Teratogen and the 'Terrible Cloud'

Joel Oliphint

First things first: Teratogen is pronounced “ter-AT-oh-gin,” not “terra-TOE-gen.”

“We actually were tossing around the idea of changing the name, because the name has always been kind of hard for people to say and remember. We had a whole identity crisis about that. … ‘Terry's toe jam’ is the most exaggerated mistake,” singer/guitarist Luke Bowers said. “But ultimately we couldn't think of anything that we liked better.”

The name change consideration also came about because the band has gone through some significant changes since Capital University grads Bowers, singer/guitarist Dan Martinson and singer/drummer Chris Morris began casually playing together in 2015. Since then, Teratogen has been active locally in fits and starts, gaining and losing a bass player before eventually bringing in bassist Alex Pisani and lead guitarist Alan Gabrenya to make its debut album, Terrible Cloud, which the band will release on streaming platforms on Friday, Jan. 10.

Teratogen formed without a core sound, incorporating any and every influence brought into the band. “There's a couple of metalheads in the band, and Alan has a very expansive classic rock knowledge, but we're all actively listening to new bands, too,” said Bowers, who counts Ariel Pink and David Lynch among the band’s influences. And while Terrible Cloud is a varied listen, with plenty of genre-jumping, Teratogen has slowly begun to zero in on its own sound.

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“We started recording our performances more and getting more critical, trying to really hone in on what was working and what wasn't working,” Bowers said. “There was a moment where we were performing with a keyboard, and we didn't really like how that sounded.”

After initially deciding to record a double album with 17 songs, the band eventually trimmed the tracklist to 10 and began recording in piecemeal fashion at Sonic Lounge and in Martinson’s basement studio (Morris also left the group for about a year, delaying the album’s completion). Throughout the record, Teratogen tends to juxtapose dark lyrics with sunny melodies. “I’m dead inside,” Martinson sings over a pogo-friendly beat on the Strokes-y tune “Dead Inside,” while the title of “The Hurt Myself Song” speaks for itself.

For “Blast Fishing,” Bowers stumbled upon the bizarre (and environmentally disastrous) practice of killing fish with dynamite. “I went down a wormhole one day reading about blast fishing. I remember I showed that song to a friend, and they thought it was a funny concept. And I was like, ‘Yeah, but it's an actual thing. This is, like, something that people do,’” he said.

The five-piece has another album well in the works, but Bowers is glad to have Terrible Cloud as a document of the last four years of Teratogen (regardless of how you pronounce it).

“The music is still eclectic,” he said. “But now we have a little bit more of an idea of how we want to sound.”