Teenage Halloween's Luk Hendricks on Hot Sauce, DIY, and the Magic of New Jersey

Teenage Halloween's Luk Hendricks on Hot Sauce, DIY, and the Magic of New Jersey
Photo by Okie Dokie Studio

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I really enjoyed Teenage Halloween's first album back in 2020 and their latest, Till You Return, sounded like a step up to me. I hopped on a call with Luk Hendricks last week just before they headed out on a massive tour to pick their brain about a few topics:

What do you do for a job?
I make hot sauce for a living. I have my own business and I sell it online. I make private-label stuff for different bands.

How did you get into that?
The pandemic, honestly. I took random online recipes and started tweaking them to how I'd want it to be, experimenting with flavor. I essentially began doing it because I needed money really badly, and it was one thing I felt like I could do that I could sell somewhere.

How has the growth of the business doing? Tell me about the nuts and bolts of making hot sauce.
I'm still living with my parents because I'm touring, so I have a page on Instagram—Complete Goner Sauce—where I post my specials every week, as well as different sauces that I'm making. I make big amounts, sell them by the bottle, label them myself and print the labels at Staples. I'm keeping up the hustle as my job right now, and when I get back from this 40-day tour I'm probably gonna get a full-time job in food service. It's been a lot of work for different bands over the last year, so I've just been keeping my own hours.

What makes a good hot sauce?
A good hot sauce has a flavor profile that's more than just heat. If you make something that's just hot, it has its place, but if you make something with a flavor like smokiness or sweetness, or the right time of bitterness like tamarind, it goes a long way. A good hot sauce comes with multiple flavor profile facets.

I feel like there's been an increased interest in hot sauce because of Hot Ones.
Yeah, totally. That's how I got into it. I love smoking a blunt and listening to Hot Ones. Through the pandemic, I was like, "What can I do to make something really good?" I'm not the best chef, but I'm definitely good at flavor pairing. People would come over and really like the hot sauces I was making when they'd try it on chips. It felt like something I should keep doing. It's not making me enough money to live on my own, but I make enough to get by as a musician. Right now, it's good, but I'm going to have to have more than just this in my life. I made 220 sauces today for four different bands for their tours. A band will hit me up and I'll make a hot sauce for them with their album cover on the label, and they'll sell it on tour.

Tell me about how the energy is shifting in the band on this new album.
I definitely feel like we leveled up like crazy. Me and Eli split songwriting duties for a lot of the record, and Tricia wrote a few songs. We've had a lot more involvement from everyone in the band on this record. It's not as much me presenting the songs and us working on them as it is everyone presenting different music. I've been very proud to be working with the people I'm working with right now. It's amazing to be surprised by songs that we have because I wasn't involved in their initial writing. Everyone's bringing their own thing to the table. We keep evolving to an even more defined version of the band, and I'm incredibly proud of that. We've left the genre of the first record behind in a few ways and have brought forth different tempos and dynamics, and I'm very proud of the production on this record too.

You're based out of Jersey still, right?
Yup, totally. Me and Pete are based out of Asbury Park, Tricia's in Woodridge, Eli is in Queens.

I grew up in Ridgewood, in Bergen County.
Oh, cool. I took a train through there.

Yeah, that's obviously a different area than Asbury Park, but there's this unifying atavism of being from Jersey that people from there truly understand. Tell me about what the state means to you.
New Jersey is this densely populated place that gets passed over by bands very often. I love it because it's treated as a small town, since it's between New York and Philadelphia. New Jersey is always the underdog, which puts a lot of pressure on artists to really deliver. The pressure of being a Jersey band, compared to being a big city band, is a lot higher. It's often shit-talked, but the people who live there know it's a place you could do pretty much anything in. New Jersey has so many different parts of it in terms of natural environment—there's really cool mountains, beaches, New York-style cities up north. Even though it's small, it's vast, and it has so much to offer. I'll always love New Jersey, and I'll never shit on it.

