Notorious Knoxville rock act Teenage Love still kickin'

Rus Harper of Teenage Love

Rus Harper of Teenage Love

Rus Harper of Teenage Love

Rus Harper of Teenage Love

Teenage Love

  • With: Scull Soup and I Need Closure
  • Where: 4620 Reinvented, 4620 Kingston Pike
  • When: 9 p.m. Saturday
  • Admission: $5

The computer screen at Rus Harper’s North Knoxville home displays images from 1986 — a disastrous-sounding concert by the most unkempt band since the Sex Pistols. This is Teenage Love, possibly Knoxville’s most notorious rock band, surely one in which no one would’ve expected the band members to survive for nearly 25 years after the group produced its first angry yowls from the belly of the Fort Sanders neighborhood.

On Saturday, Teenage Love will celebrate the release of “No Excuses,” the group’s first album since breaking up in 1991.

Harper sips on a home-brewed beer in the living room, underneath the watchful eyes of posters of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, a Halloween skull, his dog Guinness Snout and the scowl of his cat Whiskey.

He smiles when asked about Teenage Love’s reputation and legacy:

“We left an impression didn’t we? ‘How did they not die of embarrassment up there?’ It was a good mix of not caring and caring a whole lot. We were sure we were an incredible band — it was just convincing everyone else!”

Teenage Love was born in 1984 when Harper, who was promoting rock shows at the Cumberland Avenue club Vic & Bill’s and doing public poetry readings, was approached by bassist John Sewell, whose band Dissocial had just dissolved.

“He said I’m going to start a new band and I want you to be the front dude!” says Harper.

The band was initially called The Family, but, one night over many beers, the membership decided the deceptively sweet-sounding Teenage Love was a far better name.

“I’m not sure if it was to shock people or just fool them, but it seemed like a good idea at the time,” says Harper.

While the band had a arsenal of solid rock ’n’ roll songs, mostly co-written by Sewell and Harper, Teenage Love was as renowned for causing mayhem as making music.

The album “No Excuses” includes a vintage audio clip of Sewell’s bizarrely anti-environmentally conscious rant prior to performing at an Earth Day event at the University of Tennessee. And Harper just barely made the second night of a two-night stint in Atlanta after spending the night in an Atlanta jail.

“The club owner liked us so much he bailed me out just in time to make the second show,” says Harper.

The band’s 2004 performance at Metrofest (the band’s first reunion in 13 years) nearly ended in Harper’s arrest for indecent exposure after he was inspired to moon the enthusiastic crowd.

The 13 years that the band spent apart, were precipitated by an accident Sewell had as well as the band’s need for drying out.

“John had to recover from a fall off some Fort Sanders steps,” says Harper. “He got hurt right wicked — skull fractured, brain bruised … and I was kind of lost and confused. I was pretty drunk in those days.”

Sewell, who actually fell off a roof before hitting those steps, went on to form Torture Kitty, Kidsnack and several other bands. Harper started the bands Neo-Wizard, Evil Twin and the Melungeons — the latter of which performs more often than Teenage Love.

Harper and Sewell have remained the constants in the group. The current lineup is rounded out by Teenage Love veterans Jay Martin on drums and Jeff Cregger on guitar. Concerts have been sporadic, and Sewell now lives in Atlanta.

“No Excuses” is a collection of classic Teenage Love songs with a couple of new ones. Harper says the band members have all improved as musicians over the years, but he doesn’t think it’s hurt the spirit of the group.

He says Knoxville engineer/producer Seva wanted to make sure to record the band in a home or club, not a sterile studio.

“We just got together for a couple of days and had a party,” says Harper. “On the third night Seva showed up with a computer and some microphones and said, ‘It sounds like you guys practiced!’”

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