Down the rabbit hole with Teratogen

The Columbus rock band will celebrate the release of new album ‘The Hologram’ in concert at Spacebar on Saturday, April 27.
Teratogen band members (from left to right) Daniel Martinson, Alex Pisani, Josh Oswald and Luke Bowers.
Teratogen band members (from left to right) Daniel Martinson, Alex Pisani, Josh Oswald and Luke Bowers.Courtesy Teratogen

There are points on The Hologram, the new full length from Columbus rock band Teratogen, that play out like the conspiracy-fueled fever dreams of that one uncle who paid for a blue check on X (formerly Twitter) as a way to undermine his shadow ban.

The songs shuffle through narrators who grow increasingly paranoid under the watchful eye of the surveillance state (“Government”), search for release in the bottle (“Monday”), hoard money at the expense of everyone else (“Can’t Be Bothered”) and disappear nearly completely down internet rabbit holes. “Once you dig deep enough,” Luke Bowers sings atop a shaggy, propulsive musical backdrop on “Limited Hangouts,” “it starts to get intense.”

While Bowers said The Hologram isn’t a concept record, when he stepped back from the songs, he realized the social and political climate that existed in 2016 and then intensified moving toward 2020 had a strong role in shaping the writing process. “In that time, it felt like everything got really loud,” said Bowers, who will join guitarist Daniel Martinson, bassist Alex Pisani and drummer Josh Oswald for a record release concert at Spacebar on Saturday, April 27. “You could open any social media app, and you’d get all of these strong emotions coming out of people. And when I looked at these songs in that context, I felt there were all of these different voices I was hearing.”

But even Bowers’ most damned and damaged characters aren’t entirely unredeemable. The narrator on “Monday,” for one, pledges change – “I’m serious this time!” – only to fall short time and again. And yet, they continue to wake up and greet another day, invigorated by the promise that this time could totally be different. Even if it's typically not. Bowers traced his desire to preserve a degree of humanity in this paranoid cast of characters in part to his own interest in conspiracy theories and assorted internet wormholes, and to the (very) slight twinge of recognition he sees of himself in them.

“Sometimes when I find myself going down one of those rabbit holes, I’ll find myself thinking, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be fascinating if it were true?’” said Bowers, who most recently immersed himself in a variety of conspiracies rooted in the total solar eclipse. “And then you start to think, ‘Okay, if this was the outcome, how would I react?’ It makes you start to wonder why people think that way. It’s interesting to me, and it’s hard to completely write off.”

This approach, Bowers said, also makes the songwriting more interesting, integrating the idea that not every perspective he adopts has to align with his own worldview. “I don’t necessarily want to preach the way I think things are,” he said. Even more generally, Bowers said he has refrained from writing songs steeped in his own experiences owing to his guarded nature, describing himself as the introverted type more prone to listening than filling the air with words.

“Sometimes I’ll get to the end of a conversation with someone, and I’ll realize it hasn’t been a full give and take,” Bowers said. “And that I haven’t been sharing much about myself or telling stories from my own life.”

Owing to these more reserved tendencies, Bowers has struggled with the idea of being the frontman since Teratogen formed in 2015, allowing that his role is more to bring his bandmates the skeleton of a song, which they can then flesh out in ways that at times can surprise even him. “I never necessarily wanted to be a frontman, and I never want people to think I’m responsible for everything, or that I’m some grand conductor,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll hear other parts [when demoing a song], and I’ll have some crappy drum machine recorded, sort of simulating what I hear in my head. But the [band’s] interpretations of those ideas are always 100 percent better. … Those guys, they just know so much more than me, and there’s always a new complexity they’re bringing to things.”

While much of The Hologram treads darker ground, the album does end on a slightly more upbeat note with “Do What You Can,” which lingers on the paycheck-to-paycheck grind of workers. “Be kind, rewind, go to work,” Bowers sings at the onset, a few beats later adding, “Debt’s all you got to your name.” 

Inspired by the now-defunct Columbus podcast “Street Fight Radio,” which hosted a weekly call-in where listeners would phone and talk about their jobs, the song gradually develops into a communal rallying cry as the workers discover a sense of togetherness and a shared purpose in the grind. “Though some jobs are definitely shittier than others, they all suffer from some of the same basic hierarchical issues,” Bowers wrote in a follow-up email. “Somebody at the top is making bad decisions that impact everybody at the bottom.”

Related Stories

No stories found.
Matter News