Tell me about musical communities in New Jersey. Punk has always been a huge thing in the state, as well as just rocking out in someone's garage in the suburbs.
I started booking and playing shows when I was 15 or 16, so through high school New Jersey was all about playing shows in random places and people's garages. It's been very integral for my thoughts on DIY. New Jersey shows are often really small when there's not giant bands playing, so I knew everyone that would be at every single show after a while. It created this intense familiarity with the different artists and people around. Down the shore, there's a severe lack of venues, so we would have to set up shows anywhere we could—putting punk bands in coffeehouses. When I was really young, we'd actually have acoustic shows on the beach and set up outside 7-Eleven. New Jersey has a lot of really passionate kids. Growing into that scene, I immediately understood the importance of punk to the state. It's all that a lot of people here have.

Tell me more about working in a DIY mentality and being an active participant in scenes and communities. What are the benefits and challenges?
Obviously, it's hard when people book shows on the same night. [Laughs] That's one of the major challenges, because it's such a small place. Obviously, I need to hold myself accountable for this too, but we all gotta communicate better in the scene. It's a challenge. But we've had to make do with the only things around New Brunswick, which are basements and shitty dive bars, for ten years. Walking into things with no expectations is really important when booking shows in New Jersey, because you have to build it from the ground up. It doesn't just come to you.

The scene absolutely comes in waves here. You have to meet new people that come in, because New Jersey is also a good place to move if you're commuting. You have to be super welcoming to them, because New Jersey also has a rep for people being rude—but that's not the case. What I've experienced, mostly, has been a lot of kind people trying to make things happen. Obviously, there's people and things I'm not into around here, but the greater picture of the DIY scene itself is people who really care about putting this place on the map, and that's shown in bands who have come out who aren't as focused on being perfect as they are on building communities. They're not going to practice until they sound flawless, they're trying to change someone's life. I think of bands like Have a Good Season and Ogbert the Nerd—bands who have based a whole community around their art because it's easy to access.

One thing about Teenage Halloween's music that's very striking is the lyrics. There's a lot of clarity and straightforwardness. Tell me about the evolution of how you write lyrics and what you express.
I usually write lyrics in a free-associative way. If I'm feeling a feeling that strikes me, or a feeling that I've been feeling too much and it one day occurs to me that I've been feeling this way for a while, I usually write about it a little bit in my iPhone notes. I create lyrics by writing random poems, or just writing different lines that strike me—that could be metaphors or direct references to how I feel or my opinions that I feel should be written in our music. I wanted the first record to be very overtly political, and I wanted the second record to focus more on mental health. I felt like, with the pandemic, it was the most isolating and terrifying point in time that humans have faced in my lifetime in America.

I don't think you're exaggerating. How old are you?

I'm 36 and I feel the same way.
I wasn't coherent during 9/11, so I didn't know how people felt in America in that point. I feel like 9/11 is one of the main things I can think of when it comes to collective fear here.

I can assure you that 9/11 was bad, but the pandemic felt like if 9/11 happened every day for three months. It was terrible.
I was terrified. I'm a very politically driven person, I try to practice leftism in all forms of my life. But I wanted to make this next record something that everyone could collectively have a big sigh to because of the last three years of being worried about illness way more and having to face the fear of possibly being isolated again. A lot of the political statements I wanted to make were on the first album, but this album is supposed to be, "You're not alone, this shit is fucked. This is how I feel, and maybe you can make a record about how you feel."

You guys are going out on tour soon. What's touring been like the last few years for you? Does it feel good getting back out there?
The most challenging thing nowadays is lodging. We've definitely shifted to being a hotel band because of pandemic stuff and not trying to get sick on tour. That's been a major shift, instead of following the random person who says you can crash on their couch. Lodging has made touring a lot better and a lot more difficult. Since the beginning of playing in bands and going on tour, I was down to stay anywhere, but now you have to think more critically. Being in a place without a mask or whatever you use as your precaution, in a point in time where illness can end a tour...it's a lot more challenging to decide where you stay. We've been doing hotels more because we don't want to be rude at someone's house, asking them to put on a mask. We also don't want to show people that we don't trust them, obviously. It's just really hard, because you don't want your tour to go under just because you did the wrong thing one night. I hope that every band that reads this is doing alright out there, because the logistics have changed like crazy.

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Jamie Larson