s coming up next for you both musically after your shows at SXSW?

TB: We’ve been in the studio, recording an album. I think the first single is coming out sometime soon, in the next couple of months. That’s been a fun experience.

CB: We’re super excited. I think we’re most proud of this album. It feels like all the puzzle pieces have been leading up to this album and what we can do after it.

For more information on Teenage Joans, visit their official website, as well as their Apple Music, Bandcamp, Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter pages.

Teenage Joans. Photo credit: Kane Hibberd.

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